45 Years Ago: Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’ Offers Wise Teen Advice
That was the message of "Surrender," which arrived in June 1978 as the first single from the quartet's third album, Heaven Tonight. This was the first Cheap Trick song to hit the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 62, and it became even more popular as part of the Cheap Trick at Budokan album, released nine months later in the U.S.
An enduring anthem of teen angst and celebration, "Surrender" made young listeners feel like they wanted the parents described by guitarist and songwriter Rick Nielsen, who were "rolling numbers, rock 'n' rolling" and got "Kiss records out" when they thought the kids weren't looking.
"I look for stuff in my own life and then embellish 'em for the songs," Nielsen told this writer back in 1982. He had a life that was made for it: Raised in Rockford, Ill., Nielsen's family owned a music store, both parents were opera singers and his father was a symphony and choir director who'd worked on nearly four dozen albums. "Growing up it was like, 'Oh, there's mom wearing a Viking helmet and horns – again," Nielsen said. "That was, just, normal to me."
Listen to Cheap Trick's 'Surrender'
"Surrender," however, drew from the more universal viewpoint that relating with parents can be difficult.
"Growing up, every kid I knew, their parents were weird," Nielsen told Uproxx in 2021. "Whether they were hippies or straight or religious nuts or whatever, every parent is weird. 'Hey, you want to come over to my house?' 'No, your parents are weird. Do you want to come to my place?' No, no, your parents are weird!' You've got to know how to stretch the truth with your parents. You've got to listen to them, but you don't always have to heed it. That's 'Surrender': Don't give yourself away. Don't turn into one of them."
Drummer Bun E. Carlos told Blender that "as soon as I heard it, I thought it was a really interesting lyric."
While the song surfaced on Heaven Tonight, Nielsen wrote "Surrender" some years earlier on an unplugged electric guitar in his bedroom, its lyrics coming to him "kind of stream of consciousness" as he played along. "I had a rhythm thing going on," he told Guitar Player in 2020. "Then I started singing to myself; 'Mother told me, yes she told me, I'd meet girls like you.' It kind of sounded like a nursery rhyme to me, only it was a rock nursery rhyme for somebody in high school wearing a leather jacket."
Cheap Trick played the song "a bunch of times live" starting around 1975 and had it ready for their self-titled debut album in 1977. They decided not to record "Surrender," however, and it didn't make the cut for In Color later that same year.
Watch Cheap Trick Perform 'Surrender' at Budokan
Lyrics were changed over time until "Surrender" was finally included on Heaven Tonight with producer Tom Werman. The Kiss mention was a nod to their early support of Cheap Trick, who frequently opened their shows.
"There weren't many bands that could hold their own with our audience, but [Cheap Trick] did," Paul Stanley told this writer. "They're a great band. ... It was very flattering to be mentioned. Obviously, mom and dad had great taste in music." (Despite reports, Nielsen’s parents were not actually members of the Kiss Army.)
"Surrender" wasn't released as a single from At Budokan, but Cheap Trick's concert update received considerable radio play – in some markets, substantially more than the studio version.
"The live version of 'Surrender' changed things for us," Nielsen told Guitar Player. "Now we weren't just an opening band. We were played on the radio all the time. It was tremendously exciting." Not surprisingly, he said "I still love to play the song live. People laugh, they cheer, they sing along. I never get tired of that."