“The Flame” is a ballad written by British songwriters Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham. The song was first offered to English singer Elkie Brooks, who turned it down and was then released by Cheap Trick, for whom it was a hit single in 1988. The song appeared on the band’s Lap of Luxury album.
“The Flame” reached number one on the American Billboard Hot 100 in July 1988. It also reached number one in Australia and Canada.
Considered as the band’s comeback album following the commercial failure of the 1986 album The Doctor, Lap of Luxury spawned three top 40 hit singles and one minor hit single. After “The Flame” topped the American Billboard Hot 100, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” peaked at #4. The third single “Ghost Town” continued the commercial success, peaking at #33 whilst the fourth single “Never Had a Lot to Lose” peaked at #75. The album opener “Let Go” also peaked at #32 on the American Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. The success of “The Flame” brought the group out of a years-long commercial slump and back into music industry prominence. It was the band’s only number one single in America. It also became the band’s first hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, reaching #29 there; “Don’t Be Cruel” then hit #32 on the AC chart.
Reportedly, the band disliked the song at first; Rick Nielsen disliked the song so much on first hearing that he yanked it from the tape player and ground the cassette beneath his boot heel.
In an interview with Gerry Galipault, Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos stated: “Tom Petersson rejoined in 1988, and then the vice president at Epic Records told us he had these two songs and they’re both gonna be #1. He goes, ‘We got one for you and one for the group Chicago, but you can have the first choice.’ He said, ‘I think the one ‘The Flame’ would be good for you guys.’ The other one was ‘Look Away,’ and it sounded like some girl singing on the demo. We really didn’t like that song anyway, so ‘Sure, we’ll do ‘The Flame.’ We’re game.'”
According to lead vocalist Robin Zander, “The band was very skeptical about performing this song live because we only liked to perform songs written by us. However, a young man from, oh, I don’t know, somewhere, confirmed to us after a show in Florida about a week after the song was released that the song was great and, get this, would be a #1 single. As we joked about the guy’s prediction, we later realized whoa! This guy was right. I thank him for that.”
A promotional music video was created for the single, receiving frequent airplay on MTV. In the video, Nielsen can be seen using a guitar designed after the band’s previous 1986 album “The Doctor”. The video was produced by Paul Flattery and directed by Jim Yukich.
In the UK, the song peaked at #77 during mid-1988 for a total of 9 weeks. A re-issue exclusively for the UK saw the song re-chart at #87 for two weeks in early 1989.
Since the song’s release, the band has performed the song on many occasions during their live concerts.
A previously unreleased live version of the song was included on the 2000 compilation Authorized Greatest Hits which featured sixteen tracks handpicked by the band themselves.
A live version was recorded for the 2001 live set Silver.
As a worldwide release, the song was released on 7″ vinyl, 12″ vinyl and CD single. All 7″ vinyl versions featured the A-side and the same b-side “Through the Night”. In both Spain and the Netherlands, a promotional 7″ vinyl featured the a-side on both sides of the vinyl. For the 7″ singles, the song was edited down from 5:39 to 4:30, a minute less compared to the album version.
In the Netherlands, a 12″ vinyl was released which featured the album version of “The Flame”, the b-side “Through the Night”, as well as an extra track, the “Lap of Luxury” album track “All We Need is a Dream”, written by American keyboardist Gregg Giuffria, Rick Nielsen, and Robin Zander. In the UK, an alternate 12″ vinyl was released which featured the album version of “The Flame”, the b-side “Through the Night”, the 1977 studio version of the band’s 1979 hit “I Want You to Want Me” from the album “In Color”, written solely by Rick Nielsen and the 1982 minor hit single “If You Want My Love”, also written solely by Nielsen from the album “One on One”. In America, a promotional 12″ vinyl was released, with the A-side being the album version, titled “The Flame (Long Version)” and the b-side being the single version, titled “The Flame (Short Version)”.
In the UK and Europe, a maxi-single CD was released which featured the same tracks as the UK 12″ vinyl; “The Flame (Album Version)”, “Through the Night”, “I Want You to Want Me” and “If You Want My Love”. In the Netherlands, a mini-CD single was released, featuring the same tracks as on the Dutch 12″ vinyl; the album version of “The Flame”, “Through the Night” and “All We Need is a Dream”. In Japan, a mini-CD single was released, featuring the two 7″ vinyl tracks “The Flame” and “Through the Night”.
The b-side “Through the Night” was a non-lp track, exclusive to the single. It would later appear on the 1996 box-set Sex, America, Cheap Trick. It was written by Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, and Tom Petersson.
“The Flame”, “Through the Night” and “All We Need is a Dream” was produced by Richie Zito who produced the entire Lap of Luxury album and would also produce the band’s following 1990 album Busted. “I Want You to Want Me” was produced by American producer Tom Werman and “If You Want My Love” was produced by Roy Thomas Baker.