Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reo Speedwagon Updated

Once upon a time REO Speedwagon was a hard rocking band from Illinois that managed to have a good rocking debut featuring Terry Luttrell. Had a minor hit with Lay Me Down and Sophisticated Lady but Luttrell left after a following out with Gary Richrath. Kevin Cronin replaced him and made REO TWO which was more of that hard rock and boogie and got FM airplay with Golden Country (to which Luttrell said he co-written with Richrath but never got credit). Then Cronin left and was replaced by Mike Murphy.

While reviews of Riding The Storm Out were not nice, I find it to be a rewarding album simply of the fact that a coworker had a 8 track of that and it was played a lot at the old APCO station that I used to work at. Joe Walsh helped out on a few songs on Riding The Storm Out and I always preferred the title track over the OTT version that classic rock radio plays to death. However Lost In A Dream was less enjoyable and This Time We Really Mean It showed REO spinning their wheels and getting nowhere. Murphy then left and Cronin came back for the 1976 REO album and despite tinny production from John Stronach, had a FM hit with Keep Pushin' and I Believe That Our Time Will Come. I used the like You Get What You Play For, their 1977 Live double but found that in my later years I tend to prefer the originals.

1978 began the classic years beginning with the wonderful You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish and they got hits with Roll With The Changes and Time For Me To Fly although it's a shame that Blazing Your Own Trail wasn't selected for the third hit. In my senior year, had this on cassette and it was one of the most played tapes that I did have. Nine Lives, didn't sell as well but it rocked harder with Drop It (An Old Disguise), Heavy On Your Love and Only The Strong Survive but yet this didn't have any ballads, unless you count the country sounding I Need You Tonight. But Hi inFIdelity broke them big time on the strength of Keep On Loving You and then REO became ballad heavy and after that I pretty much gave up on them from here on out and Richrath was eventually forced out of the band. Good Trouble took up where Hi Infidelity left off and basically was a snoozer and Wheels Are Turning and Life As We Know It were by the numbers MOR pop. Last year REO returned to Sony Music to put out the budget christmas album Not So Silent Night but I never did hear that. Find Your Way Home might have been their best since Hi Fidelity.

Like a fool, I sold my CD copy of REO and kept the album only to find out that the vinyl album was pretty scratchy. Guess I have to see if I can try to find that record. But in the end, REO started out a great midwestern rock and boogie band and then sold their soul for the radio and got that major hit. As for myself I prefer the rockers over the ballads anytime of year.

In the time since this original review I have come to find that the overplayed hits have soured my listening to their albums even though Keep On Loving You or Take It On The Run are cheese entertainment.  Today's Millennials roll their eyes and smirk on the tongue in cheek Tuna Fish, which has been nominated as one of the top ten all time worst album titles ever but still is a classic album in its own wake thanks to John Boylan helping with production.  And I even thought Kevin Beamish captured the REO sound quite well on Nine Lives although his later work with Henry Paul Band and Jefferson Starship really became dated 80s synch pop. Songs like Drop It or Only The Strong Survive still hold up. Anything beginning with Good Trouble onward, their label branded them into MOR pop like Journey but only more poppier and nobody remembers Terry Luttrell or Mike Murphy anymore.  At least on Find Your Way Home, Kevin Cronin finally learned how to rock a little bit more, something that he didn't do on Building A Bridge or worse the 1990 Epic farewell and flop A Man, His Dog, His Chicken etc to which the band finally rocks out, on the last two songs.  Which were the best two songs of that forgettable LP. 

But nowadays Kevin Cronin and company are content to bask in the past glories of Keep On Loving You or Can't Fight This Feeling and can be seen playing at state fairs and casinos, sometimes with classic rock refugees Foreigner and Styx, sometimes on their own.     I know in my heart that while I enjoyed having Cronin returned in 1976, replacing Murphy as the lead singer, my guilty pleasure still remains with the Murphy led Ridin The Storm Out or Luttrell's appearance on the first album.  The first remains a midwest rock classic but each album after that would reveal a more California pop and roll even on Ridin The Storm Out, Reo Two, still holding on to a Illinois groove.  But back then, their record label held out a very long 10 year association with them, till they hit gold with the 1977 Live album and after that the Platinum selling Hi Infidelity. And they sold out their collective cool, and eventually Gary Richrath would leave, thus finally giving Cronin his pop vision that started with the 1976 REO album and grew.  Like Journey, I'm happy they found their formulaic style of ballads and light pop, but also like Journey I'd rather hear them rock out than ballading it. Thank God, they haven't milked remaking the hits like Foreigner always seems to do, but then again they beat that band into making their own Christmas album.    Buyer beware indeed.  

Gary Richrath, the long time guitarist of the band passed away on September 12, 2015.

REO Speedwagon (Epic 1971) A-
REO-TWO (Epic 1972) A-
Riding The Storm Out (Epic 1973) B+
Lost In A Dream (Epic 1974) B-
This Time We Really Mean It (Epic 1975) C
REO (Epic 1976) B+
You Get What You Play For-REO Live (Epic 1977) C+
You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish (Epic 1978) A-
Nine Lives (Epic 1979) A-
Hi Infidelity (Epic 1980) B+
A Decade Of Rock And Roll (Epic 1981) B+
Good Trouble (Epic 1982) C+
Wheels Are Turning (Epic 1983) C
Life As We Know It (Epic 1984) C
REO-The Hits (Epic 1988) B-
The Earth, The Man, His Small Dog And A Chicken (Epic 1990) C+
The Second Decade Of Hits (Epic 1991) C+
Building A Bridge (Castle 1996) C+
Find Your Own Way (2007) B
Not So Merry Christmas (Legacy/CMG 2010) C+

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