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Everyone misses the point about REO Speedwagon: the critics who call their music corporate and faceless, even fans looking for a 70s-80s nostalgia trip every summer with Frampton Comes Alive XXIII.
Unlike studio-born contemporaries such as Toto and Journey, REO came from the midwest and built its reputation on non-stop touring. Even amidst changes in personnel and musical tastes, their music, reflected in their best and most popular songs contained here, reflect persistence and perserverence. Look down the titles: “ROLL with the Changes,” “KEEP on Loving You,” “KEEP Pushing,” “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Ridin’ The Storm Out.” (Not to mention “Keep The Fire Burnin’” a great 1982 hit which didn’t make it here.) These songs are about staying in the game (whether the game is love or career) when many feel it’s no longer necessary. It’s no accident that their breakthrough 1977 live album was called, “You Get What You Play For”; REO’s success was belated but earned. This is more than a best-of CD. Even with the hit ballads it’s a mission statement that rocks.
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REO Speedwagon began life as a rock group, edging toward the harder side. However, the group’s success came with ballads, typically power ballads.
This album contains a taste of REO Speedwagon’s harder edge with songs “Keep Pushin’,” “Roll with the Changes,” “Back on the Road Again” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” However, fans of REO Speedwagon’s early material will likely be disappointed because the remainder of the album is largely ballads, and even those songs that skirt the definition of ballad are still love songs. This album also focuses on the years from “Hi Infidelity” to 1987, with nine of the fourteen songs in this collection from those years.
“Ridin’ the Storm Out” was from the album of the same name, which reached #171 on the Pop Album chart. This song reached #94 and probably has as much air play today as when it was released in 1973.
The 1976 album “R.E.O.,” which reached #159 on the Pop Album chart, contributes the song “Keep Pushin’,” which I believe was not released as a single.
The 1978 album “You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish” was a breakthrough album for REO Speedwagon, reaching #29 on the Pop Album chart. This album contributes the songs “Time for Me to Fly,” which reached #56, and “Roll with the Changes,” which reached #58.
The 1979 album “Nine Lives” was about as successful as the 1978 album, reaching #33 on the Pop Album chart. That album is represented by the song “Back on the Road Again,” which I believe was not released as a single.
The songs to this point are generally fast with a solid beat. However, in 1980 REO Speedwagon changed styles with the #1 album “Hi Infidelity,” which lends three songs to this compilation. “Keep on Loving You” is a beautiful ballad that reached #1. “Take It on the Run” followed, reaching #5 on the charts. “Don’t Let Him Go” was faster than the previous two songs, and varied from the previous releases enough that it only reached #24.
REO Speedwagon had another successful release with the 1982 album “Good Trouble,” which reached #7. However, neither of the singles released from that album (“Keep the Fire Burnin’” and “Sweet Time”) are in this collection.
In 1984, REO Speedwagon released their last top ten album, “Wheels are Turnin’,” which reached #7 on the Billboard 200. That album provided two mellow hits, the #1 hit “Can’t Fight this Feeling” and the #19 hit “One Lonely Night.”
The last original album in this collection is 1987′s “Life as We Know It,” which provides two songs. “That Ain’t Love” is dramatic mainstream pop, and reached #16. “In My Dreams” is mellower, and reached #17.
Two new songs were released on this album. “I Don’t Want to Lose You” had a style similar to “That Ain’t Love.” The second new song was “Here with Me,” which was released as a single and hit #20.
This album reached #56 on the Billboard 200 chart, and was one more indication that REO Speedwagon was waning in popularity. I find it unfortunate that a group that had so much to offer ended up going down a commercial path that yielded hits, but ultimately left the group high and dry as musical styles changed. However, for a time REO Speedwagon offered something creative and dramatic, and, even more important, something enjoyable to play on the stereo.
If you prefer REO Speedwagon’s early, harder rock music, you may want to avoid this collection and buy the early albums. If you like the REO Speedwagon that released “Hi Infidelity,” this collection may contain everything you need.
The groups Foreigner, Foghat, Styx, Journey, Air Supply, and the subject of this review, REO Speedwagon, can cause a lot of debate among music fans due to the “corporate rock” effect that took place in the 1970′s, where artists’ albums were guaranteed platinum sales if they became part of the well-oiled machinery that may have yielded hits on the radio, but remained in an uninspired and uninnovative cozy rut. As someone into all kinds of music, I find myself in a very untenable position. I like REO Speedwagon, yet I like classic punk and disco, two genres of music that broke the musical cul-de-sac America seemed to be going into.
Having established that, the Hits, which came out a year after REO’s last studio album of the 80′s, 1987′s Life As We Know It, encapsulated material from their R.E.O. 76 album up to Life As We Know It, with two new songs. The first one, the intense and yearning “I Don’t Want To Lose You,” was written by the team of Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg (Heart, Bangles) and the languid “Here With Me,” which was a close cousin to “In My Dreams” released the previous year.
Life As We Know It was released when I first got into them and,”That Ain’t Love” was quite a rocker by their standards, as I had the preconception that they were mellow rock like latter day Chicago, but no, this fiery affirmation that “say what you want to hear, do what you want to do” ain’t love, told me otherwise.
However, the third single, co-penned by lead singer Kevin Cronin and ace songwriter Tom Kelly, “In My Dreams” sounded more what I expected to hear, soaring lead vocals, inoffensive harmonies, in other words, the mainstream rock ballad. The two singles represented the two kinds of songs mainly done by REO, love songs and leaving songs.
Now, for their two signature tunes, “Keep On Lovin’ You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” their two #1s from Hi Infidelity and Wheels Are Turning respectively. A fiery guitar on the first and the trademark 80′s synths and lovey-dovey vocals on the second. There was a time when I couldn’t tell them apart from Chicago, the harmonies and sound were so alike. That has been rectified.
Speaking of Hi Infidelity, one of my favourites by them, “Take It On The Run” with that “heard it from a friend” rumour-mongering that leads to a fed up “I don’t want you around.” This sports one of their best fiery guitar solos.
Of course, they got started on the road to big status with the boisterous “Roll With The Changes” from You Can Tune A Piano…, which was their first Top 40 hit. Yes, there is a piano in this song. Also on that album was “Time For Me To Fly,” which set the standard for the #1 songs they eventually made. But the sound that places them in the 70′s is best represented by “Keep Pushin’” from R.E.O., as does the hard-rocker “Back On The Road Again,” which the most hard-driving track here.
A live version of the title track to their Ridin’ The Storm Out album finishes this collection, which seems to overlap the First Decade and Second Decade compilations, but for someone who grew up in the 80′s, the Hits will do just fine. While not innovative, at least REO comes through with a consistent and familiar sound, slightly altered with synths in the 80′s, be it harder stuff or rock ballads.
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