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Showing posts from August, 2019

REO Speedwagon: The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog, and a Chicken (1990)

Where We Left Off:
After the release of The Hits in 1988, founding drummer Alan Gratzer and guitarist Gary Richrath quit REO Speedwagon.

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According to REO bassist Bruce Hall, there was never any question about whether REO should continue on after losing two key members. He told Malcom Dome, "as long as we had Kevin [Cronin], then we had the man whose voice was the most identifiable part of the band." It sounds a bit mercenary, but then REO's history had always been about survival and moving forward. "Roll with the changes," indeed.

According to Cronin, there was a moment of truth where the rest of the band (sans Gratzer, who quit first) might have chosen to stay with him or go with Richrath. This creates a fascinating alternate reality in which REO finds its fourth singer, a new drummer, and once again becomes Richrath's band.

But here in our timeline, REO recruited drummer Graham Lear (known for his work with Gino Vannelli) to replace Gratzer. At the begi…

REO Speedwagon: The Hits (1988)

Where we left off:
REO Speedwagon's 1987 album Life As We Know It didn't sell up to typical standards, but even worse, cracks were forming in the band's solidarity.

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REO Speedwagon have approximately five different career-spanning compilations floating around out there, but 1988's The Hits is the only one I'll be writing about. Why? Well, partly because it features the final two appearances of the band in its classic configuration, and partly because its as sturdily-constructed a hits compilation as you'll ever find. 

(It also happens to be the first album by them I owned. I bought it my freshman year of college, and it served as the soundtrack for no less than three doomed crushes.)


I have a set of rules about hits collections that I hold sacred. Namely, that the songs should be presented in chronological order, live versions and remixes should be omitted, and that no new songs should be included. The Hits violates all of these and yet somehow still manages to suc…

The Unlikely Musical Life of Tom Kelly

You may not know the name Tom Kelly, but I guarantee that you've sung along to songs he wrote. 

Born in West Lafayette, Indiana in 1952, Tom moved to Effingham, Illinois when he was 11 years old, just in time to witness the Beatles' debut on Ed Sullivan. Bit by the rock music bug, he joined a local band called the Trifaris, singing and playing bass. His family moved back to Indiana in '66. When Tom finished high school, he decided to go to college in Illinois, but his choice was made based on extracurricular factors, not academic ones. "I started at Eastern [Illinois University] because there was a band,” he told the Effingham Daily News in 2011, “Then I transferred to Southern [Illinois University] because there was another band.” 
Champaign, Illinois  Continuing his college hopping, Tom headed closer to home to attend Purdue, and there he had a group called The Gaping Huggers, comprised of former fellow Trifari JC Marshall on drums, and University of Illinois student D…

REO Speedwagon: Life As We Know It (1987)

Where We Left Off:
Wheels Are Turnin' was REO Speedwagon's third consecutive multi-million selling album, producing the #1 hit "Can't Fight This Feeling."


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Produced by the same team as Wheels Are Turnin' (Cronin, Richrath, Gratzer, and David DeVore), Life As We Know It was recorded while when Kevin Cronin was going through a divorce. He says making the album was a welcome distraction from his family falling apart. At the same time, his relationship with Gary Richrath was fraught with tension.

That set of circumstances played a huge part in the album's lyrical content, and knowing the record was the last one for the band's classic line-up makes for an intriguing listen. For example, it's commonly held that "Too Many Girlfriends," a tune about someone running too hot for too long, is Cronin taking a shot at Richrath. This is most evident in the self-referencing line, "he better find the one / he's gonna take on the run / before it…

Let Him Entertain You: An American's Guide to Robbie Williams

“Your country’s refusal to embrace Robbie Williams will forever baffle me.” - Shivrang, New Girl

Dear Citizens of the United States,

You have been missing out.

Great Britain has always had celebrities, songs, and TV shows that don't make it across the ocean and into our pop culture consciousness. For every Bob the Builder and Doctor Who there's a Blue Peter and My Hero. For every Radiohead there's a Super Furry Animals, for every One Direction a Girls Aloud.

Not everything needs to cross over. But, as Shivrang said, the fact that Robbie Williams hasn't is one of the biggest head-scratchers of modern music history. He's got the whole package: catchy radio-ready tunes, great live performances, charm and personality, arresting videos. In the UK all but one of his 11 studio albums have gone to #1 (my favorite 2009's Reality Killed the Video Star only got to #2). He's also had seven #1 singles. In terms of chart performance, Robbie being anonymous here in the US…

REO Speedwagon: Wheels Are Turnin' (1984)

Where we left off:
REO Speedwagon rushed into the studio to follow up the mega-selling Hi Infidelity, producing Good Trouble. The album sold well and featured two top 40 hits, but was nonetheless seen as a disappointment.

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Part of REO's disappointment with Good Trouble was that they'd felt hurried to complete it. They were also, according to the band's VH1 Behind the Music, seriously overindulging in drugs and alcohol. With their next album, they tried to rectify both of these problems. Kevin Cronin led the band (all save guitarist Gary Richrath) on a campaign of improved diet and exercise, and encouraged everyone to moderate their drinking and drug use. And the group took its time in crafting and choosing the songs that would end up comprising Wheels Are Turnin'. Cronin, Richrath, and drummer Alan Gratzer produced, bringing in David Devore (Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Foreigner) for production and engineering assistance.

When writing about Good Trouble I r…

REO Speedwagon: Good Trouble (1982)

Where we left off:
REO Speedwagon became household names with the massive sales of Hi Infidelity and the number 1 hit "Keep On Loving You."

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The common narrative pushed by a certain segment of REO Speedwagon fans and various critics is that the breakthrough of Hi Infidelity led the band to abandon their rock bonafides and become a synth band that mostly wrote ballads.

As direct evidence that this is a false narrative, I offer you Good Trouble. From the organ solo on opener "Keep the Fire Burnin'" to the atmospheric rock of Gary Richrath's "Stillness of the Night," Good Trouble is very much continuous with the REO of 1976 on.

Released in June 1982, meaning the guys barely had a moment to breathe following the mega-tour for Hi Infidelity, Good Trouble is in many ways the yang to its predecessor's yin. While Hi Infidelity was a loose concept album about heartbreak, this one is heavy on love songs and devotionals. Cronin's ballad "Sweet …