Skip to main content

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.

*

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 succeed. 

The collection gets away with the two new songs because they're both quite good, and bravely placed at the front of the album. The rocking "I Don't Want To Lose You" is actually a cover of a song by a band called i-Ten, having appeared on their 1983 album Taking a Cold Look. i-Ten was comprised of the band's old friend Tom Kelly and his songwriting partner Billy Steinberg (read more about them here).


The other new song was "Here With Me," a soaring ballad that would become the band's eighth and final top 20 hit. It was co-written by Cronin and smooth jazz trumpeter Rick Braun (there's no trumpet on the song, but Braun had played the instrument on Life As We Know It's "Tired of Gettin' Nowhere"). Both new songs, as I said earlier, marked the final recorded appearance of the Cronin-Richrath-Doughty-Hall-Gratzer line-up of REO, as both Alan Gratzer and Gary Richrath would be gone within a year.


For Gratzer it was a matter of priorities. He'd gradually found it less and less enjoyable to be out on the road. He missed spending time with his wife and three young children. "I felt like a prisoner in my hotel room," Gratzer told Malcom Dome in 2018. "The two hours onstage were great, and if I could have teleported directly home after each gig, then that would have been fine." So he made the decision to quit the band. With his departure, REO was left with only one of its original founders.

Richrath was next. Once the undisputed leader of the band, Gary's role in REO had grown smaller and smaller. With things deteriorating interpersonally and artistically, Cronin finally requested that Richrath go to rehab. This led to a stalemate in which, at least according to Doughty, Richrath decided to quit. He did eventually go to rehab, Bruce Hall says, "But it took him leaving the band for that to happen."

As such, The Hits ended up really being a fitting summary, truly the best of what REO Speedwagon were at the height of their powers. Here are a few thoughts on the track choices and order, and why they work despite their blatant violation of my rules.


  • The band had 17 charting singles between 1971 and 1987. Ten of them are on The Hits (at least on the CD and cassette versions; the LP eliminated "Back on the Road Again" and "One Lonely Night"). For the most part the choices made were the right ones. It is difficult to justify the exclusion of "Keep the Fire Burnin'," which was the band's fourth biggest hit by the numbers. But the other omissions - "Sophisticated Lady," "In Your Letter," "Sweet Time," "I Do' Wanna Know," "Live Every Moment," and "Variety Tonight" - are not egregious.
  • The only non-charting tune included was "Back On The Road Again." This is totally warranted given its regular place in the band's live show, and the fact that it kicks ass.

  • The band included "That Ain't Love" and "In My Dreams," which might have been seen as somewhat bold considering they'd just been released the year before. But from a long-term perspective it was a good call.


  • The decision to use the live version of "Ridin' the Storm Out" makes total sense not only because the live version has Cronin's vocals and keeps things consistent, but because the live version is superior to the recorded one.

  • The non-chronological track order allows the band to balance out the ballads and rockers, making for a more satisfying listening experience.

*

Burning Question #1:
What happened to Alan Gratzer?
Gratzer remains on friendly terms with the band, but retired from music completely outside of occasional one-off REO performances. He says he has no regrets about his decision.

Burning Question #2:
What happened to Gary Richrath?
Richrath took some time to get himself together and eventually formed the band "Richrath" with singer-songwriter Michael Jahnz, formerly frontman of the L.A. band Vancouver, drummer Tracy Martins, bassist Jim Sorensen, and keyboardist Dave Fraser (formerly of the band Redwing). They recorded an album in 1992, Only the Strong Survive (the title track revived from Nine Lives), and toured together for nearly a decade. Over the years, there were various efforts to bring Richrath back into the REO fold, but his continued struggle with sobriety was always a roadblock. 

In 2013 at a benefit held Bloomington, Illinois (my hometown!) Richrath joined the band for "Ridin' the Storm Out" and a cover of "With a Little Help from My Friends." In September 2015 he went to the hospital with a stomach ailment. There were complications in treatment, and Gary passed away at the age of 65.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

REO Speedwagon: R.E.O. Speedwagon (1971)

REO Speedwagon got its start in the late 1960s on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana. The band grew out of a friendship between a students Neal Doughty (piano/keyboard) and Alan Gratzer (drums). Joining up with a couple of other musicians, they took the name R.E.O. Speedwagon. It wasn't long before they started getting gigs at parties and bars, doing covers of the hits of the day. The band cycled through several players in its first three years, with Gratzer and Doughty as the only constants. One-by-one they added the members that would form the first "official" lineup: singer Terry Luttrell in early 1968, bassist Gregg Philbin later that summer, and guitarist Gary Richrath at the end of 1970. Richrath was a native of Peoria, 90 miles northwest of Champaign, and had essentially stalked the band until they let him join. It was a good move, as he not only an accomplished guitarist, but also a songwriter. With Richrath the band ascended to the n

12 by Matthew Sweet (2002 - 2021)

Sometimes a huge part of an artist's career has not been summarized. Case in point... Matthew Sweet has a couple of compliations out there, but neither of them cover the past couple of decades, a span that has seen him release 8 albums of original material and 3 albums of covers.  I followed Sweet's career religiously early on, with my ardor gradually diminishing after the magnificant one-two punch of In Reverse (1999) and The Thorns (2003) That's not to say he hasn't produced some great work since then, it's just that it requires bit of effort to pick out the gems. Here's my college try: (Two of these albums are not available on streaming servies, so here's a slightly modified version of the playlist on YouTube .) 1. "I Can't Remember" ( The Thorns , 2003) The Thorns was a rootsy, close-harmony early-aughts version of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, featuring Shawn Mullins (of "Lullaby" fame) and Pete Droge (of "If You Don't Lov

The Beatles: "Now and Then" (2023)

All the way back in 2008, I wrote a series of  posts covering the recorded output of an obscure 1960s band called The Beatles. Though never especially popular or commercially successful, they managed to release an impressive 13 albums and 2 compilations in a 7-year period. Once I completed those reviews, I promptly forgot all about the Beatles. I was sure that I didn't need to keep tabs on them, because all indications were that they'd never reunite or release any more music. So you can imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I came across a YouTube video claiming to be about the making of a new "final" Beatles song called "Now and Then." And then imagine even more surprise when I learned that this song was not the first new Beatles song since 1970. It's the third! As it turns out, the Beatles had actually "reuinted" to record more music in the 1990s. Though band member John Lennon was killed in 1980, he left behild some unfinished songs