Tuesday, October 29, 2013

VINTAGE VINYL (Pt. 2) - REO Speedwagon "REO"

(Pt. 2)
REO Speedwagon 

Welcome to the second of
my five-part series in which
revisit a few long-lost LPs
that I uncovered recently
while rummaging through
my garage. REO is one of
my favorite bands and
this record remains a gem.

Despite an impressive five-album catalogue and nearly six years of relentless touring, the best hand that REO Speedwagon could muster by 1976 was a pair of twos, a five, a seven and a Jack. However, the Illinois-based combo was building momentum and revving up for an inevitable  breakthrough.

Produced by John Stronach (Joe Walsh / Dan Fogelberg), REO was the Speedwagon's sixth record and it marked the return of estranged vocalist, Kevin Cronin, who had fronted the band on its second record, R.E.O./T.W.O., but bailed during the production of album three, Ridin' the Storm Out.

Best described (by me) stylistically at the time as the Eagles' scrappy, younger stepbrother, REO Speedwagon finally had harnessed the creative "fire and ice" dynamic between Gary Richrath's  guitar-driven edge and Cronin's acoustic-based, pop sensibility — resulting in the most cohesive and raucous effort of the band's pre-Journey-O-Styx-Wagon area.

Although REO remains one of the band's all-time poorest-selling records, several of its eight tracks ultimately helped to ignite their 1977 breakout live album, You Get What You Play For.  And  despite failing to chart as a single, the kickoff track, Cronin's "Keep Pushin'," remains a much-loved concert favorite and a Classic Rock radio staple.

I recently revisited the record via CD on a kickass set of headphones. Holy cow, it still stands up — 37 years later. Anything but dated, the songs remain fresh and relevant. In fact, the emotions conveyed through the lyrics of Cronin's  "(I Believe) Our Time is Gonna Come" are so timeless, not to mention, honest and vulnerable, that they could have been written this morning by any of today's latest and greatest songsmiths.

I dream of you through 
every night. But you're 
not risin' with me - so I
don't wanna see the light.
-Kevin Cronin
"(I Believe) Our Time is Gonna Come"

The production was, and is, simply superb. Each layer upon beautiful layer of Les Pauls, Telecasters and acoustic guitars still sounded deliciously crisp — as if I was hearing the record for the very first time. Kudos!

Always the band's unsung star player, founder Neal Doughty's keyboard work still zings — particularly his biting piano track on the Richrath / Cronin rocker, "Breakaway." The powerhouse bass lines from Gregg Philbin are even more thunderous than I remembered. And as an aspiring young player who grew up idolizing drummer Alan Gratzer, it was a treat finally to discover actual kick drum lurking in the mix. Who knew? And speaking of Grazter, his signature, "less is more," "keep-it-in-the-pocket" style truly shines on Richrath's "(Only A) Summer Love."

REO Speedwagon would eventually strike gold (and platinum) as purveyors of pop provolone throughout the '80s. However, REO serves a perfect showcase for a hard rockin', song-based band when it had street cred to spare, and it is a mighty tasty precursor to 1978's equally epic You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can't Tuna Fish and 1979's sleeker and sexier Nine Lives.

Yes, the vinyl music format remains organic and personal to us old school aficionados. And I'm looking forward to sharing the other three LPs that I recently rediscovered, via subsequent posts over the next few days. Stay tuned! 

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)


Check out my entire 
"Vintage Vinyl" series:
(Pt. 5) Linda Ronstadt - Linda Ronstadt

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  1. Christopher,
    First, I must admit that I truly enjoy your subjects and writing style. Keep it up!
    I, too, have recently had a renaissance in regard to my aging collection of vinyl records. As a former disc jockey who grew up with an insatiable love for music, vinyl records were my guiding force. The first album I bought was the Capitol version of "A Hard Days Night," which I bought by saving the .50 a day my mother gave me for lunch at school. As I recall, it cost me $3.50, plus tax. It was the best purchase I ever made.
    I've moved around a lot over the past 10 years, leaving my record collection in my parent's basement. Each one is still in the protective, plastic outer sleeve that I left them in and I have a few hundred. They're my life's scrapbook.
    Both my parents are in nursing homes now, suffering from dementia, and I'm living in their house, which gave me the opportunity to listen to them, again.
    I came across your blog while looking for information about REO Speedwagon. I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, hometown to Cheap Trick. I remember seeing them in the local bars way before they became popular. I still see Rick on occasion because I have returned to Rockford, which he continues to call home. Also hailing from the Great Midwestern state of Illinois, is REO.
    Anyway, I was reading an article about the 30th anniversary of Dylan's "Infidels" album, and one poster mentioned the fact that "Neighborhood Bully" never gets the love it deserves for its continuing relevance. I agreed and then thought the same could be said of REO's "Golden Country," on the 1972 release of R.E.O. T.W.O. It addresses the issues still being faced by "blacks, freaks, and women." So, I pulled it out of my collection and gave it a spin on the old turntable. Yep. It's still as poignant and relevant as it was 43 years ago, reinforcing the thought that Richrath was much more than a phenomenal guitarist, God rest his soul.

    1. Hey Randy,

      Great stories. Thanks for sharing. You should consider becoming one of my "Guest Contributors."

      I hope that you also spotted my recent Gary Richrath tribute feature. (See link below)

      Keep in touch.