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REO Speedwagon: Classic Years 1978-1990

Following on from the rather excellent REO Speedwagon: The Early Years 1971�"1977 box set, Cherry Red make the next logical move and serve up part two, REO Speedwagon: Classic Years 1978-1990, a nine disc set containing the seven albums that arguably defined the Illinois outfit as they took them to mega-chart success. Also in evidence is a separate disc of rarities and demos and a live compilation - all coming remastered and with excellent liner notes - making it hard to argue that this, along with the first box, isn’t pretty much the final word on the band.
Who would have suspected that an album titled You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish would pave the way to REO glory, but with two singles, “Roll With The Changes” and “Time For Me To Fly”, piercing the top 100 in the US and Canada in 1978, the line-up of singer/guitarist Kevin Cronin, lead guitarist Gary Richrath, new bassist Bruce Hall, keyboard man Neal Doughty and drummer Alan Gratzer, would ride this double platinum opus into the US top 30. Doubtless you’ve heard the tale that REO were much more than a ballad band and if you need proof then it’s right here, the rockin’ jazz of the instrumental cut “The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot” or Native American beat of “Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again” showing the different areas the band could cover. Here, it comes resplendent with three versions of the singles and the seven track live-promo (something that was popular to gain radio time back in the day) Live Again, which leaves little doubt of the band’s stage prowess.

Nine Lives, from a year later, would cement REO’s popularity, hitting #33 in the US, even if it couldn’t spawn a hit single, but nonetheless “Heavy On Your Love” is a breathless slice of rock guitars, while “Take Me” reveals the enigmatic shimmer that intrigues on so many Speedwagon albums. This time there are three bonus tracks, with an edit of “Easy Money” and a couple of live cuts thrown in.

And then, all hell broke loose. 1980’s Hi Infidelity album giving birth to 6 US singles, of which 4 would go top 30 - two of which would reach the top 5, with the unmistakable “Keep On Loving You” spending a week at #1 and going platinum in its own right. The album crashed into the charts across the world and is now certified Diamond in America, 5xPlatinum in Canada and even Silver in the UK. If you don’t know it, then you should but suffice to say that everything from “Don’t Let Him Go” to “In Your Letter” via “Someone Tonight” and “Take It On The Run” is near perfection, as the band made the seamless shift from hard rockers to AOR masters. It is also this period, thanks to the big singles, that the band got lumbered with the unfair take of being lightweight balladeers. No bonuses appear on this disc, but that’s because the fourth CD in this set provides a nine-track demo for the Hi Infidelity album, alongside two edits, a four track live promo and a rather questionable ‘reggae’ take on “Keep On Loving You”. In itself, fans not already in possession of this material should consider investing for this disc alone.

Touring the world to promote their breakout album, two years would pass before the band’s second top ten record, Good Trouble, would appear in 1982, with its “Keep The Fire Burnin’” single also selling by the barrowload. As ever though, REO weren’t just all about the hits, with the likes of “Girl With The Heart Of Gold” showing their love of rock n’ roll and a catchy chorus, while “Let’s Go Be-Bop” sits on a mean riff that showcases just how forgotten the guitar work of the late Gary Richrath could be. The only down side to this album being that’s it’s the only one in the set not to include some bonus tracks.

The hits, however, would keep on coming, 1984’s Wheels Are Turnin’ spawning no less than 4 US top 40 singles, with “Can’t Fight This Feeling” providing the band’s second #1 in America and their first in Canada. The parent album would also, as Good Trouble had before it, go double platinum, as the wheels under the band maintained their speed. Again, however, it’s worth highlighting deeper cuts like the sparky “Thru The Window”, stage-show like “Break His Spell” (which is much darker than its upbeat piano suggests) and the driving title track, to emphasise that REO Speedwagon were bonafide AOR rockers and not just a singles machine. Yes, the voice of Cronin was perfect for the slow smoochie stuff, but boy the guy can sing and holler with the best of them. This time five different edits of albums tracks appear as bonuses, although it’s The Goonies OST inclusion, “Wherever You’re Goin’” that proves most intriguing; even if it is a little REO by numbers.

Life As We Know It followed in 1987 without really quite capturing the same spark of the albums that had immediately preceded it and while the rock n’ roll honkie tonk of “New Way To Love”, more bullish “Screams And Whispers” and energetic “Tired Of Getting Nowhere”, all hit the mark in a variety of ways, it’s the latter whose title maybe points to where the band were at during this time. With a lack of Richrath penned numbers (only two co-writes}, it’s the scathing Cronin written “Too Many Girlfriends” (allegedly directed at his co-guitarist) which maybe points to the problems the band were beginning to experience. Still, the album provided another two top 20 US hits and along with “Here With Me” - the single from 1988’s The Hits compilation, which appears in two forms as a bonus on this disc - continued the REO success story. The other two bonuses here are “I Don’t Wanna Lose You” (also from The Hits) and an edit of LAWKI album cut “Variety Tonight”.

Three years later and the cracks had opened into fissures, Richrath no longer in the band and neither was drummer Alan Gratzer - leaving keyboard player Neal Douhgty as REO’s only founder member. Although even his work was augmented by that of keys-man Jesse Harms on 1990’s The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken. Harms would also co-write half the album, with “Live It Up” and “Love To Hate” coming from him alone. Guitarist Dave Amato would, after a brief appearance in the band by Miles Joseph, have a hand in two songs, the closing pair of “L.I.A.R.” and “Go For Broke”, as he started a period as the band’s guitarist that continues to this day. The quirkily-titled album couldn’t however replicate the success of Tuna and TEASMHDAAC would be the first REO Speedwagon not to crack the US top 100 since 1976’s R.E.O. album. Although the keyboard heavy “Love Is A Rock” bouncing “Live It Up”, Diane Warren/Kevin Cronin co-write of “Can’t Lie To My Heart” and upbeat “You Won’t See Me” are all good stabs at the classic REO sound. But for many the magic was gone.

Only two studio albums have followed this decade-plus purple patch, 1996’s Building The Bridge and 2007’s underrated Find Your Own Way Home (unless you count a 2009 Christmas album…). Instead the band relied on their hard earned and long maintained live prowess to stay in touch with their fans, so it’s fitting that the classic years of REO Speedwagon are also celebrated in this style here. Disc nine an excellent 17 track live compilation that draws together performances of the band’s best loved numbers from 1981 to 1990 (although not in chronological order) and proves once and for all that no matter the studio success, the stage was their natural home.

Amazingly, give or take a drummer or two, REO Speedwagon continue on with the same line-up that recorded their 1990 album, playing hundreds of live shows across the intervening years. It’s no surprise however that if you go see the band today, they are still, mainly, celebrating the era captured here. The Classic Years 1978-1990 leaves little doubt as to why.


Track Listing
DISC ONE: YOU CAN TUNE A PIANO BUT YOU CAN’T TUNA FISH (1978)
1. ROLL WITH THE CHANGES
2. BLAZIN’ YOUR OWN TRAIL AGAIN
3. TIME FOR ME TO FLY
4. LUCKY FOR YOU
5. THE UNIDENTIFIED FLYING TUNA TROT
6. SAY YOU LOVE ME OR SAY GOODNIGHT
7. RUNNIN’ BLIND
8. DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR WOMAN IS TONIGHT?
9. SING TO ME
BONUS TRACKS
10.ROLL WITH THE CHANGES (SHORT VERSION)
11.ROLL WITH THE CHANGES (LONG VERSION)
12.TIME FOR ME TO FLY (EDIT)
LIVE AGAIN [PROMO 1978]
13.SON OF A POOR MANN
14.(I BELIEVE) OUR TIME IS GONNA COME
15.FLYING TURKEY TROT
16.KEEP PUSHIN’
17.RIDIN’ THE STORM OUT
18.PIANO INTERLUDE
19.157 RIVERSIDE AVENUE


DISC TWO: NINE LIVES (1979)
1. HEAVY ON YOUR LOVE
2. DROP IT (AN OLD DISGUISE)
3. ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE
4. EASY MONEY
5. ROCK & ROLL MUSIC
6. TAKE ME
7. I NEED YOU TONIGHT
8. MEET ME ON THE MOUNTAIN
9. BACK ON THE ROAD AGAIN
BONUS TRACKS
10.EASY MONEY (EDIT)
11.157 RIVERSIDE AVENUE (LIVE)
12.RIDIN’ THE STORM OUT (LIVE)


DISC THREE: HI INFIDELITY (1980)
1. DON’T LET HIM GO
2. KEEP ON LOVING YOU
3. FOLLOW MY HEART
4. IN YOUR LETTER
5. TAKE IT ON THE RUN
6. TOUGH GUYS
7. OUT OF SEASON
8. SHAKIN’ IT LOOSE
9. SOMEONE TONIGHT
10. I WISH YOU WERE THERE


DISC FOUR: BONUS TRACKS / PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED DEMOS
1. SOMEONE TONIGHT
2. TOUGH GUYS
3. IN YOUR LETTER
4. FOLLOW MY HEART
5. TAKE IT ON THE RUN
6. DON’T LET HIM GO
7. KEEP ON LOVING YOU
8. SHAKIN’ IT LOOSE
9. I WISH YOU WERE THERE
10. DON’T LET HIM GO (EDIT)
11. TAKE IT ON THE RUN (EDIT)
LIVE PROMO
12. DON’T LET HIM GO
13. KEEP ON LOVING YOU
14. TAKE IT ON THE RUN
15. IN YOUR LETTER
16. KEEP ON LOVING YOU (89 REGGAE VERSION)


DISC FIVE: GOOD TROUBLE (1982)
1. KEEP THE FIRE BURNIN’
2. SWEET TIME
3. GIRL WITH THE HEART OF GOLD
4. EVERY NOW AND THEN
5. I’LL FOLLOW YOU
6. THE KEY
7. BACK IN MY HEART AGAIN
8. LET’S BE-BOP
9. STILLNESS OF THE NIGHT
10. GOOD TROUBLE


DISC SIX: WHEELS ARE TURNIN’ (1984)
1. I DO WANNA KNOW
2. ONE LONELY NIGHT
3. THRU THE WINDOW
4. ROCK ‘N ROLL STAR
5. LIVE EVERY MOMENT
6. CAN’T FIGHT THIS FEELING
7. GOTTA FEEL MORE
8. BREAK HIS SPELL
9. WHEELS ARE TURNIN’
BONUS TRACKS
10. I DO WANNA KNOW (SHORT VERSION)
11. LIVE EVERY MOMENT (EDIT)
12. WHEREVER YOU’RE GOIN’ (IT’S ALRIGHT) (REMIX)
13. GOTTA FEEL MORE (RADIO MIX LONG VERSION)
14. GOTTA FEEL MORE (RADIO MIX SHORT VERSION)
15. WHEREVER YOU’RE GOIN’ (IT’S ALRIGHT) (THE GOONIES OST)


DISC SEVEN: LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (1987)
1. NEW WAY TO LOVE
2. THAT AIN’T LOVE
3. IN MY DREAMS
4. ONE TOO MANY GIRLFRIENDS
5. VARIETY TONIGHT
6. SCREAMS AND WHISPERS
7. CAN’T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEART
8. OVER THE EDGE
9. ACCIDENTS CAN HAPPEN
10.TIRED OF GETTIN NOWHERE
BONUS TRACKS
11.VARIETY TONIGHT (EDIT)
12.I DON’T WANT TO LOSE YOU (THE HITS)
13.HERE WITH ME (THE HITS)
14.HERE WITH ME (RADIO EDIT)


DISC EIGHT: THE EARTH, A SMALL MAN, HIS DOG AND A CHICKEN (1990)
1. LOVE IS A ROCK
2. THE HEART SURVIVES
3. LIVE IT UP
4. ALL HEAVEN BROKE LOOSE
5. LOVE IN THE FUTURE
6. HALF WAY
7. LOVE TO HATE
8. YOU WON’T SEE ME
9. CAN’T LIE TO MY HEART
10.L.I.A.R
11.GO FOR BROKE
BONUS TRACKS
12.ALL HEAVEN BROKE LOOSE (ALBUM VERSION-MORE GUITAR)
13.ALL HEAVEN BROKE LOOSE (SINGLE VERSION-MORE VOCAL)
14.JUST FOR YOU (RADIO EDIT)
15.JUST FOR YOU (THE BALLADS,FULL LENGTH VERSION)
16.’TIL THE RIVERS RUN DRY (THE BALLADS)


DISC NINE:
1. DON’TLETHIMGO(KEMPERARENA1985)
2. TOUGHGUYS(KEMPERARENA1985)
3. TAKEITONTHERUN(KEMPERARENA1985)
4. I DO WANNA KNOW (KEMPER ARENA 1985)
5. CAN’T FIGHT THIS FEELING (KEMPER ARENA 1985)
6. KEEP THE FIRE BURNING (ROCKFORD METRO CENTRE 1983)
7. ROLL WITH THE CHANGES (ROCKFORD METRO CENTRE 1983)
8. THAT AIN’T LOVE (KIEL AUDITORIUM, ST LOUIS 1987)
9. BACK ON THE ROAD AGAIN (BLAISDELL ARENA, HONOLULU 1989)
10.LIVE IT UP (CLUB EASTBROOK, GRAND RAPIDS)
11.ROLL WITH THE CHANGES (DENVER, CO 1981)
12.RIDIN’ THE STORM OUT (DENVER, CO 1981)
13.KEEP ON LOVIN’ YOU (INDIANAPOLIS, IN 1984)
14.JOHNNY B. GOODE (INDIANAPOLIS, IN 1985)
15.CAN’T FIGHT THIS FEELING (GRAND RAPIDS, MI 1990)
16.SAY YOU LOVE ME OR SAY GOODNIGHT ALPINE VALLEY, WI 1980)
17.TIME FOR ME TO FLY (ST. LOUIS, MO 1987)

Added: March 9th 2019
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Classic Years 1978-1990 @ Cherry Red
Hits: 938
Language: english

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