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REO Speedwagon

The Classic Years 1978-1990

Review by Gary Hill

This new box set is a massive release. It is a nine-CD set featuring the "classic" era of REO. You get seven studio albums (from You Can Tune A Piano...to The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken) along with bonus tracks (a full CD of them for Hi Infidelity). There is a bonus live CD at the end with shows ranging from 1980 to 1990. I previously reviewed a box set of the early years of the band. If you get this along with that, you've got REO pretty well covered, really.

I have to say that I've always preferred the older, more rocking side of the band. To me a lot of the era when they were at the peak of their popularity is over-produced. The production sucked a lot of the life and vitality out of the songs. That's brought home with some of the demos included here. They really show that a lot of those songs were solid, if delivered in a bit more of a raw, rocking, format. Still, that era of the band sold more than any other period, so it obviously worked for a large number of people.

The quality of those demos was one surprise for me. So was Wheels Are Turnin'. I had given up on REO by the time that album came out, so I missed it completely. That's a shame, because it's a really rocking set that is closer to the older period of the group. I suppose it's better late than never that I discovered it. This whole set is packaged with a huge book. Each CD is in its own cardboard album cover sleeve. All of that is in a clamshell cardboard box. This is all class, really. There is one thing I don't understand, which is why the track order was switched on the first CD. If the booklet explains it, I missed it, as I didn't read it cover to cover. It should be noted that I previously reviewed a number of these songs, and I've referenced those reviews here for the sake of consistency.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD1: You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish (1978)
        
Roll with the Changes

Here is what I said about this cut on previous compilation I reviewed, "It's a strong pop rock hit, and well deserving of the success it had. It truly represents the fruition of the REO sound to this point." I love the piano dominated sound here, and this is a killer rocking number. It's catchy, energetic and has a lot of meat to it.

Time for Me to Fly
My original review of this song holds true, "A balladic hit from the band, this is a pretty and potent rocker. Again, it's not a stretch from some of what the band was doing until then, just more polished." This is one that seems most people would have heard.
Runnin' Blind
This is a much harder rocking number. It's fast paced and guitar heavy. It's such a strong tune. It does have some resemblance to "157 Riverside Avenue," though.
Blazin' Your Own Trail Again
This number is more of a power ballad kind of cut in a lot of ways. It has a classy sound, but is one of the weaker tracks on its original album.
Sing to Me
I love the rocking opening section here. The distorted guitar sound on this is all class. The cut has a lot of meat built into it. While this was never a hit, I think it's one of the highlights of ...Tune a Piano...
Lucky for You
Speaking of high-energy highlights, this song is purely on fire. It's definitely one of my favorites from the original disc. Everybody puts in such a smoking hot performance.
Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?
This is more of a mainstream rocker. While it works pretty well, it's not a standout.
The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot
This instrumental really rocks like crazy.
Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight
Here's what I originally said about this song. "This is a fast paced rocker with some of that boogie woogie feel the band had pulled off well before. It's a good, but not great cut."
Bonus Tracks
              
Roll with the Changes (Short Ver)

An alternate version of the opening cut, you pretty much know what you are getting with this bonus track.

Roll with the Changes (Long Ver)
And here we get a longer version, but I suppose you saw that coming, right?
Time for Me to Fly (Edit)
This time around we get an alternate version of this number.
Live Again 1978
           
Son of a Poor Man

This live rocker is such classy stuff. I love the bass work on this thing.

(I Believe) Our Time Is Gonna Come
I really like this a lot. I particularly enjoy the proggy rocking jam late in the number.
Flying Turkey Trot
I really dig this powerhouse instrumental a lot. In fact, I prefer this to the take on the studio part of this CD.
Keep Pushin'
Always one of my favorite REO tunes, this rocker works really well. It is a powerful live rendition.
Ridin' the Storm Out
Speaking of powerful live renditions, this might be the strongest performance I've ever heard of this classic. It's a killer tune delivered with a lot of fire.
Piano Interlude
As you might guess, this is a piano solo.
157 Riverside Avenue
Another smoking hot live take on an old-school REO rocker, this is just plain classy. The bass work alone is worth mention, but everything here works so well. The whole spoken section on this earns a bit of a parental advisory. This includes the classic guitar and voice call and response section.
CD2: Nine Lives (1979)
                   
Heavy on Your Love

They bring this in as a powered up, hard rocking jam. It is energized and one of the meatier tunes from the act. I love the guitar sound on this thing. That's particularly true of the jam around the three-minute mark.

Drop It (An Old Disguise)
This is much more of a mainstream pop rock cut. It's catchy, but seems a little less effective in terms of real meat.
Only the Strong Survive
Here is what I said about this rocker in an earlier review: "A more pop-oriented cut, this one actually feels a bit like early Cars in its bouncy texture." I have to say that I don't think that conveys the hard-edged guitar sound on this properly, but beyond that, it's pretty accurate.
Easy Money
Starting with some sound-effects that feel jungle-like to me, this works out to an energized piece that is fun. It's not the meatiest thing here, but it rocks.
Rock & Roll Music
Here they cover Chuck Berry. It's an energetic and solid rendition that manages to modernize the number, while preserving a lot of the magic.
Take Me
The opening section on this seems to promise a hard rocker in the older REO style. The cut has a bit more of a melodic approach on the verses, and shifts to an almost reggae-meets-jazz-styled sound on the choruses, though. I am not sure that it's the most successful cut. The bridge is more what you might expect from that introductory section. I do love the guitar solo.
I Need You Tonight
More of a pop rock based cut, I've never been a big fan of this one. For one thing, I'm not sold on the vocal performance. For another, it's just not that interesting a tune.
Meet Me on the Mountain
This one is meatier and works well. It's trademark REO and lands more in the mainstream melodic territory. Overall, though, it's a strong cut.
Back on the Road Again
What I said about this in my previous review still holds true. so here it is. "Starting with a fast paced drone, this is a good hard edged rocker with a surprising amount of crunch. This has always been an under-appreciated gem in my book." I should add to that, this was written by Bruce Hall who handles the lead vocals.
Bonus Tracks:
             
Easy Money (Edit)

This is, as you would guess, a shorter version of the earlier cut.

157 Riverside Avenue (Live)

Here we get another live version of this old-school REO tune. I'd say that it's not as strong as the one on the previous disc, but it does rock.

Ridin' the Storm Out (Live)
The final track on this second disc is another live take on "Ridin' the Storm Out." While I prefer the one on the first CD, you really can't fault this one at all. Honestly, it's one of REO's better songs in any performance, so what would you expect?
CD3: Hi Infidelity (1980)
                 
Don't Let Him Go

Here is what I originally said about this song: "This is another REO pop rock hit that just isn't all that special." I think I still agree with that statement for the most part, but this does have a bit more meat than I gave it credit for there. The keyboard led section of this is kind of cool, but the sound of the keys feels very cheesy in retrospect.

Keep on Loving You
"Somewhat cliched and bordering on sappy, this balladic pop cut works well despite those things." At least that's what I said in my original review. I think I agree with that assessment today.
Follow My Heart
I love the meaty guitar sound on this powerhouse rocker. It still manage some solid vocal hooks. That makes it both catchy and rocking.
In Your Letter
Here is what I said when I originally reviewed this song, "Based on a '50s pop style, this one is a bit weak in the opinion of this reviewer." I think that opinion still holds true.
Take It on the Run
"Although a pretty routine REO hit, this one works quite well nonetheless. It includes a very meaty guitar solo." At least that's what I said in my original review of the song. Again, I think I still agree with that assessment.
Tough Guys
There is a short cut from "The Little Rascals" at the start of this cut. The track fires out into rocking style from there with an energetic tune. While it's fun, it's nothing particularly earth-shattering. Then again, it doesn't need to be. I like it. It does get a bit of a parental advisory.
Out of Season
For some reason the main riff on this makes me think of 38 Special. This track is pretty generic in a lot of ways. It's definitely not a highlight. It does have some moments, though.
Shakin' It Loose
A pretty run-of-the-mill REO rocker, this has some good hooks and energy. It's just nothing particularly noteworthy or unique.
Someone Tonight
While there is still plenty of pop rock at the core of this thing, it's a bit meatier. Hall sings this one and wrote it.
I Wish You Were There
This balladic cut is quite effective. It has some meaty guitar despite the slower, mellower approach. It's actually one of the highlights for me, too.
CD4: Hi Infidelity Bonus Tracks
           
Demos:
           
Someone Tonight

This demo version of the cut from the main album feels quite a bit like Cheap Trick to me. I might like it better than I do the final take.

Tough Guys
While this is also a demo version, I don't hear a ton of difference between this and the final version.
In Your Letter
I like this version of the song better than I do the final rendition. It has more meat and less of that 50s element.
Follow My Heart
This has a cool rocking edge in this rendition. It sounds more closely tied the older rock sound of the band. I definitely prefer this to the final take that made it onto the album proper.
Take It on the Run
I don't hear a lot of difference from the final version, but this is perhaps a bit less polished. It's not really to the point of noticing it beyond this feeling a bit edgier. I do prefer this to the album version. The guitar solo section in particular stands out, feeling closer to the older, more rocking REO sound.
Don't Let Him Go
This demo version is strong, too. I'd probably rate this one about even with the final version of the cut.
Keep on Loving You
Now, here's one where the final version is better. This cut struggles in a lot of ways, most notably the vocals. The stripped back production doesn't help.
Shakin' It Loose
This rocker is fun and works well in this demo version.
I Wish You Were There
I definitely prefer this to the final version that made the album. It's more of an organic tune in this format. The other recording just feels overly produced with most of the real genuine nature sapped out of it.
Single Edits:
           
Don't Let Him Go

This works pretty well in this single version of the tune.

Take It on the Run
As you might guess, this is the single version of the album cut, and it is effective.
Live Promo
            
Don't Let Him Go

This version has a cool hard edge to it. I think it adds some definite life to the track.

Keep on Loving You
Another live performance, this is solid.
Take It on the Run
Here we get another strong live cut.
In Your Letter
This works better live to me than it does in the studio version.
Keep on Loving You (89 Reggae Version)
You can pretty much figure what you've got here from the title and parenthetical. It's an interesting twist, but more of a novelty than anything else.
CD5: Good Trouble (1982)
          
Keep the Fire Burnin'

Here is what I said when I first reviewed this song, " This is another that is a fairly generic cut that falls clearly into that pop rock format that became almost a cliché of the band eventually." I have to say that it really does work pretty well despite its generic texture.

Sweet Time
A balladic cut, this one is on the "too polished" side. It's a good song, but definitely doesn't find them breaking any fresh ground or taking any chances.
Girl with the Heart of Gold

I really like this rocker quite a bit. It's another written by Bruce Hall and featuring his lead vocals. This is another that makes me think of Cheap Trick a bit, too. It's a cool number and a nice change of pace.

Every Now and Then
More of a power ballad, this definitely lands in the territory of "run-of-the-mill" REO music. It's another that plays it safe and generic.
I'll Follow You
I like this fast paced and energetic rocker quite a bit. It's a break from the over-produced, generic sounds. Don't get me wrong, it's trademark REO, but leans more toward the older era of the band. I love the piano jamming later on in the piece.
The Key
When I reviewed this before, I said, "this is another pretty standard pop rocker for the group." While I think that's true, this is a pretty cut.
Back in My Heart Again
"Unremarkable" would be a good description of this song. It's a pretty standard REO pop rock tune.
Let's Be-Bop
This song is another that makes me think of Cheap Trick a bit. That said, it's another that's both written by and sung by Bruce Hall. It has its moments, but doesn't seem to gel as well as some of the other do.
Stillness of the Night
This feels closer to the "Ridin' the Storm Out" school. It's a solid mid-tempo rocker that works quite well.
Good Trouble
The closing title track is a solid rocking tune. It's energized and fun. It's not an incredible piece of music, but it is a highlight of the set.
CD6: Wheels Are Turnin' (1986)
               
I Do Wanna Know

I love the old school REO rock and roll sound on this tune. It definitely leans back toward the older era of the band. That's a positive as far as I'm concerned. I has some killer jamming, particularly the keyboard and guitar work. This is a real bright spot in this period of the band.

One Lonely Night
Here is what I said about this song in a previous review: "This ballad rocker doesn't wander far from the format of a lot of REO's pop era, but despite that this one works especially well. It features a smoking guitar solo." I think that description still fits perfectly.
Thru the Window
This comes in with a bit of a reggae thing, much the same way that Rush flirted with reggae. This elevates into a killer number, that's another highlight of the set. The closing section on this even makes me think of that period of Rush just a bit.
Rock 'N Roll Star
Coming in with a hard rocking motif, this drops to a balladic approach. As it shifts into the chorus the fast paced harder rocking sound returns. I like this one quite a bit. It's not a highlight of the album, but it does stand taller than a lot of the more pop-oriented stuff from the band.
Live Every Moment
When I wrote about this song before, I said that this track "is a bit too lackluster and generic." While that's true, the number does still have some meat on its bones.
Can't Fight This Feeling
When I reviewed this song before I said, "a piano based ballad, this hit single, despite its somewhat cheesy AOR format is fairly satisfying."
Gotta Feel More

I like this rocker quite a bit. There is a bit of that reggae element at play, but overall this is a powerhouse hard rocker. This is a real highlight as far as I'm concerned.

Break His Spell
More of a mainstream pop rocker, this is still quite good. I wouldn't consider it a highlight of the set, but it's just a good old school rock and roll infused number that's catchy and a bit meaty.
Wheels Are Turnin'
The title track closes the album proper. Another high energy rocker, the tune is a great way to end things. It really proves that coming out of the more pop-oriented period these guys still know how to rock.
Bonus Tracks
             
I Do Wanna Know (Short Version)
Here we have a shortened version of the opening cut, but you probably figured that.
Live Every Moment (Edit)
Again, you know exactly what you are getting here. This delivers.
Wherever You're Goin' (It's Alright) (Remix)
This is more of the kind of thing that lands under "generic" REO. It's not a bad song, but it is overproduced and just nothing all that special. The kids' choir vocals are a nice touch, though. Besides, this is a bonus track.
Gotta Feel More (Radio Mix Long Version)
This does have a bit more of a pop rock vibe to it in this version, but it still works quite well here.
Gotta Feel More (Radio Mix Short Version)
Here we get another version of the song. For some reason, I think I prefer this one to the previous number.
Wherever You're Goin' (It's Alright) (The Goonies OST)
Here we get the actual version of the song that's in the soundtrack. It rocks pretty well. I like it better than the version we heard earlier.
CD7: Life As We Know It (1987)
                 
New Way to Love

The drums lead this out, and I am not crazy about the sound of them. The whole opening segment has an artificial sounding production. They fire out into some rocking modes, though. The song has a classic rock and roll texture. I just don't really like the production on it. The saxophone is a nice touch, though. The old-school rock and roll jamming works pretty well, too, but goes on a bit too long.

That Ain't Love
Here's what I said about this song in my original review, "This is a fast paced rocker that feels at its start rather like The Who's "Pinball Wizard". Still pretty generic, this one has some meat to it nonetheless." I'd say that is a fair assessment, really.
In My Dreams
I had some pretty bad things to say about this one the first time I reviewed it: "This ballad is not so generic as it is simply banal. It's arguably the weakest cut the band ever did." In retrospect, that may have been a bit harsh. It is overproduced and doesn't really sound like REO at all. It's a decent pop power ballad, though.
One Too Many Girlfriends
This is more of a rocker. I'm not crazy about the production on this, but the cut drives with a lot of energy and has some solid hooks.
Variety Tonight
Here is what I said about this first time around, "With its decidedly '80s stylings the only real tip to the REO legacy here is Cronin's voice. Still this is a moderately strong track." I think that pretty well sums it up.
Screams and Whispers
This song feels more like REO. It lands in the melodic, mid-tempo rocking zone.
Can't Get You Out of My Heart
The production is still an issue here, but not nearly as much as on some of the earlier tracks. This rocker feels more like what you expect from REO. It's a solid tune.
Over the Edge
Now, this rocker has a lot of 60s sound built into it. It's a lot of fun. It's high energy and the production is a better on this than on some of the rest. I like this a lot. I particularly dig the guitar soloing on this thing.
Accidents Can Happen
This number really doesn't sound at all like REO to me. Part of that is the fact that Hall returns on lead vocals. The main thing, though, is the production that is so generically 80s that it sucks all the life and uniqueness out of the piece. I'd love to hear a demo version of this because I'll bet it started as a great song until it was turned into a Cars clone.
Tired of Gettin' Nowhere
Now, this rocker sounds more like REO. It still suffers just a little from overproduction, but it still has a health helping of energy and rock sound. The horns bring some interesting textures, while the keyboard solo brings a blast of retro style. The guitar soloing is tasty, too.
Bonus Tracks
       
Variety Tonight (Edit)

As you can probably imagine, this is a shortened version the album length cut.

I Don't Want to Lose You (The Hits)

The production on this track is a bit sterile, but the cut is cool in terms of its core structure. I'm not crazy about some of the keyboard sounds. They are very dated. I do like the chorus hooks a lot, though.

Here with Me (The Hits)
Here is what I said about this song originally, "This ballad is another that doesn't have much of the classic REO texture. It is definitely a weak one, but does include some tasteful guitar work." I would stand by that description but add that there are some solid vocal hooks, too.
Here with Me (Radio Edit)
Here we get a shortened version of the previous piece.
CD8: The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken (1990)
        
Love Is a Rock

Here is what I said about this song first time around, "A modernization of the REO sound, this one feels too contrived and falls rather flat." All that said, it does have a rock edge and some solid hooks.

The Heart Survives
This balladic cut feels a bit more like vintage REO. It does get a bit overproduced and cheesy, though.
Live It Up
I like the high energy rocking sound of this. That said, it feels more generic than it does like REO. Think of the type of sound Kenny Loggins created, and you'll have an idea of what this sounds like.
All Heaven Broke Loose
This comes in very much like a generic, over-produced pop song. It has some fairly meaty guitar work, but again doesn't really feel like REO at all.
Love in the Future
I like this track a lot more. It's energized and really rocks. The guitar soloing is so classy. The production stays out of the way and lets this thing breathe, too. That makes it one of the highlights of this particular CD.
Half Way
This ballad feels over-produced, but it does sound like REO.
Love to Hate
This high energy rocker even leans toward hair metal. While it's not a classic REO sound, it is a smoking hot tune. This is a highlight of the CD, and possibly the whole set. It's a case of changing the sound and making it work.
You Won't See Me
A melodic, energized rocker, this thing works so well. It has a lot of trademark REO sound built into it, but there are some more modern things, too. I dig the bluesy guitar fills on it, and the hooks are effective, too. This is another standout.
Can't Lie to My Heart
This power-ballad styled number is a bit on the generic side. That said, it does feel like REO to a large degree.
L.I.A.R.
Another that has more of that hair-metal sound to it, this is a screaming hot rocker. It does have some REO elements at play, but overall presents a new sound for them. It's a killer number that's among the highlights for me.
Go for Broke
This rocker has some killer hooks. It's also energized and hard rocking. This might not be your father's REO, but it definitely has links to it, and it rocks like crazy. This is another highlight for sure.
Bonus Tracks
       
All Heaven Broke Loose (Album Version-More Guitar)

As described, this does feel like more of a rocker. I think it's an improvement, and it does sound a bit more like what I expect from REO. All that said, it's still not a real standout.

All Heaven Broke Loose (Single Version-More Vocal)
Another version of the track, I don't think I like this one as much I do the previous one.
Just for You (Radio Edit)
I wrote the following about this song previously, but I don't recall whether it was this version or the next one, as it was on The Essential REO. "While another generic styled ballad, this one has enough heart to be quite effective." I would add that the production is a big part of the problem with the tune. The strings and other elements are cloyingly manipulative.
Just for You (The Ballads, Full Length Version)
Here is another version of the same song. As I said, I'm not sure which version is the one I previously reviewed, but they are essentially the same song, so the review above applies to this, as well.
'Til the Rivers
Another balladic cut, this again is a new sound for REO. While it really doesn't seem like the band at all to me, the vocals don't even really sound like Cronin, I like this number quite a bit. It's pretty, but has some definite meat and emotion built into it.
CD9: Live 1980-1990
              
Don't Let Him Go (Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Mo 1985)

A solid live performance of an REO classic, this works well. I really love the keyboard work on it, but the whole band do a great job here. The guitar especially shines later in the piece.

Tough Guys (Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Mo 1985)
Starting with the clip from "Little Rascals" that began the studio version, they put in a smoking hot hard rocking rendition of this tune. I think I like this better than the studio take.
Take It on the Run (Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Mo 1985)
Again, I think I prefer this live recording to the original studio version. It has a lot of magic built into it. I really elevates the track while remaining faithful.
I Do Wanna Know (Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Mo 1985)
This hard-edged rocker works really well. It makes me think of "157 Riverside Blvd" a bit. The guitar fills are great, but the whole song just shines. The jam after the three-minute mark really stands out, too.
Can't Fight This Feeling (Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Mo 1985)
This balladic tune works well in this live recording. It's not much different from the studio take, but it does a good job of capturing the sound and vibe. For me, it's not what I'd consider a highlight, but it is worth hearing for sure.
Keep the Fire Burning (Metro Centre, Rockford, IL 1983)
This cut and the next are of particular interest to me because I was actually in the audience at the show where they were recorded. They bring the track in with style and play it pretty faithfully. I dig the short instrumental section mid-track quite a bit. The other jam nearer the end that features some smoking guitar work is noteworthy, as well.
Roll with the Changes (Metro Centre, Rockford, IL 1983)
This REO rocker is delivered with great style and energy. I love the guitar sound on this thing. The number is a great tune, anyway, but I think this performance really elevates it.
That Ain't Love (Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MO 1987)
Coming in hard-edged and rocking, this works out more melodic motifs to continue. It's a solid live performance, but not one of my favorites here. That said, the rocking choruses work well.
Back on the Road Again (Blaisdell Arena, Honolulu 1989)

This rocker gets a solid live telling here. It's a cool tune and a strong performance. The guitar soloing section near the end is on fire.

Live It Up (Club Eastbrook, Grand Rapids, MI 1990)
This more modern sounding REO tune gets a good live telling here. It rocks pretty well. I prefer this to the studio version.
Roll with the Changes (McNichols Sports Arena, Denver, CO 1981)
Here we get another performance of this classic REO tune. I think I prefer the other version on this CD, but I might be biased. This one is suitably incendiary and effective.
Ridin' the Storm Out (McNichols Sports Arena, Denver, CO 1981)
Another classic from the band, I dig this live performance a lot. Then again, I don't think I've heard a version of this that I didn't like.
Keep on Lovin' You (Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, IN 1984)
This hit works well in this live performance. There are no surprises, but you don't really need them.
Johnny B. Goode (Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, IN 1985)
Here they put in a smoking hot cover of Chuck Berry. I love this little rocker. They really do a fiery version.
Can't Fight This Feeling (Club Eastbrook, Grand Rapids, MI 1990)
I'm not overly enthused about this performance. It's not one of my favorite songs from the band, this recording just sounds like it's been tinkered with a bit to me.
Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight (Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI 1980)
This classic rocker is solid and gets an energetic and rocking performance here. I don't think the recording quality on this one is quite on the same par as that on the other material here.
Time for Me to Fly (Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MO 1987)
This recording of the song isn't the best one I've heard. I'm not sure it was the wisest choice to use this as the closing number. Still, it's competent. It just seems a bit lackluster, and perhaps a little tired.
 
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