Garage Sale Vinyl
Garage Sale Vinyl: REO Speedwagon

Garage Sale Vinyl: REO Speedwagon

REO / Epic Records / June 1976

Dude. It was a mind-blowing score! Recently, I discovered a long-forgotten box of family relics hiding in storage. Contained inside this newfound trove was a stack of musty old LPs from back in my teenage, strawberry-flavored rolling papers days. Among the vintage gems was Chicago X, ZZ Top Fandango, Cheap Trick Heaven Tonight, Meatloaf Bat Out of Hell, and REO Speedwagon REO. WHOA! Apparently, I don’t always have to go to other people’s garages to find vinyl treasures. In short order, I got reacquainted with REO via a kickass set of headphones. And it still holds up — 47 years later.

After delivering five solid, heartland-style rock LPs and six years of relentless touring, the best hand that REO Speedwagon could muster by 1976 (in terms of sales stats) was a pair of twos, a five, a six, and a nine. However, the Illinois-birthed combo was building momentum and revving up for a massive breakthrough with album seven in 1977. But first, they’d have to get past record six.

REO, Epic Records
photo by Christopher Long
REO, Epic Records

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. Described best stylistically (by me) as the scrappy little stepbrother to On the Border (Eagles, 1974), REO (finally) had harnessed the creative “fire and ice” dynamic between the guitar-driven edge of co-founder Gary Richrath and the acoustic-based pop sensibility of Cronin, resulting in one of the most cohesive efforts of the band’s pre-Journey-O-Styx-Wagon era.

Although REO remains the band’s poorest-selling record, several of its eight tracks helped to ultimately ignite the 1977 breakout live album, You Get What You Play For. Far from dated, the songs felt as fresh as ever. Despite failing to chart as a single, the kickoff track, “Keep Pushin’,” continues to be a much-loved concert and Classic Rock radio staple. Additionally, the convictions Cronin conveys through his “(I Believe) Our Time is Gonna Come” lyrics are so timeless, honest, and pure, they could have been written this morning by any of today’s latest and greatest songsmiths.

Produced by John Stronach (Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg), REO sounds simply superb. Each gorgeous layer of Les Pauls, Telecasters, and acoustic guitars is delightfully crisp. The keyboard work of oft-unsung MVP co-founder Neal Doughty 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. As an aspiring young player who grew up idolizing drummer Alan Gratzer, it was a treat to rediscover his meat-and-potatoes performance. Gratzer’s signature fat-free style shines brightest on “(Only A) Summer Love.” And I’d be remiss in not providing the late Gary Richarth well-deserved props for his soaring, time-tested instrumental standout, “Flying Turkey Trot.”

Of course, REO Speedwagon eventually struck gold and then platinum in the late ’70s — then mega platinum as a purveyor of pop provolone in the early ’80s. However, REO is a tall testament to the band’s hard-workin’, hard-rockin’ early era, when it had street cred to spare. And it also was a strong opening act for the equally spin-worthy 1978 studio follow-up, You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish, as well as the sleeker and sexier 1979 set, Nine Lives.

(4/5) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

REO, Epic Records
photo by Christopher Long
REO, Epic Records

REO Track List

SIDE ONE

  1. Keep Pushin’ (Cronin) – 4:06

  1. Any Kind of Love (Richrath) – 3:39

  1. (Only A) Summer Love (Richrath) – 4:38

  1. (I Believe) Our Time Is Gonna Come (Cronin) – 5:04

SIDE TWO

  1. Breakaway (Cronin, Richrath) – 4:15

  1. Flying Turkey Trot (Richrath) – 2:36

  1. Tonight (Richrath) – 3:14

  1. Lightning (Cronin, Richrath) – 5:52

REO Speedwagon


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