You can argue REO Speedwagon has seen it all.
Lots of lineup changes. A complete change in musical direction. Chart topping singles and albums. Playing to sold out arenas. Now a working band opening for bigger acts or headlining casinos or county and state fairs, REO Speedwagon tours and tours and tours on the heels of beloved songs that those who grew up in the 80s won’t let them go.
Say what you want about REO Speedwagon but the band puts on a damn fine live show. They finalized a “classic” lineup more than 30 years ago and despite not having an album of new material in more than a decade, their catalogue includes 16 studio albums and a number of radio hits that resonate today.
In many respects, two REO Speedwagons exist. That early band without singer Kevin Cronin and the band we know and love today. Those early years fronted by Terry Lutrell have a far different sound and feel than the REO Speedwagon that exploded into an arena band in the 1980s. Not that Cronin’s vocals were the difference but if you listen to those early records, REO Speedwagon produces a totally different sound.
Cronin came onboard in 1972, left because of band infighting so Michael Bryan Murphy took mic duties for two albums, then Cronin returned and never relinquished frontman duties. That’s not to say Cronin is REO Speedwagon but his vocals create the sound that is REO Speedwagon. Original and founding member Neal Doughty on keyboards still today and longtime guitarist, the late Gary Richrath, cannot be discounted either.
All that to say, this Top 10 Best REO Speedwagon songs feature Cronin on vocals. And, no asterisk on this one either as other Top 10 Best Songs Lists feature the * to indicate possible changes in the future in the event of new albums. I don’t see REO Speedwagon releasing new music. Yep, you’re going to get a lot of obvious ones on this list but for good reason. REO Speedwagon carved a niche making memorable ballads but as you’ll see there’s more to REO than meets the ear.
Fun Fact: I once interviewed Kevin Cronin. (Read “My Interview with….) I used to write articles for a now defunct baseball website and my “credentials” got me a phone interview as part of the press with Cronin. Nice guy!
REO Speedwagon Top Songs
As always, in no particular order but #1 generally means something more to me personally than others. Therefore, start the countdown:
- Screams and Whispers – Life As We Know It (1987)
We started with REO Speedwagon’s ascension so we’ll end on the downside. Life As We Know It pretty much ended REO Speedwagon as we knew it from their 80s heyday as this album marked the last with Richrath and original drummer Allen Gratzer. Life As We Know It was also the last Top 40 album for REO Speedwagon. They released two singles from it but not the outstanding pop rock song “Screams and Whispers.” My only complaint? Too short! What a melody and chorus. Just a great overall upbeat song.
- Can’t Fight This Feeling – Wheels Are Turnin’ (1984)
The star of 1984’s Wheels Are Turnin’ , write down “Can’t Fight This Feeling” as a deep album cut but a song that rightly became a massive hit for the band. What I think gets lost for most but what really stands out for me is Cronin on piano. The beginning measures so well done and very pretty.
- Then I Met You – Building the Bridge (1996)
Not sure why REO doesn’t play this song live. Another off Building the Bridge, “Then I Met You” would certainly have been a single and current radio staple had they released it 15 years earlier. A slight twinge of country on this track and a great use of bagpipes. Cronin sings so delicately as the song very slowly builds to a soft rock jam before Amato helps close it out with a decent solo.
- Take it on the Run- Hi Infidelity (1980)
Richrath rules the show here. He wrote the song, so why not? His guitar absolutely epic on the solo. He did get some minor help from Cronin with the lyrics.. So the story goes, Cronin added the line “You’re under the gun / So you take it on the run” and it stuck even if it made no sense.
- Lightning – R.E.O. (1976)
For a song from 1976 “Lightning” ages very well. Cronin, on his return to the band after leaving in 1972, nails some awesome vocals and Rithrath hammers down two solos closing the song with serious energy and flare. No ballad here, just straight up rock flavored with a dose of the 70s. I hereby petition REO Speedwagon dusts this one off and add to their live show.
- Don’t Let Him Go – Hi Infidelity (1980)
The opening track off Hi Infidelity offers a melodic oasis and represents a fine example of arena rock. It begs for the live show while listening at home gives the ear candy combination of acoustic and electric guitar, a host of keyboards, several melody runs and two guitar solos.
- Building the Bridge – Building the Bridge (1996)
I’m not picking this song because America falls apart at the seams. Yes, the theme of coming together is as apropos now as it ever has been but “Building the Bridge” off the 1996 album of the same name has a slow, soft melody that falls quite relaxing while Cronin sings in earnest. REO Speedwagon was pretty much off everybody’s radar at this point so outside the die-hards few probably heard this song. However, it certainly shows REO Speedwagon as hardly a one decade wonder because it’s a fairly new song considering the near 50 year tenure of the band.
- Keep On Loving You – Hi Infidelity (1980)
Probably #1 on most people’s Best of REO Speedwagon list, “Keep On Loving You” was one of many singles off the band’s multi-platinum album Hi-Infidelity released in 1980. Also a staple in every prom since, well maybe not today as I doubt kids would know a true ballad if they heard one. A classic. Great melody and how can you go wrong not dancing to this on your wedding day?
- Roll With the Changes – You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish (1978)
Almost made the #1 spot. A thoroughly fun song, if you have ever seen the band live you know when they play “Roll With the Changes.” It simply rocks with Cronin behind a piano breaking in to the opening melody then the band falls in and rocks on till the end. Indeed, REO has rolled with the changes and managed to extend their careers. Richrath’s guitar ruled back then which now falls in the hands of the very accomplished Dave Amato.
Best REO Speedwagon Song
- Time For Me to Fly – You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish (1978)
You can kind of see REO Speedwagon’s vertical ascension begin when they dropped You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish in 1978 featuring the heart-string pulling “Time for Me To Fly.” I love the opening acoustic guitar then the band opens it up into a solid rock ballad. And, yes I have repeatedly said I don’t absorb myself into lyrics, written by people with their own experiences and who I do not personally know, but REO Speedwagon pretty much authored the book on emotionally-centered lyrics that likely left many in tears over the years. This song included.
Some missing songs on this list, no doubt, but if you thought REO Speedwagon simply consisted of a handful of ballads forever stuck in the 1980s you would be incorrect. Give them their due and induct REO Speedwagon in the (rather farcical) Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.