REO Speedwagon Rolls With the Changes

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Boy, talk about perseverance! REO Speedwagon had released six studio albums since signing with Epic Records and putting out their self-titled debut in 1971. Each release made slow but steady progress finding an audience as the midwestern band built up a following through constant touring.

But despite the annual event of an REO album, the band from Champaign, Ill., still failed to connect with the most important target of that era: Top 40 radio programmers. When the singles from their 1975 and 1976 releases, This Time We Mean It and R.E.O., failed to chart, the group decided to take matters into their own hands. Literally.

For their next release, lead singer/keyboardist Kevin Cronin and lead guitarist Gary Richrath became co-producers for the first time, taking extra months to write the songs and create an album that allowed the now-seasoned band to showcase their musicianship. Though there was no new studio LP in 1977, the band did release a live album, You Get What You Play For. The two-record set became their highest-charting release to date, albeit at just #72. Their fortunes were turning.

The result of those efforts arrived on March 16, 1978, with You can Tune a piano, but you can’t Tuna fish. Despite the unfortunate title, the album proved to be the right record to bring REO Speedwagon to mainstream audiences. Its two singles, “Roll With the Changes” and “Time For Me to Fly,” though far from pop smashes, finally made a dent on the Top 40 charts, peaking in the mid-’50s on the Hot 100 on July 1. More importantly for the band and Epic Records–which had stuck with them all those years–the album rose up the album charts, peaking at #29. (Its cumulative U.S. sales are now more than two million copies.)

Our Classic Video is a live to track version of “Roll With the Changes” featuring Cronin’s great lead vocal, signature keyboards from Cronin and band founder/keyboardist Neal Doughty, and an amazing guitar solo from Richrath (that begins at the 4:04 mark). The black-and-white clip is also notable for Cronin’s amazing hair (as well as that from some of the ’80s audience members). “Keep on rolling…”

And here’s the band performing the song on The Midnight Special not once but twice… on September 22, 1978 and again on Dec. 5, 1980

After a brief hiccup with the follow-up album, 1979’s Nine Lives, REO had a commercial breakthrough with 1980’s Hi Infidelity. The album had four big singles, most notably their first of two #1’s, the Cronin-penned “Keep on Loving You” and the #5 hit “Take it on the Run,” written by Richrath. Three months after its November release, the album also hit #1, remaining there for months.

Related: Only nine albums reached #1 in the U.S. in ’81

On August 17, 2017,  Hi Infidelity received the Recording Industry Association of America’s Diamond Award, representing sales in excess of 10 million copies in the U.S.

Pictured (L-R): REO Speedwagon’s Dave Amato, Kevin Cronin, Bryan Hitt, Neal Doughty and Bruce Hall with their Diamond Award (Photo: Gary Gershoff; used with permission)

Related: Our interview with the Epic Records exec who signed the band

Says Cronin, born Oct. 6, 1951: “Hi Infidelity was a major life changer for all of us. On our eleventh album, we went from being the perennial Midwestern underdog, to at last hitting the global big time. Suddenly, the world was listening, and watching… But the truth is, it all still boiled down to the music, the songs, some inspired performances, and a great deal of good fortune. We were a tight knit, dedicated group of individuals, with a dream, a purpose, and no doubt that we would pull it all off.”

Catch REO Speedwagon on tour! Tickets are available here and here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

9 Comments so far

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  1. Curtis Ross
    #1 Curtis Ross 22 August, 2017, 04:36

    Don’t forget that “You Can Tune a Piano … ” had a great commercial set-up from 1977’s “You Get What You Play For,” a strong live-double LP that showcased the results of REO’s heavy touring schedule and helped solidify their place on FM rock radio.

    Reply this comment
    • Dutch
      Dutch 8 April, 2018, 03:37

      Curtis you nailed it! I saw Gary and the guys probably 8 to 10 times during the late 70’s/early 80’s.

      They rocked!!!

      Reply this comment
  2. Gene
    #2 Gene 22 August, 2017, 12:26

    Excellent! First saw them in 1979 in Hawaii and a last time here in Panama City Beach. My wife, 11 years marriage, always country, said it was the best concert she ever went to. Congratulations on 10 million copies of H.I.

    Reply this comment
  3. Anthony
    #3 Anthony 29 September, 2017, 17:24

    Congrats to REO! Well deserved!

    Reply this comment
  4. Gatchaman
    #4 Gatchaman 5 August, 2018, 09:58

    I wish “Good Trouble” would get some love. I understand why the band has ill feeling about it, but that was 36 years ago. There are a couple of songs there that were obviously rushed, but also a handful of really good tunes. Gary’s “I’ll Follow You” is a gem nobody knows about, among others.

    Reply this comment
  5. Yippikiyaymofo
    #5 Yippikiyaymofo 8 October, 2020, 12:02

    Singing “Time For Me To Fly” in a karaoke bar after finally dumping my cheating, abusive ex-wife remains one the most cathartic experiences of my life.

    Reply this comment
  6. Kais
    #6 Kais 19 March, 2021, 15:49

    Amazing and forgotten record!! Say you Love me to say goodnight, is absolute perfection!! Saw this tour and absolutely loved it!!

    Reply this comment
  7. Jose
    #7 Jose 8 October, 2021, 10:20

    Love the 1970’s version of this band. Nine Lives might have been a hiccup but I enjoy Back on the Road Again. An acquaintance is their current road manager.

    Reply this comment

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