Albums of the ’80s: REO Speedwagon – Hi Infidelity

Hi Everybody! Robert is back this week with a new awesome album review. I loved REO Speedwagon ever since I got their Wheels Are Turnin’ album (actually it was a cassette). Well, little did I know that four years earlier, this great band had released another classic album – Hi Infidelity. I never owned that album. But, I did know several of songs from their greatest hits album. Some of the songs from this album are new to me. So, I love this article. I know you will too.

Hi Infidelity: REO Speedwagon’s Well Deserved Hit

The year was 1981 and I was in the sixth grade. My Army sergeant father had just informed me that we were leaving Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and moving to Frankfurt, Germany. I was nervous, but not completely upset about this announcement – actually, I was a bit excited. I would be able to visit and get to know my Dutch grandparents who would only be three hours away and not an ocean away. I was sad to leave my friends, but I knew I would make new ones in Germany – all military kids are told this through the multiple relocations they we are forced to endure. Now, this does not mean I didn’t take advantage of the situation. I had recently gotten into music – radio only. I listened to it every night (sneaking under the covers) and was starting to recognize and enjoy a few artists.

One of these was a band by the name of REO Speedwagon and a song called “Keep On Loving You”. I had never heard a song that sounded quite like that- a love song that, well, rocked. I approached my father, played the “I can’t believe we are moving again” card and asked for some money to buy REO’s album. This was a moment that changed my life forever. Hi Infidelity was the first album I ever bought; I give it credit for being the beginning of my love affair with ‘80s music. When I got home and listened to it for the first time, honestly, I never looked back. Music was now an integral part of my existence. Since then I have continued to buy albums, attend concerts, and listen to some type of rock everyday- but REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity will always be held in my heart as the first.

I did not know it at the time, but I soon learned that Hi Infidelity was REO’s ninth album. I was young and had very little experience or knowledge in the area rock music, but I knew that I liked what I heard and needed more of it. REO formed in the late 1960s in Champaign, Illinois and recorded their first album with lead singer Terry Luttrell in 1971. Kevin Cronin, the present lead singer, joined the band in 1972 for the band’s second album. Cronin left after recording his second album with REO, but the album was released with Mike Murphy on vocals. Fortunately, Cronin rejoined in 1976 to become the permanent vocalist. Hi Infidelity was released in November of 1980. Until this time, some of REO’s songs received frequent airplay, but they had yet to achieve major success. Songs like “Keep Pushing“, “Roll with the Changes“, “Time for Me to Fly“, and “Back on the Road Again” made the band a popular live performance band, but the success that comes with a hit single and album still eluded them – until this album.

All told, Hi Infidelity sold ten million copies and spent fifteen weeks at the top of Billboard’s album chart. The album spawned four top twenty-five hits. This album was a major commercial success, but there was one thing that was more important than the number of copies sold or the countless times the singles were played on the radio – this album represented over a decade of hard work and dedication to the idea that a relentless work ethic will pay off – even in the rock world. This album features the most consistent members of REO Speedwagon: Kevin Cronin on vocals, Gary Richrath and guitars, Bruce Hall on the bass, Neal Doughty on keyboards, and Alan Gratzer on drums. Today, these songs on Hi Infidelity are classics that are played both on classic rock stations and by REO themselves in concert. There is no need to delay- sit back and enjoy the sweet sounds of one of the most dedicated, hard working bands in rock who helped define and change the perception of popular rock and roll in the ‘80s.

Don’t Let Him Go #25

Gratzer’s drums set up this song which is a perfect opening track to an album. It is upbeat and features solos by both Richrath’s guitar and Doughty’s keyboards – a classic REO combination. This song typically opened REO shows in the ‘80s. It has a perfect blend of all the instruments, great vocals by Cronin, and a catchy chorus, “Don’t let him go / Just give him a chance to grow / Take it easy, take it slow / And don’t let him go.” This song does an excellent job in preparing the listener for what is to come.

Keep On Loving You #1

There is no way to adequately state the sheer brilliance or importance of this song. This song captured hundreds of thousands music fans and got them hooked on REO’s music. Many music critics give this song credit as an early (some say first) rock ballad. There may be other songs that can lay claim to creating this type of ballad, but in the ‘80s, this is clearly an early, shining example. The song opens with the classic ballad piano and slowly builds through the power chords of the rhythm guitar to Richrath’s fantastic solo – oh, how many times I rocked to this solo on my air guitar (wait, I still do). This song is short, clocking in at 3:22, but it packs a powerful punch. Just consider how many great rock ballads follow this amazing song. All of the power ballads by all of those hair bands owe REO for introducing this genre to the rock world of the ‘80s. When I recently saw REO in concert, Cronin introduced this song as the one that changed everything. It clearly did change things for REO, but also changed things for many of their fans.

Follow My Heart

There is not a song on Hi Infidelity that I do not like. This song is the one that made me really appreciate Richrath’s guitar work. From the opening note through the rhythm he lays down and the solo he wails on, Richrath truly shows his expertise. This is a solid song that fits the overall feel and quality of the album. Oh, and it has two guitar solos, or maybe three!

In Your Letter #20

While I like this song now, it took a while to grow on me. As a young listener I was enthralled with Hi Infidelity’s rocking guitar work- this song shows a different side of the band. It does not feature big guitar chords or soaring solos, rather the piano/keyboards take center stage. The catchy chorus is perfectly framed by Doughty’s piano work and includes both a piano and a Hammond B-3 organ solo. Lyrically, the song is one of being dumped through the dreaded letter, “You could have left him only / For an evening let him be lonely / But you hid behind your poison pen and his pride.”

Take It on the Run #5

It is extremely difficult for me to choose my favorite REO song, but this one is a strong contender. The opening lines are some of the most memorable ones from the early ‘80s (everybody sing), “Heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you’ve been messing around.” The song is about the harm that rumors can cause and the unwillingness to believe them when they concern someone we are in love with. This song is as close to perfect as a rock song can get. I especially love Richrath’s solo, particularly the length of it. While the solo in “Keep on Loving You” is great, I feel it is a bit short and fits a mold. This one lasts longer and builds perfectly- and do not miss Bruce Hall’s bass line that accompanies it.

Tough Guys

You know this one – the one that starts with Spanky and Alfalfa from The Little Rascals. And then the guitars kick in- yeah, that one. This is a great, simple, and catchy rock song. I think it is also the only studio song by REO that has a curse word in it – but it is funny and it does rhyme. The lyrics capture the feeling all guys have had when they are overjoyed that the girl chose them, even though the other guys could clearly pound them into the dust.

Out of Season

For absolutely no reason, I rediscovered this song the summer before I went to college. I was packing all of my records and cassettes away for storage as my family moved back to the United States. I was not going to be able to take my music with me until Christmas break because it would not arrive before I left for school (it was an incredibly long four months!). I wanted to make some temporary copies of my albums and listen to them one more time before we parted. This song really stood out to me; it did a great job in capturing the feelings of being let go by someone you love and not really understanding the reason why. The imagery is simple and powerful.

Shakin’ It Loose

This is a really fun song. I have seen REO perform this song several times in concert, and even though it is not one of their big hits, it always gets the crowd rocking and involved in the show. It is impossible not to sing along with and pump your fist to the chorus.

Someone Tonight

This song features lead vocals by bass player Bruce Hall. He makes several appearances as a vocalist on a few different REO albums, the most famous being the song “Back on the Road Again” from the Nine Lives album. Hall has a solid rock voice and he carries this song along with Richrath’s guitar work. Check out this bonus live video of REO performing Hall’s classic:

I Wish You Were There

I have always felt that this song could have been a single. It combines the talents of all the REO members: piano, bass, guitar and Cronin’s best vocals on the album.

Hi Infidelity is an excellent album that foreshadows what is to come in ‘80s rock. I never tire of listening to it – and when I do I am immediately transported to those days of my youth when music started to matter to me. I owe REO Speedwagon an enormous debt of gratitude. They opened my ears to rock and roll and gave me the fire of listening to music that still burns today. Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see REO live. It was my tenth time attending one of their shows and it was as good as the first. The band was full of energy and rocked the entire crowd for two hours. As expected, they performed several songs from Hi Infidelity and I loved them as if it were the first time I heard them. This album maintains a special, important place on my shelf and in my rock n’ roll heart.

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