Album: You Get What You Play For
. . .
This is just how it worked in the 1970s: you were a meat-and-potatoes rock and roll band who loved to do Chuck Berry covers and maybe a little boogie. You had a pretty decent lead guitar player, a singer who wasn’t too slick but still slick enough, and after you put out a bunch of yearly studio albums that only sold well in the part of the country you were based, you released a live album which somehow got nation-wide airplay and because a bunch of teenagers loved the song or songs they heard on the radio they bought that live album, and that was your breakthrough.
I didn’t make the rules — how could I, as I was one of those teenagers — but that’s just how it was.
Oh, and your record company — your major label record company — just let you do this, year in and year out. And in the case of REO Speedwagon and it gets even weirder: Check out the sequence of lead singers on their first six studio albums:
- R.E.O Speedwagon (1971) – Terry Luttrell
- R.E.O./T.W.O. (1972) – Kevin Cronin
- Ridin’ the Storm Out (1973) – Mike Murphy
- Lost in a Dream (1974) – Mike Murphy
- This Time We Mean It (1975) – Mike Murphy
- R.E.O. (1976) – Kevin Cronin & Gary Richrath
I mean, Kevin Cronin, who sang on the live album — and all of the subsequent albums — had joined the group for the second albumand left and then came back,
Now I wanna point something out: I’ve never heard any of these records. I’ve never had any desire to hear any of these records. I will probably never hear any of these records. I have no idea who Mike Murphy or Terry Luttrell even are, though at least Luttrell has a Wikipedia page which tells me he went on to form the U.S. prog rock band Starcastle, who, you know, were a U.S. prog rock band, so how good could they have been? That said, Starcastle did have two albums produced by Roy Thomas Baker and I seem to remember they got played on the radio and I might have even bought one of those albums during my prog phase?
In any event, I know for a fact that I bought REO Speedwagon’s 1977 live album, You Get What You Play For, in early 1978, and it was . . . OK, I guess? That said, there were at least three songs that I really liked: the piano-hooked “Keep Pushing,” the epic wah-wah guitar jam “Golden Country, and of course “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” — not enough for 1978 Jim to go back and listen to the early ones. One thing I knew about those 1970s live albums: they were usually the best album by that artist up to that point, so why go backwards? Especially because most of those live albums combined the energy the band got from playing before an audience with the punched-up studio overdubs that made everything sound better than it did when they actually played the songs in front of the audience!
Fine, but I’ll allow that this version of “Ridin’ The Storm Out” is a genuinely thrilling rock ‘n’ roll song, riding Gary Richrath’s thick Les Paul tones, Kevin Cronin’s slick but not too slick vocals, a modulation, and some excellent drumming by Alan Gratzer, who stays away from any kind of flash while he alternates double-times, rolls, builds and just straight-up 4/4 beats making “Riding The Storm Out” seem like it was about almost dying in a plane crash rather than hanging out in a bar during a snow storm.
Ridin’ the storm out, waitin’ for the thaw out
On a full moon night in the Rocky Mountain winter
My wine bottle’s low, watching for the snow
Thinkin’ about what I’ve been missin’ in the city
As it turns out, he’s not missing a thing in the city, hanging out with his special lady in that Rocky Mountain bar is good enough. More than good enough, however, is Gary Richrath. In fact, Richrath is all flash, tossing lighting bolt leads during the verses, and tossing out guitar solos right and left, a display of excess that would be obnoxious if it also didn’t sound like the aural equivalent of the shit-eating grin he sported on the album cover. Dude was clearly having the time of his live, and that meant something, right?
I guess it meant enough that REO Speedwagon had their breakthrough record, which meant that radio and a lot of kids were going to pay attention to what they did next.
“Ridin The Storm Out (Live)”
“Ridin The Storm Out” live on Midnight Special, 1977
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