During the first half of the 80s, REO Speedwagon were one of the bands who really helped define the sounds of the decade’s melodic rock. Along with Journey and Survivor, the band became US radio staples and their ‘Hi Infidelity’ and ‘Good Trouble’ albums sold in huge numbers. The REO story started much earlier, however, and before arriving at their signature sound on 1978’s ‘You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish’, the band honed their craft across a series of albums that dabble in different styles of rock, featuring a succession of different vocalists. This comprehensive box set tells the formative REO story, presenting each of the early albums with a smattering of bonus tracks.
In terms of packaging, it’s fairly basic, but a reasonable step above no-frills. Each of the albums are presented in card sleeves featuring full artwork and housed in a sturdy clam-shell box, similar to the Molly Hatchet ‘Take No Prisoners’ box (also from Hear No Evil Records). Even though this collection would’ve been best served by a proper box with lift off lid and heavy gloss gatefold sleeves where applicable – as per the Roxy Music ‘Complete Albums’ set box – such extravagance was always going to be unlikely. In terms of sleevenotes, the print size can be a little hard to read on the sleeves themselves, but all of the necessary info is reproduced in an accompanying booklet which also includes rare photographs and an essay by Classic Rock Magazine’s Malcolm Dome. As is often the case, Dome’s narrative can seem a little stale, but the piece includes some great interview snippets from REO drummer Alan Gratzer, keyboard player Neal Doughty and vocalist Kevin Cronin which really help to place the albums in period context and give some great insights into the fluctuations in line-up during the decade.
While the box could be a little smarter, the basic approach is reflected in the price; at the time of release, it’s an absolute steal for seven albums, five of which are completely out of print and only ever available as expensive imports in the first place. The mastering of the individual albums is great, with 1975’s often overlooked ‘This Time We Mean It’ sounding particularly sharp – clean enough to bring out the best in a digital format without an expensive upgrade to blu ray specs, but still keeping the feel of an older album, much like the best CDs did in the early 90s before remastering everything seemed like the best way to cash in.
If you’re interested in this at all, of course, it’ll be for the albums themselves and the opportunity to grab an entire era in one hit…and there’s a lot of music to digest.
REO’s debut is far removed from the classic sound of the likes of ‘Keep On Loving You’. With the band fronted by vocalist Terry Luttrell, the bulk of the music veers on big hard rock and bluesy sounds, rather more Grand Funk Railroad than Steve Perry era Journey or mega-selling REO. However, the talent in the band is clear from the get go with the five minute ferocious jam ‘Gypsy Woman’s Passion’. It’s a number which really highlights some tough guitar chops from Gary Richrath and he fills almost the whole of the instrumental break with very scratchy guitar work, clearly inspired by Hendrix’s live work with Band of Gypsys. The core of the song helps make a great opener, too, with its push and pull between tough hard rock chops and a melodic flair often acting a vehicle for Neal Doughty’s solid piano sounds. Equally busy, straight up rock ‘n’ roll is tackled on an early signature piece ‘157 Riverside Avenue’ – a number that would really come to life in the live setting – with Doughty rattling a great pub-styled piano, Luttrell showing off the best in his slightly gravelly voice and Richrath filling space with fine bluesy leads. As far as debuts go, both tunes go a long way to giving the album some real teeth.
Moving through the Foghat-ish ‘Anti Establishment Man’, Doughty continues to dominate with hard piano chops on a slow boogie that sounds like the best bar band you’ll ever hear; ‘Sophisticated Lady’ finds REO absolutely rocking out with a very fast hard rocker that pivots upon an incredibly fiery solo – it’s hampered a little by the rawness of the production, but the intent is more than clear – and in a complete twist of mood, the slow and harmony driven ‘Five Men Were Killed Today’ is a lovely Crosby, Stills and Nash/America pastiche. It might be a bit of a musical red herring, but it’s got such a sadness to it, it quickly becomes essential listening. Another highlight, ‘Lay Me Down’ sees REO experimenting with something in a Joe Cocker style, which obviously, Luttrell wanders through with ease. With some subtle organ work, brassy backing vocals and a great lead guitar, it all comes very naturally as if REO would follow in Chicago’s footsteps and make a fusion of soul, blues and rock their calling card. Usage of an upfront bass gives everything a real punch throughout, but becomes especially obvious once Greg Philbin steers everything head first into a faster jam for the instrumental break dictated by his four strings.
There’s very little on ‘REO Speedwagon’ that ever hints at REO’s future, but it’s a fine and very varied listen – a record that needs to be discovered by so many more people (especially in the UK) and the ‘Early Years’ box is the easiest way to do so.
The departure of Terry Luttrell shortly after the album’s release means that ‘REO Speedwagon’ is unique within the band’s canon. Terry would eventually resurface in progressive rock band Starcastle, but his replacement would prove to be one of the most important figures within the band’s history: Enter Kevin Cronin.
Released in 1972, ‘R.E.O./T.W.O.’ marks a change in the band’s sound. Not a massive one in some cases, but there’s less of an interest in arrangements that sound like overhangs from the late 60s hard rock scene. In a lot of cases, the arrangements are more succinct and Cronin is a great fit for the band, possessing a voice that’s a little easier on the ear than Luttrell’s had often been. What’s interesting about the album in hindsight, though, is that although Kevin’s voice is great, he has yet to find the clear, higher registers in his voice that are so easily identifiable on REO’s later hits.
Almost picking up where they left off at first, ‘Let Me Ride’ starts the album with an instant highlight. A six minute tour de force penned by Cronin, its collision of guitar and piano comes across with the intents of a loud jam band. Richrath’s intermittent lead guitars have a suitably bluesy howl even if they’re a little low in the mix and, by the time everything really embeds itself, Cronin’s voice has all the confidence of a man who has always fronted the band rather than being the new boy. Perhaps best of all, though, is Philbin’s bass, dancing enthusiastically throughout the tune, in a lead style reminiscent of the best McCartney work. When the playing is this good – and so intensive throughout – a chorus isn’t as important, but eventually the title surfaces as a hook and the whole thing has the feeling of a fantastic tune that’ll sound great on the road. Finally shifting into a full rock ‘n’ roll groove, Richrath offers a couple of fiery solos. All things considered, it may be one of the most overlooked and underrated openers on a 70s rock album: the rest of ‘R.E.O./T.W.O’ could be utter rubbish and it would still be worth owning.
Driven by a tougher rock riff, somewhere between mid 70s Ted Nugent and Edgar Winter, ‘How The Story Goes’ shows the more aggressive edge of REO at this time, with Cronin proving he’s capable of the full range vocally, but again, it’s Philbin’s lead bass that totally steals the show. The interplay between him, Doughty and Gratzer during the instrumental break is a joy, while a run through of Chuck Berry’s ‘Little Queenie’ – taken at a surprisingly slow pace – showcases a rinky dinky pub piano, a wheezing saxophone and another confident showing from Cronin.
From herein, the album can seem a little less full on, but there’s still more to enjoy, especially from the Traffic-meets-Santana other-worldliness of ‘Being Kind (Can Hurt Sometimes)’ and Cronin’s shuffling ‘Music Man’, the latter possessing a very natural groove that once again allows the piano to lock with the drums. As the album began with one of the decade’s best openers, so too it closes in style, as ‘Golden Country’ sets the band on a lengthy jam beginning with call and response between heavy guitar and swathes of organ, very reminiscent of Deep Purple circa 1969. Moving into the verse, Cronin gets a last chance to show how great a fit with the band he is, stretching for bigger notes throughout. It’s not a number big on chorus hooks; the band are far keener to leave a lasting impression through quasi-funky hard rock, and there are absolutely no weak links within the ranks. With Richrath finishing with a heavily treated solo, this is fine, fine seventies indulgence indeed.
So much for the “difficult second album” – with approximately four absolute belters and the rest sounding like a cut above mere filler, ‘R.E.O./T.W.O.’ belongs in every decent record collection.
[Bonus tracks on discs 1 & 2 include mono edits of ‘157’, ‘Lay Me Down’, ‘Sophisticated Lady’ and ‘Little Queenie’.]
While so many bands cave under pressure when recording a second album, despite an important make or break line up change, REO breezed through the process. However, their third LP, 1973’s ‘Ridin’ The Storm Out’ would prove to be the major bump in the road. Part of the album was completed with Cronin but he eventually received doctors’ advice that led to him leaving the band. Mike Murphy was drafted in as a replacement and quickly re-recorded various vocals. On top of that, by the band’s own admission, they didn’t have quite enough material for a new album when asked to deliver, so their own material was padded out by hastily recorded covers. Nevertheless, the album is far from the era’s worst and the title track eventually became a live staple.
‘Ridin’ The Storm Out’ marks the beginning of a hit and miss period for REO, but the good tracks are just about enough to make the album worth hearing. The title track, in particular, with its punchy approach and increased use of pompy keys sounds as if it were written very deliberately with radio play in mind. It’s a lot simpler than some of REO’s previous material, though retains just enough of their previous traits to sound like a logical extension of everything that’s gone before. A simple hook is enough to make it stand, but there’s something about Murphy’s voice that doesn’t quite fit. It’s got a definite twang that sounds more attuned to Southern Rock than straight AOR and could be considered an acquired taste. Stylistic quibbles aside though, it’s a potential REO classic, joining ‘157 Riverside Avenue’ as a long standing reminder of the band’s formative years.
More sympathetic to Murphy’s voice, ‘Whisky Night’ sounds like a deep cut from Rick Derringer, peppered with more pomp keyboards. The languid, funky style allows the band to settle into a groove that’s defiantly mid-70s, while a hefty slide guitar and collection of big backing vocals flesh out a distinctive sound. Tapping into the rock ‘n’ roll style that became a backbone of the first two albums, ‘Oh Woman’ allows Doughty plenty of time to hammer at the piano, whilst Richrath is clearly enjoying throwing out various guitar chops. On any other album, this would be filler…but here, it’s a welcome piece of fun that invites turning up the volume. Better yet, ‘It’s Everywhere’ takes REO’s tougher side and melds it to a riff that’s on loan from The Allman Brothers Band, resulting in a spirited rocker that gives everyone plenty of space to move. The lead guitar work is reasonably energetic and – unlike at least fifty percent of the material here – it actually suits Murphy’s very limited vocal range.
With Richrath taking lead vocals, ‘Find My Fortune’ is the album’s stand out number, partly because it’s a great 70s rock/pop workout that values melody and subtlety over bombast, but more importantly Richrath is a much better singer than Murphy. Against a shuffling rhythm that sounds like the basis for many a seventies classic, the vocals are especially assured and a featured keyboard solo is especially tasteful. You can hear future echoes of classic REO throughout, right down to the vocal being in Cronin’s meter. Such a shame he wasn’t around to sing it.
Looking at the other half of the album, things definitely start to lag. Written by Cronin before his hasty exit, ‘Movin’ is an okay piece of 70s pop rock that comes across like Edgar Winter’s filler material; ‘Son of a Poor Man’ is a fairly by-numbers boogie rocker that’s only saved by sheer professionalism and a lovely electric piano (albeit buried in the mix). Murphy’s indistinct voice only adds to the averageness – a more gifted vocalist like Cronin would at least have injected a bit of spirit; ‘Start a New Life’ is a semi mournful plod that Murphy’s voice turns into a dull old dirge and two cover tunes are definitely the work of a band playing for time. The first of these, ‘Open Up’ (written by the legendary Stephen Stills) works okay, mixing the rootsy style of ‘Whisky Night’ with even bigger backing vocals, but Terry Reid’s ‘Without Expression’ is a mid paced slice of average pop/rock that has any potential killed by a non-singer. By the time this is finished, you have to wonder how Murphy ever landed this job…
The title track might be a classic, ‘It’s Everywhere’ is a great example of the musical space occupied by REO at a pivotal time and Richrath’s ‘Find My Fortune’ is superb, but when looked at as a whole album, ‘Ridin’ The Storm Out’ is one of the weaker entries in the REO catalogue. This might have a lot to do with having to re-record various vocals at the eleventh hour, but it just doesn’t come close to the first two in terms of overall enjoyment…and with a fairly sleight thirty six minutes padded out with approximately eight minutes’ worth of cover tunes, it’s an album served before it was fully cooked.
1974’s ‘Lost In A Dream’ is a marked improvement in almost every way. It has the benefit of being the first REO album to be recorded by the same line-up, but perhaps far more importantly, it features music written with Murphy’s voice in mind. The upturn in quality is obvious from the start, since the very 70s shuffle of ‘Give Me A Ride (Roller Coaster)’ is streets ahead of almost everything on ‘Storm’, with the whole band really pulling in the same direction. Sort of REO meets Doobie Brothers, on this sparky track, Richrath puts down a great guitar shuffle which, in turn, is the perfect foil for Doughty to hammer at his piano with abandon. Almost every bit as good as ‘Riverside Avenue’, this is a tune that deserves more recognition. Stepping up into full scale rock ‘n’ roll territory – as per bits of the debut – ‘Throw The Chains Away’ is both fun and breezy. Even though Murphy pushes his voice a little, it doesn’t detract from some great music – in this case not a million miles away from Elf and their ‘Carolina County Ball’ released the same year; Richrath’s chunky guitar comes front and centre, making it very much a battle of wills between he and Murphy in many ways, but deeper in the mix, there’s some fine rock ‘n’ roll piano work that eventually rises for a spirited solo. While fairly disposable, there’s a lot here to love and it represents the frivolous side of early REO very well indeed, before ‘Sky Blues’ – a melodic shuffle in the Derringer mould – provides an essential summery listen. Again, the piano is key to everything; there’s something about Doughty’s rhythmic style that has instant appeal. Whilst still not as appealing as Cronin, it’s another track where Murphy seems like a good fit for the band at this time, slowly pushing those uneasy memories of the previous album further into the distance.
Dropping into woozy sounds at first, ‘You Can Fly’ ushers in a more sombre mood, but as the track unfolds, Philbin puts down some fine funk bass which accompanied by wibbly keys results in something very much of the era, but the soft drugs haze and warmth of the performance is enough to make it enjoyable, especially if you’re one of those people who still reaches for Tommy Bolin’s ‘Teaser’ and similar fare. Heavy on the harmony vocals, the title track has a mid 70s flair and sassy style that stands out on it’s own. The contrast between a heavy-ish guitar riff, a vocal that borders on the grandiose and an extended instrumental section that sounds like the theme to an action movie – with Philbin beavering at his four strings throughout – this is the ultimate in melodic 70s excess. Just terrific.
Naturally, nothing on side two of the original album quite reaches the heights of the title cut, but the rest of the elpee is full of great tunes, from the punchy pop-rock of ‘Down By The Dam’ – another tune where Murphy’s voice sounds like a perfect fit – to the Faces-tastic ‘Do Your Best’ and eventually the obviously 70s vibes of ‘I’m Feelin’ Good’, with the rhythm section locking down a fantastic groove.
After the wobbly start with Murphy, ‘Lost In A Dream’ is a superb record. Honestly, it’s all good. The band really hit their stride here. It’s hard to say whether it’s as good as ‘T.W.O.’ as its a very different animal, but it’s the slab of plastic which best represents the Murphy era. If you’re buying this box set and hearing it for the first time, prepare for it to be a favourite.
Most bands would take a step back to admire their achievements after such a fine recording, but the REO Speedwagon was set to go full steam ahead and in just under nine months, they gave birth to another album, ‘This Time We Mean It’ – a title which very much suggests they were aware they’d finally nailed a formula. Even with new bass player Bruce Hall in tow, the album very much picks up from where it’s predecessor left off. Throughout lead track ‘Reelin’, the band hit upon a faultless boogie shuffle with a busy piano at the heart. With a terrific backdrop, Murphy stretches and curls his voice like a man by now truly settled in his role, while Gary steps up with a fine blues-tinged solo that could’ve been culled from an Allman Brothers record. With speed, tightness and a fine melody at their disposal, REO begin their fifth album with a genuine blast that values prowess over obvious hooks, but it’s thrilling to hear the band so obviously having a good time. By the time they wheel out some gospel vocals, it’s in danger of being too busy by half, but man, it’s so much fun.
‘River of Life’ slows down to allow a simpler guitar part to link hard drums and a summery vibe in a way that’s far closer to Chicago circa ‘Chicago V’ than any later period REO, but everyone seems to latch onto a very natural sound, while ‘You Better Realize’ blends elements of Randy Newman’s New Orleans rhythms to a solid 70s pop sound to create something distinctive…but again, it’s distinctive for Chicago and ‘Desitively Bonaroo’ era Dr. John and not necessarily REO. Even so, it’s fascinating to hear them trying something different and between the stabbing rhythms, blankets of keys and falsetto vocals they ride this particular musical storm with a surprising dignity. It might be the cuckoo in the nest musically, but it has a strange appeal that makes it a stand out track.
Elsewhere, the stodgy blues rock of ‘Lies’ has echoes of The James Gang on a number to which Murphy applies his voice around with a relative glee. At the point where it could drift into indifference, a world of multi-tracked twin guitars weave in and out of each other with the kind of flair that Molly Hatchet would soon take to a new level. A few plays of this track unveils something far better than first appearances suggest – if you like REO when they get a little tougher, there’s a lot to like here. ‘Dream Weaver’ – not the Gary Wright song – is another highlight, presenting a semi-funky sound, driven by Doughty’s retro keys and new boy Bruce Hall punching through with a spacious yet tough bass sound. It’s one of those songs that sounds like it was written with a different voice in mind, but between one of the album’s finest arrangements and a brilliant 70s sass, it’s always a welcome listen. If the three Murphy era albums were condensed into a single twelve track disc of the essentials, this would be definitely be there. Showing REO at their most upfront, Richrath’s ‘Gambler’ is a perfect melodic rocker that could slot into any one of the early REO discs, but even with a formulaic sound, his guitar work carries a wonderful fuzzy gravitas while Doughty’s stabbed pianos lend everything more than enough sparkle to make it a potential classic.
‘This Time We Mean It’ is a natural follow up to ‘Lost In A Dream’. It’s the first time that REO don’t seem to be reaching for the next rung on the ladder or clambering for a musical direction. No, it isn’t as good as its predecessor, but then it was unlikely to be. What it does, it does well and in the case of ‘Dream Weaver’ and ‘River of Life’ especially, the master used for the CD sounds wonderfully crisp. As part of a broader musical picture, it’s a worthy listen and it’s great that it’s available on CD in the UK again.
For REO, though, the album marks the end of another chapter. Yet another line up change would wave goodbye to Mike Murphy – such a pity; by the end of his three album run, you got the feeling that next time, next time, he’d really deliver…but it wasn’t to be.
By the end of 1975, REO found themselves without a singer once again.
Re-enter Kevin Cronin.
[The three Mike Murphy albums include mono edits of promo singles as bonus tracks. More important, though, is the opportunity to hear two alternate takes of ‘Ridin’ The Storm Out’ and ‘Son of a Poor Man’ recorded before Cronin’s hasty departure. Whilst ‘Storm’ would be served far better live with Kevin’s vocals, it’s a real pleasure to hear him tackling the rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Son of A Poor Man’, especially since his distinctive vocal affectations come through far more here than on any parts of ‘R.E.O./T.W.O.’ A very welcome bonus, indeed.]
With Cronin firmly back in the band, 1976’s ‘R.E.O.’ would be the band’s most commercial record to date, but the slightly poppier edge didn’t actually translate into actual sales. Yet again, the album failed to get the band any real recognition outside of the US, whilst on home turf, the album was their lowest charting since 1973. The intervening years have been kind, though, and the album is now seen as a cult classic…and rightly so.
Within seconds, it’s clear that ‘R.E.O.’ has the best production values of any of REO’s early records and the separation between the acoustic and electric elements during opener ‘Keep Pushin’ is especially striking. Taking a stronger pop/rock stance, this track sounds like the hit single that never was, with Cronin in particularly fine form. You can hear him bending his voice over some slick harmonies on the chorus, while the verse represents some of the finest soft rock sounds of the era. Keen to keep a hold on the band’s bluesier origins, Richrath includes a brilliantly played slide guitar solo, and a huge pomp keyboard muscles in right at the finish so, in many ways, this feels like the coming together of most of REO’s musical ideas in a very concise four minutes. Again, blending the acoustic with electric and wheeling out even bigger harmonies, ‘Any Kind of Love’ marks the beginning of REO’s pure AOR intents – albeit slightly more country tinged than the material that would represent them in the 80s, there’s no mistaking the pop-rock gold that’s on display. It isn’t challenging in any way, but in terms of presenting how well Cronin’s return to the fold was absolutely the right choice, it’s a great track.
After a near faultless opening pair, the hits keep on coming… Mixing touches of AOR with a bit of yacht rock easy cool and a light reggae rhythm, ‘Only A Summer Love’ sounds like another tune tailor made for AM radio. Although quite far removed from the rockier tunes from the Murphy era, it has a guitar tone that provides an obvious link, especially by the time Richrath drops in a very tasteful solo. The calypso-ish edge makes it the album’s most dated cut, though it’s worth remembering that it was common for rock bands to dabble with reggae and calypso moods in the 70s – very few people were averse to the idea. Whilst the style may be of it’s time, the results for REO hold up better than they had any right to. Thankfully, unlike Carly Simon and a few others, a decision was made to avoid a cod Jamaican accent…and measured against Styx’s calypso ode to toilet training (yes, really), this should-be middling tune sounds like a masterpiece. A fair bit rockier, the chugging guitar and keyboard that provides the muscle throughout ‘(I Believe) Our Time Is Gonna Come’ feels like a throwback to REO in ’72, but with far more confidence, a bigger budget and Cronin in far better voice all round it’s another leap forward. Especially for Doughty, too, trading in his trusty piano in for swirling synthesisers in a few places – then, the very acme of a modern sound; now, sounding like a dated sci-fi relic, but still charming in their own way.
The rattling mid-pace of ‘Runaway’ revisits the pop-rock sheen of the opening pair of numbers, only this time pushing Hall’s bass to the fore. With a finely crafted chorus and stabbed piano motifs to keep things moving, this is an absolute stormer of a tune. The album’s only real weak link, ‘Flying Turkey Trot’ shows that Richrath hasn’t lost his appetite for boogie and southern styles, but in contrast to the sheen of the rest of the album, it’s not so enjoyable. even if the playing from all concerned cannot be faulted, it feels like a bone thrown to older fans and spoils the flow. [The studio recording might be reasonably pedestrian, but this instrumental would eventually take on a life of its own in future live performances.]
With more slide guitars than ever, ‘Tonight’ is the best marriage of older REO traits with their newer found AOR sheen, allowing Richrath more than enough time to throw out bluesy shapes against blankets of synths. REO might be a tight musical unit, but it’s Cronin who wins out with a strong voice on a simple hook – something that would be perfected by the time of ‘Good Trouble’ in 1982 – before a more 70s rock workout, ‘Lightning’, allows him to stretch his voice over chopping guitars and synths that show traces of more accessible end of Styx’s output. [REO and Styx would, of course, become firm allies further down the road. Styx would consign ‘Plexiglas Toilet’ to the dustbin of history and release genre classics in ‘Cornerstone’, ‘Pieces of Eight’ and ‘Paradise Theater’, but, at the time of release, this beats pretty much everything Styx have committed to vinyl.]
With Journey yet to unleash ‘Infinity’, ‘R.E.O.’ stands as one of the finest American AOR albums of the age. It is – in a word – essential. At just eight songs and a svelte thirty three minutes, it’s all over far too soon. Along with ‘Chicago X’ and Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘A New World Record’, it’s one of the most thrilling AM radio oriented records of 1976. Decades on, it still sounds bloody marvellous.
In 1977, REO took stock of their achievements to date in the most traditional way the decade allowed: they released a double live album. Some of the great live albums of the era – Thin Lizzy’s ‘Live & Dangerous’, UFO’s ‘Strangers In The Night’ and Deep Purple’s ‘Made In Japan’ – have made regular appearances in lists of the all time great live platters since release. REO’s ‘Live: You Get What You Play For’ is every bit as good as the best known 70s live recordings, but barely gets a mention by comparison.
Arguably, the best thing about the live album is that it finally allows Cronin plenty of opportunity to prove that he’s the classic frontman for REO. He gives the selections from ‘R.E.O.T.W.O. and ‘R.E.O.’ his all in performances that are never less than brilliant. Understandably, the majority of the selections are from those two albums, but the recordings presented here gives those tunes a genuine spark. At the time of recording, ‘Keep Pushin’ and ‘Only A Summer Love’ are barely a year old, yet Cronin tackles them like dyed in the wool classics that have been part of the band’s repertoire forever. Better still, the debut’s ‘Lay Me Down’ appears in what could be considered the definitive version, since Kevin’s smoother vocal now makes it sound like a genuine REO classic that paves the way for the more AOR-centric material from ‘You Can Tune A Piano…’ and beyond.
In its studio variant, ‘Flying Turkey Trot’ felt like filler, despite being a reasonable showcase for Richrath’s talents, but here it’s a veritable circus of skill, especially as it leads into an extended untitled guitar solo – previously only from the 2011 remaster, ‘Gary’s Guitar Solo’ gets a UK CD release here for the first time – and the light rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Music Man’ now sounds like a band ripped to the gills on adrenaline and unable to put a note out of place. With Cronin out front, this live document includes one of the best renditions of ‘157 Riverside Avenue’ committed to tape and a rousing ‘Little Queenie’ kicks the studio recording straight to the kerb. [Another track previously available only on the Japanese CD, it’s great to hear it in sequence on this release, as per the vinyl LP.]
With great performance after great performance, ‘Live: You Get What You Play For’ – now in it’s unabridged form – provides a fantastic climax for this ‘Early Years’ box. Whilst some of the best Murphy era tracks are notably absent, this double disc plays like a fantastic recap – a pretend greatest hits, even – of the REO journey so far. It even works well enough as a fantastic primer for first time listeners, though if you’re considering a multi-disc box set as a purchase, there’s more than a fair chance you’ve heard ‘Live…’ before. You don’t need telling how good it is.
[Bonus tracks on discs 6-8 include a mono single version of ‘Keep Pushin’, a live take of the same track plus the two tracks previously omitted from the single disc version of the live album.]
Whilst huge REO fans undoubtedly own most of the contents – probably on vinyl, but maybe on CD – this box set brings some hugely welcome reissues, especially for those people who’ve never reached beyond the hits and are only familiar with those massive 80s albums. If you are one of the unenlightened, you need to check this out for ‘R.E.O./T.W.O.’, ‘Lost In A Dream’, ‘R.E.O.’ and the live set. Given the price point and the fact that at least half of these albums haven’t been released on CD in the UK previously, minor packaging quibbles aside, this is a fantastic set.