R.E.O. Speedwagon

1. Gypsy Woman's Passion 2. 157 Riverside Avenue 3. Anti-Establishment Man 4. Lay Me Down 5. Sophisticated Lady 6. Five Men Were Killed Today 7. Prison Women 8. Dead at Last


All sorts of things can come to one's mind at the mention of the band REO Speedwagon, even if you considered yourself a true fan. Although they would be known during the eighties for some killer power ballads, this was really one of those bands that seemed to always have a lot of shuffling going on behind the scenes in terms of its personnel. This was the case for various reasons, yet during their first, somewhat mediocre decade, they were really still searching for that unique sound that would click with audiences. Although they were very far from that target on this, their very first release, this album does have a powerful bite to it, and your level of enjoyment will depend just in your taste of diverse music. Diverse from the "common" traits of REO Speedwagon, that is.

This was 1971, remember, and as long as you might be open to hear some simple Midwest bar-boogie music, then this one just might scratch an itch or two. The music is pretty generic in terms of style, but these guys know how to play and they go out on all cylinders on the songs here. The only song on this album that has really survived in terms of play-ability is the fun, rollicking 157 Riverside Avenue, which although is probably the best thing here, isn't really too far removed from the rest of the record. One of the best tracks, Sophisticated Lady sets the stage quite well, and if you're like many that insist nothing on here sounds like the latter day Speedwagon, you can at least distinguish keyboardist Neal Doughty's (the only member to stay with this group through their whole duration) screaming organ solo in the middle of the song.

They really come together on the closing ten minute plus track Dead at Last that really is nothing more than the group showing off everything that they can do for the potential listeners (including a kind of cool drum solo from Alan Gratzer). In fact, the only somewhat drab moment is the depressing Five Men Were Killed Today. Whatever the subject matter (I confess I never bothered to listen too closely), it's obvious that these sorts of songs didn't fit the simple-minded style that these guys were churning out, and it does bring the record down a notch.

Essentially, this is a good "party" album. Maybe only if the party is filled with fifty and sixty year-olds wearing their old bell-bottoms, but still.... Not too surprisingly, the album bombed, and lead singer Terry Luttrell decided he didn't really want to be part o a struggling effort. Kevin Cronin would soon replace him, and I'd love to say that the rest was smooth sailing, but they had a lot more bumps in the road before any sort of history would be made.

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