I must admit straight away that, as far as I’m aware, I know a grand total of three REO Speedwagon songs. The first one was a very early track that I heard years and years ago, back when the band appeared to be a bunch of revved-up good ol’ boys. The other two are “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and the dreadful, dreadful “Keep On Loving You“.
(I really can’t tell you how dreadful I think that song is. It’s a Big Ballad from the 1980s. I loathe Big Ballads from the 1980s. And “Keep On Loving You” contains this: “When I said that I love you I meant that I love you foreverrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.” Ugh.)
Nevertheless, I’ll try to put aside my biases and listen to Michael’s suggestion as it is, not what I think it might be.
0:00-0:11 – Oh no.
I can’t approximate the sound I made out loud when this song started. All I can say is that it was a groan. A long groan. A long, audible groan.
I know what’s coming next.
0:11-0:13 – And there it is. Two big chords to introduce what is known in this household as a Big Ballad.
Maybe Michael didn’t know I detest Big Ballads and avoid them as much as humanly possible, but here I am, listening to a Big Ballad.
On with the listening…
0:11-0:13 – This is the verse, and the very first line of the verse is “They say you gotta boyfriend.”
I’m not looking forward to the next 3 minutes and 47 seconds.
0:13-0:50 – [Focus, Peter, focus. It’s only another four minutes.] I’ll try not to pour scorn on every single moment of this song. I’ll mention some of the things I notice. For one thing, Kevin the Singer sings part of the second line fairly awkwardly. Whoever wrote the words for the song didn’t think much about the problem of singing the phrase “out late” (at 0:17, in the line “you’re out late every weekend”) so quickly. The rhythm of the wording forces Kevin the Singer to make a sound that resembles one word: “outlate”. It almost sounds like “Adelaide”, the capital city of the state I live in. (I live in South Australia.)
I’ve just discovered that the song was written by the band’s guitarist, Gary Richrath. I guess the very first line of the song (0:00-0:11) should have tipped me off as to the overall quality of the lyrics. I mean, who starts a song with “Heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you been messin’ around”?
I think that’s atrocious. As far as I’m concerned, that’s no way to start a song.
Given that in this verse Kevin the Singer sings things like “it’s bringin’ me down” (0:21-0:24), I have a hideous feeling that the word “baby” or “babe” is going to appear frequently in this song. (Or, if Señor Richrath wants to appear classy, it’ll be “lady”.)
Sorry about getting stuck into the lyrics of this song. I suppose I should talk about the music, but there’s nothing to talk about there – it’s a Big Ballad, and the music takes care of itself. (With Big Ballads it’s a bar of G major, then a bar of C major, then a bar of D major, and then it’s back to G major – always.)
It’s at this point that I’d like to say something positive. (Yes, really.) I’d like to say that I don’t mind the vocal melody for the verse.
Now that I’ve attempted a (tiny) bit of balance with this commentary, it’s back to the awfulness…
There’s the song’s first “babe” (at 0:40). And the second one shortly after it (0:43-0:44). I thought it was going to be “baby”. Ah well.
Unfortunately, due to Kevin the Singer’s enunciation he sings a line (from 0:46-0:49) that I first thought was rude. I thought he sang “Keep pissin’ my eye” until I heard it again and realised he was actually singing “Keep this in mind”. Oops. Sorry, Kevin the Singer.
At this point that I’m remembering the old adage “Life is short”. (It sure is, but it’s currently feeling very long.)
I think my brain reminded me of that phrase to get me to hurry along with this commentary and finish it as soon as possible.
Can do, brain.
0:50-1:15 – Here’s the bridge (i.e., the part of the song between the verse and chorus). I know it’s the bridge because it was announced with two portentous notes, G and F sharp (0:49-0:50). And G followed by F sharp means only one thing: the bridge is going to start with E minor.
Yep. There’s yer E minor, right on schedule. And there are two “baby”s in quick succession (0:53 and 0:56). It’s a step up from “babe”. I’m still hoping there’s going to be a “lady” later in the song.
1:15-1:40 – I have a major apology to make. The previous section of the song wasn’t the bridge at all. It was the chorus. I could have sworn (don’t swear, Peter) that there was going to be about four bars of the bridge in E minor, and then the big singalong chorus in G major. (It’s a standard songwriting trick, to move from a minor chord to a major one, to go from musical gloom into sunlight.)
I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
So that was the chorus. I must say I think that’s a bit of a downer for a chorus.
OK. We’re in the second verse, and there’s a lyric here that I’m not enjoying. (Or, to be more accurate, enjoying it less than the other lyrics). Kevin the Singer sings “You’re puttin’ on your bedroom eyes” (1:19-1:22), and lyrically that sounds awkward to me. How do you put on your bedroom eyes? Do you have them in a glass of water like false teeth, and take them out to put on yourself when you need them?
And the awkward enunciation continues: From 1:31-1:33 Kevin the Singer sings something involving a lot of words squashed together, and I found it so garbled that I had no idea what it was until I played about three more times. I finally realised he was singing “If you leave tonight keep running”. I don’t think anyone should be asked to sing “leave tonight” in the space of half a second.
1:40-2:04 – The next chorus, not the bridge. I may not be listening with much attentiveness, but I can’t tell much difference between this chorus and the previous one. In fact I can’t tell any. Except for…
2:04-2:17 – An enormous guitar solo. The chorus was cut short to make way for this behemoth of a solo. The guitar sound is ultra-distorted (it’s filthy), and the guitarist means business because he’s decided to make his solo even more enormous by adding a second guitar to harmonise with it. Twin guitar attack! Like Thin Lizzy! Incidentally, in the background from 2:06-2:08 there seems to be something like a synthesizer, or a fretless bass, or something. Whatever it is, it’s weird.
2:17-2:29 – The guitar solo’s still going.
(Guitar nerd comment: There’s a little Steve Vai-ish note slip at 2:21.)
2:29-2:41 – Yep. It’s still going.
This time the guitarist has been let loose from his thought-out, harmonised, rehearsed lines and is now playing ad libitum.
2:41-2:53 – I can’t believe this guitar solo is still going.
2:53-3:18 – It finished. Phew.
That thing went for almost a minute. That’s about a quarter of the song. Wow.
Now I’m back to noticing the lyrics, and Kevin the Singer is back to singing “baby” repeatedly. (“Take it on the run, baby / If that’s the way you want it, baby”.) We’re near the end of the song, and I have a slightly sad feeling that I’m probably not going to hear a “lady” from him.
2:53-3:39 – Because this chorus is repeating itself, going into overtime – and overheating, as Big Ballads usually do as they lumber inexorably toward the end – all I can do now is sit back and wait until it’s finished. (It’ll over soon, Peter.)
3:39-3:42 – Oh no. I didn’t think it possible, but for me this song actually got worse. The band has put a halt to proceedings (3:39-3:42). I thought they were going to keep pummelling the listener with that chorus, but for the end of the song they’ve decided to repeat the introduction. “Heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you been messin’ around”. Yes indeed.
Well, the song’s finished and I’m struggling to come up with some pithy bon mot, a sparkling bit of rapier wit, to encapsulate my response to it.
I can’t. My head’s all fuzzy. It’s been filled with a Big Ballad.
I need to listen to something not bloated at all. Something lean and intellectually nourishing.
To the Field Music discography!