Wheels Are Turnin’ was written and recorded under a fair amount of pressure to deliver, and a look at the approach will tell you that REO Speedwagon knew they had done nothing wrong.
Written by: Lee South Africa
ARTIST: REO Speedwagon
ALBUM: Wheels Are Turnin’
SERIAL: QE 39593
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Kevin Cronin – vocals, guitars * Gary Richrath – guitars, vocals * Neal Doughty – piano, organ, synthesizers * Bruce Hall – bass, vocals * Alan Gratzer – drums
Additional Musicians: Tom Kelly, Richard Page, Tommy Funderburk – background vocals
TRACK LISTING: 01 I Do Wanna Know * 02 One Lonely Night * 03 Thru The Window * 04 Rock n Roll Star * 05 Live Every Moment * 06 Can’t Fight This Feeling * 07 Gotta Feel More * 08 Break His Spell * 09 Wheels Are Turnin’
WEBLINKS: Site Link
By 1984 REO Speedwagon were in a strange position. They had finally conquered the charts beyond their wildest expectations with the classic ‘Hi Infidelity’ album, only to see an immediate dip in fortunes with the excellent ‘Good Trouble’ suffering from that dreaded follow up jinx in the commercial stakes. That is if you consider a platinum album with a top 10 single a failure, which the label did, expecting another multi-platinum juggernaut.
‘Wheels Are Turnin’ was written and recorded under a fair amount of pressure to deliver, and a look at the approach will tell you that REO Speedwagon knew they had done nothing wrong with ‘Good Trouble’. No big stylistic direction change or phalanx of outside songwriters informed the ‘Wheels Are Turnin’ sessions. Simply a natural follow up consisting of Midwestern AOR goodness.
‘I Dowanna Know’ sets off at a boogie with Richrath tearing it up at any opportunity, lots of singalong harmony vocals sweetening the AOR chorus ensuring a minor hit for the band. A good helping of Midwestern grit and Doughty’s shimmering organ work tend to push this one up a notch. I have to admit the video was horrible though, probably not helping the cause much.
‘One Lonely Night’ never really gelled with me, the melody seeming very pedestrian. Some searing guitar did prove a saving grace, but when the bridge (she’s such a good find) is more satisfying than the chorus, you know you’re in trouble. Ok at best.
‘Thru The Window’ is miles better, building from half tempo atmospheric verses to a cascading powerplay of a chorus full of harmonies and just about everything I want from AOR. REO Speedwagon have such a distinctive sound but this is not miles away from period 38 Special, though cast in a less Southern role.
‘Rock N’ Roll Star’ reminds us once more that 80’s AOR can incorporate plenty of Midwestern throwback without sounding dated, in fact adds to the charm. This could only be REO to be honest, waves of melody leading to one of the timeless towering choruses. Terrific AOR, right in the heart of the 80’s but still in touch with their 70’s sonic legacy.
‘Live Every Moment’ carries on the theme, the melodies and chorus maybe slightly less immediate but not by much. That midsong bridge and Richrath solo engage the overdrive gear, AOR central yet again.
With the vinyl divided into side A and side Z, ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ heads up side Z. Now this song has been played into the dust and beyond over the years, but as a pure AOR mid ballad it still holds up for me as a true classic. It doesn’t sound like it was hard work to compose, simply flowing as if Mr Cronin woke up one morning with the track already composed in his mind and simply poured onto the paper. I recall in early high school we used this one on a cassette of a mock radio show (English project).
‘Gotta Feel More’ enters the midtempo AOR stakes on a bed of sequencing and quite unique chord progression, culminating in another of those tiered trademark REO Speedwagon choruses for the ages, some blistering guitar from Richrath once again catching the ear. ‘Break His Spell’ could probably be compared to ‘In Your Letter’, it has that same feel though played with a little more AOR power. Melody is poured on like honey and I’m left satisfied. Short and sweet, and to the point.
The title track closes the album, sounding for all the world as though they composed it in the 70’s and teleported it into the mid 80’s. That Midwestern grit I mentioned earlier is in full evidence, the whole band ‘moering’ it very hard indeed. The melody is strong and quite compelling but it takes a few listens over a few coffees to really immerse yourself in it. Worth the trouble mind you.
‘Wheels Are Turnin’ returned REO Speedwagon to the very top echelons, not surprising given it’s consistent quality AOR and never losing touch with their signature sound. If there is a criticism it could be Gratzer’s drumming, which is starting to sound a little tired and lacking the crack of yesteryear. Retirement wasn’t far off for him, and probably a good thing. For the meantime though, REO Speedwagon were back on top of the AOR scene, where quite frankly they belong.
I Do Wanna Know
Can’t Fight This Feeling
Entire Album (Select Tracks)