American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/5/81: REO Speedwagon, “In Your Letter”

Even at the beginning of my senior year in HS, I was buying only the occasional LP—maybe I had around a dozen by then. One, likely purchased sometime early in the summer of 1981, was REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity. I liked it pretty well; it definitely got quite a few spins on my dad’s turntable in our basement back then. While in college, I picked up You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish and Wheels Are Turnin’, but it’s fair to say that Hi Infidelity is still the REO album I know best overall.

A quick check at setlist.fm tells me that the Speedwagon played Champaign once while I was at UIUC, in November 1987. I didn’t go, and I don’t really recall any swelling sense of love for the hometown heroes during my time there, either. Nonetheless, I tip my hat to them for working hard and making good.

As I’ve done with other albums from my teen years that I owned, I’m taking a crack at ranking Hi Infidelity’s tracks.

10. “I Wish You Were There”
I get that rock bands need to do the ballad thing (though that’s frequently not my thing), and I guess this one isn’t terrible? It didn’t do much for me back in 1981, either, though.

9. “Don’t Let Him Go”
Third single, got to #24 the first two weeks of August. I seem to remember a school dance early that fall (DJ’ed by students) where this one got played—it cleared the floor. I’m just hoping I wasn’t the one responsible for that…

8. “Shakin’ It Loose”
How many times did I listen to this album after I graduated from HS, though? Very, very few. I’ll confess now that the names of the last three songs on side two didn’t trigger any music in my head prior to playing them earlier today. That said, I like this one fine—nice piano solo from Neal Doughty, for sure—but it’s still pretty close to filler.

7. “Someone Tonight”
Bassist Bruce Hall wrote it and sang lead. The sentiment behind the lyric is, um, uninspiring. Nonetheless, it’s a decent little rocker with good harmonies.

6. “In Your Letter”
This week’s #28 song, heading toward a peak of #20. I’m surprising myself a little by placing it as high as this, given that it didn’t exactly groove me in real time; I’m coming around to admiring it for channeling the pop of years past.

5. “Keep on Loving You”
On the other hand, maybe this one’s the victim of hearing it too much over the decades. It made #1 on my own chart for two weeks at the end of February (see, I can like rock ballads). Full credit for the “missin’/listen/hissin’” rhyme in verse one.

4. “Take It on the Run”
One of three songs—along with “I Love You” and “Sweetheart”—that became instant favorites in April and dominated my charts in May (got to #5 on the Hot 100, three weeks at #2 for me). This one may be the reason I bought the album. I remember it getting played over PAs at track meets that spring.

3. “Tough Guys”
Does Gary Richrath’s screaming guitar sound add to the song or not? I’m torn. This one has more fun writing (great second verse, and I’m a fan of “she’s gonna call your bluff, guys”). I’ll also cop to approval of the Little Rascals intro.

2. “Out of Season”
Another pop-rock gem. I was listening to WEBN, the AOR station in Cincinnati, quite a bit at this point, and I have to believe they were playing all of the top 3 in this list that summer. Classic song structure, but so well-executed.

1. “Follow My Heart”
First heard this by flipping over my “Keep On Loving You” 45, and liked it immediately. The urgency was palpable to a 17-year-old, not that I had any reason to relate to Kevin Cronin’s dilemma. It’s the cut from Hi Infidelity I would pick to take with me if made to choose just one, so that puts it at the top of the list. (It was the third song in the mixtape series that kicked off this blog, too.)

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