31 Days of Faves: REO Speedwagon – Roll With the Changes

#26 REO Speedwagon – Roll With the Changes

When I wrote my first cop thriller, I wanted to reference some lyrics from “Ridin’ the Storm Out” as a key clue in the plot. I discovered that REO Speedwagon founding member Gary Richrath, who wrote it, had died in 2015 and his estate was still tied up in probate, five years later. With a publisher’s deadline looming, I deleted the reference, making up a fictional band to take it’s place.

“Roll With the Changes.”

By 1978, REO was releasing their seventh studio album. Despite a sizable cult following, “You Can Tune a Guitar, But You Can’t Tuna Fish” produced their first Top 40 hit, “Time for Me to Fly”. It was worthy of the accolades. But for me, it was Side One, Cut One that would resonate. Lead singer Kevin Cronin wrote it and contributed his distinctive tenor to the recording.

Technically speaking, “Roll With the  Changes” is not one of REO’s best productions. Records did not yet have the broad frequency spectrum we can here today, perhaps still compressed for radio airplay punch. The lyrics that Cronin wrote on a brown paper bag in his Ford Pinto are good, but come at you too fast for all but the most devoted fans to remember them.

The title hook was the thing; a prescription for the stunning changes that were happening in the music business and the world at large. Disco was in the rear view mirror and Compact Discs were on the horizon. The month the LP was released, Ted Bundy and LA’s Hillside Strangler were front page news. And The New York Post‘s article about David Rorvik‘s book about a supposed cloning of a human being made us wonder if the Ray Bradbury stuff we read in high school was starting to come true.

When REO gets through all the versus and starts kicking out the “Keep On Rolling” section, “Roll With the Changes” becomes a classic. And it’s Gary Richrath’s guitar solo that takes it from good to great. He died young, but the self taught axe man never lost his touch. Even his last live performance, documented like everything is on YouTube, shows that the pyrotechnics still shot out of his guitar like skyrockets until the very end.

“Roll With the Changes” spawned one of the first MTV style music videos, three years before the ground breaking network came on the air. For me, it was a little over a decade later that it came back into my consciousness and earned a spot in my 31 Days of Faves.

Colleen and I were browsing at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on San Jose Blvd in Jacksonville, Florida, where I had recently taken on the biggest promotion of my career. I was in over my head, as usual, and trying to figure out how not to blow the opportunity. This thing called “The Internet” was happening on 100 baud telephone modems and I was thinking about how we might leverage our cable TV bandwidth to give customers a better experience.

“Roll With the Changes” started playing on the bookstore’s sound system and the puzzle pieces of how to market this new product started to fall into place in my head.

Ever since, whenever the tune comes around on the radio, I think about that night and how the title distills the ultimate life success formula. As the chorus sings it, all you have to do to stay in the game is to “Keep On Rolling.”