We’re hitting play on a brand new series analyzing great forgotten albums from the musical vault. Each week we take an unjustly overlooked record from yesteryear and bring it to the attention of today’s audience.
Like a non-murderous, less narcissistic Patrick Bateman, Joel Draba-Mann gives pretentious track commentary on a record that deserves to find its way back into the spotlight.
The honour of kicking off the series falls to November 1984 release Wheels Are Turnin’ – by long-running American rock band REO Speedwagon.
Wheels Are Turnin’ was the eleventh studio release from REO Speedwagon, and soon became their joint-second best selling album, tied with Good Trouble, reaching #7 on the US Billboard 200. Released in 1984 at the height of the band’s popularity, it followed on from the 1980 and 1982 releases of Hi-Infidelity and Good Trouble, the group’s most successful records to date.
Much of the album’s success was down to one particular rock ballad, ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’, which became the 5-piece’s second and longest running #1 single. The album would eventually give REO Speedwagon a further three Top 40 hits.
1. I Do’ Wanna Know (4:12)
2. One Lonely Night (3:20)
3. Thru the Window (5:01)
4. Rock ‘n Roll Star (3:40)
5. Live Every Moment (4:56)
6. Can’t Fight This Feeling (4:54)
7. Gotta Feel More (4:26)
8. Break His Spell (2:57)
9. Wheels Are Turnin’ (5:47)
Wheels Are Turnin was the culmination of the band’s transition from hard-rock to the high-energy, pop-infused style that was becoming increasingly popular as the decade wore on. The change in style, which had begun 4 years previous with the 1980 release of Hi-Infidelity, would signal the end of REO Speedwagon’s mainstream popularity, with Wheels Are Turnin’ becoming their last real turn in the spotlight.
The album was something of a return to form after the less-than-stellar, but still well-performing 1982 release of Good Trouble, with primary writer Kevin Cronin returning to form with a mixture of bouncy pop-rock tunes and stadium ballads.
The record opens with ‘I Do’ Wanna Know’, a raw track that exhibits the transition the band was undergoing at the time, blending falling pop piano with crisp hard-rock guitar riffs. The ‘Do’ of the title should be read as an abbreviation of ‘Don’t’ rather than it’s affirmative cousin, with the song written from the perspective of someone pleading with their soon to be departing love.
Carrying on with the theme of second chances and saving relationships, ‘One Lonely Night’ returns Cronin’s voice to its famous ballad territory.
The following tracks, ‘Thru the Window’ and ‘Rock n’ Roll Star’ are less eminent tunes on the album, but still carry the evolving feel of the overall record before swinging into ‘Live Every Moment’, a somewhat optimistic look towards the future for the band, perhaps as they undertake this new musical step.
This bring us on to the band’s standout track, and a single that has stood the test of time to become one of the more instantly-recognisable American rock ballads: ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’. It takes the band back to their stadium rock roots while adding in the pop-style writing we’d expect from the album.
The album breezes through ‘Gotta Feel More’ and ‘Break His Spell’ which, again, feel over-shadowed next to the more extravagant tracks the record has to offer. This all leads to the culmination of the album with the titular ‘Wheels Are Turnin”, a gratifying rock n’roll tune and the second highest charting single from the album, coming in at #7.
The entire record’s reliance on the success and grandeur of its two most popular tracks can’t be overstated. Having transitioned into the realms of genre classics, ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ and ‘Wheels Are Turnin” carry a collection which would be distinctly average without them.
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