Kevin Cronin talks of the spirited battle between his REO Speedwagon songwriting partner/guitarist Gary Richrath that led to the take no prisoners number one power ballad “Keep on Loving You’ from the 15-week Chart topper, Hi Infidelity.
REO Speedwagon: Working Hard to Make Their Name in 1970s Music
Throughout the 1970s REO Speedwagon was one of the hardest working bands in America. They were road warriors, touring extensively since their formation in 1967 in Champaign, Illinois. REO had built a solid fan base, especially in their native Midwest, but after nearly 12 years together, and eight studio albums under their belt, REO was struggling to find that breakout hit that would give them national acclaim.
Following the release of their eighth album titled Nine Lives in ’79, REO was on the chopping block, in danger of being dropped from their record label (Epic Records). Nine Lives had only sold a fraction of the units that REO’s double-platinum album You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tune a Fish had sold, and the pressure to return to platinum status was intense.
Kevin Cronin Dreamed Up “Keep on Loving You”
The band’s redemption came to lead singer & front-man Kevin Cronin in the middle of the night when he was awakened by a melody that he had stuck in his head. When asked about how they came up with a celebrated song, many artists respond that the song “came out of nowhere,” or that it was a “gift from above.” Kevin felt the same inexplicable serendipity when the melody of what would become “Keep on Loving You” popped into his mind like a dream sequence.
At band rehearsal the following day, Kevin was compelled to play the melody for his bandmates, but he was also nervous. After all, REO was a rock band, featuring amazing musicianship, and one of the best guitarists in the business- the late Gary Richrath. The thought of playing a piano song for the group’s acceptance was risky.
Cronin, himself, was a guitar man, but when he came to that fateful rehearsal, he went to the piano and started to play his haunting new melody. “The guys looked at me like I was from another planet,” recalled Kevin. “They did not think it was an REO Song.” Richrath was not only a great guitarist, but he was also a prolific songwriter, and he understood the need to structure a song that could please REO’s rock fans, and still follow Kevin’s vision for the new tune. Gary created power chords that changed the tune from the tender love song to a power rock ballad, perhaps one of the first of that genre.
“Keep On Loving You”: The Hit that Made REO Speedwagon in 1980
“Keep on Loving You”, Kevin’s late-night epiphany was the lead single from the ninth studio album by REO Speedwagon- the 1980 masterpiece Hi Infidelity. The LP sold more than 10 million copies and topped the Billboard Album Chart for 15 weeks. It was a life-changing accomplishment that made REO a worldwide sensation, silencing the skeptics at Epic Records who had lost faith in the band.
The lyrics of “Keep on Loving You” were written by Cronin, and he teamed up with Richrath to create the music for the song that went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980, selling over a million units, and becoming a global smash:
#2 in Canada
#3 in Australia
#3 in South African
#4 in Switzerland
#6 in Ireland
#7 on the UK Singles chart
REO was the first rock band to record at the famed Columbia Studios in Nashville, another karmic experience that helped shape Hi Infidelity into such a monumental collection. Columbia Studios was a historic recording studio where luminaries Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Bob Dylan, and Patsy Cline had recorded.
One of the Greatest Love Song of All Time was Inspired by Betrayal
VH-1 named “Keep on Loving You” as one of their Top 40 Love Songs. Although the song has a romantic overtone, it is essentially a song about betrayal, hurt, and resolve.
Kevin has called “Keep on Loving You” the “most painful song he’s ever written.” The lyrics of the song were inspired by a revelation from Kevin’s ex-wife that she had cheated on him before they were married. Despite the agony felt from learning about the infidelity, Kevin pledged to keep on loving her no matter what happened in their past.
REO Speedwagon: Cultural Force and Still Touring
The song has been covered by a variety of artists, including The Donnas, Deftones, and Lisa Loeb. Country music superstar Keith Urban frequently performs “Keep on Loving You” in the encore for his live performances. Keith calls it his “sing-a-long song” that gets the whole audience involved.
“Keep on Loving You” was one of five tracks featured on Hi Infidelity that broke the Top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Cronin would pen another number one single for REO, four years later, when the power rock ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling” rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984. REO Speedwagon is still one of the hardest working bands in rock n’ roll touring relentlessly for more than 50 years.