REO Speedwagon’s Neal Doughty on the Song That Changed His Life
“It’s funny, but ‘Hi Infidelity’ was album number 11 for us, but a lot of people that bought the record had never picked up an REO Speedwagon album before,” says founding keyboardist Neal Doughty during a chat with Noisecreep last week. The classic rocker is promoting the 30th Anniversary Edition of ‘Hi Infidelity’ – their landmark album which included one of the original power ballads, ‘Keep on Loving You.’ The record is being commemorated with a deluxe 2-CD set which pairs the original album with a second disc of previously unreleased ‘Crystal Demos’ of nine of the album’s 10 songs. Additionally, the packaging includes new liner notes by lead singer Kevin Cronin, as well as original lead guitarist Gary Richrath.
“Some people thought we were some kind of overnight sensation, but by that point, we had already spent 10 years touring in station wagons and vans. Looking back, some of the albums before ‘Hi Infidelity’ did OK. Our live album [1977's 'Live: You Get What You Pay For'] went Gold, but we worked so hard to get that one huge radio hit and it didn’t happen for years. We got to the point where our label, Epic Records, started to lose a bit of patience with us and wanted us to get bigger. But they stuck with us for years. You would never hear about a band these days getting 10 albums before they found a radio hit. They would be dropped after the first record. So there was definitely some pressure to deliver a big hit once we started working on what would become the ‘Hi Infidelity’ record,” remembers Doughty.
That hit would come in the form of a Cronin-penned love song called ‘Keep on Loving You.’ It ultimately became a number one song on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1981. Since then the heart-tugging ballad has been covered by a widearray of artists including The Donnas, Evan Dando and Lisa Loeb. REO Speedwagon had finally written their way into pop culture history with ‘Keep on Loving You.’ But the song and album’s origins were bleak.
“During the making of the ‘Hi Infidelity’ album, most of REO Speedwagon was going through some kind of personal turmoil. I’m talking about divorces and all sorts of crazy stuff. I remember when Kevin played me ‘Keep on Loving You’ for the first time I was a bit apprehensive about recording it. You have to remember, up to that point we were known as a rock band and here was this soft song.”
Watch ‘Keep on Loving You’ from REO Speedwagon
“I wasn’t sure how our hardcore fans would react to a ballad. But then Gary Richrath pulled out his guitar, cranked his amplifier to 11 and started playing along with Kevin. From that point, it felt right. Gary and Kevin had such different writing and playing styles and it worked so great on ‘Keep on Loving You.’ Once that song hit radio, it exploded. We finally had the hit that our label and we had wanted for years. It changed our lives forever.”
REO Speedwagon’s ‘Hi Infidelity: 30th Anniversary Edition’ is out now via Sony Legacy Recordings.