|Day 202: REO Speedwagon (Take It On The Run)
November 20, 2022
Summer of 1981. Can it be known by anything but "Take It On The Run?"
Reo Speedwagon's hit seemed ubiquitous at the time. It blared out of every car window I drove past in the respite between freshman and sophomore years of college. You didn't have to hear it from a friend, you heard it directly (for some reason, I always associate that song and album, Hi Infidelity, with Tammy and Suzanne, sisters my buddies and I hung out with occasionally). Kevin Cronin's voice and that accelerated repeated chorus at the end seemed to embody everything joyous about the summer of 1981. (I know that lyrically the song is hardly joyous, but the delivery certainly is.) In retrospect, I see the song had little competition in May and June to be forgotten to something else.
For those of us who remember May 1981 well, are you as surprised as me to find that it never got higher than #5 on the Billboard Top 100? In fact, it stalled at #5 for many weeks, so much so that it should have been renamed "Take It In Place." Part of why it never got to #1 can be explained by Kim Carnes, of all things, whose "Bette Davis Eyes" parked itself at #1 for 9 out of 10 weeks between the middle of May and early July 1981. Surely, for that one week Carnes lost her grip, the REO boys could catapult into the #1 spot? Nah, that honor went to Stars on 45. Remember them? If so, go have another shot and try to forget. If not, be glad. Of course, by that time, "Take It On The Run" was sliding back down the charts and the next best pop/rock song climbing was, yes, I am going to write this, Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl."
Maybe REO was also hurt by their previous single, "Keep On Loving You," being #1. Who knows? I have wasted space before in this series ranting about the unfairness of the Billboard rankings (or the relatively obscure factors that go into the rankings). But how about even #2 for a week or so? No, those honors were taken by A Taste of Honey's "Sukiyaki." (A Taste of Honey leaves a bitter taste in my mouth because they won the Grammy for Best New Artist over The Cars and Elvis Costello.) When I am not gagging on the fact that A Taste of Honey kept "Take It On The Run" from getting higher than #5, then I am suffocating from Air Supply, which ridiculously got to #2 with "The One You Love" during this same stretch when "Take It On The Run" couldn't get higher than #5.
In reviewing Billboard charts from that summer, all I can say is that, my God, there was a dearth of good music on the radio. And it wasn't like REO was rocking as they had been with "Ridin' The Storm Out." Hi Infidelity was chock full of pop rock hits beyond "Take It On The Run" and "Keep On Loving You," all on Side One. Side Two rocked out more, but it didn't take long for that side to almost never be played. Hard-edged rock and roll was hard to find that Summer of 1981. The Stones snuck in "Start Me Up" but it would be Halloween when it would reach #2 (kept out of #1 by Christopher Cross' "Arthur's Theme"). Along the way, the Stones passed Foreigner's "Urgent," the other hardest rocker of the summer, but which could never get higher than #4, rebuked repeatedly by Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie's "Endless Love." The Beach Boys may have promoted endless summers, but the summer of 1981 was endless torture for those of us wanting to hear rock and roll.
So, it's not like I get all sentimental when I hear "Take It On The Run" these days. The "you're under the gun" line still bothers me, as I can't quite explain it contextually within the song (outside of needing the rhyme with "run"), and ultimately see it as a very crude sexual innuendo, which doesn't quite fit the rest of the song's mood.
Still, "Take It On The Run" possesses a great opening hook, is incredibly catchy (try not to sing along with "you're under the gun/so you take it on the run," especially Kevin Cronin's sustaining "runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn") and sparkles through Gary Richrath's ripping guitar solo. If pop songwriting was a class, I am guessing "Take It On The Run" could be the best example of taking a fairly standard song and making it memorable through musicianship, arrangement, and passion.
I still get that warm and fuzzy feeling when I think of it because it stood out that summer, because it was one of the few songs I didn't want to turn off. And because Tammy, forever associated with Hi Infidelity, departed from this world way too early in 2009.
A note: I wrote this blog, including necessary research on several computers where I don't have FaceBook automatically signed in, and yet FB, through my phone, has given me dozens of Gary Richrath posts since I researched it. What the hell? Is my every thought not laid bare for the FaceBook goon squad?
REO Speedwagon. "Take It On The Run." Hi Infidelity. Epic, 1980. Link here.
Day 201: Mark Olson & Gary Louris "The Trap's Been Set"
Day 203: Chumbawamba "Tubthumping"
Unfinished List here.