I was discussing music with some friends online yesterday (which should not surprise anyone who knows me). During one of the discussions I was involved in it dawned on me that the album being talked about tuned thirty years old this year. At first that didn’t phase me too much but as I thought about it I felt a familiar feeling come creeping up on me. I like to call it the “How did I get so old so fast” effect and it usually hits me when I’m thinking about my kids or when I’m talking about music, books, or movies.
The album in question is Wheels Are Turnin’ by REO Speedwagon. The conversation began on Facebook (like many do) when my buddy Paul posted the video for I Do’ Wanna Know (God bless YouTube) and asked me if I had ever seen it. I answered in the affirmative and then linked the videos for One Lonely Night, Live Every Moment, and I Can’t Fight This Feeling (both versions).
During the course of our brief exchange we both agreed that REO Speedwagon probably released better albums during their career, which has now entered its FIFTH DECADE. In fact, we both mentioned their bestselling album Hi Fidelity, which was probably the pinnacle of their success. That album spawned several hits and became the template for the rest of their career. It was agreed that it was the best thing that they ever put out.
However, both of us consider Wheels Are Turnin’ to be our favorite REO album. Why is that? Well, quite honestly, it is because of when it was released and what was going on in our lives at the time. Hi Infidelity came out in 1980 when I was ten years old. It is a very important album to me because it got played a lot when I was sixteen years old.
My first car had a nice 8-track stereo in it (if that is even possible) and the only two albums I owned on 8-track at the time were Van Halen’s first one and Hi Infidelity. Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), I have very fond memories of both albums and they continue to pop in my all time favorite albums list.
So, why does Wheels Are Turnin’ trump it? It came out in 1984, as we have already mentioned, so I was still two years away from my daily consumption of Van Halen and Hi Infidelity. I met the girl who would eventually become my first girlfriend when I was in eighth grade. She was a year behind me and was one of my best friend’s girlfriend at the time. Eighth grade, for me, was 1983 to 1984. By the time I was half-way through ninth grade she was my girlfriend. That was the 1984-1985 school year.
We became boyfriend and girlfriend in April of 1985 and the singles from Wheels Are Turnin’ were all over the radio and M-TV. One song in particular, I Can’t Fight This Feeling, became OUR song. It is common knowledge that all teenage lovebirds have GOT to have that one song that defines their relationship, and that was ours. It was especially effective during the “couples only” skates at the local skating rink, where she just happened to work.
I wore out my copy of that album, which I acquired from another friend who had forgotten to send in the Selection Of The Month card from Columbia House Record Club and received the tape unintentionally. His oversight provided me with what would become one of my favorite albums of all time. I honestly don’t know how many copies of it I have purchased over the last thirty years. I imagine that I bought it at least three or four times on cassette before eventually getting it on CD.
I am listening to it right now, as I type this. My CD copy vanished a few years ago during one of the many moves my wife and I have made, so I bought it again, this time as a digital file from iTunes. Even though I have no desire to go back and relive the past, I must confess that hearing these songs does bring up memories that I typically leave in the past.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t long for those days or pine over my long-lost first love, but I do look back on some of those times fondly. It is especially interesting now because I have already watched one son go through those teenage years and I am about to have another do the same thing. I wonder what memories are being made in their lives, what songs are becoming the soundtrack to their lives.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the music I was listening to was shaping me and molding me into the person that I am now. Back then I thought that I was just listening to songs. I had no idea how powerful music was or how big of a role it would play in my life. At fourteen, I never dreamed that I would one day be sitting in my office (in a church no less) on a cool November morning, forty-four years old and almost completely gray, listening to REO Speedwagon.
I didn’t realize that all those “couples only” skates and all those after school marching band practices were getting permanently filed in the “beloved memories” section of my brain. At the time, I didn’t know that each one of these songs was going to eventually be a key, able to unlock and open up things that I normally don’t think about. They were just pop songs and videos…right?
Live Every Moment is playing right now and I swear, it’s almost like I am fourteen again. I wouldn’t call this the greatest song ever written or argue that Kevin Cronin is a genius. I do believe he is a poet thought. He has written something that, for me, has transcended time and space and continues to affect me thirty years later. For five minutes and one second I feel like a kid again. That is something special. That is magical.
It’s just like the lyrics to the song say:
Sometime I wish we could take a trip far away
Leave all this trouble and heartache and pain for another day
I will search for that place, until I find it all I can say is
Live every moment, love every day
‘Cause before you know it, your precious time slips away
Live every moment, love every day
‘Cause if you don’t, you might just throw your love away