REO Speedwagon’s the best in Illinois? I don’t believe it. Not for a minute.
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All rock ‘n’ pop respect to REO Speedwagon, but I cannot climb aboard the REO Bandwagon.
As millennials wonder if I’m speaking some sort of ancient language, a few words of explanation.
On Monday, the Museum of Broadcast of Communications will be celebrating Illinois’ 200th birthday. The event at Navy Pier will include performances by “Da Bears” Superfans Robert Smigel and George Wendt, Miguel Cervantes of “Hamilton,” Buddy Guy and Friends and Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon. (There will also be a 1,000-pound cheesecake from Eli’s because we’re Chicago.)
Cronin’s appearance is a tie-in to a poll about the best musical act from Illinois, which was administered by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, at the behest of the Illinois 200 bicentennial celebration.
Voters were asked to select their favorite Illinois musical act from 21 nominees that ranged from Benny Goodman to Buddy Guy to Cheap Trick, Kanye West to Smashing Pumpkins.
And the winner was…
Wait. REO Speedwagon?
Listen (in more ways than one). I’m a big REO Speedwagon fan. Sure, they could be corny — after all, they named an album “You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish” — but “Roll With the Changes” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out” are classic classic rock anthems, and “Time for Me to Fly” is a solid ballad.
You can’t argue with their success. The “Hi Infidelity” album (1980) has sold more than 10 million copies and yielded four bona fide hits.
So good for the boys from Champaign. They definitely merit a mention on any “Best Illinois Musical Acts” list.
But No. 1?
I’m not sure even REO Speedwagon is convinced that REO Speedwagon belongs at the top of the list. Cronin, at an October press conference announcing the event, joked, “I just didn’t know that my mother understood computers well enough to vote so many times.”
My first gripe with the fine folks who conducted the poll is the omission of Chicago from even the list of 21 contenders.
“Chicago was not nominated,” a spokesman told the Daily Herald, noting that with REO and Cheap Trick on the list, “As far as ’70s rock goes, we thought that would be kind of repetitive.”
Hmmm. But isn’t that kind of like saying a great second baseman from a certain year should be kept from the Baseball Hall of Fame because two other second baseman from that year already were serious contenders?
Chicago is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Chicago was at the forefront of mixing rock and with a muscular horn section. Chicago’s double albums are ambitious and unique and, yes, sometimes bombastic but also quite memorable.
And what about Styx? Where’s Styx?
How about the greatly gifted, Grammy-winning Richard Marx, who set a record by becoming the first artist to reach the Top 5 with his first SEVEN singles?
Not to mention his contributions to the music world as a writer and producer.
Of course, these lists are subjective — especially when there are no criteria beyond: “Who’s your favorite musical act?” If you want to vote for the Buckinghams or the Ides of March or the Staple Singers or Willie Dixon or Chance the Rapper, that’s your call, and you certainly wouldn’t be “wrong.”
Still, I think it’s reasonable to factor in originality, influence, commercial success and versatility when making such a selection.
Here’s my list. Honestly, there’s no huge difference between No. 1 and No. 10. But just as I never wuss out when listing my favorite movies any given year, I won’t go the “in alphabetical order” route. I’m just gonna share my picks — and ask you to vote as well. (See poll below.)
1. Nat King Cole
3. Smashing Pumpkins
4. Muddy Waters
5. Cheap Trick
6. Earth, Wind & Fire
7. The Staple Singers
8. Miles Davis
9. Benny Goodman
10. Kanye West
Honorable mention: REO Speedwagon and everyone else mentioned in this column.