Kevin Cronin: The 10 Records That Changed My Life

Kevin Cronin
(Image credit: Paul Natkin / Getty Images)

REO Speedwagon frontman Kevin Cronin is delighted to have been born when he was, in 1951.

“I feel that people my age have been so blessed when it comes to music. Because of all the amazing bands and albums we got to grow up with. I wouldn’t have been born at any other time. I feel like I lived through an era which defined rock as we know it.”

For Cronin, it was a TV show that first got his rock’n’roll juices flowing.

“I was a little too young to get what Elvis was all about. He appealed to my babysitters, and not to me. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate just why he’s regarded as iconic, but it never got me going. But one Sunday night at home, watching the family’s black and white TV set, when The Ed Sullivan Show was on, and I saw The Beatles. That changed my attitude. I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. Seeing them made something click in my soul.”

Music remains very much a part of Cronin’s life. And he enjoys discovering young bands, thanks to his sons.

“I have twin boys who are 16 years old. They love turning me on to new names. Every time we get in the car to drive somewhere, they’ll plug their devices into my stereo and play new music they think will appeal to me. That’s how I came across Royal Blood, The Black Keys and James Bay. Discovering new music still excites me, and this is certainly a say of transcending the generation gap. My boys love it when I get into something they play.

“Even at my age, hearing a record for the first time can make a big impact.”

The Beatles - Rubber Soul (1965)

“This was the first album I ever owned. It was a Christmas present, left under the tree for me when I was 13 or 14. I got the US version of the album, which opens with I’ve Just Seen A Face. I know every song on this record so well. And Norwegian Wood,… well, the opening line is truly remarkable. ‘I once had a girl/Or should I say, she once had me’. This taught me that the first line of a song is so important. You need to pretty much tell the whole story with that one line.

“The album completely nailed me. I still sometimes play I’ve Just Seen A Face on an acoustic guitar. And I think it was the first album where both the title and cover were chosen to mean something. Nobody had paid that sort of attention to detail before.”

The Byrds - Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)

“I had my first real electric guitar at the time. A Gibson ES-335 Sunburst. But when I heard this album, I immediately sold it, to get a Rickenbacker 12-string. Because I loved the jangly guitar sound that Roger McGuinn got on the record, and that’s what he played.

“There were some great vocal harmonies here, which always got my attention. And the songs were superbly crafted. What they did was take folk music and electrify it. That’s something I have done all the time with REO. I write my songs in a folky way on the acoustic guitar, and then we develop them. It’s a technique I got from The Byrds.”

Moby Grape - Moby Grape (1967)

“When I was in my first band, we had a guitarist who would constantly search through record stores to find exciting new sounds. One day he came back with this. The band were from San Francisco, and every song was just amazing. I loved the jangly guitar sound they had, and also the excellent vocals. All the songs on the album were released as a single on the same day, which diluted the commercial potential, and ensured the band didn’t have the big hit they deserved.

“And as for the song Omaha… well, the word ‘Omaha’ was never mentioned in the lyrics! It should have been called Listen My Friends, which is really the chorus.”

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)

“Three of my favourite bands form this period were The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies. And someone I knew, who worked for a big booking agency, told me that one member of each of those bands were starting a new supergroup. I was so excited by how this could sound that, when this album was released, I queued up at a record store to get a copy. I took it right round to my girlfriend’s house, because her sister had a great stereo system. And as soon as I played the opening song Suite Judy Blues Eyes it just blew my mind. I played it 12 times in a row, before moving on to Marrakesh Express.

“Years later, I met Stephen Stills, and co-wrote the song Haven’t We Lost Enough?, which was including on the 1990 Crosby, Stills & Nash album Live It Up. To get the chance to work with a genuine hero of mine was incredible. After that, I just felt like, ‘That’s it, I’m good!’.”

James Taylor - Sweet Baby James (1970) or JT (1977)

“I heard Fire And Rain from Sweet Baby James on the radio, and became very enamoured by James Taylor’s vocals and and also his guitar playing. People often overlook the fact that he is a superb guitarist. The reason is because Taylor makes it all sound so simple, but what he’s doing is actually very difficult.

“On the JT album, he took Del Shannon’s Handy Man, kept the melody, but made a lot of chord changes, which gave it a whole different sound. He’s a master at doing this sort of thing, which makes a cover version by him almost a new song.”

Elton John - Madman Across The Water (1971)

“When I was at college I heard Tiny Dancer on the radio, and that got me into this album. The songwriting and arrangements here were a huge influence on me, and also the way Paul Buckmaster could take a string section and turn it into a rock instrument.

“I love Elton John’s way of singing. He has an uncanny ability to take a one syllable word and turn it into ten syllables! That made a big impression on me. I’ve done it myself – not that I would in any way compare my talents to that of Elton John. He’s in a different league to me.

“The song Holiday Inn here really did change my life. When (guitarist) Gary Richrath was looking for a new singer to join REO (1972), he came to check me out when I was a solo folk singer playing in local coffee houses. Holiday Inn was part of my repertoire, and when Gary saw me, he was amazed that I knew the song; Gary thought he was the only one who was into this track! So, we bonded over Holiday Inn, and it got me into the band. Therefore, this album did change my life in a major fashion.”

The Who - Who’s Next (1971)

“My college roommate brought it home one day. And the first thing that I noticed, inevitably, was the cover. It was just so funny. The whole attitude was, ‘We’re really badass, and we’ll pee wherever we want!’.

“When the album title and artwork are as good as this, then it usually tells me that the band involved are at a creative high point. That was definitely the case here. There were so many great songs on the album. This made a big impact on me as an aspiring musician. The was one of those albums that helped to mould my focus.”

REO Speedwagon - You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish (1978)

“Yes, I admit that including an REO album in this list I a little narcissistic, but there is a good reason for having it on here. You see, up until then Gary Richrath and I were very frustrated that our albums didn’t capture the excitement we had live. So, the two of us went to our label, Epic, and insisted we should produce the next album ourselves. To our surprise, they agreed. 

"So we were responsible for You Can Tune A Piano…. Sure, there are flaws in the way we produced the album, but we did the best that we could given our lack of experience. And it was our first top 30 album in America. It was definitely a turning point in my life, which is why this album means so much to me.”

Keith Urban - Golden Road (2002)

“Musically, the 90s passed me by. While I appreciated what bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were doing, music really got away from me. I liked the fact that young people had new heroes, which was important, but what was coming out never made any impression on me. And then I discovered the new country music genre.

“I heard Keith Urban for the first time, when You’ll Think Of Me came on the radio. It was great. What Keith had done was take country and rock it up a little, which I liked. I know a lot of old school fans of country criticise this approach, but for me this album piqued an ongoing interest I have in country.”

Little BigTown - The Road To Here (2005)

“I heard the single Boondocks on the radio while driving along one day, and was so impressed that I had to pull over to the side of the road. I was just so excited by the way it sounded. I wanted to know more about this band.

“It was because of Little Big Town that I decided to go to Nashville and work with musicians out there, which broadened my horizons.”

The 10 Best REO Speedwagon Songs, by Kevin Cronin

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021