Today in 1985 proved memorable for two popular bands. REO Speedwagon is a rock band from Champaign, Illinois with a history of hard-rocking hits that dates back to the early 1970s. Dead or Alive was a UK band with a visually intriguing lead singer. While Dead or Alive began under a different name in the late 1970s, it wasn’t until the band changed its name, and created a hit song that nearly epitomized 1980’s new wave and dance music culture that audiences in the US learned who they were. In 1985, both REO Speedwagon and Dead or Alive had hits that changed their relationship with listeners in the US.
Actually, the band’s history reaches back to the middle 1960s. But as far as their charting history is concerned, some of the band’s arguably best work was released in the 1970s. Songs like “Golden Country” (1972) and “Ridin’ the Storm Out” (1973) came to define REO Speedwagon’s sound. However, it should be noted that the band had three lead singers for its first three albums. Terry Luttrell, Kevin Cronin, and Mike Murphy all contributed to the group’s signature sound. Cronin’s malleable tenor can be heard on “Golden Country” and many of the band’s 1980’s hits, including “Keep On Loving You,” (1980) and “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” (1985). The latter came from the album, “Wheels Are Turnin’.” By the middle of the 1980s, the band had garnered a few No. 1 hits. But there was something different about “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore,” a ballad that showed a departure from the hard rock style that REO Speedwagon often returned to.
Eventually, “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” not only reached No. 1 on the singles chart but also reached No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The song would remain at No. 1 for three weeks. The song’s popularity is significant because the sound of it was so different. The lyrics have a simple rhyme scheme: “…it’s time to bring this ship into the shore/ and throw away the oars, forever.”
The earnest lyrics are underscored by a sweet piano melody and strings. There is a searing guitar solo, and the drums pound as the instrumentation builds up to swells, but mostly the song remains a heartfelt ballad.
Also, the song’s organization is different than the typical verse-chorus style songs. The phrase “I can’t fight this feeling,” is woven throughout. In fact, it begins the song, which gives the track a thematic, or unified, feel.
Dead or Alive
The band started out as Nightmares on Wax in 1979. With the dawn of the 1980s, the group changed their name to Dead or Alive. The group had some success with singles in the UK, but it was in 1985 that the group’s video for the song “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” was in heavy rotation on MTV, and reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This success doubtless paved the way for the band’s 1986 hit, “Brand New Lover.”
The band’s appearance caused a stir, as many viewers found lead singer, Pete Burns androgynous and shocking. More importantly though, was the group’s sound. The synth and drum sounds are almost hypnotic. The backing instrumentation sounds like a series of electric “knocks” or hollow-sounding beats. These underscore the phrase “watch out here I come,” in a way that builds tension. The song’s lyrics are audacious, and in the video era, the lyrics combined with Burns’ look, made “You Spin Me Round” memorable.
The popularity of both “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and “You Spin Me Round” illustrates the range of musical tastes at the time, and those songs only represent two genres. The songs’ memorable soundscape and the various elements that made the band’s personnel interesting to fans accounted for the popularity.
REO Speedwagon most recently toured with Styx but has remained busy in the decades since the 1980s with Cronin fulfilling lead singer duties. The group has performed in storm benefits and with artists like Pitbull, who seemingly have nothing in common with the rock band. Burns passed away in 2016 and Dead or Alive ended with his death.