Looking back on the 40th anniversary of REO Speedwagon’s third studio album, ‘Ridin’ the Storm Out,’ one is struck by the sheer confusion surrounding these legendary Illinois rockers during the early days of their '70s career.

Never mind how hard it is to even imagine REO without longtime prime mover, Kevin Cronin, who left during the recording sessions. His replacement, Mike Murphy, became the band’s third lead singer in as many years -- joining lynchpin guitarist Gary Richrath, keyboardist Neal Doughty, bassist Gregg Philbin and drummer Alan Grantzer -- and would remain with the group throughout their next, unfairly uncelebrated, three studio LPs.

And, as longtime fans know all too well, the resulting LP wasn’t your little sister’s REO Speedwagon -- the sleek, radio-conquering, arena-rocking AOR juggernaut of later years, under Cronin’s second term of office -- but a versatile rock and roll ensemble, unafraid to color their commercial aspirations with trace elements of other musical styles.

Most prominent among these were the roots and southern rock ingredients peppering tunes like ‘Whiskey Night’ and ‘Son of a Poor Man,’ the soulful R&B tendencies reflected in the organ and girl group backing vocals gracing ‘Find My Fortune,’ ‘Open Up,’ and others -- to say nothing of the occasional progressive inflection supplied by Doughty’s synthesizer and consistent hard rock threats made by Richrath’s naturally incendiary guitar work.

So while it may have lacked the undeniable hits and pop-focused songwriting capable of saturating REO to the masses, ‘Ridin’ the Storm Out’ quietly sold ... and sold ... and sold, eventually achieving Platinum certification with a little help from the band’s Olympian touring schedule, despite never rising higher than No. 171 on the Billboard charts.

That, dear readers, is album rock defined, and clear evidence of the foundation laid by ‘Ridin’ the Storm Out,’ which led to the toweringly successful band that REO Speedwagon duly became.

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