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Why we can't escape REO's 'Can't Fight This Feeling'

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Unlike several of their '70s-'80s pop music peers, REO Speedwagon has not gone back into the studio to re-record their hit songs. In something of a rarity among arena rock-era superstars, singer Kevin Cronin maintained legal control of his own songs.

"I was really fortunate," Cronin said in a recent chat. "I became partners with my publishing company over 20 years ago, and my agreement is pretty unique in music publishing. I have veto power over where my songs are used."

That means Cronin has said yes to -- or, at least, not said no -- to the ubiquity of his 1984 chestnut, one of the biggest power ballads of the rock era: "Can't Fight This Feeling."

San Miguel School's 6th Annual SCHOOL ROCKS! benefit concert
• 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25
• House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
• $125-$300 (includes open bar and buffet); (773) 890-0233;

You know the one. The junior-high slow dance song. Besides "Keep on Loving You."

"Can't Fight This Feeling" has been a soundtrack to many fitting and freakish moments in TV, movies, even theater:

-- In the pilot of "Glee," Finn was blackmailed into participating in the high school show choir when he gave away his vocal chops singing "Can't Fight This Feeling" in the locker room shower.

-- The song scores a montage of a fantasy love affair between a toddler and a teacher in a "South Park" episode.

-- It was sort of a clue in an episode of "Fringe."

-- The song was used in a TV ad campaign for Hallmark's electronic singing Valentine's Day cards.

-- In the spoof "Not Another Teen Movie," all it takes is about 20 seconds of the song's introductory keyboard treacle to evoke a fresh infatuation in the high school halls.

-- All the major characters of the Dr. Seuss story "Horton Hears a Who" close the movie version by singing the song.

"Yeah, I mean, Carol Burnett sings a verse of 'Can't Fight' [in 'Horton']. That's kinda cool!" Cronin said. "Maybe I'm weird about it, but I actually get a kick out of it when my songs are used for other purposes."

"Can't Fight This Feeling" is also one of the cornerstone power ballads in the stage and movie versions of the Broadway karaoke musical "Rock of Ages." Two male characters -- played by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand in the film -- reveal their love for each other as they sing the song.

"We were some of the first people on board when that play started," Cronin said. "It was this little thing in L.A. that became this phenomenal thing. We gave permission. It sounded cool. We didn't know what context the song would be put in." He chuckles. "I felt kind of honored and humiliated at the same time."

Cronin says he's only been vehement about turning down one particular license for one of his songs.

"I had an offer once years ago, for Newport cigarettes," he said. "They offered me big money for the use of 'Time for Me to Fly' for something. We immediately turned it down. Being businessmen, they assumed I was turning them down as a negotiating ploy. The offer comes back, doubled. I was younger at the time, but it really pissed me off. I thought, 'You dirty scumbags!' ... If one kid started smoking cigarettes as a result of one of my songs, I'd go crazy."

Cronin's back in town -- "where I came up through the Lincoln Avenue clubs as a folksinger," he said -- this weekend for an annual concert benefitting the Back of the Yards junior high school San Miguel.

"They're great," Cronin said of San Miguel. "They really help underprivileged kids who really do want to go to school. They find the ones who are motivated and give them this opportunity to succeed within a public school setting."

Cronin and his REO Speedwagon bandmates -- guitarist Dave Amato, keyboardist Neal Doughty, bassist Bruce Hall and drummer Bryan Hitt -- recently recorded some sessions in Nashville for a new album Cronin describes as (oh my) "country rock."

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on October 25, 2012 7:00 AM.

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