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Kevin Cronin reveals details of ‘dark duet’ of REO Speedwagon classic for Dolly Parton’s rock album: ‘How the song was meant to be performed’

Last year, after initially Dolly Parton attempted to “respectfully” withdraw from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominations because she didn’t feel “worthy,” the country legend was voted into the Hall anyway. So, when she appeared at the Class of 2022 induction ceremony, she wanted to make sure she truly qualified, and she announced plans for her first official rock album. Since then, we’ve learned that the album, Rock Star, will feature rock ‘n’ roll royalty like Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Steven Tyler, Elton John, John Fogerty, Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon, and Parton’s goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, and will include originals as well as Prince, Stones, Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd covers. But we now know that there’s one Rock Star track that was definitely recorded in hi infidelity.

Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment’s Lyndsey Parker on a “Best Love Songs of the ‘80s” Valentine’s-themed episode of the Totally ‘80s podcast, REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin exclusively revealed that he and longtime fan Parton (who did a “country hoedown” remake of REO Speedwagon’s “Time for Me to Fly” back in 1980) have just recorded a “dark duet” of one of REO’s most beloved power ballads. It’s a he said/she said version that casts Cronin’s famous lyrics of a forgiving “good guy” in an entirely different light… but actually tells the true story behind REO’s oft-misunderstood classic.

“I get a call from Dolly, literally the other day,” Cronin said. “Because she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and at first she didn’t want to go in because she didn’t feel like it was proper, then she got the idea of ‘OK, I’ll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but I gotta make a rock ‘n’ roll record.’ … And she decides she wants to cover ‘Keep on Loving You.’ The day after I did my vocal, Elton John was recording his.”

The long-held public backstory of “Keep on Loving You” — which appeared on REO Speedwagon’s 10 million-selling 1980 album Hi Infidelity— is that Cronin penned it after finding out that his first wife, Denise, had been unfaithful before they got married, but he’d decided to stay with her anyway. (The couple eventually divorced.) “But here’s the kicker,” Cronin confessed. “When I wrote that song, I kind of portrayed myself as more of the good guy than perhaps I was. Perhaps it takes more than one snake in the grass, ‘all coiled up and hissing,’ to tango — if you catch my drift. That’s the reality of the song, you know?

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“So, it gave me the idea that Dolly could sing the first verse, and in the first verse, I’m cheating on her. But then I take the second verse, and in the second verse, I go, ‘Oh yeah? Well, I know all about those men!’ And so now, the song becomes this kind of dark duet — until it gets to the chorus, where they go, ‘I meant every word I said. When I said that I love you, I meant that I love you forever, Dolly.’ And I sing it in harmony. It just slays me, because that’s how the song was meant to be performed; I just didn’t realize it until Dolly called me the other day. So that’s how we’re doing it, and I’m just so stoked.”

This isn’t the first time that a famous fan has unexpectedly and memorably covered “Keep on Loving You.” Keith Urban, the Lemonheads, the Donnas, Cigarettes After Sex, and Cronin’s Totally ‘80s co-panelist Lisa Loeb have all made it their own. Another reluctant Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, even “taught” Cronin how to play it.

“I went down to do [Steve Jones’s] radio show [Jonesy’s Jukebox]; it was at a club in L.A. and he wanted to perform a couple songs with me, which I thought was awesome,” Cronin chuckled. “And he goes, ‘I’d like to do “Keep on Loving You.”’ I’m like, all right, if I would’ve been sitting somewhere in 1981 and someone asked me who I would least expect to be asking me to play ‘Keep on Loving You’ with me, Steve Jones would’ve been in the top 10, for sure. It turns out he’s like the nicest guy in the world. He told me that… he was taking a shower and got this idea [to cover the song], grabbed a guitar, and instead of getting out of the shower and picking up a guitar, Steve Jones decided to stay in the shower and bring the guitar in the shower with him and work out this guitar part — which he subsequently taught me, because I wrote the song on piano and had never been able to figure out how to play it on guitar.”

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Francis Columbus Ocran

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