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REO Speedwagon on not knowing what John Lewis was – and Bastille ‘changing’ their lyrics for the Christmas ad

Frontman Kevin Cronin says Bastille's Dan Smith has "a special gift in his throat"

REO Speedwagon singer Kevin Cronin has admitted he hadn’t really heard of John Lewis before his band’s hit ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ was covered by Bastille’s Dan Smith for the chain’s new Christmas advert.

Smith has covered REO Speedwagon’s  1985 US Number 1 smash as the soundtrack to the traditional John Lewis festive commercial, which this year features a girl trying to tame a dragon named Excitable Edgar in time for a grand Christmas banquet.

Cronin confessed to NME he was unaware of John Lewis, or the importance of its annual Christmas advert, until he was approached for permission to use ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’. “John Lewis just isn’t known in the States,” said Cronin, “so I had no idea at all their Christmas advert is such a big deal in the UK.”

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‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ was Number 1 for three weeks in the US in 1985, reaching Number 16 in the UK. Cronin said he quickly became aware of the publicity boost his song is enjoying thanks to its use in the advert, which is a joint campaign for John Lewis and Waitrose. “You can tell by the production values this is huge,” he said. “Dan Smith is one of six singers John Lewis had in the running to cover the song – I’d never heard of such a thing. The advert is beautiful. As a father, it had me from the first moment.

“I’ve been trying to put what it means to us in American terms. It’s not quite the same, but the anticipation of ‘Who’s it going to be in the ad?’ is like who is going to perform at half-time in the Super Bowl.”

Cronin added he loves Smith’s version of his band’s song – but revealed that he was confused by a change to the song’s opening line.

“I’m heartened that the singer John Lewis chose to perform our song is in a band whose music I like,” said Cronin. “That makes it all the sweeter. I’m an OK singer, I can sing the songs I wrote, but some people have a rare gift in their throat. Hearing your song sung by them is wonderful, and that’s how I feel about Dan’s version of ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling.'”

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The opening line of the song is ‘I can’t fight this feeling any longer’. In the advert, Smith appears to sing ‘I don’t fight this feeling any longer’, but in the single version released today (November 19), it’s obviously back to the original.

Cronin said: “The only bone I have to pick with Dan is when he sings ‘I don’t fight this feeling any longer.’ When I first heard that I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what? That’s not even grammatically correct, and it’s the title of the song. How did he get that wrong?’ Maybe it was just an honest mistake. Hopefully I can meet Dan one day and ask him to explain it to me.”

A Bastille source told NME that Smith actually sings the correct line in both versions, saying: “In the advert, Dan sounds a bit like he’s singing ‘Don’t’, because of the way the arrangement. merges with his voice. But he’s definitely singing ‘I can’t fight this feeling any longer.’ It’s clearer in the single version, but Dan was singing it right both times.”

As well as its use in the John Lewis/Waitrose ad, ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ has also featured this year in key scenes in Stranger Things and American Horror Story.

Cronin explained: “‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ is just one of those songs that’s got into people’s bloodstreams. Over here, everybody knows it. The people who were in high school or college when it was first released are now working in television, movies and advertising companies. It’s a song that keeps popping up.”

‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ took almost 10 years to write, as Cronin wrote its verses in 1975 before finally creating the chorus for REO Speedwagon’s 1984 album ‘Wheels Are Turnin”. They’d already had a Number 1 single in the US in 1980 with ‘Keep On Loving You’.

“At first, I wrote a horrible chorus,” said Cronin. “I knew the verses deserved better than this horrific chorus. Years later, we’d become well-known for power ballads, and it was an unspoken truth we should have a strong power ballad on each record. It’s the type of song that comes naturally, so I looked at the usable spare parts of this song from 1975.”

Fellow singer Eric Carmen had been supposed to help Cronin finish writing ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’, but Cronin cancelled when he was ill with a bad cold on the morning of their session.

“I was sweating and I felt miserable,” said Cronin. “Sitting on the floor in my bedroom, I yelled out ‘What is this fucking song about?’ When I opened up my lyric notebook, there it was in the opening line – ‘I can’t fight this feeling any longer.’

“I’d thought the song was about having trouble expressing my feelings for a particular woman at the time, but it was about more than that. ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ defines who I am emotionally. I wasn’t brought up to be happy but to act happy. It’s a song about having trouble expressing my feelings in general. Finishing the song was a big step in my own emotional development.”

The John Lewis/Waitrose ad has led REO Speedwagon to re-release their 2009 Christmas album ‘Not So Silent Night’. Father-of-four Cronin said: “I wrote a song for the holidays album, ‘I Believe In Santa Claus’, for my children. I have a strong feeling about that song and, you never know, the John Lewis advert might make people have the connection between the Christmas holidays and REO Speedwagon.”

Since the John Lewis Christmas adverts began in 2007, REO Speedwagon are just the third non-British act to have their music used in the campaigns. Guns ‘N Roses‘ Sweet Child O’ Mine was covered by Taken By Trees in 2009, while Vaults reworked Randy Crawford’s ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ in 2016.

Cronin said: “I’d heard it’s rare for an American artist to feature in the ads, and I feel a little special sense of honour about that.”

The REO Speedwagon singer joked he might try to blag some Excitable Edgar toys from John Lewis for using his song.

“John Lewis haven’t sent me anything,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re planning on it. Do they normally create some merch around their characters? I’m open to hearing from them.”

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