When I lived in Ann Arbor in the late 70’s and I was listening to WABX (Rocks Detroit!) I heard “Come Sail Away” for the first time. Like millions other people, I loved it. It was just the right amount of prog rock and hard rock. It also had the 70’s allure of extra terrestrials… a combination that just couldn’t miss.
I had just recently begun my album purchasing phase, with what money I can’t recall. Undoubtedly I owe my mom for most of the first wave of albums I bought. Thanks Mom. I recall purchasing this one and it was my first real hard rock album. I bought it based solely on the merit of “Come Sail Away” I liked it so much. Back then there was no Groove Shark or Pandora to preview it on. It was probably the first album that I had bought on faith. I was not disappointed.
Styx – The Grand Illusion
“Come Sail Away” proved to be only one of many great songs. Not a dog on the whole album. “Man In The Wilderness” and “Miss America” and “The Grand Illusion” became staples for me.
This album also brought me connection with the kids at school. My first albums… Linda Ronstadt and The B-52’s and The Police and The Cars just were not the gritty rock testaments that spoke to the kids at my school. When I started talking about Styx though, I got heard. Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw rule! I found that rock was a great unifier.
Then came “Styx – Pieces Of Eight”
This one was even better! “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Nights (Long Nights)” and “Great White Hope” blew up my record player for weeks. Now I had 2 rock albums that were current and hot. WABX played “Pieces Of Eight” songs constantly and Styx was H O T. They were everywhere and the radio oozed them, even playing some older songs that I dug. It was the season of Styx and I thought they could do no wrong.
However… “Cornerstone” came out and I didn’t even know it. Radio played “Babe” once in a while but it sounded like Frampton for me. In essence, that album didn’t even exist.
Then “Paradise Theater” came out. “Too Much Time On My Hands” was awesome and I went out and despite not buying “Cornerstone”, again on the merit of one hot song, I bought the album.
Maybe I wasn’t mature enough yet, but I wanted old Styx back. This was not it. I liked “Snowblind” and “Too Much Time On My Hand” at a level of 10 and the rest at a 3.5… ugh. I was disappointed. Then to make matters worse, “The Best Of Times” was used as our prom song. It filled the radio waves and for half a year was inescapable. Bleck.
The final nail in the coffin came with the release of “Kilroy Was Here”.
“Mr. Roboto”?? No.
I can’t blame Styx for trying to remain relevant with allusions to robots and technology… but please. That song is (in my humble opinion) a sorry joke. I know that’s pretty harsh for a band that I still love, but there it is.
I went probably 15 years without owning “The Grand Illusion” and “Pieces Of Eight” once I sold the records and had to spend time shaking off the bad taste that had formed in my mouth for Styx. Some years ago though I came across both that I had gotten during a weary bleary eyed download session and had forgotten about. I put on first one, then the other, and fell in love with them all over again. Images of my high school room and my first dabbling with what I considered rock back in the day was a very warm fuzzy and despite the weak albums after these two, I think these 2 are almost indispensable. I could just be pining for those happy first discovery times, but these 2 have stuck with me all this time and that is a testament in itself.
When we stayed at The Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago last year they had Dennis DeYoung’s guitar in a glass case in the lobby with a full size picture of him behind it making it sing onstage. Styx for me was a band that had no visuals. I never saw them in concert and if they had any videos, I don’t recall them. It was interesting to think of them onstage and jamming. I looked at the guitar for a while and thought of these 2 albums.