“Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto…”
The emergence of “arena rock” in the late 70s, saw the rise of a number of bands that seemingly went from being completely unknown to filling stadiums overflowing with adoring fans. Perhaps one of the most successful in this genre was a group of five Chicago-based rockers who called themselves Styx. Talk about coming out swinging; the band would land four consecutive double platinum albums, the first band ever to do so, and quickly prove they were a force to be reckoned with.
The genesis of the group was a meeting between Dennis DeYoung and his musical neighbors, twins John and Chuck Panozzo in South Chicago that led to the formation of a band called The Tradewinds. The band achieved local success, playing at Chicago State College for a number of social functions and frat parties. They added two guitarists to the mix, John Curulewski and James “JY” Young, and within two years the band was signed to Wooden Nickel Records. Realizing that they needed a catchier name, the decided upon Styx.
They released four records with the label, none of which that initially met with any notable success. The second of the four, however, called Styx II, had a theatrical rock ballad called “Lady.” And, right as the band was just about ready to throw in the towel, “Lady” started getting radio attention, first in Chicago, and soon after, nationwide. Two years after Styx II was released, the single became a Top-10 hit, making the album go gold.
Upon this success, Styx moved to the A&M label. Their next album, Equinox, released in 1975, did respectable sales and it was time to take the band on the road for an extended U.S. tour. But right before the band left, Curulewski announced that he wasn’t coming along. Desperate for a replacement, the band turned to a baby-faced southern guitarist named Tommy Shaw who quickly accepted their offer and the legendary lineup was complete. They released the Crystal Ball album in 1976, which contained the minor hit “Mademoiselle” written by newcomer Shaw as well as “This Old Man.” Not an overwhelming success by any stretch of the imagination, it still led to another successful tour and the future looked bright for the quintet. Little did they know how bright it would be.
The next album in 1977 would catapult them into the realm of super-stardom – The Grand Illusion. With a perfect combination of lush keyboard orchestrations and gritty guitar tracks, the record featured such rock classics as “You’re Fooling Yourself” and the iconic “Come Sail Away.” Sales of the album went triple-platinum and Styx became the darlings of arena rock. They issued a strong follow-up with the 1978 release, Pieces of Eight. Featuring such hard-driving songs as “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man” and the majestic “Sing for the Day.” The album proved to be yet another platinum record under their belts.
A year later, and Styx showed off their Midas touch again with the Cornerstone album. Along with the moderate hits “Why Me” and “Borrowed Time,” the album contained what would become the band’s biggest hit to date, the million-selling single “Babe,” a pleasant ballad that would help the record garner a Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance. Suffice to say, the end of the 70s were pretty darn good to the band. And as the 80s approached, things were only looking up.
In 1981, the band released their biggest-selling album, Paradise Theatre. The concept album went all the way to #1 and included a total of five singles. Two of them made it to the Top-10 – “Too Much Time on my Hands” and “The Best of Times,” and one song, “Rockin’ the Paradise” would be used as a show-opener in the years that followed.
Styx always had an affinity for the theatrical side of things, but it was never more apparent than in their next offering, a concept album called Kilroy Was Here. Released in 1983, the rock opera told the tale of a future where rock and roll had been outlawed. Kilroy (played by DeYoung) was an unjustly convicted rock star and Jonathan Chance (Shaw) was the young rocker who would save him. The album featured the synth-laden rocker, “Mr. Roboto,” which taught millions of fans how to say hello in Japanese in a way they wouldn’t soon forget. This song and a power ballad called “Don’t Let It End” both moved up the charts and led to a memorable tour that was their most ambitious to date. With elaborate costumes, dialog that was carefully-scripted, and a short film that explained the album’s concept, it was an expensive extravagance that didn’t see the expected returns. This tension, along with creative differences between DeYoung, who preferred the theatrical, and Shaw, who was a rocker at heart, led to the latter’s departure from the band. Meanwhile, they released Caught in the Act, a live album which featured a new studio release called “Music Time.” The song was yet another Top-40 hit for the band. Soon after, in 1984, Styx disbanded.
In 1989, they reunited without Shaw and recorded another hit called “Show Me The Way” which became popular with soldiers and their families during the Gulf War. And in 1996, they embarked on their first tour in many years, producing a new live album in the process called Return to Paradise which went gold. Sadly, while Shaw did tour with the band, longtime drummer John Panozzo could not, due to health reasons – and passed away soon after.
The band released their first new studio album in years with Brave New World in 1999. Unfortunately, the album met with a lukewarm response and none of the tracks charted. DeYoung left the band soon after and once again pursued a solo career, releasing the album, The Music of Styx – Live With Symphony Orchestra in 2005. A few of the remaining band members continue to tour under the Styx name but the original lineup is but a memory. Of course, having sold over 17 million records, they are a pretty darn vivid memory – an arena rock band like no other, before or since.
If you were a fan of Styx back in the day, we welcome all of your your thoughts and recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hands to the band with the Midas touch.