Dear Beloved Grandchildren:
Hiya kids! This is your crazy old Pop-Pop here. I know all of you are either too young to really understand this blog entry or have even been born yet, but I wanted to tell you about the concert your Nana and I saw last night. Now, neither of your Daddies are big fans of Styx or Joan Jett, but I personally got to relive my youth through these talented musicians’ music. Truth be told, I saw Joan Jett way back in 1982 when she opened for a well-loved band called The Police. Although, at the time I saw her perform, Jett had the number one song in the U.S. with the immortal “I Love Rock ‘N Roll.” But, it was very early in her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-career that I only saw her play songs from her first two albums as well as choice cuts from her days as a member of the seminal all-female band The Runaways. Still, it was great to see a strong woman singing punk rock with the conviction that this music was going to save her life, as well as ours. Back in her heyday, I never gave it much thought as to how important she would become to generations of female musicians, as I was of the opinion that she played great music so she was great. Sure, as a male I knew she was a hot-looking female, but that never tainted my view of her talent, and subsequent place in rock history.
And as great as Joan Jett was last night, and she was, the night belonged to headliners Styx. Now, truth be told, Styx played a very important role in my life as a teenager. I remember some of my first middle school slow dances, as awkward as they were at the time, being to Styx’ immortal power ballad “Lady,” which, of course, the band played last night. You see, Styx is from Chicago, and, as a teenager, I would listen to Chicago AM radio station WLS at night since that station played the best music. So, Styx music found its way on the powerful WLS all of the time. Shortly after “Lady” ran its course nationally, the band had a minor hit with “Lorelei,” a song that grabbed me with its prog-rock leanings, Beatlesque vocals and solid arena-ready guitars, a description that could be applied to nearly any of their subsequent songs.
But, in 1976, the band added guitarist/singer/songwriter Tommy Shaw, and the dynamics of the band changed for the better. All of a sudden, those vocals became magical as Tommy’s voice could soar over Dennis DeYoung’s and James “J.Y.” Young’s vocals, combining to make one powerful-sounding signature sound. The unique thing about Styx is how they could take the prog sounds popularized by the English art bands like Yes and melded them with hard guitars popular with Midwestern bands like fellow Illini REO Speedwagon and Cheap Trick and those beautiful angelic vocals within the context of a pop song making the first arena rock sound that would be popularized by several other bands, such as Boston and Journey.
Believe it or not, Styx became one of the biggest bands in the world in 1977 with the release of The Grand Illusion, which yielded two of their most beloved songs, “Come Sail Away” and “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”. While the former was the bigger hit, the latter played more of a role in my life as I was dealing with my parents’ divorce. The lyrics of “Fooling Yourself” spoke to me and my situation and helped me gain perspective. Plus, the song just flat out rocks!
Styx’ popularity grew with the release of their next two albums, Pieces of Eight (1978) and Cornerstone (1979). Of the two albums, Pieces of Eight was the more “rock” album of the two. That album had two of my all-time favorite songs on it, “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” and the sublime “Renegade.” Unfortunately, Cornerstone has been, unfairly or not, remembered for the Dennis DeYoung ballad “Babe,” which was melting young ladies’ hearts all across the country. Sure, it was a great make-out song (Oooh!! Yuck Pop-Pop!), but it made DeYoung want to become a soft rock songwriter and Broadway-type of performer instead of the rocker he was. Of course, it was on 1979’s Cornerstone Tour during which I first saw Styx live in concert. And, that performance of the classic line-up, with the Panozzo brothers rhythm section was stupendous.
Unfortunately, my interest in Styx was waning by 1980. You see, kids, I was enthralled with punk, New Wave, Prince and any new sound that was coming out at the time. Plus, my thought at the time was Styx represented the Seventies, and the Seventies were ending. So, when the band released their first number one album, Paradise Theater, I was so over them. And, fortunately, Styx’ attempt at being contemporary on their 1983 album Kilroy Was Here only made the band sound sad and pandering. Today, I still think Paradise Theater has weak songs and Kilroy Was Here is still a disaster, I have mellowed a bit.
So, when your Nana suggested when go see Styx, I went, reluctantly. But, I am certainly glad that I did see them again, nearly 40 years later! Now, I see a professional band that actually appears to be enjoying the fame and fortune they earned through all of those timeless songs they wrote and are playing nightly for their aging yet adoring fans. Plus, although there are only two members of Styx left from the heyday, the new guys do a great job in their roles. Plus, even though original bassist Chuck Panozzo has health problems, the band brings him out to play a couple of songs each night in an act of healing and love. That’s it! Love! That’s what I noticed about Styx last night. Those men love each other as people and musicians, they love their music and they love bringing it all to their fans. And, you can tell throughout their set, even while they play music from their newest album, last year’s excellent concept album called The Mission.
So, kids, I am back on the Styx bandwagon, no matter how much fun your daddies make of me. So, if you end up liking Styx in spite of your fathers’ opinions, remember how they got Styx in the first place: Pop-Pop gave it to them.
One more thing kids: don’t hold “Mr. Roboto” against Styx, as I did for a very long time. Every band has one of those embarrassingly cheesy songs in their catalog. It just so happened that Styx was so popular that they could have released a single of them singing the phone book and it would have been a hit.
So my beautiful and brilliant grandchildren, never miss a week without playing a Styx song or two. It’s good for the soul.