Styx

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Styx in 2017, sans Dennis DeYoung and his airy-fairyness.

Styx is an American progressive/stadium rock band homebrewed in the depths of the River Styx, a well-known subway line in Chicago. Founded by high-voiced Dennis DeYoung, they ruled the AOR airwaves from when they set sail in 1977 until their demise at the hands of Kilroy in 1983. Them and their robot companion, Mr. Roboto, often had too much time on their hands and sailed away on their ship called The Grand Illusion down the River Styx to the Paradise Theatre. Side-effects of listening to their music apparently include a flamboyant desire to play keyboards and the ability to do the Robot while driving.

History[edit]

1961–71: ...And Then There Were Four...[edit]

In 1961, 12-year-old twin brothers Chuck (power chords) and John "Pazuzu" Panozzo (drums) and their 14-year-old neighbor Dennis DeYoung (airy-fairy vocals, accordion) formed the band The Tradewinds in their basement, after jamming out a bit and thinking how could it would be if they had their own band. This may be why some critics have labelled Styx's music as "childish", because in a way, they are an outward reflection of what 12-year-olds think is "cool". Tom Nardini later replaced Chuck on guitar, with Chuck switching to bass, while Dennis DeYoung switched from accordion to airy-fairy keyboards, because he felt they went along better with his airy-fairy singing.

In 1965, the band changed their name to TW4 (There Were 4) to prevent being sued by the Trade Winds, a similarly-named pop band from Rhode Island who had recently achieved national fame. In 1966, the Panozzo Brothers joined DeYoung at Chicago State College and kept their own little group tightly-knight by performing at high schools and frat parties while studying to be teachers. In 1969 they added a college friend, John "J.C." Curulewski, on guitar after Tom Nardini departed; guitarist James "Jimmy Old" Young came aboard in 1970, making TW4 a quintet.

1972–74: Wooden Nickel years[edit]

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In 1972, a record suit saw the band playing at a talent show in St. John of the Cross Parish School in Western Springs, Illinois, and offered them a recording contract. Dollar signs danced in the young men's eyes, and they agreed, throwing their teaching aspirations straight into the trash — but first they needed a new name, because they thought their old name was lame. Several suggestions were tossed around with the band ultimately settling on the name "Styx" because, according to DeYoung, it was "the only one that none of us hated"; DeYoung's remark raised eyebrows from numerous Christian watchdog groups, as Styx was also a river in Hell.

The band's Wooden Nickel recordings were generally straightforward arena rock, with a few hints of the proginess, bloated concepts, hidden Satanic messages, and pomp-and-circumstance to come. The band had a cult following among sci-fi geeks and Dungeons and Dragons fans in local clubs and schools, but were unable to break into the mainstream, though they did release a few minor hits such as "Best Thing" and "Lady". The first two albums were self-titled Styx (1972) and Styx II (1973), named so out of laziness. Further releases got more creative with titles: The Serpent Isn't Rising, I Need Some Viagra! (1973), If Only You Believe in the Man of Miracles (1974), and Equiknock-knocks (1975).

1975–80: Move to A&M and breakthrough[edit]

On the heels of their early hits, Styx signed with A&M Records and released the rock anthems "Lorelei" and "Suite Madame Blue", which gained them considerable recognition and airplay on FM radio. OG guitarist John Curulewski suddenly left the band in 1975, immediately before his bandmates embarked on a nationwide tour, due to him lamely choosing his family over the promise of fame and fortune. It is rumored that he was fired by Styx for being too good, because his holy talent and laserfire power made all the schmucks in the band look like the schmucks they are. After a frantic last-minute search, the band brought in guitarist Tommy Shaw as Curulewski's replacement. Crystal Ball, the first album to feature Shaw, showcased the band's newest face, rather than shove him into the background role of the "Quiet One" à la George Harrison; the title track and "Mademoiselle", both written and sung by Shaw, quickly became AOR hits.

Styx's seventh album, The Grand Illusion, was symbolically released on July 7, 1977 (7/7/77); the band had originally intended to release it on June 6, 1976 but chose a more "heavenly" release date to lessen controversy. This was their breakthrough album, reaching Triple Platinum certification, and spawned the bloated AOR hits "Come Sail Away", famous for being covered by Cartman in South Park, and the title track. The band also came to prominence with the single "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)", which is most memorable for its instrumental/synthesized opening sequence. Combining Medieval sounds with synthesizers, the hyper-paced portion of the opening has often been described by critics as "I have a Renaissance Festival in my pants!"

Two more albums were released: The Whole Is Less Than the Sum of its Pieces of Eight (1978) and Cornerstoned (1979). Further hit singles followed with "Renegade", "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)" — the band's attempt at courting the working-class punk demographic, who usually despised prog — "Sing for the Day", "Babe", "Why Me", "Borrowed Time", and "Boat on the River Styx". But you know what they say: what goes up, must eventually come down...

1981–84: '80s stardom, backmasking, bloat, and breakup[edit]

In 1981, Styx released Paradise Theatre, a concept album about the rise of fall of Chicago's own Paradise Theatre, and the general shift in the public's tastes from showtunes to midtempo AOR power ballads, which led to its closure. DeYoung, always a lover of musical theater, and J.Y. Young, a lover of harder-rocking tunes, found the album a smooth one to collaborate on, and it became their biggest hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard chart and yielding five hit singles: "Nothing Ever Goes as Planned", "Rockin' the Paradise", "Snowblind", "Too Much Time on My Hands", and "The Best Man of Our Times". "Snowblind", an anti-cocaine anthem, came under fire from Christian fundamentalist groups for allegedly including a Satanic backwards message, "Satan moves through our voices." Dennis DeYoung denied this accusation, joking that "We had enough trouble to make the music sound right forward," while J.Y. Young stated, "If we were going to put something Satanic in our songs, we would have put it so it was in the song forward. Not so you would have to buy some $400 tape recorder to hear it." However, these evangelists' overreactions would form the genesis of their next album.

Dance to the music.

After the success of Paradise Theater, the band (mostly Dennis) felt they could get away with anything, which apparently included cliche dystopian stories about a future where music has been outlawed and stereotypical Japanese robots wander about. Thus came 1983's sprawling Kilroy Was Here, another concept album that was also meant to launch a multimedia project through a short film, a stage play, and a Mr. Roboto and the Masters of the Universe Saturday morning cartoon. Tensions between Young and DeYoung had increased during recording of the album, as Young wanted more hard-rockin' '80s songs, while DeYoung wanted more air-fairy showtunes and love ballads, and the scale was tipped in favor of DeYoung on Kilroy. The song "Heavy Metal Poisoning" (titled despite Poison being a hair metal band, not real metal) was notable for including actual backwards messages, "annuit coeptis" and "novus ordo seclorum", both taken from the reverse side of U.S. dollar bill seals; this was the band's way of taking the piss out of their critics.

Kilroy Was Here was inspired by Kilroy, a graffiti face that people used to paint on the sides of planes in World War II. The project was set in a future where rock music has been outlawed by evangelist Dr. Everett Righteous, played by James Young, and his Majority for Musical Morality (MMM). Dennis DeYoung humbly plays Robert Kilroy, an unjustly imprisoned rock star, while Tommy Shaw plays Jonathan Chance, a young rocker who fights for Kilroy's right to rock. This society is attended to by Mr. Roboto, a vaguely Japanese robot and space explorer from the alien world of Robotica, who crash-landed on Earth and was captured by the MMM for their own purposes. While being visited by Mr. Roboto in his prison cell, Kilroy builds the robot a cybernetically-enhanced heart which enables him to feel human emotions and interact with his comrades as a human rather than a pure machine, hence the phrase, "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." Mr. Roboto helps Kilroy and Jon discover the golden guitars that Dr. Righteous stole and hid from the citizens of Earth, allowing them to liberate the planet and blow those lame-o fundies away with the Power of Rock™.

Mr. Roboto made only one appearance in the Styx musical library, but unlike most other characters introduced at this time, he was lucky enough to get a whole song written around him, this being the single "Mr. Roboto" which saw Styx burst onto the synthpop scene. Despite yielding this hit for the band however, Kilroy Was Here as a whole flopped and ultimately led to their demise. It was Kilroy's elaborate tour that put the killjoy nail in the coffin; DeYoung was apparently under the impression that he was in a Broadway show rather than a rock band, and had his fellow band members dress up in fruity costumes while acting out the album's plot, which nobody except him understood a lick of. The shows left audience members asking "Who the fuck is Kilroy and why was he here?" A live album and VHS, Caught in the Act with Kilroy, was released in 1984.

1990–1991: Styxin' Around[edit]

In 1990, Styx briefly reformed, with Glen Burtnik replacing Tommy Shaw due to Shaw's commitment to the Damn Yankees at the time. They released an album in 1991, Edge of the Century, which featured the Dennis DeYoung ballad "Show Me the Way to Go Home (Everybody), I'm Tired and I Want to Go to Bed (Just the Women)". The song was a huge hit, giving Styx the dubious honor of being one of the few artists to have top 10 singles within three different decades and four different presidential administrations (along with Mariah Carey and her Christmas song).

However, the band's second wind of success was short-lived. Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone said "The album sucks cuz Tommy ain't on it"; it was at that time that A&M Records was acquired by PolyGram, and PolyGram executives who read this review decided to drop the band from their label. Grunge also wiped away any chance of a legacy artist's success, and thus, Styx broke up again. Sticks and stones couldn't break Styx's stony bones, but words really hurt them.

1995–present: DeNnis DeYoung DeJects from DeStyx[edit]

Panozzo's muscle spams would cause him to uncontrollably Do the Robot.

In 1995, Styx reformed again again, with Shaw returning to the fold. It was at this time that they ran into the infamous "Señor Roboto incident", where their drummer, John Panozzo, jousted while wearing robotic armor at a Futurist Renaissance Festival. There were minor injuries, and mild cases of muscle spasms were reported to have broken out in Panozzo. As a result, they brought in Todd "Suckerman" Sucherman as his replacement. In 1997 Styx released the two-disc live set Return to Paradise, whose hit title track was featured in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In 1999, Dennis DeYoung quit Styx. It is rumored that he quit the band due to creative conflicts with Tommy Shaw. He is now going through the process of getting a divorce from his wife, that French chick. DeYoung was also been blamed by the other band members, such as J.Y., for the rampant occurrences of his cheesy songs being allowed on their albums, being released as singles, and getting national attention thus humiliating the band. This has been blamed on drive-by theatrics on the part of DeYoung, a talent he learned from the Pinball Wizard Pete Townshend. DeYoung was replaced by Lawrence "Dude, Where's My Cue?" Gowan, a classically-trained pianist who had achieved success as a solo artist on Sony Canada. Every night before a concert, Gowan will suck some helium to achieve a really high voice on par with DeYoung's. As Chuck Ponazzo was experiencing health issues at the time, Glen Burtnik temporarily filled in on bass for the album Hades's New World. The following year they released the live album Arch Rivals, Live at Riverport with 15 Fans!, its title a dig at DeYoung.

A new Mr. Roboto and the Masters of the Universe cartoon was released in 2002, airing on Cartoon Network. Styx was featured in the series, introduced in the episode "Mr. Roboto's Gambit", in which they battled against a simple, chess-playing robot. Desiring to apply their chess skills to good use, each member of the band took turns battling the robot. A notable point about Styx in the episode is that their portrayal, as well as their voices, seemed to differ between commercials. Thus, it is argued by critics that the cameo appearances were not even the band members at all, but rather cheap fill-ins. Also that year, they released the obligatory live album 21 Fans at the River's Head! Our Biggest Crowd Ever without Dennis!.

In 2003, Ricky Phillips of Bad English and The Babys was recruited as Styx's new bassist, splitting duties with Chuck Ponazzo. That year they released the album Cyclobanddrama, which Jan Wenner claimed "lives up to its title" and "actually has nothing to do with Styx since Dennis is not in it." In 2005 they released Big Bong Theory, which Robert Christgau nicknamed Big Liquefied Leaf, saying "Many people thought the Styx couldn't possibly sux more than they did in the Cyclone of the Stupidity. But expectations don't match our reality, expectations are a Grand Illusion. The Gow-Man shatters the illusion and proves listeners wrong big time, as the bong suxeth the big lips." The album was accompanied by the 2006 live set One with Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, Some Awesome Kids Who Make Styx Actually Sound Decent.

In 2017, Styx released The Mission, unrelated to Edgar Winter's Scientology rock opera Mission Earth. In 2021 they released Crash of the Crown, which contrary to its title was not about crowns riding go-karts. Guitarist Will Evankovich has joined the band for their Las Vegas shows since 2019.

Mr. Roboto[edit]

Main article: Mr. Roboto

Mr. Roboto is an iconic fictional character created by Styx. He is a Unit-22 Robot from the planet Fuku and was his mother's 1729th son, comprised of 40% zinc, 40% titanium, and 20% rock. His father was killed in a freak accident involving a can opener. Mr. Roboto attended Modern Man University where he majored in vocoder speech therapy with a minor in music theory. His pastimes include watching TV, smoking rock music, dispensing rock music, and eating rock music. To be able to function properly he needs the chemical energy from rock, so excessive headbanging is mandatory or he will become sober and unable to control his body.

See also[edit]