KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – STYX “THE GRAND ILLUSION”

Artist: STYX
Album: THE GRAND ILLUSION

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

During my pre-teen years, when Styx began their rise to prominence with a string of multi-platinum albums, girls were especially enamored of the band thanks to the flowing golden locks of singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw, but because they straddled the lines of progressive rock, melodic pop and the then-emerging quasi-genre of “arena rock,” they appealed to a wide variety of listeners…myself included. Shaw had joined Styx for the previous year’s Crystal Ball and, with 1977’s The Grand Illusion, the quintet that also consisted of founding members Dennis DeYoung (vocals/keyboards), James “JY” Young (vocals/guitars) and brothers Chuck & John Panozzo (bass & drums, respectively) joined the big leagues. After scoring a Top 10 hit in 1974 with DeYoung’s ballad “Lady,” their commercial fortunes floundered for a few years before they signed a major label deal with A&M Records. A handful of singles barely cracked the Top 40 but their patience paid off big time with DeYoung’s now-classic “Come Sail Away.” This song has become a pop culture touchstone, with memorable appearances on TV’s South Park and Freaks & Geeks, among many others. For nearly 2-1/2 minutes it’s a pretty piano-and-synth ballad with DeYoung’s theatrical vocals, but then it morphs into a crunchy pop-rock tune with an insanely catchy chorus, a slow instrumental section with cascading synths and a killer guitar solo through the outro. I’ve always enjoyed the sci-fi nature of the final verse as DeYoung’s voice soars into the chorus: “I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise, they climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies.”

Of course it takes more than one unforgettable song to make a great album, and Styx certainly delivered the goods. DeYoung shines again on album opener “The Grand Illusion.” Beginning with a rhythmic synth fanfare, he sings like a circus ringmaster right from the start: “Welcome to the Grand Illusion, come on in and see what’s happening, pay the price get your tickets for the show.” Perhaps this was a nod to their prog-rock forebearers, Emerson Lake & Palmer, who once greeted us with “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.” This song also has several distinct melodic sections, and an uplifting message: “So if you think your life is complete confusion, because your neighbors got it made, Just remember that it’s a grand illusion and deep inside we’re all the same…” The album closes with “The Grand Finale,” a 2-minute coda of the opening track that gives the record a cohesive feel even though there’s no particular concept tying the songs together. Shaw’s “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)” was an instant classic, with the squiggly synth intro joined by acoustic guitar strumming, Shaw’s voice soaring along with strong harmonies, and a synth solo section that has a similar rhythmic feel to Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up.” Shaw also delivers the nearly 6-minute epic ballad “Man In The Wilderness,” a fine follow-up to the previous album’s mighty “Crystal Ball.” I especially love the extended instrumental section, which features some impressive guitar work. DeYoung, Shaw & Young co-wrote the driving synth-y rocker “Superstars,” with harmony vocals through the verses (“You and I, we will climb so high”) and a nice guitar solo. Young shows off his straight-ahead rock & roll credentials with “Miss America,” highlighted by a great guitar riff (which arrives after a minute of synth and guitar), a driving rhythm and the theme song from the Miss America pageant appearing via synth in the intro and during the middle section. He also rips off a fiery guitar solo. “Castle Walls” is the only song here I don’t love, although it includes some impressive musicianship and a progressive arrangement so it’s far from a misstep. The Grand Illusion is the perfect bridge between Styx’s earlier progressive material and the chart-conquering sound of their next several albums. They’re still playing many of these songs to sold-out crowds forty years later, an indication of how timeless this music remains.

 

Advertisements

26 comments on “Forty Year Friday – STYX “THE GRAND ILLUSION”

  1. Yahooey
    June 16, 2017

    The Grand Illusion is always good for a dose of nostalgia. It’s a prototypical example of the FM rock I was listening to through out my teenage years. The title of the album giving hints of anti-commercialism (seeing the matrix was not part of the vocabulary then) and the cover’s reference to the ‘Le Blanc Seing’ made it a “cool” album.Thank you for this installment of the trip back to those days.

    Like

    • I agree that this album brings back a lot of nostalgic feelings, but it also holds up extremely well after 40 years. That’s quite an accomplishment. I didn’t know about the homage to Magritte until years later so that was never a deciding factor about the record. Still, that’s a nice piece of trivia.

      Like

  2. Alyson
    June 16, 2017

    For the second week in a row I’m afraid no overlap – Of course I knew of Styx but they were never as big in the UK as in their homeland. Arena rock was so much bigger in the US than with us back then and they were one of the pioneers weren’t they? I did enjoy them but didn’t ever own any of their albums. Can’t believe it is nearly the end of June though as it seems no time since you started this series. What will next year bring I wonder – 20 Year Tuesday?!

    Like

    • I had a feeling this would be another miss for you, even though there was always the chance that you succumbed to the charms of Mr. Tommy Shaw. Although I understand the concept of arena rock and occasionally use it as a descriptor, I think of it more as an era than a genre. After all, plenty of artists were selling out arenas prior to Boston, Foreigner, Styx, etc. Each of those bands has its own unique sound, and at the time of this album Styx was still as much a prog-rock band as anything else, so there’s nothing else linking them together other than time. In some ways it’s like “classic rock,” which to me was always just “rock” until it reached a certain age.

      As for next year, I have a feeling I’ll be taking an extended hiatus from blogging. I’m enjoying this series as much as I did last year’s look back at 1986, but my schedule keeps getting tighter. Once my renovations are done and I finally have a music room for the first time in 2+ years, I plan on spending a lot of my time catching up on the albums I’ve accumulated during that time. Of course I might change my mind about the blog once the pressure of decision-making is gone, so stay tuned. I can’t imagine doing 20-Year Tuesday as I don’t know if I love enough albums from 1998 to write about them for a year.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        June 18, 2017

        Yes, arena rock defined an era really (one where men sported “big” hair) and I associate it with the US – In the UK at that time, bands on the whole played small venues just to promote their latest albums. Coming from the North of Scotland, and still at school in 1977, there wasn’t really much arena rock on offer. Our love of music came from the radio; who appeared on TV (Styx would have popped up on our Top of the Pops which was a must watch for teens at that time); and from the sharing of albums amongst friends.

        I did suspect there might not be a 20 Year Tuesday (I was busy being a new mum in 1998 so wouldn’t be any good for me either) but you have a fair body of work under your belt here so quite an achievement. I kind of meant to stop after a year as it does impact on the rest of your life, especially if you put in as many hours as I do to the whole blogosphere experience, but have kept on going. I have started to feel a bit self-conscious in front of serious music bloggers of late however as my ramblings were only ever supposed to be those of a keen enthusiast who wanted to learn more about the back story to a song or artist. I have never professed to be an expert on any of it so hope that has been taken on board. (You have been very kind by the way.)

        Still only June though so at least 28 review to go – Wonder what next week’s will be!

        Like

      • Since we’re both children of the ’70s we were fortunate to live at the tail end of the era when music didn’t have a visual component beyond album packaging & photos in magazines…and the occasional TV appearance. In many ways video did, in fact, kill the radio star. The tunes really spoke for themselves “back in the day.”

        You should never feel self-conscious in the blogosphere, especially because your approach is so unique. Keep doing what you’ve been doing and know there are people out here enjoying it, which is all that matters, right?

        There are weeks I’m not sure I’ll make it through the rest of Forty Year Friday, since my schedule has been jam-packed with renovation-related stuff in addition to the whole working-full-time thing, but after listening to a particular album I eventually get inspired and find the time to do some writing. There’s a decent chance you’ll be a fan of this Friday’s choice, or at least the artist if not this particular album. I’ll be curious to find out your reaction.

        Let’s hope this week flies by. It’s already off to a slow, tedious start, unfortunately…but soundtracked by some good albums so far.

        Liked by 1 person

      • David H
        June 24, 2017

        I’ll be sad if you stop blogging. I’ve lost count of how many songs you’ve reminded me of from my youth that I’d completely forgotten about.

        Welcome to the Boomtown just one of many I’ve been listening to lately.

        Like

      • It makes me happy to know that some of my posts are firing up your Wayback Machine (as you described it in your previous comment). One of my favorite aspects of blogging is the mutual musical inspiration with readers & other bloggers.

        “Welcome To The Boomtown” is so good. I thought I read somewhere that David + David were working on a long-awaited follow-up. I’ll believe it when I hear it.

        As for the future, I don’t plan on stopping my blog. There are way too many things I love about it. I will, however, likely take an extended hiatus after this year for many reasons (which I’ll explain at the time). I did that once before and it felt great.

        Like

  3. 80smetalman
    June 16, 2017

    What I remember was when I saw TV ads for this album, Styx were advertised as the hardest working band in rock. I have always believed this after hearing “The Grand Illusion.” Your feelings on the songs here pretty much mirror mine. It’s an iconic album.

    Like

    • I don’t remember any ads about Styx at the time but I can see how they would be billed that way. They were one of those bands that had been gigging for years, as a support act & headlining, so they probably played as many shows as any band of that era. Glad we agree on this album. It holds up extremely well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. MichelleMB
    June 16, 2017

    With a new album about to drop after 14 years! Lo and behold, it’s 2017 and there’s an album with an overture being released. I feel ever so slightly less old.

    Like

    • I hadn’t planned on the timing of this post to correspond with Styx’s new album but I’m glad it worked out that way. In fact, I played the new one shortly after posting this, and I continue to be amazed at how vital they sound. Tommy Shaw is ageless. Not sure how he does it. Also not sure if that makes me feel slightly less old…or really old. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Murphy's Law
    June 17, 2017

    I grew up in Illinois and Styx were one of the bands that got a lot of airplay because they were “hometown heroes”. The others were Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon (my parents saw REO as a club band when they were dating). I heard this album a lot at the time.

    Like

    • I’m guessing you were hearing Styx even before this album was released, which was when the rest of the world caught on. I miss the days when an artist could build up a catalog of albums before releasing the “big one” that made them superstars. As for REO Speedwagon, they’re one of the few artists from that era that never did anything for me. Talented musicians but I just never liked Kevin Cronin’s voice. But I understand why so many people love them.

      Like

  6. keepsmealive
    June 17, 2017

    I see this one come through at work fairly regularly. I already own a copy, or I would rescue them all!

    Like

    • Are you seeing this on LP or CD? I used to have the LP and thought I still did when I went to listen to it one day and it wasn’t there. Years earlier I might have sold it with other LPs I had already replaced on CD, but then I realized I didn’t have that one on CD. I eventually got it along with most of their catalog, but I never replaced the others that I still had on vinyl: Pieces Of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theater.

      Like

  7. keepsmealive
    June 17, 2017

    Oh yeah, and you’re right. Absolutely timeless. Well done!

    Like

  8. Phillip Helbig
    June 19, 2017

    Although I would have recognized it immediately anyway, just a few weeks ago I was at a Rene Magritte exhibition which featured the painting on which the cover image is clearly based. Does Magritte get credit on the album sleeve?

    Like

    • Phillip Helbig
      June 19, 2017

      Search for “rene magritte horse riding” (without the quotes) in Google under “images”.

      Like

      • Yep, that’s the one. Thanks for pointing me in that direction. I always love filling in these music-related gaps in my brain.

        Like

    • I don’t currently have access to my physical music collection so I don’t know if Magritte gets the appropriate credit. The reference is so obvious that I can’t imagine the band didn’t get permission.

      Like

  9. mikeladano
    June 20, 2017

    ANOTHER band for whom I’m slowly building a collection! I don’t own this one. I have a small handful of CDs and a 2 CD best of called Come Sail Away. I’m definitely getting their new album which will probably happen before I get this!

    Like

    • That 2-CD compilation is a great one and probably all the Styx most casual fans would need (even though it’s still missing some important songs). I think you’re going to love the new Styx album. I’ve only listened to it once but it already lived up to my expectations and possibly exceeded them. I’m guessing you’ll want to review it once you hear it.

      Like

  10. David H
    June 24, 2017

    Thanks for the reminder to my own personal Wayback Machine. In 7th grade we were putting on the musical Oliver. I was Mr. Bumble, not a big part, but another cast member & I warmed up in the restroom by singing Come Sail Away together. The tile walls added to our theatricality. Can’t remember if this was before or after my voice broke.

    Great album, nice summary.

    I didn’t realize Lady came out in ’74. I must have first heard that on AM radio — KULF 790, Houston, TX. Where has the time gone.

    Like

    • Hi David. Thanks for sharing your history with this album. I’m guessing your a capella version of “Come Sail Away” was great, especially with the restroom acoustics.

      I wasn’t aware of “Lady” when it was released, but it got as much airplay in the late-’70s/early-’80s as their newer material so I always assumed it was from that period. Much like Hall & Oates had a couple of stray hits in the early ’70s that allowed them to keep recording and eventually led to their massive ’80s success, Styx was fortunate that “Lady” kept them afloat…and the rest is history.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to KamerTunesBlog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 325 other followers

Archives

%d bloggers like this: