Tuesday, July 24, 2007

R.E.O. Styxwagon?

Just finished listening to my Styx CD collection today (I was even able to choke down Kilroy Was Here!) and it wrapped up with the double-live CD set Arch Allies, which captured the first of many Styx and REO Speedwagon joint concert tours commencing in the summer of 2000.  These two bands have been Kansas City favorites for over 35 years now, and during their heyday in the early ‘80s, they were a hot concert ticket in this town. I remember waiting well over four hours in line in the snow in January 1981 for Styx tickets for the Paradise Theater tour, and Speedwagon damn near filled up Arrowhead Stadium in August 1982.  REO and Styx (along with Rush, Kiss, Grand Funk, Black Sabbath, et al) are bands that music critics just love to hate, which in part probably explains why I like them, plus they both were great live bands back in the day.

It’s also rather fun to note the near-parallel histories they share:
—Both bands were formed in 1968 in northeastern Illinois, and their first albums were released within a year of each other in 1971-72.
—Both bands struggled to find an audience and/or radio airplay after releasing their first 4-5 albums and each group seemingly grew more successful at the same intervals (Styx with "Lady" and "Lorelei" in late ‘75 and REO with "Keep Pushin’" in early ’76; Styx with "Come Sail Away" and "The Grand Illusion" in late ’77, REO with "Roll With The Changes" and "Time For Me To Fly" in the spring of ’78), etc. Then Speedwagon and Styx truly hit their popularity motherlode in the winter of 1980-81 with their breakout albums Hi Infidelity and Paradise Theater, respectively, which were both #1 on the Billboard album chart in 1981.
—Each band had their only #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 with soft Rock ballads almost within a year of each other; Styx with "Babe" in late 1979, and REO with "Keep On Lovin’ You" in early ’81.
—The heydays for both groups ended at roughly the same time around 1983-84, with only minor resurgences in popularity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  Speedwagon just kinda ran out of gas (sorry, bad pun) following 1984’s Wheels Are Turning LP (although 1987’s Life As We Know It had some good stuff on it), and their decline seems to more less coincide with when Kevin Cronin started bleaching his hair blonde—sorry Kev, but it looks kinda faggy to me.  Styx aided and abetted their own demise with the ill-advised career-killing album Kilroy Was Here in 1983.  When the band was accused of backmasking satanic messages on the classic track "Snowblind" from Paradise, Dennis DeYoung took things a little too personally and came up with this Schlock Rock Opera about a futuristic oppressive society in which Rock music is banned altogether.  The album seemed like a neat idea at the time, but listening it now almost makes banning Rock 'N' Roll sound like a damn good idea!  Almost...
—Each band only has one original member who has been with the group throughout the group’s existence; REO keyboardist Neal Doughty and guitarist James "J.Y." Young of Styx. Original bassist Chuck Panozzo has never officially left Styx, but now only tours and records on a part-time basis since revealing he is HIV-positive in 1998, thus he technically has not made the band’s entire trip.
—Each band has had a key member leave the group for a significant time and subsequently return; Kevin Cronin left Speedwagon after 1972’s R.E.O./T.W.O. and returned in 1976 for the just plain R.E.O. album in ’76.  Tommy Shaw left Styx for a solo career in 1984 and later formed Damn Yankees in 1989 before reuniting with Styx in the mid-‘90s.
—Each band had an original member who was replaced because of substance abuse problems; REO guitarist Gary Richrath was asked to leave in the late ‘80s because of his drug usage, and Styx drummer John Panozzo was replaced by current drummer Todd Sucherman when his alcoholism rendered him unable to tour in the early ‘90s, and he subsequently died of liver disease in 1996.
—Each band is currently estranged from one of its founding members; Gary Richrath from REO (see above item), and keyboardist/leader Dennis DeYoung of Styx.  The feud between DeYoung and the band has been famously festering for about ten years over the band’s musical direction, as Tommy Shaw and J.Y. don’t care to play Dennis’ grandiose Broadway-style music.
—Neither band is likely to be elected to the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, although I think you could make a case for both of them.  They certainly belong there more than the Lovin’ Spoonful or Elvis Costello do…

My All-Time REO Top 10:
1) "Ridin' The Storm Out" (Live-1980)
2) "157 Riverside Avenue" (Live-1980)
3) "Good Trouble" (1982)
4) "Keep Pushin'" (1976)
5) "Say You Love Me Or Say Goodnight" (1978)
6) "Tough Guys" (1980)
7) "Runnin' Blind" (1978)
8) "Keep On Lovin' You" (1980)
9) "Back On The Road Again" (1979)
10) [Tie] "Like You Do" (1972)/"That Ain't Love" (1987)

My All-Time Styx Top 10:
1) "Too Much Time On My Hands" (1981)
2) "Lady" (1973)
3) "Lorelei" (1975)
4) "Rockin' The Paradise" (1981)
5) "Come Sail Away" (1977)
6) "Miss America" (1977)
7) "The Grand Illusion" (1977)
8) "Lonely Child" (1975)
9) "Borrowed Time" (1979)
10) "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)" (1977)

No comments: