Writer(s): Dennis DeYoung (see lyrics here)
First Charted: February 11, 1983
Peak: 3 US, 11 CB, 3 RR, 3 AR, 12 CN, 40 AU, 112 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 13.0 video, 55.72 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Styx was never a critics’ favorite. They were, however, my first favorite band. To quote Steve Almond in his fantastic book, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, “I loved Styx and...still love Styx and not ironically either.” I’m not sure it is possible to ever get a favorite band out of your system, no matter how embarrassment you might be forced to endure.
For many, “Mr. Roboto” was just such a test. The song was the centerpiece of Styx’s Kilroy Was Here album, a pseudo-rock opera conceived by singer and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung. A rock star named Robert Orin Charles Kilroy is imprisoned by the anti-rock Majority for Musical Morality group. He escapes by attacking and then disguising himself as a robot prison guard known as a Roboto. The censorship theme was inspired by the Ankeny, Iowa First Assembly Church of God making new for burning records, including those by Styx, because in Greek mythology it is the river which runs through hell. SF DeYoung was intrigued by Japanese culture and a documentary on robots put to work in factories. SF
The head-scratching, Rush 2112-lite story was considered a “jump the shark” moment by some fans. WK Even the band was divided. Guitarists Tommy Shaw and James Young didn’t care for the techno-pop sound of “Mr. Roboto” and worried that after 1981’s Paradise Theater, also a concept album, they’d be pigeon-holed. DeYoung disputes both claims, but acknowledges that it was pushing it expect the band to assume characters, as they did to open shows on the tour. UCR In fact, out of his distaste for the acting, Shaw smashed his guitar and stormed off stage during a Landover, Maryland show. UCM The next day he announced his departure from the band, UCR who didn’t release another studio album until 1990 (without Shaw).
Young later conceded that because of the song, “we’re a part of pop culture.” WK Indeed, the Japanese phrase “domou arigatou” which opens the song “entered popular American vernacular.” WK The song was featured in television episodes of Arrested Development, Futurama, How I Met Your Mother, Mr. Robot, The Simpsons, and Two and a Half Men . WK In 1998, Volkswagen used it in a commercial.
First posted 2/1/2020; last updated 10/30/2022.