Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Styx Defense

Sparked by a Facebook post, I gloriously came to the defense of my first favorite band – Styx. In the world of musical journalism, professing a love of Styx is somewhat akin to telling the science world that evolutionism is bogus.

To be fair, in his original post on his Todays Song Is ... fan page, Michael Crawley acknowledges the dichotomy of fan love vs. critical drubbing. In picking Styx’s “Suite Madame Blue” as the song of the day, he says it “is steeped in the Yes/Zeppelin fusion that was attractive early on but got old right about the time ‘Blue Collar Man’ hit the airwaves. I do love this song, but it’s sorta like an old girlfriend who later went around the block a few too many times.”

My response: “Critics be damned. Styx was my first favorite band and I’ll always like them.” I’d posted a similar sentiment as far back as September 5, 2009: “Styx may get mocked for being at the forefront of the late-‘70s/early ‘80s stadium rock movement, but they were my first favorite band and Paradise Theater was my first favorite album. You never get that out of your system!”

Click photo for more about ‘Paradise Theater’.

Michael was one of my first fans when I started my Dave’s Music Database Facebook page. Between our comments on each other’s pages, I’ve probably shared more musical dialogue with Michael than anyone in the last six months. We share a mutual respect for passion over music and, so far, have not come to cyberspace blows over musical opinions.

Having said all that, I still felt like a dagger had been plunged into my soul (okay, in reality I only winced slightly) with his comment that “from Pieces of Eight on they kinda sucked IMHO.” I declined retaliating that “Babe”, off the follow-up 1979 Cornerstone album, was my first “official” favorite song. Such an admission would have required 1) confessing that I liked such an unabashedly saccharine song and, 2) acknowledging that oh-so-many-years-ago I launched my own weekly music chart and that “Babe” was the maiden chart topper.

Iinstead I boldly and loudly proclaimed that Paradise Theater was one of my top 5 favorite albums. Okay, truth be told, I followed my declaration with “bows head in shame.”

I didn’t advocate that “The Best of Times”, “Too Much Time on My Hands”, and “Rockin’ the Paradise” have become deserved album rock classics since airplay doesn’t equal critical acclaim. I didn’t respond that this was a #1 album (their solitary chart-topper, in fact) and fourth consecutive triple-platinum album. That might win an argument over the album’s commercial success, but it doesn’t go far in proving its critical worth.

Since great artwork doesn’t equal great music, I also didn’t gush about the album packaging with a front picture of Chicago’s Paradise Theater in its prime paired with a back cover of it long past its glory days. Similarly, while I was originally intrigued by the album’s theme – a lament about abandoning the old in favor of the new – I realize now how loose and unoriginal the concept was.

Instead, I quoted from Steve Almond’s Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, a book from a self-proclaimed “Drooling Fanatic” and an inspiration for a previous DMDB blog entry (“The Musical Hierarchy Ladder”). Among his humorous essays is a defense of Paradise Theater in which he admits “I loved Styx and...still love Styx and not ironically either.” He says that even though “Styx has become the mullet of bands”, he still feels good when he listens to Paradise Theater.

Buy the book.

So do I. That’s the thing about loving a band – you love them regardless of their critical status or commercial clout. You love them because – well, just because you love them. Almond suggests that critics would do well to be more open-minded, stating that “if the human ear is given a chance, not cowed into snobbery, it can find rewards in almost any form of music.”

The discussion Michael and I started on his Facebook page carried over to mine when I professed my love of Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair. In defending the album, I said I’d use “the Styx defense”, my earlier declaration that one likes what one likes, critics be damned. On Michael’s page, I originally quoted another Almond line, which should be the mantra for all people ever faced with defending music that they love: “you can’t tell someone his or her ears are wrong.”

To Michael’s credit, this was his response on his page to my defense of Styx: “I close this with a tidbit from Cole or Dylan Sprouse when they played Julian on the movie Big Daddy – Styx is the greatest band in the world and they only got a bad rep because most critics are cynical A$$holes!”

That’s good enough for me. I’ll close with that, too.

This essay, “The Musical Hierarchy Ladder”, and more are included in the book ‘No One Needs 21 Versions of ‘Purple Haze’…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive’. Click for more info.

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  1. Yeah, but when someone pronounces "Kilroy Was Here" as the greatest album ever, are you still going to stand by "You can’t tell someone his or her ears are wrong”???

    ...domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.

  2. Um, er, yes, I suppose I'd have to, Steve. Now, if someone proclaims Styx's "The Serpent Is Rising" their favorite (my least favorite of theirs), they might have to agree to a battery of psychological exams before being allowed to use the Styx Defense.

  3. It's sort of a back-handed compliment to say Styx was my favorite band . . . when I was 12 . . . but it's really true.

    I was actually really excited when I found out we had tickets to see the Kilroy Was Here tour at Kemper, but no, I don't think it was the best of the stack of vinyl we had!