I’m not here to convince you of Styx’s late 70s glory—I have a video to do that. It’s a fruitless endeavor anyway. The fact of the matter is, Styx were never cool in the way other once-monolithic hard rock acts like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy or even BTO were. Despite a name that dips into the spookier end of Greek mythology and a penchant for trippy concept albums, Styx never dabbled in the black arts, and despite their alleged rampant cocaine use, they never seemed even remotely dangerous. But it’s much worse than that. I’ve been crunching the numbers and their odious 1973 mega-smash “Lady” might be the first significant power ballad, the shameful template that later spawned puffball horrors like “I Want To Know What Love Is,” “Keep On Lovin’ You,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Sister Christian.” Actually that last one is a dope jam, but you know what I’m talking about. Styx was the gateway drug to 80s AOR rock, the boring, toothless garbage that played in mall food courts. If they came out today, Styx would be The Decemberists or some shit.
Anyway, the Chicago band had reached their commercial apex in 1977 when they released their Grand Illusion album, which shot to triple-platinum status mostly on the strength of yet another power ballad, the over the top diabetes-maker “Come Sail Away.” Naturally, they hit the road to support it and spent basically all of 1978 on tour. It was one of the biggest concert treks of the year. Times may have been changing on the dancefloor and on the left end of the radio dial, but Styx were not afraid of the Sex Pistols or the Village People or anybody, really. They had cocaine, they had hits, and they had the endless road.
Styx’s tour mates throughout the year were a mixed bag of the classic (Thin Lizzy), the Canadian (Trooper, Mahogany Rush), the futuristic (Cars, Dire Straits), the ridiculous (Angel) and the hopelessly obscure (Head East, Starcastle). Lizzy notwithstanding, this was not the hottest hard rock package deal money could buy, especially since KISS, Queen, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, AC/DC and Judas Priest were all on the road, too. So how do you get skeptical pre-teen headbangers like yours cruelly psyched for a band who wore satin and sang songs about The Lord of the Rings?
With literally the most kick-ass tour promo TV ad of all time.
I don’t know who directed this amazing piece of work, but it’s straight out of some greasy bucket-of-blood drive-in on Route 666. The insistent click and whir of a Polaroid—with the same sort of fetish-y glitzy flash-edits Brian De Palma loves—introduces each member of the band as the low-toned narrator (a vet of spooky TV spots) growls crazy shit like:
“Tommy Shaw, a horseman who plays like he rides…hard.”
There’s a shot of the band dressed up like boxers and the voiceover tells us that Styx are “perhaps the greatest touring band in the world,” which is just… I mean, I was nine years old and even I knew that was some serious bullstyx. There’s smoke and guitars and shirtless dudes wearing silk scarves and it all ends with the curiously aggressive “The world bows to the power of Styx.”
I mean, how could anyone resist?
Actually, it was pretty easy. Styx were lame. I would’ve left after Angel. Great spot, though.