January 19 – Battling Leads Meant Trouble In ‘Paradise’

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times in 1981. That is, for Styx. They put out their tenth studio album (and sixth on a major label, A&M) this day 41 years back, Paradise Theatre. And, if you think that spelling’s incorrect, reach for another copy… oddly, it’s been spelled both “Theatre” and “Theater” on different releases through the years. Either way, it was as the Daily Vault point out, their “highwater mark”, commercially and perhaps artistically.

Many bands seem to get going when two friends with similar talents but slightly different tastes begin meshing. The Beatles with Lennon & McCartney. Canada’s Blue Rodeo with Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor. With Styx, by a few years in, it was clear the quintet was largely run by guitarist Tommy Shaw and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung, both of whom shared most of the writing and singing duties. For some time this worked well, with the band turning out a version of prog rock with just enough mainstream pop as to be radio-friendly in North America. However, by the end of the ’70s, that was turning sour. They had a massive hit with the soft rock ballad “Babe”, and it was clear the two men were pulling in different directions. Shaw was something of a conventional rock’n’roller; DeYoung was looking more to top 40 pop and perhaps “big themes.” As allmusic put it, my the time this album was being made it had turned into a “bitter co-existence.” It may be a stretch to assume, but it would appear it was four against one, but the one (DeYoung) had the stronger hand and the backing of the record-buying masses. So with this one, both contributed songs but the album itself was DeYoung’s idea, and he wrote more of the tracks.

The album was a loose concept one, based on a slightly fictional take on the real Paradise Theatre in their hometown of Chicago. It was an architectural gem on Crawford Avenue, a grandiose movie hall that sat over 3000. Unfortunately, it had bad acoustics and wasn’t often full. It was knocked down when Styx were still children, in 1958, and replaced by a supermarket. DeYoung had the idea of a story of the grand theatre and its decline being a metaphor for American urban life itself. It opens with “AD 1928”, a suitably theatrical, piano-driven intro which segues into the straight-ahead rock of “Rockin’ the Paradise.” Much of the record continues thusly, a mix of balladry drawing from the basic refrain of “AD 1928” and rock tracks from Shaw and James Young.

Rolling Stone, never big fans of the band, gave it 2.5-stars. However, many reviews have been much kinder. Allmusic give it 4-stars, calling “The Best of Times” “one of the more improbable top 10 hits of the decade” and “Too Much Time on My Hands” “among Shaw’s finest singles.” The Daily Vault grade it “A” (although a reader’s poll scores it a much more dour “C-”) suggesting “Styx was never this good before, Styx was never this good again” and suggesting the “highlight though is ‘Snowblind.’”

Their fans liked it just fine regardless. The two singles mentioned by allmusic were indeed both hits, “The Best of Times” getting to #3 domestically and becoming their second #1 in Canada; “Too Much Time on My Hands” was a #9 hit in the U.S. and by reaching #2 on the rock charts, their highest-charting song there. “Nothing Ever Goes As Planned” gave them a third top 20 hit off it to the north in Canada and another song on radio at home. That pushed the album to #1, their first chart-topper in the U.S., and in Canada as well, and at #8 in the UK, it was their biggest there. In fact, although it was the fourth-straight of theirs to hit triple-platinum in the States, overall it is their biggest-selling album.

Which made it, according to allmusic, “their temporary saving grace and ultimate doom.” The rift between the two leaders deepened after it, and the more bizarre concept album that followed, Kilroy Was Here, saw sales decline and resulted in the band splitting up for several years. When they rebanded in 1990, Shaw refused to rejoin them, although he eventually did and DeYoung was replaced by Larry Gowan.

18 thoughts on “January 19 – Battling Leads Meant Trouble In ‘Paradise’

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    A lot of memories with this album. My friend had it and they went all out…the album had “Styx” laser etched into it which at the time was cool.

    I can see Shaw’s point here. I don’t know how to exactly say this but Tommy was a rock opera…it didn’t sound broadway AT ALL…although later it was made into that.
    DeYoung’s concept songs sounds like a broadway musical to me more than a rock band doing a concept album. Does that make sense?
    I could imagine DeYoung in a conversation and then suddenly breaking out into song with Rocking the Paradise… I guess the words would be “too obvious” but this rambling post may just be me alone.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Not too many, I never was a Styxer. I like the concept of the album, lost grandeur, lost youth, but it didn’t resonate with me like say, the Kinks ‘Don’t Forget To Dance’ did- that felt more ‘real?’ Thats all I got!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. like I said to Max, while I don’t DISlike Styx, they’ve never been one I’ve been itching to hear or run out to buy the records of. “Don’t Forget to Dance” is indeed a really fine song.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. no, I see what you’re saying… he seems like he’d be perfect doing the slightly edgier versions of Andrew Lloyd Weber – in fact that whole ‘Kilroy was here’ was, I believe, supposed to be that, an album to accompany a big stage musical. I guess now Styx has the voice with Gowan without the drama.
      I always was lukewarm to Styx. didn’t specifically dislike them, but never went out of my way to hear them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I read about that in one of the reviews of the LP but wasn’t quite sure what it was referring to… like just where artists often have a word or code number scratched in around rim of “label” or was it actually on the vinyl somehow?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you! I remember the album cover from record stores but never had it so I didn’t see the inner sleeve or gatefold, but apparently they spared no expense or effort for the packaging. Guess that’s appropriate since the real theatre was supposed to be exceptionally aesthetically designed. I’ve said before, I think the one thing I really miss about when Vinyl was king is the packaging you got on LPs and EPs. CDs can’t quite match that in their smaller size, but of course at least you get SOME art and booklet with them, unlike downloads!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True Dave. When I turned 50 four years ago I dove head first into vinyl as I basically started from scratch. Currently I think I’m around 500 or so vinyl records. 100 of em are new the rest are used…
        I’m a vinyl junkie lol

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, it’s a cool thing to collect. Do you go for vinyl singles too or just the LPs? (as petty as it might seem, I did buy a lot of singles but I felt like we were ripped off in Canada, because it seemed all the British singles – which I’d occasionally buy on import – had neat cardboard picture sleeves, whereas most of ours were the generic, plain paper wrappers).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I bought a lot of 45s in the 70s through the mid-80s… largely because I was a kid and on a budget. I hated buying an album and finding that I didn’t much like anything but the song on the radio at the time. I think about half my album collection, before CDs, was derived from Columbia House…I didn’t feel as bad taking a risk with them when I was getting, like 11 for 99 cents or else having to buy something from their book to complete the contract.

        Liked by 1 person

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