Sunday, September 1, 2013
Styx - Pieces of Eight
Today we are marking the thirty-fifth anniversary of Pieces of Eight, the eighth studio album from Styx. This September of 1978 release went to number 38 in Sweden and number 6 on the US Billboard Album chart.
Side one opens with “Great White Hope”, a song penned by guitarist James Young and features him on lead vocals. It opens like a broadcast of a live fight, complete with crowd sounds and an opening round bell. Young portrays a champion of the people, someone for them to put their belief and faith in.
“I’m O.K.” was very much in line with the whole self-esteem boosting movements of the late 70’s. Dennis DeYoung’s pipe organ solo adds a whole pseudo-religious revelation to the end; that is fitting since so many people took to these movements in an almost cult like fashion.
“Sing for the Day”, the second single, climbed to number 41 on the US Billboard Hot 100; it later appeared as the B-side to the third single from the album as well. Featuring guitarist Tommy Shaw on the mandolin and vocals, the lyrics celebrate the days of youth.
The instrumental “The Message” follows, featuring a DeYoung synthesizer spotlight. It segue-ways into the next track.
Having nothing to do with Tolkien (other than perhaps a play on the title), “Lords of the Ring” focuses on the famous who have strived for the brass ring of success. The track includes a synthesizer solo by DeYoung, and guitar solos by Young and Shaw.
Side two begins with “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)”. As I recall, it was a very popular track on the radio back during the summer and fall of 1978; as the first single, it went to number 98 in Australia and number 21 on the US Billboard Hot 100. This rocker spoke to the heart of America, the working class in the factories and such who fueled the country’s economy.
“Queen of Spades” opens with a DeYoung’s passionate ode to Lady Luck, but as the song explodes so does his luck turn. It is a cautionary tale about relying upon luck to get through life.
The third single “Renegade” reached number 16 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1979. The lyrics tell the tale of an outlaw with a bounty on his head; he ends up captured and faces execution by hanging. It opens with Shaw on the first lines, followed by perfect vocal harmonies with the rest of the band. I sing right along with them there. Another highlight of the song for me is John Panozzo on drums at the 2:55 mark, pounding like an adrenaline-fueled heartbeat.
“Pieces of Eight”, opening with DeYoung at the piano, is a reflection piece about how wealth and power do not always lead to happiness.
“Aku-Aku”, the closing track, appeared as the B-side to the first single. This instrumental epilogue showcases Shaw on guitar.
I believe my older brother owns a copy of Pieces of Eight on vinyl. I would have likely heard much of it coming from his room or from the album-oriented rock station we listened to back in the day. Back in 1978, this album did not appeal to me much beyond the hit singles (remember, I was heavily into pop and disco at the time) but as I have gotten older I have come to appreciate Styx’s albums more and more.
Seeking some more Styx? Check out these reviews.
- For 1977’s The Grand Illusion, click here.
- For 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, click here.
- For 2011’s Regeneration - Volumes 1 and 2, click here.
- For 2012’s DVD concert Styx - The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight LIVE, click here.