Sunday, September 1, 2013

Styx - Pieces of Eight

Welcome to another edition of Seventies Sunday.

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.


HERC said...

In the fall of 1978, I lived in Styx's home state, about 120 miles south of Chicago. The two most popular bands amongst us seventh graders (according to the weekly lunchtime surveys conducted by student council members) were Styx and Rush, followed by the Bee Gees and Foreigner. In industrial arts class, our first project was to make a wooden lamp. I made a Styx logo lamp like about a dozen other guys.

We all listened to two radio stations: WLRW-FM from nearby Champaign and WLS-AM out of Chicago. I listened to WLRW just on the weekends for Casey Kasem's American Top 40 countdown so the rest of the week it was WLS after school and up until (and sometimes past) bedtime. WLS distributed weekly printed surveys of the 45 most popular forty-fives (singles) and 33 top thrity-threes (albums). Lucky for me, they were distributed at the record and department stores in Market Place Mall in Champaign which we would visit every couple of weeks.

Those WLS surveys were the beginning of my ongoing chart obsession - when I found out the local library had issues of Billboard magazine which AT 40 was based on, I made weekly pilgrimages to hand copy the top 40 of each week's Hot 100 in my Marvel Comics Trapper Keeper. Then one day in 1979, the librarian (Miss Judith?) showed me the twin bibles of the Billboard Hot 100 charts: Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Artists & Singles 1955-1978 and Joel Whitburn's Pop Annual 1955-1977. It wouldn't be until 1981 or possibly 1982 that I bought my first Whitburn book, Top 40 Hits, at B. Dalton. I started ordering Record Research books in 1985 and now count 49 Record Research books on the shelves beneath my standing work station so they are always at hand. Those WLS surveys were eventually published Record Research-style by Ron Smith who published them under the title Chicago Top 40 Charts.

As for the Pieces of Eight album itself, I didn't like it as much as I liked 1977's The Grand Illusion; "Come Sail Away" was my jam! The hard rockin' hits off Pieces of Eight ("Blue Collar Man" and "Renegade") were definitely the high-point of the album for me. Today, the album is probably my third or fourth favorite Styx album.

Just for fun and in keeping with your 35 years ago theme, here are WLS's Top 10 forty-fives for the week ending Sept 2, 1978, with Billboard's Hot 100 rank for the same week in parentheses() for comparison:

01 (02) Three Times A Lady - The Commodores
02 (06) Miss You - The Rolling Stones
03 (01) Grease - Frankie Valli
04 (03) Boogie Oogie Oogie - A Taste Of Honey
05 (85) King Tut - Steve Martin
06 (04) Hot Blooded - Foreigner
07 (20) Last Dance - Donna Summer
08 (83) You're The One That I Want - John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
09 (24) Copacabana - Barry Manilow
10 (12) Love Will Find A Way - Pablo Cruise

Martin Maenza said...

Herc, thanks again for you always detailed comments. I bow down to your music historical expertise.