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Concept Albums

Dennis DeYoung is the former keyboardist and vocalist for Styx, with whom he had five top-ten albums in the 1970s and early 1980s. DeYoung was the writer of some of the band’s most enduring hits, including “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” “Lady” and “Mr. Roboto.” Since leaving Styx in the mid-1980s, he has released several successful solo albums, and continues to write, record and tour regularly.

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Dennis DeYoung, former lead singer of the rock group Styx, talks about the writing of his many concept albums.

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DY: Concept Albums

The first one was The Grand Illusion, which I've already quoted to you as about my idea of as having an album based on the thought process that— Telling the audience that there are a lot of things in life that seem to be one way, and they're something else, and the illusion of entertainment and what we do. That was a huge record. That was the first really concept album, thematic. Dark Side of the Moon is thematic, isn't it? But I listen to those songs and wonder what the heck are they talking about. But there is a continuity. It's not like Tommy, where there's a through story. We got to that later, something I kind of forced on the band.

Then we did Pieces of Eight, which was another song I'd written, which was about right after The Grand Illusion, we had this huge success. Made a lot of money, my friend, in a very short period of time. Pieces of Eight was representative of what is money to us? In The Blue-Collar Man there's a guy in the unemployment line. In The Great White Hope there's a guy who wants to be a champion boxer. In the song, Pieces of Eight, the main character has essentially become financially successful, and he's trying to figure out what that means to him now.

It happened to us. When you become very successful, all your friends and your family can be threatened by your success, by your wealth, by your notoriety. As Joe Walsh said, “My friends are all different. I'm still the same.” That does happen to you, where they feel they may be left behind. You're not the same person to them that you were, that you've known. You'll find out who your true friends are if you ever get real successful, because they'll treat you differently in ways that you wouldn't expect. Pieces of Eight was an album about that, about how money changes things.

Next concept album was actually Paradise Theater. I walked through an art gallery, and there was a painting by a Chicago painter named Addison. It was called The Paradise Theater. I looked at it, and I went, “Wow.” There was a theater, and it said Paradise Temporarily Closed. It was in an urban setting. Looked like a once-great movie palace that had fallen into decay. I said, “That's America. 1980.” Between 1972 and 1980 there was eight years, and we'd seen the prestige of America completely decline between Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War, the oil embargo, the Iranian hostage crisis. When we were putting this album together, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were running for president.

Ronald Reagan started talking about Morning in America. “We are the greatest nation. We are the beacon.” Whatever it was. “We are still the greatest nation in this world. We've lost our way—” so on and so forth. Whether you want to buy into Ronald Reagan, or whatever your political—I bought into the idea. I'd traveled around the world at that point. “Yeah, we are. With all our flaws, we're special. The people in this country, immigrants, we're special. We are not the dregs of this world.”

I saw Paradise Theater as a metaphor for a declining America, so we made a concept album based on that.

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