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Mr. Roboto

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 biggest concept album, Kilroy Was Here.

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Dennis Deyoung: Mr. Roboto

We had such great success with Paradise Theater. The show was theatrical. I brought theatrical elements in—the backdrops, the way it started, the movies, it was just a wonderful, wonderful show. It was our biggest tour. It was just wildly successful. It was—to that date—the biggest attendance for an indoor arena tour. Of course, the next year, somebody broke it, but to that point—

So I thought, OK, themes. Let's take it one step further. How do we get longevity? How do we make ourselves bigger than this? It's to be on film. You have to be on film. Hard Day’s Night. Help. Rolling Stones. The Almond concerts. Pink Floyd the Wall. You've got to be on film. There was no MTV yet. It was 1981 when I'm thinking this up on the Paradise Theater tour. No. MTV is ’82. I didn't know there was going to be music videos. Music videos played in Europe, not in the US. No such thing. It's got to be on film.

I came up with his rock opera called Kilroy Was Here. I thought we'd make our own film. The story was set in the future. America falls into a great depression, a worldwide depression financially. There is a man named Dr. Everett Righteous who owns the largest cable network in the United States. He's very powerful and influential. Originally, I'd written him like Johnny Carson, with that charm but evangelical. His name was Dr. Everett Righteous. He convinced, through the power of his TV show and his influence in Congress, not unlike what actually did happen a few years later, with people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. This is before that—1981-82. He convinces Congress to pass legislation that bans rock 'n roll, because he has convinced everyone that the decline in America was because of rock 'n roll music.

People are always looking for easy scapegoats, right? World War II, who did Hitler have? You know who. You've got to blame somebody. You've got to blame something. He blamed rock 'n roll. So they pass legislation that says rock 'n roll is banned. The night that they pass this legislation, the first guy to play a concert is this guy named Kilroy. Huge demonstrations. Everett Righteous’ group is called the MMM, The Majority for Musical Morality. This is before the PMRC and the stickering of albums. This came four or five years later.

We stickered our own album. It said, The Majority for Musical Morality says you shouldn't listen to this. We did that. It was a joke to us, to me. What happens the night of this concert, there's a huge riot, and a kid is killed. Kilroy, the rock star, is framed for the murder, so he goes to prison. They're putting rock stars in prison now, and the prisons are guarded by Japanese robots called Robotos. That's where the song comes from.

Mr. Roboto, if you hear it, when you listen to the record, at the end the guy yells, “I’m Kilroy.” What the hell does all this mean to anybody? It was written exclusively as a song of exposition. It was going to take the film, the back-story of a concert to the first song onstage, and that song told the transition. That's all it meant to me.

So I wrote this song, and it was really catchy. People said, “That's a single.” I never heard it as a single. I thought it was this big piece of art that was going to— No, it turned out be, “Domo origato.” It was just that to people. They didn't even know what that meant. It became a big hit record.

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