When it comes to appreciating how awesome Styx’s “Paradise Theatre” is, one need only take a brief look back in time. The album, “Paradise Theatre”, was born out a time of uncertainty for most Americans. The 70’s had seen much discord through events such as Watergate, embargoes, and the Vietnam war. In fact, the 1970’s were one of the most unsettling decades in the history of America. This fact escaped no one, least of all a band renowned for it’s ability to manipulate and meld various musical stylings into each album. With their unique ability to produce power ballads such as “Lady” or harder fair, such as “Come Sail Away”, Styx has proved itself worthy of being known as one of the best bands in the world. As such, when it came time to put together a concept album which dealt with the fear, angst and disappointment many Americans were feeling at the time, the only logical result would be a masterful soundscape of timeless truth and auditory immersion.
Babe was a commercially successful mainstream hit off their 1979’s “Cornerstone” album. It was this song that began to create a rift between the band members. Vocalist Dennis DeYoung’s rendition of the song helped to take it to a number one position. However, as positive as that news sounds to most people, when dealing with musicians who are more concerned with their personal voice over mainstream success, divisions within the group can occur. As a result, when it came time to craft 1981’s “Paradise Theater” album, tensions within the group were on a low boil, and this very conflict is a large part of what made “Paradise Theater” so awesome for fans. It was this push/pull between the creative minds of the band which helped to create a unique and much appreciated album. Here, Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young were striving to retain the original purpose of the band, while Keyboardist Dennis DeYoung saw great possibilities in reaching out to a more mainstream audience.
Paradise Theatre Movie Palace
The album, “Paradise Theatre”, is loosely based on the once famous movie palace of the 1920’s, Chicago’s Paradise Theatre. When Chicago’s Paradise Movie Theatre was opened, it was hailed as the world’s most beautiful movie theater. With its exquisite architecture and trendy location, the Paradise Theatre enjoyed fabulous success during the roaring 20’s. Sadly, when sound was added to film, it was found that the theater was poorly designed for sound, as its acoustics were terrible. Slowly, folks left the Paradise Theatre and all its beauty for surrounding theaters which were designed to deal with sound, providing a much better experience for theater goers. The once beautiful movie palace, had now fallen into disrepair and was eventually demolished. Styx, a Chicago band, took this tale and used it as a metaphor for societal change, the foundation for “Paradise Theatre”.
How One Image Became the Backbone of an Entire Album
In effect, the album “Paradise Theatre” was a concept album which spoke of the importance of reexamining our role in society. If we do not, we risk the possibility of negative alterations which would continue to eat away at the fringe, until an overall collapse would occur. It all began in 1980 when Dennis DeYoung was searching for inspiration for the next album. During this search, DeYoung came upon an image of a once proud and perfect movie palace, entering a state of decay.
“…I was walking through an art gallery in Chicago, and there was the Robert Addison serigraph of ‘Paradise Theatre,’ which was this beautiful, opulent, cavernous movie theater on the west side of Chicago. It was built before talkies and opened in 1928. The biggest problem was sound — when the talkies came to that theater in the ’30s, nobody could hear them.”
Within seconds, DeYoung had found his inspiration: The decay of a once fabulous movie palace would become a metaphor for a once proud nation, slowly being ripped apart. Using himself as an example, DeYoung muses about the precarious situation which affects all people. To illustrate this, DeYoung relates how just one DJ in Chicago decided to play the Styx song “Lady”, off the cuff. It was this one decision by just one man that opened the door for the bands great success, and how that one man’s decision became the inspiration of several of the album’s compositions:
“…a guy at a radio station in Chicago took a chance at playing a song that was three years old, which was ‘Lady.’ If he hadn’t done that, I’d never have been a wealthy man. I had some perspective about how fragile everything is — that things can turn against you or for you in that way. That permeated the lyric-writing of things like “The Best of Times” and “Lonely People.” Even in Tommy’s “Too Much Time on My Hands,” he’s talking about the guy — he’s almost like the “Blue Collar Man.” He’s at that bar in the middle of the day. He’s got no work.”
Musical Cohesion Provided by Top Content
Certified triple-Platinum, “Paradise Theatre” gave fans not only a cohesive concept album, but 4 top charting singles: “The Best of Times”, “Too Much Time on My Hands”, “Nothing Ever Goes as Planned”, and “Rockin’ the Paradise”. Each song on the album handles the concept quite admirably, with the short piano overture, “A.D. 1928” leads into “Rockin the Paradise”, which embraces the birth and demise of the once famous Chicago movie palace.
“The Best of Times”
“The Best of Times” saw the world becoming unglued. Looking back, how can one survive in an insane world? In this song, survival depends on the relationship between two people. No matter how crazy the world becomes, two people can become a sanctuary of sorts, for one another. In fact, the title of the song was inspired by Dickens novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.
“Too Much Time on My Hands”
While “The Best of Times” promotes the concept of hope through two intertwining lives, “Too Much Time on My Hands” is quite the opposite. Composed by Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw, the song “Too Much Time on My Hands” chronicles the life of a man who wastes his life away sitting in a bar. As he sits sipping booze, he waxes on about the state of events, while watching his own life slipping away.
“Nothing Ever Goes as Planned”
This song takes a long, hard look at the banality of a life, so commonplace, that nothing changes no matter how hard one tries, plans just don’t seem to work out. This song didn’t hit t he charts as high as the other offerings, one reason may be the hard hitting truth of its lyrics. There is no fantasy to provide a world weary listener with relief, no escape is given. Instead, it reflects a meaningless existence that so many people experience, an existence which offers little in the way of positive change. The nature of the beast gives them no rest from reality.
The Vinyl Edition
The one final element which made this album noteworthy was the vinyl edition. Here, laser technology was employed to carve a three-dimensional, holographic design right into the surface of the vinyl record. All fans had to do was to hold the album near a light in order to see the high-tech imagery come to life.
A massive success with both critics and fans, “Paradise Theatre” proved once again the command this band had over its material. Even through their tumultuous, conflicting sessions, they retained control over the material, and by doing so, created a time-defying album which has remained one of rock and roll’s finest. Sadly, their creative differences would cause the band to experience a melt down in three years time. That being said, the songs on the album form a cohesive bond which carries the listener into a world that is much less fantasy than it is reality. In doing so, it proves to be a rather courageous concept album, foregoing the fluff of delusion in favor of the reality of uncertain times.