Styx : Come Sail Away

The Mothership of Corporate Rock

  In the late 1960's a form of semi-popular music grew out of psychedelia and "acid rock", that would later be called "Progressive Rock". It was a break from the R&B sound from which rock and roll evolved and attempted to bring other classical and Eastern influences and create a "new" sound. While much of it was quite admirable and good, a lot of it was just fantasy-inspired Styx "hobbit-rock". As it continued into the 1970's, the bands took on an attitude that they were "superior" to bands that "just played blues-based rock-n-roll", not only as technical musicians, but as artists and composers. This attitude seemed to be personified by bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Yes (especially with the self-important, wizard-wannabe Rick Wakeman). Fortunately, most of the bad stuff was not played on the radio too much, but that changed by 1976. Music "industry" moguls like Don Kirschner, Mike Joseph, and Kal Rudman hit upon the idea of telling stations what to play by creating playlists and formerly free-form FM radio stations all conformed to this "innovation". While this "Album-Oriented Rock" (AOR) format shunned disco and other Top-40 pop music, in an attempt to play "deeper" and more diverse music, it inevitably led to the outbreak of the "corporate rock" plague. The virus generally manifested itself as a slick, formulaic issuance, contrived solely for airplay and the derivation of income and apparently bereft of creativity or sincerity. Its chief symptoms were overblown musical production usually accompanied by multiple rhythm and tempo changes, all glazed over with hollow, infantile lyrics and hackneyed expressions. While, Foreigner may have been the prototypical case, oozing such fine examples as Feels Like the First Time and Hot Blooded, the "progressive rock" strain of the pathogen was notably spread by three bands — Kansas, Styx, and Journey. Kansas, who will be written about more later, had the first major one of these force-fed, "prog-rock" hits with the heavy-handed, bombastic cacophony Carry On My Wayward Son, which was released in 1976 and ascended the charts in 1977. That same year, Styx released The Grand Illusion, which contained the nauseatingly loathesome dirge Come Sail Away. The band had a hit in 1974 with Lady, which was essentially a 'rock' song, in the style of a Led Zeppelin power ballad, though it does start off with the tinkling piano — a technique that would later become their formula. However, Come Sail Away was different; it was an attempt at a theatrical, quasi-classical piece. "Theatrical" rock would come to haunt popluar music for another ten years at least.
  The song begins with the aforementioned, saccharine, tinkling piano, which seems to mimic the sound of a little girl's music box, then Dennis DeYoung's voice arrives. Aside from the high tone of his voice (which is annoying enough), he annunciates every syllable with an overly feminine, preening flourishAhoy there mateys; climb aboard.  Come Sail Away With Me!! that makes Liberace sound like Jack Palance, pronouncing the first "a" in "away" as a long vowel (i.e. ay-way) as opposed to the correct pronunciation (uh-way). For added offensiveness, he uses the illogical cliché "virgin sea", and then later declares himself "captain". After the two stanzas of castrated-sounding yodeling, the song degenerates into a stilted "power" movement, complete with a caliopy of cheesy keyboard adornments. Over the simple barre chord progression (mistakenly thought to be forbidden by prog-rockers), which ensues, he begins squealing about angels singing a "song of hope". When I first heard this song, I thought it was one of those songs of faith that were just popping up at the time, but then it got even worse. It was not a ship of angels, but it was a 'starship'...A Fucking Spaceship??!!!   Yes, a song about space aliens who pose as angels and come to a man while he is engaged in some soul-searching, sea-faring fantasy.  I've always wondered if anyone in the recording studio ever asked Dennis DeYoung: "Are you serious, man? Do you think people are really stupid enough to buy this crap?"   Maybe they were just drunk or stoned enough not to care and to knew that this shit would get played on the radio. It could have been a ship with Durwood Kirby and Mamie Eisenhower prancing around nude on it — it didn't matter; it was going to get airplay and they knew it. These guys got their "pot[s] of gold" many times over — we just had to endure it. If one were to really listen to this, he would realize that this song is one of the most pretentious, insulting pieces of shit in the history of popular music, yet millions of people still love it, and it still gets airplay. It is worth noting that Eric Cartman of South Park is often compelled, when hearing the beginning of the song, to finish it as quickly as possible, to exorcise it from his brain.
Come Sail Away
(Dennis DeYoung)

I'm sailing away, set an open course for the virgin sea
I've got to be free, free to face the life that's ahead of me
On board, I'm the captain, so climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I'll try, oh Lord, I'll try to carry on

I look to the sea, reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy, some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever, so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we'll try best that we can to carry on

A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope, and this is what they said
They said come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me

I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise
They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies
Singing come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me