Quick – name a song by Styx. Don’t tell me, just keep it in mind while I tell you about the song you picked.
The song you named is on the band’s seventh studio album: The Grand Illusion, which celebrates its fortieth birthday this year. One of the best-selling of all their albums, it follows that it also contains one of the best-selling, most enduring, and quintessential songs.
I owned this album and it saw a fair amount of time on my turntable. If memory serves, side one took the brunt of the needle’s friction while side two stayed scratch-free and pristine. Reading the track list as an old man supports that memory, as I can’t recall a single tune from any track on side two.
Of the four songs that make up side one, the first, second and fourth remain strong in my mind. The beginning track, from whence the album takes its name, is a typical Styx song with a perfect balance of pop and progressive rock.
Butit is not the song you named.
The second track, “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” is likewise a solid and enjoyable rock song – best when the volume is cranked.
Again, it is not your song.
But the fourth song – and yes, this is the song you chose – I will never forget the first time I heard it. I was in the back seat of a car being driven by the older brother of a good friend of mine. We were making the typical weekend hour-long journey to “The Big City:” Amarillo Texas. With a population over 100,000 (yes, that’s a one and five(!) zeroes), Amarillo offered far more entertainment options our own little town. The older brother had just bought The Grand Illusion on 8-track and we listened the entire way there and the entire way back. But we never made it through the entire album.
8-track tapes were really weird. So unless you are familiar with how they work(ed), you won’t understand the next sentence.
We listened, instead, on repeat, to the one-fourth of the album that contained the song that you picked:
“Come Sail Away”
Right? Of course I’m right.
There were four of us in the car and we were all blown away. Such a great song! The lilting, ethereal melody of the verses giving way to the swelling, speaker-rattling chorus. And the words – mind blowing.
Forty years later, looking back through my glasses with the retrospective lenses, I feel a little silly as I recall that scene. Much like a favorite childhood TV show, adulthood seems to rob the song of its magic. The once mind-blowing concept seems a bit foolish, the awesome chorus now seems overdone and melodramatic, and my adult brain tells me to shake my head at such naivete, grateful that I know better now.
But you know, in certain moments – of weakness or of clarity, I’m not sure which – I take off those glasses and listen as I did when I was a teenager. Letting myself get caught up in the music as that scene from long ago comes back so vividly: listening to the song six or seven times in the course of an hour, surrounded by friends and sharing a common experience that each of us felt was something special. In some small way, that experience made us closer. It is a great song again.
Sometimes, my friends, it is good to just let go and come sail away.
Here’s The Grand Illusion on Spotify. You can just put the fourth track on repeat if you want.
Extra video bonus – a clip from the TV show Community (2009) which references the song, lending support to my assertion that “Come Sail Away” has endured.