Monday, August 24, 2020

Musical Monday - Mr. Roboto by Styx

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The week of April 30, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Mr. Roboto was the signature song of Kilroy Was Here, the concept album that destroyed Styx. The brain child of Dennis DeYoung, Kilroy Was Here told the story of Kilroy, the last rock star in a dystopian future in which rock music has been banned by the Majority for Musical Morality led by Dr. Everett Righteous. Kilroy has been imprisoned for his music, and as part of the story, he uses one of the Japanese-manufactured guard robots assigned to his prison to fashion a disguise and escape. This song details Kilroy's escape from imprisonment, which is the reason for the refrain "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto": He's thanking the robots for their unwitting assistance in his escape.

Despite the fact that the album debuted at #10 on the charts, and produced two top ten hits (this song and Don't Let It End), the tour supporting the album was a financial disaster for the band. DeYoung envisioned the tour as essentially musical theater featuring a lot of dialogue and other interstitial material connecting the songs. The band booked into smaller musical theaters for this, bringing with them a fairly expensive stage production, and they consequently hemorrhaged money. They then moved to arena shows, and tried to do a modified version of the musical theater routine, but it didn't match well with the venues, and despite the rest of the band pushing to discard the art theater routine, DeYoung was insistent that they continue.

This all came to a head at a music festival when (according to Tommy Shaw) DeYoung wanted the group to forge ahead with long acting sequences in front of what was, by the time they reached the stage, a restless and increasingly hostile crowd. Shaw walked off the stage in the middle of the show. The band disintegrated by the end of the tour. The live album that resulted from the tour was released after the band had already broken up for good.

In a very real sense, this song and the album it was on were not only the swan song for Styx, they were the nails in their coffin. The really annoying thing about this is that as interesting an idea a concept album that presents a science-fictional dystopian future is, the album itself is one of Styx's weaker efforts. Most of their previous albums were notably better, with better songs, than Kilroy Was Here. But it was this one that ended their run and destroyed the band.

Previous Musical Monday: Let's Dance by David Bowie
Subsequent Musical Monday: True by Spandau Ballet

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Beat It by Michael Jackson

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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