Join us in our celebration of Equinox, which was released 42 years ago today on December 1, 1975.
by Mike Mettler
Sweet, sweet sounds fill the air: Please join us in our celebration of Equinox, which was released 42 years ago today on December 1, 1975. Equinox was Styx’s first album on A&M Records, after releasing its first four LPs on Wooden Nickel/RCA. Right out of the gate, Equinox's lead track, “Light Up,” fused the band’s best instincts for how to blend harmonies, keyboard hooks, and power chords together to memorable effect, resulting in a song that continues to grace many of Styx’s live set lists today. Two other hard-driving singalong Equinox songs, “Lorelei” and “Suite Madame Blue,” are also in regular live rotation.
“Equinox really was the start of some great records for A&M,” says Styx co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young. “We had an evolved sense of who we were, and what we could accomplish. And our goals were then set that much higher. In the context of Styx, I think it all came together on that record.”
Adds guitarist/lead vocalist Tommy Shaw, who joined Styx only a few weeks after Equinox was released, “The first time I ever heard anything from Equinox was at my audition for the band, in Chicago,” he recalls. “And the first thing I heard was JY singing ‘Midnight Ride,’ which just blew me away.”
Equinox ultimately reached #58 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in 1976, and has since been certified at Gold status, or 500,000 copies sold. (We here in Styxworld are quite sure Equinox has long since gone platinum, so we demand on official recount, o hallowed members of the RIAA!) The album’s only single, “Lorelei,” reached #36 in the U.S. and #6 in Canada in 1976.
JY adds that, after having done 1974’s Man of Miracles at Golden Voice Studios in South Pekin, Illinois on a budget, recording Equinox at Paragon Studios in Chicago with producer Barry Mraz at the controls was clear evidence that things had very much changed for Styx. “We went in there with tremendous confidence of our own validity, and I think the album sounds like it,” JY reports. “For one thing, it was the first time I played a Marshall amplifier, ever, in the studio. I always wanted to sound like The Who, and that’s the album to me that really sounds like The Who. ‘Lorelei’ — you can totally hear The Who there. ‘Light Up’ — Dennis DeYoung gets the credit [JY hums the song’s signature keyboard-and-guitar intro], but adding the power chords between the phrases is something Townshend trademarked. Thank you, Pete! We happily lifted that.”
Coming on the heels of the aforementioned Man of Miracles, Equinox really set the template for where Styx was going next. “Man of Miracles is raw Styx,” observes Tommy. “I’d listened to that stuff and I knew it was raw, and rocking, and melodic. But Equinox was refined. Styx had just evolved. From writing to performing to making records — everything just really fell into place on that record. ‘Lonely Child’ and ‘Mother Dear,’ ‘Prelude 12’ and ‘Suite Madame Blue’ — it was all just very daring, and you didn’t know what was coming next, from ‘Midnight Ride’ to ‘Suite Madame Blue.’ There weren’t that many songs on the record [eight, in total], but they were all big songs.”
The album’s cover art was also very important in making a statement about Styx’s ongoing evolution. “On the cover, you see the cube in the fire, and I really, really liked it because it was transitional,” notes original Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo. “And equinox can also mean the change between seasons, which I like too. Equinox left me with a good feeling about where we were going as a band. We, as musicians, were becoming extremely professional about what we were doing. It was one of those life-changing events. You could feel it, even if you didn’t know exactly what was coming.”
Canada actually embraced Equinox earlier than the U.S. did, a phenomenon that was not lost on keyboardist/vocalist and longtime Canadian resident Lawrence Gowan. “Well, ‘Lorelei’ was on Canadian radio, and that’s where I first became aware of the band,” confirms Gowan, who joined Styx in 1999. “In Ontario, we didn’t have ‘Suite Madame Blue’ — we had ‘Lorelei.’ And when I heard it, I remember going, ‘Oh, what band is this?’ — because I thought they were British. I was into anything that had synthesizer on it from that era and I had just started learning the name of synthesizers then. So about ‘Lorelei,’ I’d go, ‘That sounds like an ARP 2500 that was on The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley.’
“When ‘Lorelei’ came on the radio, I really liked it right off the bat. I thought, ‘Hmmm!’ And when I found out they were American, I thought, ‘That’s the first progressive rock band not from the U.K. to suddenly be noticed.’ And,” Gowan adds with his signature chuckle, “I had a feeling that I better learn these songs, because you never know.”
You never know indeed. And now, during many an exciting Styx gig, you can hear Mr. Gowan take full charge of “Suite Madame Blue” as he moves from behind his keyboard to the top of the elevated stage perch positioned up behind drummer Todd Sucherman. So light up, everybody, and bask in the eternal ice-fire glow that Equinox provides upon every listen.