Sweet, sweet sounds fill the air: Join us in our celebration of Styx’s mighty Equinox, which was released 45 years ago today on December 1, 1975.
by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
Equinox, Styx’s fifth studio album, was released 45 years ago today on December 1, 1975. Equinox was also the band’s first album on a major label, A&M Records, opening the door for their subsequent, best-selling international success. (Under their original recording contract, Styx’s first four LPs were released on Wooden Nickel Records, the Chicago-based independent record label.)
Right out of the gate, Equinox's lead track, “Light Up,” fused Styx’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 setlists (usually accompanied with quite the incredible audience-generated visual effect to boot). 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, the man who takes “Lorelei” to new lead-vocal heights whenever the band is onstage. “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, just a few weeks after Equinox was released, joined Styx in mid-December 1975 right as the band was set to go out on tour, replacing the recently departed guitarist/vocalist John “JC” Curulewski, an original Styx member), “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.” (Oh, if only we could hear “Midnight Ride” grace some future Styx sets. . .)
Equinox ultimately reached No. 58 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in 1976, and has since been certified by the RIAA as achieving Gold status, or 500,000 copies sold. The album’s only single, “Lorelei,” reached No. 36 in the U.S. and No. 6 in Canada in 1976.
(Incidentally, each and every one of us here in Styxworld are well beyond convinced Equinox has loooong since gone platinum — so we hereby not-so-humbly request an official recount and recertification be done by the hallowed RIAA membership. Thank you for your consideration.)
JY points out that, after having cut November 1974’s Man of Miracles at Golden Voice Studios in South Pekin, Illinois on a budget, recording Equinox at Paragon Studios in Chicago with ace 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 to me, this is the album that really sounds like The Who. ‘Lorelei’ — you can totally hear The Who there. ‘Light Up’ — [original keyboardist/vocalist] 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 [legendary Who guitarist Pete] Townshend trademarked. Thank you, Pete! We happily lifted that.”
Coming on the heels of the aforementioned Man of Miracles, Equinox truly 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, 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 [there’s only eight of them, in fact], 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,” admits Styx co-founding 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 somewhat earlier than the United States did, a phenomenon not lost on longtime Canadian resident and Styx keyboardist/vocalist for the past 21 years and counting, 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 the ARP 2500 that was on The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley.’ “
Continues Gowan, “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 live 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, with full, rich harmonies in tow by all other singing Styx members, including bassist Ricky Phillips. So light up, everybody, and keep basking in the that eternal ice-fire glow that Equinox provides upon each and every listen.