Sweet, sweet sounds fill the air: Join us in our celebration of Styx’s mighty Equinox, which was released 46 years ago today on December 1, 1975.
by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
Equinox, Styx’s fifth studio album, was released 46 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, a Chicago-based independent record label.)
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. (We demand a recertification to bring Equinox up to what we truly believe is its fully deserved and justified platinum-selling status, STAT!) The album’s lone single, “Lorelei,” reached No. 36 in the U.S. and No. 6 in Canada, also in 1976.
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 a quite 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 now 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.”
In the wake of the album’s release, however, Styx also had to deal with an impending personnel change. “The first time I ever heard anything from Equinox was at my audition for the band in Chicago,” clarifies guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw, who joined Styx in mid-December 1975 right as the band was set to go out on tour. Tommy came on up from his homebase in Montgomery, Alabama, in order to replace then recently departed guitarist/vocalist John “JC” Curulewski, an original Styx bandmember. “The first thing I heard,” Tommy continues, “was JY singing ‘Midnight Ride,’ which just blew me away.” (Oh, if only we could all hear “Midnight Ride” grace some future Styx sets. . . paging JY!!)
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 things had already 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 for [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 [in fact, there’s only eight of them], 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.”
Incidentally, if you think the enigmatic “The Age of Entropia,” one of the two exclusive studio tracks that appears on Side 1 of Styx’s June 2021 Record Store Day EP The Same Stardust, feels like it could have actually been a long lost Equinox outtake, you wouldn’t be that far off the mark. “I totally agree,” concurs Will Evankovich, the co-author of “Entropia” along with Tommy Shaw who served as the EP’s studio tracks producer and is also the most recently anointed fulltime Styx bandmember. Continues Will, “You’re absolutely right. ‘Entropia’ does have some Equinox feel to it. It’s in 6/8 with minor arpeggios, and it is its own animal.” (Now you know!)
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 22 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 names 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 mischievous chuckle, “I had a feeling I better learn these songs, because (slight pause) . . . you never know.”
You never know indeed. And now, during many an exciting extended-set 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 JY, Tommy, bassist Ricky Phillips, and guitarist/vocalist Will Evankovich. So light up, everybody, and keep basking in the that eternal ice-fire glow that Equinox provides upon each and every listen.