Today’s the day Paradise Theatre first made history when it was released 39 years ago on January 19, 1981.
by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
Is it any wonder that Paradise Theatre made such a lasting impression when it was released 39 years ago today on January 19, 1981? In fact, Paradise Theatre (or Theater, depending on which part of the album sleeve you’re viewing) was Styx’s first album to reach No. 1, which it did for three non-consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. It ultimately sold over 3 million copies, making it Styx’s fourth multiplatinum album in a row — the first time any rock band in history had ever achieved that sales feat.
Paradise Theatre was recorded, engineered, and mixed in 1980 at Pumpkin Studios in Oak Lawn, Illinois with the late, great Gary Loizzo at the helm. (Loizzo passed away four years ago after a long battle with cancer on January, 16, 2016.)
The album’s tone was set by the wistful bookends “A.D. 1928” and “A.D. 1958” — and, of course, the album’s final 27 seconds, the Vaudevillian piano outro “State Street Sadie” — all serving to frame a concept album that chronicled the glorious opening and eventual glum closing of a fictional Chicago theater. “I know exactly physically what building I was in when I wrote that riff for ‘Rockin’ the Paradise,’” says co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young. “I still drive by it sometimes in the south suburbs of Chicago, where we were rehearsing at the time. Tommy [Shaw] came up with the verse and Dennis [DeYoung] came up with the lyrics, and there it was.”
Adds co-founding original bassist Chuck Panozzo, “Paradise Theatre really captured us at our best, when everyone was working towards achieving a common goal. And now I like that we’re able to recreate that feeling of rocking the paradise onstage every night with the people we have in the band.”
Two huge singles emerged from the record. “The Best of Times” made it all the way to No. 3, and “Too Much Time on My Hands” reached No. 9. “Too Much Time” remains a crowd favorite and appears in every night’s live set. “It was kind of like the song was playing in my head,” recalls vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw of writing “Time” on the literal last day of recording for the album. “I heard that riff in my head, but I didn’t have anything to record it on as I was driving to the studio. When I got to the parking lot, I turned the car off, ran inside, got everybody together, and said, ‘Chuck, play this riff, and then this.’ It was like it came together in a package and all the pieces were assembled right then and there.”
Other Paradise classic cuts continue to be performed live today, including the aforementioned “Rockin’ the Paradise” — a song that also has the fine distinction of being the tenth video ever shown on MTV when the music channel debuted on August 1, 1981 — and “Snowblind,” which returned to the live set for the first time in a few years in early 2016 and was also a setlist favorite during the band's five-show run alongside Don Felder, Renegades in the Fast Lane, at the Venetian Theatre in Las Vegas between January 6-14, 2017. “Snowblind” has also been part of Styx’s first round of live sets here in January 2020, with Young’s effects-laden lead vocal as eerie/creepy as ever, perfectly countered by Shaw’s atmospherically cool wah-wah guitar tone during the “Mirror, mirror” verses.
Adding to the Paradise coolness factor was the laser-etching of the band’s name along with some theater flourishes on the label-less Side 2 of the album’s initial vinyl release. (They can also be found on subsequent vinyl reissues.) “That was done to thwart bootleggers, which was a big problem back then,” reveals Shaw.
All of this, of course, serves well to keep alive the memories of Paradise.