by Mike Mettler
Styx’s mega-triple-platinum smash success Pieces of Eight was released 39 years ago today by A&M Records on September 1, 1978. Featuring a stunning cover design by Hipgnosis — the British company known for creating album-package artwork for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, UFO, 10cc, and scores of other bands — Pieces of Eight became the second of four consecutive Styx albums to go multiplatinum, the first time any band in rock history had ever done so.
Pieces of Eight features many key tracks in the Styx canon that remain staples in the band’s current, rotating, and ever-expanding live set: the always hard-charging “Blue Collar Man” (recently moved to being played near the beginning of the show from its previous, bring-it-on-home slot nearer to the end), “Pieces of Eight” (which sometimes has keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan’s furiously engaging original piano instrumental from The Mission, “Khedive,” as its intro), and “Sing for the Day” (an acoustic-driven vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw treasure that also served as the title for his May 27, 2016 solo show with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra in Cleveland, which continues to air every now and then on AXS TV, and is expected to see an official release sometime in 2018).
And, of course, there’s “Renegade,” the set-ending barnburner that has gained additional life not only as a fourth-quarter rallying cry for the Pittsburgh Steelers but recently served as the theme of the ad campaign for Season 2 of the quite intense Netflix drama Narcos. “Renegade” was also covered in late 2016 with great aplomb by Shallow Side, four young ’n’ hungry rockers from Cullman, Alabama. (Their version has over 680,000 views on YouTube as of this writing.)
The man who wrote “Renegade” himself, Tommy Shaw, loves what he’s seen and heard from Shallow Side. “I’m impressed by those guys. Good arrangement, good performance, good video,” Tommy says. “By far, this is my favorite cover of ‘Renegade.’ Everyone in the band really liked it too. We love the song, love the video, and think the band has a great vibe. They seem like the real deal. They’ve got soul.”
Of the writing of “Renegade” itself, possibly the man’s most well-known and most enduring song, Shaw also told me, “I wrote that song in my living room on my piano back when I lived in Michigan. Nobody else was around, and for it to become something that Steelers players and fans love, and is now a part of a show I enjoy watching, is so surreal to me! I’m so grateful for how much it means to our own fans, and how it endures to this day.” (Oh, Mama!)
Me, I’m also partial to the Gowan-sung version of “Queen of Spades,” which appears in 2011’s two-disc Regeneration collection. (His unbridled cackle before the line, “You lose!” is priceless.) Styx performed Pieces (the first Styx album your humble Styxologist ever bought) in full alongside 1977’s epic The Grand Illusion on tour for a few select dates in 2010, which can be found on the live CD, DVD, and/or Blu-ray set, The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight Live (Eagle).
In recent months, Styx has often cited Pieces of Eight (alongside The Grand Illusion) as a key inspiration for the sound and the vibe of The Mission, the band’s first album of all-new material in 14 years that was released this past June.
“It was simply the fact that we were listening to vinyl upstairs in Tommy’s house,” recounts The Mission’s producer, Will Evankovich. “And he made one comment: ‘I really love the way The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight sound. If we make a new Styx record, I want it to be just like that. I want the warm analog feel I get from those albums. I want to put the headphones on, turn it up, and really be proud of it.’ And I said, “Yeah, that’s a really great place to start.’” (Mission accompli!)
Notes Gowan, “I really like performing the title track of Pieces of Eight whenever we add it into our longer sets. I think the songs from that album are the ones most seamlessly connected to The Mission. They’re most in the paradigm of what The Mission is.”
Pieces of Eight is a timeless, enduring classic, and we salute it to the hilt today. Here’s to the next 39 years of stopping to see how beautiful this life can be!