by Mike Mettler
Come on in and see what’s happening: Styx’s biggest-selling album, The Grand Illusion, turns 39 years old today, having been released on the magical date of July 7, 1977 — or, as it’s better known on the back of many a t-shirt, 7/7/77.
Recorded at Paragon Recording Studios in Chicago, The Grand Illusion reached as high as No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, spawned two Top 30 singles (“Come Sail Away” and “Fooling Yourself”), and has been certified triple platinum by the RIAA, selling over 3 million copies to date. Styx played the album in its entirety when it was paired with Pieces of Eight on a 2010 tour that’s since been commemorated on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray, and its core songs remain as indelible fixtures in the band’s live set, which can also feature Illusion album-track gems like “Man in the Wilderness,” “Superstars,” and “Castle Walls” during many a headlining show.
In a Styxworld exclusive, bandmembers recount the impact The Grand Illusion has had over the years — and continues to have, night in and night out.
James “JY” Young (co-founding guitarist/vocalist): Dennis [DeYoung] is the one who gleaned the idea that it was our seventh record. I think the release date had originally been scheduled for 7/8/77, or something like that, and we went, “No, we want it on 7/7/77.” Just trying to stack the deck — not that we’re superstitious, or anything. (chuckles) So they changed the original release date to the 7th —fantastic! It has such a beautiful resonance and synergy. Do we have any plans to commemorate the upcoming 40th anniversary [in 2017]? I’m waiting for Tommy Shaw to tell me. (chuckles)
Tommy Shaw (guitarist/vocalist): It’s 7/7 again — the date that changed everything! We made a record that sounds really good, and we worked really hard at trying to get it right. It wasn’t always romantic and sometimes we lost sleep over it, but what matters is how it turned out. It’s the creative process. I run into people almost daily who tell me that “Man in the Wilderness” and “Fooling Yourself” are the songs that helped them get through high school. I like hearing that. And now, to look out in the crowd when we’re playing “Man in the Wilderness” and see people singing along who weren’t even born yet when it came out — that’s very satisfying.
Lawrence Gowan (keyboardist/vocalist): When we did The Grand Illusion-Pieces of Eight tour in 2010, we discovered what a cohesive composition that album is from beginning to end. Delving into the parts and playing the songs in the actual running order reignited my enthusiasm for that album as an album. I was a fan of it then, and I’m a fan of it now. I should also mention that the album’s artwork has stood the test of time. It looks so engaging today, when I see that equestrian image mixed with the forest and the woman’s eyes projected onscreen behind us. It’s one of the great icons of rock history.
Ricky Phillips (bassist/vocalist): “Fooling Yourself” has always been my favorite composition by Styx. But being able to play “Castle Walls” is awesome, because I come from a heavier place. I appreciate that it’s a great track — and it’s bass-heavy, on top of that. The first time I heard [the song] “The Grand Illusion” was when I was with The Babys, and we were touring with Styx. It has that very clever, “Welcome back my friends”/ “here we are tonight” vibe — it’s grand and pomp, with that bolero beat. So very cool.
Todd Sucherman (drummer): The Grand Illusion will always have a soft spot in my heart because it’s the first full Styx record I ever heard, or bought. My uncle Dennis happened to put that one on during one of our visits with him, shortly after that record came out. My brother and I immediately went home and bought it, and we would play that record every day. It was the first record I ever bought from the band, and I continued to buy all of their records in succession after that. To me, that album was the genesis of me liking the band, really.