Mon
Jan 21 2013 9:30am

“Come Sail Away”...With Me?

"Come Sail Away"...With Me?

I’ve written two books about music that has magical elements (The Hum and the Shiver and the forthcoming Wisp of a Thing), as well as featured music in my two Memphis Vampires novels. You could say that my last Eddie LaCrosse book, Wake of the Bloody Angel, starts where a famous song from the Seventies ends. But my love affair with genre music started a long time ago: I was once enamored with Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” for the simple reason that it mentioned starships.

First, a refresher (I can’t imagine too many of you don’t know it anyway):

This baby was released in late 1977, the science fiction year of my childhood. Worse, far worse, was the fact that I was both 14, the perfect age for this pretentious stuff, and already an SF fan. So after having the very thing that got me mocked and bullied suddenly turn cool with Star Wars, and then seeing Close Encounters put the stamp of legitimacy on it, I was flush with the sense that, finally, I might be cool (don’t worry, plenty of people made sure I knew better). And then, on the radio, Styx sang about starships.

Now, since I grew up in the rural south, there were those quick to condemn anything that sounded vaguely sacrilegious, especially if kids liked it (it often seemed as if the mere fact that kids liked it made it sacrilegious). The song sent certain parents and authority figures into a saliva-spewing rage, much like that gun rights guy on Piers Morgan. It was bad enough that everyone knew KISS stood for Knights In Satan’s Service; now this weird band named after a river in Hell was going all Von Daniken and claiming angels were merely aliens! Radio evangelist Bob Larson even wrote that they were actually demons, because demons (as you do) routinely masqueraded as aliens.

“Come Sail Away” was written by Dennis DeYoung, who secretly wanted to (and has since done so) write musical theater. You can tell by the piano tinkles that open the song, DeYoung’s exaggerated stage vocals (“IIeeeem sailiiiiiing AY-wayyyyy...”), and the fact that the guitars don’t show up until the bridge. You saw a production number in your head when you heard the song,* not a rock band performing. And while George Clinton and Sun Ra routinely mentioned (and even depicted onstage) starships, this was a new thing, a top-forty faux-metal epic.

I suppose I’m a little embarrassed at how much I once liked the song. But at the same time, it’s an artifact from a time when, damn it, people wrote songs about starships, and Martian spiders, and slipped Tolkein references into their heavy metal. It was a time when music could be epic. Dave Marsh said that these groups were “enamored of the smell of their own album-length farts,” and that may be true, but the older I get, the more tolerant I am of the failures of reach rather than nerve. So I guess that means I’m not as embarrassed as I thought.

So, to paraphrase Eric Cartman (who has his own issues with this song): “Screw you guys. I’m sailing away.”

*Some people saw a more vivid one than others. It was that sort of time. Just say no.


Alex Bledsoe is author of the Eddie LaCrosse novels (The Sword-Edged Blonde, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, Wake of the Bloody Angel), the novels of the Memphis vampires (Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood) and the Tufa novels (The Hum and the Shiver. and the forthcoming Wisp of a Thing).

16 comments
Joe Cohen
1. Joe Cohen
Now, I'm no fan of her or her music, but to be fair, Nikki Minaj released her song "Starships" just last year.
Paul Weimer
2. PrinceJvstin
You saw a production number in your head when you heard the song,* not a rock band performing.

Yes, this!
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
Ah, the summer between freshman and sophomore years in high school. We all went nuts over this song, as well as a couple of the other tracks on the album. Starships! Bermuda Triangle! (Because of "the virgin sea", Virgin Islands). Of course, since I was in southern California, there weren't a lot of people freaking out over the music we were listening to. (It also meant we got the album version with the long synth solo.) But they were different times, when single words in a song could make all the difference. How excited we got when they played the unexpurgated version of "Money" on the radio.

I do have to admit that this was probably the first current album I ever bought. I already had some rock in my collection, but it was older stuff like the Beatles. This was the first one that was really new.
Robert Evans
4. bobsandiego
And how can we forget the Carpenters' cover of "Calling Occupant of Interplanetary Craft.' The 70's were some strange years.
Joe Cohen
5. happydog1960
Dave Marsh is not the be-all and end-all of music criticism and he was wrong as often as he was right. I'm like you, I'd rather failure of reach over failure of nerve. Ever heard Uriah Heep's "Demons and Wizards?" They are the template that Styx stole a lot of their moves from (that, and musical theater). I recommend Demons and Wizards highly.
Joe Cohen
6. wiredog
Children of the Sun by Billy Thorpe pops up on the rock oldies channel once in a while...
Bruce Arthurs
8. Bruce-Arthurs
Kenny Young's Last Stage For Silverworld album.
Steve Oerkfitz
9. Steve Oerkfitz
Styx was probably the worst band of their era. Ever listen to Lady lately? Worst song ever. Styx is right up there with Kansas, REO Speedwagon, and Christopher Cross.



Rocket Reducer #5 by the MC5, Interstellar Overdrive by Pink Floyd.
Joe Cohen
10. Cool Bev
Rocket #9 Take Off to the Planet ---- VENUS! Not the Sun Ra original, the NRBQ cover. It blew my mind to hear a rowdy bar band doing this spacey jazz tune.
j p
11. sps49
Come Sail Away, Lady, and Suite Madame Blue shared boring first parts that were driven out of memory when the kickass guitars showed up.

Dave Marsh and RS too often thought they were music snobs. I still enjoy songs mentioned above.

And "I Stole Your Love".

And "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath".

And I'm not embarrassed :)
Theresa Wymer
12. Tekalynn
I'm very fond of Styx and their music. No need to apologize as far as I'm concerned.
Mike Conley
13. NomadUK
You know, I actually like that song. So stick it.
Ursula L
14. Ursula
Nothing to apologize for in liking this. It's a lovely song, and tells a compelling story, very human in the wish for escape and adventure.

This song always brings Doctor Who to my mind. The two fit together so perfectly, both the desire for escape and adventure and then the lone adventurer extending the invitation to others.
Pamela Adams
15. Pam Adams
How about Queen's 39? Space travel and the problems of relativity!

For the earth is old and grey, to a new home we'll away
But my love this cannot be
For so many years have gone though I'm older but a year Your mother's eyes in your eyes cry to me.
Alex Bledsoe
16. alexbledsoe
Thanks for all the comments (and musical suggestions). It's amazing how passionate we can be about music from our youth-hoods.

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