45 Years Ago: ‘Blue Collar Man’ Keeps Styx’s New Momentum Going
In a happy coincidence, Styx's song about hard-working everyday folks confirmed their transformation from local legends into '70s-era AOR superstars.
Released as the debut single from Pieces of Eight in September 1978, "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)" came at a crucial point for Styx: Their seventh LP, 1977's The Grand Illusion, finally broke the band through to the big time after years of hard touring and slowly building momentum on the pop charts.
They'd broken the Top 40 before with "Lady" in 1975, but The Grand Illusion went triple platinum and spawned a pair of major singles in "Come Sail Away" and "Fooling Yourself." Under a more intense spotlight than they'd had to deal with before, Styx needed to deliver a follow-up that could build on The Grand Illusion – and they got it with the follow-up.
Another triple-platinum hit, Pieces of Eight boasted a savvy blend of radio-ready singles and prog-tinged, concept-driven rock, with neither side overpowering the other. The album was nominally about staying true to your dreams and not selling out for commercial or material gain, but listeners didn't need to be tuned into the overarching theme in order to appreciate singles like "Sing for the Day," "Renegade" and "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)."
Written and sung by recent addition Tommy Shaw, "Blue Collar Man" was easily one of the harder-rocking songs on the record, perhaps owing to the fact that it started out as a soundcheck jam while the band was on tour for The Grand Illusion.
"‘Blue Collar Man’ was kind of assembled on a concert stage [during] soundcheck," Styx guitarist James "JY" Young recently told UCR's Matt Wardlaw in an exclusive interview. "Sometimes, it goes easily that way, and sometimes it takes forever to pull teeth and rearrange it – but some things just kind of come out, and it’s pretty amazing."
A Staple of Styx's Live Set
Asked how the song evolved from its impromptu origins, Young replied: "We always liked to play with a wider palette of musical instruments than we might actually perform with onstage. We’d go in and [put] a pipe organ here, and Tommy played the mandolin on another song. So sometimes onstage, you’d have a limit, but ‘Blue Collar Man’ is a great stage song and that’s because it was written onstage, in a way."
Young described "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)" as "just a very basic, straight-ahead rock thing," adding that "Tommy caught a great lyric and a great vocal performance and had the right energy and attitude, and then we went from there."
Where they went was the pop charts, as "Blue Collar Man" made it all the way to No. 21. Pieces of Eight did better still, rising into Billboard's Top 10. Styx's amazing run of success wouldn't conclude until Kilroy Was Here in 1983.
Through it all, "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)" remained a staple in Styx's live set, and it's easy to understand why: Aside from the fact that it's a solidly high-energy number that works well in concert, quite a few Styx fans are still keeping their minds on a better life where happiness is only a heartbeat away.
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