I guess we used to be the lucky ones

StyxWhyMeOn 9 February, 1980, “Why Me” by Styx peaked at #26.

They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery; if so, Queen should be very flattered by Styx’s “Why Me“.  It’s not a 100% stylistic… homage, let us say — the saxophone that chimes in at 1:45 on this video is decidedly not-Queen, for instance — but from the triumphal bombastic beginning and the occasional growling delivery of Dennis DeYoung to the weird interpolation of “Rubelator” in a pause in the action there’s a lot of Freddie Mercury lingering in the wings.

But if you’re going to mack someone else’s style, you should do it well, and Styx does a good job at putting out a second-rate Queen single here.  They take on an abstract concept — the vagaries of life shifting one’s fortunes from day to day — and hit mostly the right tones with it.  And at the end of the song, you feel both the frustrations and exhilarations of life, not just in the lyrics, but also in the music.  So good on Styx.

Where this song fails to ascend to the heights that Queen is able to reach is in its inability to bridge from the abstract to the concrete without seeming trivial.  To make an admittedly unfair comparison, “Bohemian Rhapsody” — perhaps one of the best rock songs ever, if not the actual best — discusses all of these things, but also ties the discussion to a gripping concrete story of murder and desperation.  Sure, Styx wasn’t trying to rival “Bohemian Rhapsody” in “Why Me”, but the attempts to connect with the concrete in this song — those bills to pay, and the awkwardly forced “that’s what I want to know” as the song fades — clank like tin among the soaring tones of the abstract parts of the song.  Styx would have been better to keep their heads in the clouds on this one, which is admittedly hard for a band that was billing itself as America’s voice for the blue collar rust belt.  But that’s the difference between a good band and a great band:  a good band makes great songs but can’t transcend its niche.

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