Styx: Mr. Roboto

My first rock concert was Styx, on tour for their 1983 science fiction rock opera Kilroy Was Here. Above is the video for the album's first single, "Mr. Roboto." Not only does the song feature such profound lyrics as "My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain I.B.M," the Mr. Roboto costume was designed by Stan Winston, the pioneering SFX artist who is best known for his work on The Terminator and Aliens. From Wikipedia:

 Wikipedia En 8 82 Styx - Kilroy Was Here The song tells part of the story of Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (ROCK), in the rock opera Kilroy Was Here. The song is performed by Kilroy (as played by keyboardist Dennis DeYoung), a rock and roll performer who was placed in a futuristic prison for "rock and roll misfits" by the anti-rock-and-roll group the Majority for Musical Morality (MMM) and its founder Dr. Everett Righteous (played by guitarist James Young). The Roboto is a model of robot which does menial jobs in the prison. Kilroy escapes the prison by overpowering a Roboto prison guard and hiding inside its emptied-out metal shell. When Jonathan Chance finally meets Kilroy, at the very end of the song, Kilroy unmasks and says, I'm Kilroy! Kilroy!, ending the song.
Styx: Kilroy Was Here (Amazon)


  1. Best concert I’ve ever seen – didn’t know it would be Sytx’s last real tour.  When Tommy Shaw came out for the final song, “Don’t Let It End Reprise” with a guitar covered in little tiny lights I was blown away.  Man, those guys really knew how to put on a show!

    1. Yes, it really was a stunning piece of theater! I didn’t see the likes of that again until my first KISS concert.

      1. And not only was it an amazing show, it was so tightly orchestrated and choreographed.  And not a missed note all night long.  They really were true professionals in every sense of the word.

  2. Was my first rock concert too! It was my 12th birthday present. How’s that for cool parents? Mom was using the program book that we got to wave away the doobie smoke from my inquisitive nostrils. She probably didn’t want me jonesing for Dr. Righteous’ Fried Chicken.

    1. This was my first rock show, too: 1983 (August, I think), at the BSU Pavilion in Boise (pro tip – not a good rock venue). A friend won two tickets in a radio giveaway. The animatronic Jimi Hendrix speaking his lines in the “Kilroy Was Here” movie that opened the show was the loudest thing I’d ever heard to that point. James Young as Dr. Righteous stuffed a guitar in an onstage shredder.

      Kilroy knees Mr. Roboto in the groin: “Kawasaki!…Oh my balls!” Hm, no Yellow Peril panic rife in America in 1983, nope, not at all, move along citizen, nothing to see here.

  3. Dangit!

    I’d finally gotten that song out of my head!

    Now I’m gonna have to go and reset my “subliminal song” with something like Devo’s ‘Mongoloid’, or Camper Van Beethoven’s ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’.

    1. Ditto.  At 13, I thought Mr Roboto was the greatest song ever, and I really wanted to buy the album.  But I never did.

      In retrospect, I’m horrified.  “Secret Secret, I’ve Got A Secret!”  Kinda glad my enthusiasm was turned that summer to Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister, and thence to AC/DC and Iron Maiden, where it stays to this day.  Somehow, that stuff is far less embarrassing.

    1. I actually think they got their inspiration for the video of Around the World from this. The part where the robot climb the stairs seems very similar.

  4. I remember really digging the video, in part because I liked the song, but also because there were sections that, I thought, used some footage from the film The Black Hole, which was, at the time, my favorite movie. (I hope my tastes have matured.)

    I might have imagined that, though.

  5. This song made me realize that there were such a thing as a place named Japan. I my first visit there I sang this song (very badly) in a karaoke. Best moment of my life.

  6. At the risk of sounding like one of those cranky old guys glorifying music’s past, I have to say, compared to a lot of the overproduced, shallow drivel being released today, I miss the kind of powerful thematic music of groups like Styx, The Who, Queen, Boston, The Eagles, Rush, Jethro Tull, Chicago (a few names off the top of my head).  Many of them were often will to risk failure by trying unusual arrangements, themes, lyrics, etc. Everything now seems so generic, manufactured and sterile by comparison.

      1. I did mean sterile (in the sense of sanitized, too much polish/finish, and boring) but puerile works too when I think about ‘musicians’ like Katy Perry.

        1. I got so tired of listening to Styx back in the 1970s & 1980s…overproduced, oversythesized, stadium rock is what it is to me.  Same for just about every band you mentioned, except maybe Jethro Tull.  And bad lyrics.

          1. Queen? Rush? The Eagles? 

            yer kiddin, I’ve met only 1 or two people who didn’t have an Eagles, Queen or Rush song that they didn’t love dearly. Not all three at once mind you, but just one in the spread. 

            I’ve never cared much for the placenames (Boston, Chicago, other places), but to call some of the others there over-synthesized in the dying days of Disco? 

            What were your feelings on those over hyped over synthesized stadium rocking Pink Floyd fellas?

            I listened to punk, but I wasn’t so punk as to not know art when I heard it. And i’m not a music person

          2. yer kiddin, I’ve met only 1 or two people who didn’t have an Eagles, Queen or Rush song that they didn’t love dearly.

            You’re up to three now.

          3.  Oh, I forgot to except the Who.  But sincerely, that sort of music had little meaning to me as a teenager; I simply couldn’t relate to it.  However, I could relate to David Bowie’s music of that time – but that didn’t seem so overproduced & oversynthesized to me, not then or now.  Go figure.

          4. They were over-synthed to ME.  This is just my opinion.  I was still listening to the Beatles, but started my love affair with jazz back then.  I was raised w/a wide variety of music, & I think part of my alienation to the bands I mentioned had to do w/the fact that I could never afford to see them live, nor did anyone ever ask me to a concert.  And I wasn’t a mean, nasty, snob teenager; I was shy, somewhat of an intellectual, had bad skin, & wasn’t built like Farrah Fawcett.  I was not the kind of girl that got asked to such things.

          5.  I did get to see one of the weirdest pairings EVER – Ambrosia opening for Utopia.  Now, that was STRANGE.  But I think my favorite concert from that time was George Thorogood & The Destroyers – pure & simple rock & roll blues, w/amazing energy.  No overblown sets or lighting – just a four-piece band playing like there was gonna be no tomorrow.

          6. Agreed. I’m from the Vietnam-draft-age era subcult of “freaks,” and we looked at bands like these with benign disdain. They were being marketed to us (a la a magician forcing a card); derivative (many, of each other; think Boston vs. Kansas); and mainly looking to cash in. Compared to the soul, R&B, jazz, blues, and roots-ie stuff that came out during the 50s/60s/70s, listening to the 70s Commercial Rock scene was kinda like reading the Sunday funnies — cute and colorful, but destined to start fading soon after delivery.

            Great concerts from that era, though — Yes, Stones, Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Genesis, and the like. LOL…my first concert was a long hitch-hike to see Chuck Berry; he only played a 20-minute set, then the jones set in so bad he had to take off and score. No refund, and only 2 rides on the way back home. ;-)

        2. Puerile and/or sterile music?  I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you, at the noise those kids are listening to these days!  Because we certainly didn’t have any of that in the ’00s.  Or 90s.  Or 80s.  Or 70s.  Or 60s.  Or 50s.  Or 40s….  Or 1800s.  Or 1700s.  Or…

          I was a bit too young at the time to consider whether the Beatles wrote “I want to hold your hand” non-ironically or as commercial easy-to-sell pop music, but a couple of generations have had fun with since, even though it’s no Sgt. Pepper.   I don’t know how Spinal Tap feels to someone first encountering it today, but when it came out much of the audience had seen most of the genres it was mocking. 

          Most of current country music is overproduced fake commercial pseudo-nostalgia, but if you look at the roots you’ll find that AP Carter collected a whole lot of whiny songs about people being lonely and unhappy out in the country, most of which weren’t keepers but some of which was seriously good.   And (since I play old-timey), Stephen Foster, one of the first people to make a living composing and selling sheet music?  A lot of his lyrics are really embarrassing to read, but his tunes were catchy and easy to play.  And go farther back and look at Twa Corbies, which is way overschlocky but still works well today. 

    1. Everybody thinks the music they grew up with was the best, and in addition to their good moments,  a few of those bands also did some schlocky garbage in case you forgot.  Hell, there were about a million more adventurous bands that existed during the aforementioned group’s heyday as well.

      1. I don’t disagree that some of those bands did release some schlock or less than stellar music — but as I pointed out in my post, they seemed more willing to experiment (and even fail) with different sounds/approaches than bands are today. From my perspective, you see much less willingness to try new things today from relatively mainstream bands.

        1. The difference is that the “Big 3” aren’t going to back the development of artists in such a way as to allow a “Dark Side of the Moon” to come about these days.  That’s only a difference in the *business* though, there are just as many (more) adventurous bands now.  I say this as somebody who grew up with the bands you mentioned, and was old enough to hear them when they didn’t blow.

          It’s kind of a peeve of mine, because I have friends who used to be music geeks and now have a similar attitude towards new stuff, but it’s not because good stuff isn’t out there, it’s because they stopped following music like they used to and aren’t keeping up with it.

          1. Yeah, I don’t know much about the business side of the music industry, but my impression has been they are even more conservative, tight-fisted, and self-serving (at the cost of the artists), now then they’ve ever been. It seems artists have less power and options these days — that could be total bs of course, as I’m just speculating, but it’s the impression I get.

          2. The Big 3 aren’t going to back another DSOTM, but that didn’t stop Poor Man’s Whiskey from coming out with their bluegrass album Dark Side of the Moonshine.  Or all those indy labels, or people just releasing music on iTunes.  But the Big 3 are going to stick around for a while, because somebody needs to produce the next prefab pop band to play over the loudspeakers at the gym.

            One advantage (and disadvantage) of the pre-computer era is that if your garage band played terrible stuff with three chords and a rhythmless drummer, it mostly got forgotten by anyone who wasn’t there, but today if you record something on GarageBand, soulless drum machine and all, it’s going to be alive on the interwebz forever.

    2. Ha! I’ve been listening to a lot of Boston, Jethro Tull, and The Who myself recently! Really great stuff. Also, Zeppelin. To paraphrase Mister Jalopy, I don’t like them because they’re old. I like them because they’re *better*.

    3. Have you heard Clockwork Angels, the new Rush album? Back to concept album form. It is excellent. Now get off my lawn!

  7. This is, perhaps, the best POSSIBLE cover version:

    (Also, Polysics are in all ways wonderful.)

  8. Vintage techno-Orientialism. 

    Styx cashed in on Reaganite fear of an overly technologized future, and on the conjunction in the white American mind of that fear with the fear of a Japanese Other, who were supposedly overtaking America economically and destroying American jobs with their cheap imports, which were supposedly produced by robotic, overworked Japanese drones.

    1. Yeah Although the song is an undeniably catchy rocker, the vaguely racist lyrics in this song always bugged me. This and Kung Fu Fighting. 

        1. Oh man, such a fail, that song.

          Funny thing is, despite all the horrible and wretched stereotypes, I get the vibe that they were actually going for something that was sympathetic and well meaning.  In the end they just made something so hamfisted and offensive.  It’s like something that the (fictional) Alan Partridge would come up with if he was asked to write a song for some kind of immigration humanitarian charity.

          “What?, don’t you get it?  It’s no fun–being an illegal alien..”

          1. The idea that there was something “sympathetic and well meaning” in the songs reminds me of some of Vachel Lindsay’s poems which, I think, were really meant to be complimentary, but come across as very condescending and naive.

          2. Exactly, Navin. If a white person wants to express sympathy for downtrodden immigrants from Central America, donning brown face and regurgitating stereotypes ain’t the way to do it.

      1. Neither were racist in the least. The song Kilroy Was Here wasn’t anti Japanese. It was anti technology. Also, after the song Mr. Roboto, the entire album is about anti censorship.

        “Kung Fu Fighting” was a hit in an era where Martial Arts films dominated inner city theaters and “Kung Fu Theater” packages on weekend television were huge.

        Seems you’re looking for racism where there isn’t any. Sometimes, just sometimes, we’re simply celebrating the differences in our cultures.

        1. Yep, as a kid I was pretty much guaranteed to be spending every other Saturday afternoon in the summer watching classic kung-fu, and often it was all that was on on Sunday too.

          I probably saw “The Five [Deadly] Venoms” a dozen times over a few years and the only racism stemming from that Styx album I ever witnessed was some of the stupider people in my school pulling back the skin around their eye sockets and saying “Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto” over and over like a gaggle of latter day beavis and buttheads.

          1. I didn’t care for the whole violent action movie schtick, whether it was Kung Fu movies or the Rambo or whatever.  But there was a Hong Kong flick that played at a local theater that my wife and I had to go see, purely on the strength of a review describing a scene with the Evil Bad Guy saying “Bwahahah!  Only deus ex machina can save you now!” and deus ex machina floating down from the ceiling saving the protagonist.  Yes, seriously cheesy movie, entirely worthwhile. 

        2. The song Kilroy Was Here wasn’t anti Japanese. It was anti technology. . . . Seems you’re looking for racism where there isn’t any. Sometimes, just sometimes, we’re simply celebrating the differences in our cultures.

          So it was anti-technology and pro-Japanese at the same time? Gimme a break.

          Sometimes we’re simply unable to see the racism right in front of us.

          1. Japanese culture isn’t based strictly on technology and making things smaller, there’s other stuff too, you can totally be all luddite and still not be bigoted about Japanese people.

          2. Sure, but there’s a crucial difference between what Japanese culture actually is and Orientalist American fantasies about Japan and its people. 

            This song is both  luddite and bigoted about Japanese people.

          3. The song isn’t anti or pro anything (yes, I know I said it was anti technology). It’s part of the storyline.

            How many racist songs do you know that are bi-lingual and use another language properly in the lyrics? I’m not writing just about the ‘Domo Arigato’ part, but the ‘Mata ah-oo Hima de’ and ‘Himitsu wo Shiri tai’ section, as well. I’m writing these from the gatefold of the original album where the lyrics for those lines are also written in Japanese. Please browse the lyrics of Mr. Roboto and tell me where the racist lyrics are.

            The lyrics seem to me to be about Kilroy hiding inside the shell of a Roboto that was made in Japan. That’s it. Metaphorically, it’s Kilroy hiding inside the technology that has been oppressing him so he can escape. In the 1980s, Japanese imported electronics were everywhere. Everywhere. Anything new and innovative was associated with Japan.

            Had Canada been the biggest exporter/innovator of technology in the world instead of Japan, the lyrics of the song might have been, “Hey Hoser Robot! What’s yer secret, eh?” I don’t think the Japanese were ever offended by the lyrics, so this bit of White Man Guilt doesn’t apply here.

          4. Just cuz you can’t see it, Terry, don’t mean it’s not there.

            The slant-eyed, Japanese-built “Mr. Robotos” are an obvious racial caricature, and probably more than a little racist. At the time of the album’s release, they were likely meant as a commentary on Japanese car-makers putting Americans out of work.


    2. “The problem’s plain to see… too much technology.”

      Boing Boing is the wrong crowd for that sentiment, for sure.

  9. I love theatrical music – or music that puts a movie in your head. Iron Maiden has done this for years and years, and their stage sets reflect that more often than not. 

    Styx, on the other hand – as a band were not into this at all. DeYoung is a very talented man, but alienated his whole band with what amounts to Broadway shows to be played at Rock arenas. With acting. Yes. Acting. 

    Musical theater is one thing, Kilroy was Here always seemed closer to a Broadway production with band members who obviously didn’t want to go that way. For it to really work, shared vision has to be there. 

    1. That’s interesting. I don’t know anything about the internal dynamics of the band during that era but I do see what you mean about it having a Broadway show vibe to it. That’s why I called it a rock opera. And Kiss, like Iron Maiden, is more like music-as-theater. A dose of Grand Guignol even!

      1. Hi David- VH1’s “Inside the Music Remastered” just ran the Styx story a couple of weeks ago yet again, where the band (and in particularly Tommy Shaw) voiced their dissension about the album. Shaw remarked that he was terrified at the prospect of playing it live, especially to an arena rock crowd. It was the final straw for him and others. 

        If ya can find it online I highly encourage ya to watch it. It’s an interesting, sad, and amazing story the band has. 

  10. I hate you with the burning power of a thousand white hot stage lights.  I’ve been singing that bloody song all morning!  Maybe I’ll just have to loop through Paradise Theater and Cornerstone this afternoon.

    I wish I’d seen that show, though.  

    1. Curse worse than the disease, arguably: I’ve been song-virused on most of Paradise Theater since the housing bubble started melting down back in April of ’07. Listen to it again, even once, and you’ll be depressed for years about how little we’ve learned since the Reagan recession of ’81.

  11. The banner ad that I get on the YouTube page is:

    Join Billy Graham in declaring, “I have hope for America because of Jesus Christ.”

    Man, talk about crappy targeting!

  12. Styx was actually my second concert (my first was Steppenwolf at the Aerie Crown in Chicago, 1970), and I saw them in a bar in Lansing IL in late 1973 or early 1974. They were one of my favorite bands through the 70’s and into the 80’s and I saw them quite a few times. I liked them best before all the weirdness hit, although even some of their pre-Kilroy stuff was a little odd too. Great music but some of the lyrics …

  13. That Styx show long lived in my mind as the greatest concert I ever saw – the film at the beginning, the escape to Paradise Theater, Babe, … UNTIL, I found the whole concert on youtube a couple of years ago and it was so very awful.  I wish I only had the memory.

    Second great memory and still holds true today is the use of Come Sail Away in the pilot of Freaks and Geeks.

  14. I was in junior high when this came out and  loved it. I never got into Styx, they were just a “radio band” for me, but it just so happens Mr Roboto has been my ringtone for about a year now :) Domo arigato!

  15. Yet another “hey, my first rock concert!” from over here. I’d seen a fair amount of theater, though, and was surprised to later learn that not all rock shows were as theatrical as the Kilroy tour. And I continued being disappointed by that fact until the Residents’ Cube-E tour.

  16. I remember using a program typed in from a magazine to digitize the first few seconds of this  song from a cassette to an Apple II computer.  Probably sounded horrible, but I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  Didn’t know it then, but I guess I was ahead of my time.

  17. I loved Styx as a teenager. The sound (on early albums) was much harder that what I had grown up with – mainly glitter-rock bands like Slade and Sweet and psychedelic bands like Yes, Pink Floyd and ELP – and I liked that the lyrics often had fantasy or science fiction elements. As with Electric Light Orchestra, the sound is a bit more slick than what I enjoy today, but I don’t think that makes the music bad – just more a product of its time. I like the stuff before Kilroy better; particularly the albums Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight.

    About whether Kilroy was racist: The main theme of the album was a criticism of Moral Majority and the religious right; that does not seem to chime much with racism. I think it is more a 70s thing: electronics were almost by definition Japanese back then.

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