Guitarist James "JY" Young of veteran rockers STYX spoke to the Arizona Republic about the band's decision to bring "Mr. Roboto" back into its setlist for the first time in 35 years.
"Mr. Roboto" — which originally appeared on STYX's 1983 concept album "Kilroy Was Here" — was written by former vocalist Dennis DeYoung, who left the group in 1999. The song reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts in Canada, but guitarist Tommy Shaw's reported dislike of the song and direction of the group's concert performances — which, in keeping with the album's concept, featured bandmembers acting out certain roles — led him to leave the band at the completion of the "Kilroy" tour. He eventually returned in 1996.
"Dennis was a strong-willed individual and had the most success as a writer and lead singer in the heyday," Young said. "So when we were gonna go with his idea about this robot thing, I said 'We run the chance of really alienating our male audience.' And Dennis turned down headlining the US Festival in 1982, which was a globally advertised event that offered us more money than we'd ever made in a live concert times three or four… In a power move, [Dennis] said, 'I'm not gonna do it unless I get to do exactly what I want.' I said, 'I don’t believe in it but you've led this band to this point and I'll back you on it.' And it all went bad. It cut our album sales in half because the male audience was absolutely alienated by 'Mr. Roboto'. Not all of them, but a large chunk. And our concert tickets were down from sold-out arenas in 1981."
Young refused to play "Mr. Roboto" for "so many years," he said, but eventually decided to include it in STYX's set on the band's 2018 tour.
"What that song did is it killed a whole lot of people's interest in our music," Young said. "But it spawned a second generation of fans. Pre-teens and early teens, whoever made that a gold single. Our merch guy would tell us, 'People are wondering why you don't play 'Mr. Roboto'.' And I would say, 'Well, that's Dennis's song. Let Dennis have that.' But this is our 20th concert season without Dennis, And if this is what the fans want, then let's do it, but let's do it up right.
"The song was in our 1983 live concert but Dennis sang it to tape basically, by himself," Young added. "So the band had never actually played it. Nobody else was on stage except Dennis. So this was the first time we ever actually played it on stage.
"For the most part, it gets a huge response," he said. "I mean, we've had a few people giving us the finger in the first row, but not many."
Last year, DeYoung said that he was "totally shocked" by "Mr. Roboto"'s re-emergence in STYX's live set. "After all this time, I'm really happy that they've just come to the realization that this is nothing to be ashamed of, for god's sakes," he said. "It was an experiment; we tried it; the show was marvelous; it was fantastic. It was wildly entertaining. And I just say, was I shocked? Thoroughly and totally."