Nunc Scio Considers: Weird Songs (#1)

Entry the First: Come Sail Away All right. I had so much darn fun baggin' on bizarro Christmas songs, that I'm going to keep on doing it. Cuz that's how I roll.

So, without further ado, I give you the song everyone loves to hate: Come Sail Away by Styx:


This is such a cavalcade of insanity that it's hard to know where to begin. Yes, the music sounds like a dude with a Les Paul playing along with an eight-year-old girl's music box. Yes, Dennis DeYoung's vocals sound like he just huffed a half-cannister of helium and then tried to rock out while his lungs were collapsing. And perhaps most irritatingly, every time he drops the 'lads' into the 'Come sail away with me...lads' like a lead weight, it's hard to resist the urge to hurt puppies. Taken together, these flaws make Eric Cartman's version of this track from South Park a welcome re-interpretation:


Come Sail Away is unquestionably a bad song. But what makes it a truly weird song is that it is, in fact, three different songs crammed into one. Observe:

I'm sailing away, Set an open course for the virgin sea, 'Cause I've got to be free, Free to face the life that's ahead of me, on board, I'm the captain, so climb aboard, We'll search for tomorrow on every shore, And I'll try, Oh Lord I'll try, to carry on

I look to the sea, Reflections in the waves spark my memory, Some happy, some sad, I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had, We lived happily forever, so the story goes, But somehow we missed out on the pot of gold But we'll try best that we can to carry on

OK. So far, this is a nice, if somewhat trite, story of a young man closing the book on a bittersweet episode in his life and setting off on a personal voyage of discovery, all wrapped up in a tidy nautical metaphor. Not a great song, perhaps, but at least not a weird one. Well hang on, friend, because Styx isn't done yet:

A gathering of angels appeared above my head, They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said, They said come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads, Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me, Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me baby, Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me

For no apparent reason, a bunch of angels have appeared to our nameless protagonist, instantly converting this song from a quaint coming-of-age tale to a new-age pseudo-christian spiritual encounter. There's also a pretty serious grammatic error in there, too- a group of angels have appeared, and they ask the narrator to 'come sail away with me'. Either they simultaneously speak in the singular, or DeYoung completely missed the concept of plural agreement. That's dumb. And the whole angel angle is definitely weird. But Styx ain't done yet:

I thought that they were angels, but much to my surprise, We climbed aboard their starship, we headed for the skies Singing come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me...

Apparently, the angels are actually aliens. Leaving aside the complete idiocy of that transmogrification for a moment, let's look at the distance traversed in this song. We started off with a nice little self-discovery metaphor, and ended with the hero quite literally boarding a spaceship and zipping off into the cosmos. The arc of this song is as follows: sailing metaphor becomes angel visitation becomes scrap-the-angels-we're-going-to-space weirdo sci-fi conclusion. All pretense at allegory is abandoned as Come Sail Away morphs into three different songs for no good reason. It's almost as if Styx had a bunch of little song zygotes, couldn't figure out what to do with them, and grafted them into an unholy Frankenstein-esque hybrid to pad out the final few minutes of an LP. And this is all particularly horrifying when you consider that the song debuted in 1977, the same year that The Clash and The Sex Pistols were rolling out their considerably shorter, epically more badass and entirely coherent songs. Thank god for punk- it saved us from the lunacy of Styx. Or at least gave those alive in 1977 a palatable alternative.

For their nearly unendurable nautical angel alien fable, Styx can have no finer home than in the gallery of weird songs. Let us hope they stay there.