Sunday, January 15, 2012

Styx versus The Priest

I was driving the other day when a song came on the radio that I didn’t remember ever having heard before. My first thoughts were, “Wow, this must be a remake of “Suite Madam Blue” by Styx. I punched the info button and the name Judas Priest came up. The song was titled “Beyond the Realm of Death.” There was absolutely no mention of it being a remake, and I couldn’t imagine the Priest doing a remake of Styx!

I did a little more research, and could find no connection between these two songs at all. Yet, they have almost exactly the same basic riff. “Suite Madam Blue” was on Styx’s 1975 album Equinox, while “Beyond the Realm of Death” was on Stained Class, from Judas Priest in 1978. I also read a hint that Judas Priest may have had a guest guitarist on their song, and, rather strangely, the Styx guitarist named John Curulewski, who played on Equinox, left the band right after that. I began to wonder if Curulewski could have been the guest guitarist on “Beyond the Realm of Death” but could find nothing to indicate that.

The mystery remains. How in the world could a Styx riff end up on a Judas Priest album three years later? And lest you think it’s only a passing resemblance, I’ve linked both songs below. Give them a listen, especially the opening sections.

Styx: “Suite Madam Blue”.

Judas Priest: “Beyond the Realm of Death”.

If anyone has any info on this, I’d love to hear it.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wasn't familiar with that Priest song, so had to listen first. They are similar, but I think they each stand on their own. I did a search and couldn't find anything either that suggested a connection.

Sidney said...

The jig is up the news is out.

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, they both have their charm for sure. Just very interesting.

Sidney, could be.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I was always surprised to learn Priest had covered Joan Baez (lyrically, if not musically.)

Even more surprising would be "Green Manalishi (with the Two Pronged Crown)". As metal as that title might sound, it is Judas Priest covering Fleetwood Mac - the Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac (Green wrote the song, if I recall correctly.)

I'll need to give these two a listen sometime later, can't just now.

Adventuresfantastic said...

Wow. That really does sound like "Suite Madam Blue"; if I wasn't looking at the Judas Priest album cover on the screen along the with title of the song, I would never have known.

Charles Gramlich said...

Paul, Yeah, I don't think of the Priest that way but I guess they did have wide influences.

Keith, absolutely. surely it can't be just a coincidence. It just sounds a little slower.

Ty said...

My understanding is drummer Les Binks actually came up with the riff for Priest. Now whether he intentionally (or even subconsciously) picked it up from Styx is the real question. My guess would be, yeah, he probably did. "Suite Madam Blue" would've been all over the FM radio in the few years before Priest's "Stained Class" album came out. But then, FM wasn't really quite mainstream radio yet (for those of us who want to feel old), so maybe it was just coincidence.

Cloudia said...

George Harrison got sued successfully for "My Sweet Lord" by the girl group that did "He's so fine" DECADES before-

Aloha from Waikiki
Comfort Spiral

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Deka Black said...

Wow, is 0_0 anyway, thanks for the songs ;)

This reminds me of Domine (a italian metal band) who did a song about Conan using the Riders of Doom theme formthe first Conan movie by John Millius.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, ahh, thanks for the extra info about the drummer. I did not know that. No doubt that kind of unconscious thing happens, and to writers as well I imagine.

Cloudia, I guess I'm surprised that I never heard of any issue over this between the groups.

Deka, could have been something like that I suppose, although you think we'd have heard about that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am unfamiliar with either band's music-never able to get into heavy metal. And when my husband goes, I will give them a listen. This computer doesn't have speakers.

Unknown said...

I am not much of a music listener. So, and this will surprise you, I have never purposely listened to Styx or Judas Priest, until now. And to my untrained ear, they are strikingly similar. I don't necessarily think that Styx would even know about it because three years later you are on to newer and better things and don't look back.
You have a good ear for these things.

Travis Cody said...

The songs are quite similar. The tempo of the Priest song is much slower, but I can clearly hear the similarities.

Maybe a subconscious thing?

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, thanks for reminding me of "Suite Madame Blue" which I'd heard a long time ago. I'd never listened to Judas Priest's "Beyond the Realms of Death" until now. At first the two songs sound very similar but not so much as you listen further. Given a choice I'll go with Styx. I'm going to have to listen to their other tracks. And Judas Priest too.

Chris said...

Most importantly, this post has inspired me to listen to Stained Class for my midday walk. Thanks, Charles!

My last band covered the entire British Steel album from Judas Priest for a couple shows, just for the fun of it. It was a blast.

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, Styx is a long way from Heavy metal. They're rock, with some hard stuff. Mostly they are very melodic though. I bet you would like Suite Madam blue.

Carole, Suite Madam Blue was my favorite song for a long time.

Travis Cody, probably. I can't imagine Priest deliberately stealing something like that.

Prashant, Styx is very melodic, with a lot of slow stuff. Although they have their fast moments. Try "Crystal Ball" by them, or "Loreli."

Chris, I have a lot of Priest albums but not that one. they've got some incredible stuff.

Randy Johnson said...

STAINED CLASS was the first Priest album I ever bought. Never was that much of a Styx listener, even though I saw them live(my roommate at the time was a big fan).

I do hear similarities in the two, though I look at as more unconscious picking up of riffs. You hear it all the time, especially in Zep's music. I hear chords from older stuff, except for the outright theft of one song.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy, I guess that one is just so recognizable to me, and it's relatively complicated. I hear the stuff in Zep's stuff too but usually simpler riffs. Intersting, though.

ivan said...

Though I know less about heavy metal than I should as a one-time rock reviewer,
I was just about to echo Claudia, from Hawaii about unconscious plagiarism by musical artists.
I think if was The Supremes that sucessfully sued George Harrison.
Less obvious is Sting when he takes a traditional Chinese song and remankes it into "That's All."
And how many times have I heard The Supremes again in a U2 riff?
Even our great Gordon Lightfoot agrees that the smash hit, Edmund Fitzgrald was a take on an old Irish shanty. But it was still pure Lightfoot.
Former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten was accused of something a decade ago.
I think he answered,"Screw you, dumb paparazzo. Stop bothering me. Get a guitar and write your own song."

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Yeah, the riff is very similiar, but slowed down. As soon as I played the STYX song, I thought it was "Still Loving You" by the Scorpions. I used to dig STYX when the first came out but, man, did they jump the shark. Just saw them on a figure skating show this weekend. Tommy Shaw is still pretty cool.

Chris Benjamin said...

Bob Dylan is also a master thief in this regard. Blowing in the Wind is from an old Paul Robeson tune about slavery.

My guess is the songwriter took it on subconsciously (as Harrison did with "He's So Fine") and thought he was creating something new. Happens all the time.

It is surprising though that Styx never raised a fuss about it. Maybe they riffed it from someone else.

Oscar Case said...

It will remain a mystery to me, since I'm not into music, although I do like to listen to it occasionally

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, considering that the basic riffs are limited, I'm surprised it doesn't happen even more. I guess it probably does, we just don't catch it.

Sean, The Mr. Roboto thing was horrible. I stopped buying Styx then.

Chris, true, I was wondering about that. Maybe so.

Oscar, I don't imagine I'll ever solve it either.

Chris said...

Originality is hard. I've been writing crappy 3-4 chord rock songs for 25+ years. Anymore, if I come up with something remotely cool, I have to wrack my brain to make sure it isn't a) something I already wrote and recorded and forgot about, or 2) something someone else already wrote and recorded and I got stuck in my brain. It's a nightmare.

Part of the folk/traditional tradition though is to rework older material. I wouldn't call those people "thieves" or ripoff artists. That's just how it works. I don't have a problem with it.

laughingwolf said...

similar, but not the same...

styx did a whiny thing at one point, totally turning me off... priest was not that offensive

Barrie said...

Charles, have you by any chance read Stephen King's latest, 11/22/63? He has a great expression in his novel for what you discovered (and the expression is even better given that we're talking about music): It's harmonies.

Charles Gramlich said...

Chris, I wouldn't call them thieves either. I don't know how it came about. I just thought it was interesting. I imagine there is plenty of overlap in a lot of music. Plenty in writing as well, although there it's usually easier to tell if something has just been ripped off.

Laughingwolf, Styx lost me with Mr. Roboto, which I thought was the goofiest thing I ever heard. I never bought another Styx album.

Barrie, no, I haven't read it. I likely will at some point. Interesting. I'll have to keep that in mind when I do read the book.

Erik Donald France said...

It's the song-writer's well -- a little sampling here, a little similarity there, some floating lyrics and riffs here, an homage there . . .

Golden Eagle said...

They are rather similar to each other.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Sounds like a good question for Eddie Trunk :) He'd know some obscure six-degrees of separation thread.

Anonymous said...

Charles interesting. Much like the reverse lyrics they were accused of do you think somewhere Jimi Hendrix is playing guitar on a Blue Oyster Cult album?

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, I'm sure that is true. I'm not a big listener of a wide range of music and probably most of the borrowing crosses genre lines.

Golden Eagle, yes, quite a bit.

L.A. Mitchell, that is true. Maybe I could email him! Great idea.

Richard Godwin, if there's a rock and roll heaven you know they've got a helluva band. :)

Unknown said...

It is completely the same riff...even the long delayed note that is used on ending of the solo (Judas Priest) is the same long note used on the keyboards (Styx).

I am a musician, guitarist, composer, and a guitar teacher. I came to this blog because I searched for both the titles of these songs "Suite Madame Blue" "Beyond the realms of death"
I came here because I was intrigued when I first listened to the Styx song (which I have to admit I am a Priest fan and have nothing in common with Progressive Rock other than the early Rush). So...I am not the only one saying these 2 masterpieces have common elements...and to my musical opinion Judas Priest have ripped off this song for its beautiful sound and due to their influence of Styx music.

bearkat said...

My experience is very similar to John D's, but I'm only an amateur musician - guitar and bass, not a composer or guitar teacher. I'm much more knowledgeable of Priest's catalog than Styx'. In fact, I had never really noticed "Suite Madame Blue" before today. I was floored and did a double take because I wondered if it it was "Suite Madame Blue" on the YouTube Styx Greatest Hits (1995) playlist or Judas Priest's "Beyond the Realms of Death". That being said, there are so many common themes in rock, such as the chord progressions on both songs remind me of Led Zeppelin's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4".

I have more respect for the music of Styx after hearing "Suite Madame Blue" and "Miss America"