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This contains an allusion to the Bible verse of Ezekiel chapter 1:1-28 where a large wheel/cloud (depending on text) appears to Ezekiel and gives him instructions from God: "A gathering of angels appeared above my head. They sang to me this song of hope, and this is what they said... (later in song)... I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise, they climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies." Some people believe the figure Ezekiel saw was not a messenger sent from God but an alien space craft or a time machine from the future. (thanks, tommy - indianapolis, IN)
This regained popularity in 1999 when it was used in the raunchy, animated cartoon show South Park. One of the characters, Cartman, was compelled to sing it every so often. Cartman's version was released on a soundtrack album and the song was introduced to a new generation.
Styx performed this during the pre-game show of Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa. Swashbucklers sailed into the stadium pirate ship while the band performed.
This being the '70s, radio stations played a big role in promoting songs, and program directors could often be swayed with gifts of money and drugs. Payola, was of course, illegal, but that didn't stop Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw and the band's promo man Jim Cahill from traveling to many of the stations with bags of cocaine in an effort to get more airplay for this song. The tactic worked; Cahill explained on the Styx Behind The Music that program directors were like penguins, since they'd follow you around if you had "snow."