Mr. Roboto
by Styx

Album: Kilroy Was Here (1983)
Charted: 3
  • "Mr. Roboto" was written by Styx singer/keyboard player Dennis DeYoung, who sang lead on the track. In the early '80s, the First Assembly Church of God in Ankeny, Iowa, made news by burning albums with what they considered "Satanic influences." Styx was one of their targets because of the band name: In Greek mythology, the River Styx runs through Hades (hell). This got him thinking about censorship, which formed the central concept of the song. Later, he saw a documentary on robots put to work in factories. DeYoung had been to Japan with the band and was intrigued by their culture. He merged these concepts of censorship, rototics and Japan into "Mr. Roboto," the story of a human/robot hybrid who is called upon to save the world.
  • Some of the lyrics are in Japanese. The first few lines translate to "thank you very much, Mr. Roboto, until we meet again. Thank you very much Mr. Roboto, I want to know your secret."
  • Kilroy Was Here is a concept album that is a commentary on censorship. "Kilroy" is the main character of the album, a famous rock star who is sent to prison by a group called The Majority For Musical Morality. In jail, workers have been replaced by robots called "robotos," and Kilroy escapes inside a robot costume (thus, Mr. Roboto). This song is about his escape from jail; it makes a statement about the dehumanizing of the working class. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Winnipeg, Canada
  • To get the futuristic robotic sounds on this track, Dennis DeYoung used a Roland synthesizer with an arpeggiator that had just come on the market. This allowed him to hold a key and play a pattern, which is what he used to create some of the soundscape. It's a case of being one of the first to use a new synth and getting that sound out there before everyone else did. Several hits of the '80s came from presets on new synthesizers (example: "Opposites Attract").
  • Dennis DeYoung spearheaded the "Kilroy" concept. He wrote the album like a screenplay, telling the story of a kid who forms a band after seeing Elvis and The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. His fellow band members were far less enthusiastic about the idea.

    Along with the director Brian Gibson, DeYoung wrote a short film called Kilroy Was Here that was shown at the beginning of shows on their tour. Footage from the film was used to make the "Mr. Roboto" video, in which each member of the band played a specific character (DeYoung was Robert Orrin Charles Kilroy - note the acronym). If you watch the film, pay close attention to the guy who plays Jimi Hendrix - that's Michael Winslow, famous for his mouth-generated sound effects and role in the Police Academy movies.
  • Styx' 1983 tour was a stage production based on the album, with the Kilroy film shown at the beginning of every concert. The film ends in a scene where DeYoung's character takes off his robot helmet and reveals himself to Tommy Shaw's character, at which point the band continued the scene live on stage, with the song "Mr. Roboto" playing, rock opera style. DeYoung and Shaw engaged in some dialog midway through the song, pushing forward a storyline where the masses rise up at the very Styx concert they are playing.
  • Dennis DeYoung wrote this song as a transition piece to bring the audience from the short film shown at the beginning of the concerts to the live performance. He was shocked when his wife and others who heard it told him he had a hit on his hands.

    He was also surprised when it went over so well in concert despite the enigmatic concept. "They yell 'Kilroy' like they're out of their minds at the end of the song when I play it, and I still don't know why, because I guarantee you, 75% of them have no idea what Kilroy is doing in there," he told Songfacts.
  • The album title, Kilroy Was Here, is a phrase that was graffitied all over the place in the 1940s. It went along with a drawing of a creature with a big nose peering over a wall. No one is sure what the phrase means or where it originated, but it was seen in most of Europe and even in Japan during World War II. This slogan was painted in areas that the Allies occupied during the defeat of Germany and Japan. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Patrick - Conyers, GA
  • Stan Winston, who became one of the most illustrious makeup artist/costume designers in Hollywood, designed the robot masks used in the video for this song. Winston went on to work on the James Cameron films Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Avatar.

    The choreography for the robots was by Kenny Ortega, whose credits include Dirty Dancing and High School Musical movies.
  • The "secret" in the line "secret secret, I've got a secret" is that Mr. Roboto is actually DeYoung's character, who has disabled a robot and is wearing his shell. In the film, this is how he escapes and meets up with Shaw's character.
  • This was featured in a Volkswagen commercial for the 1999 Golf where a man is singing along to this in his car, but because the Volkswagen is soundproof, we do not hear him until he opens the door. The star of the spot is Tony Hale, who went on to star in the TV series Arrested Development and Veep.
  • This song and the album were very successful, but not everyone in the group was on board with the concept, especially guitarist Tommy Shaw. Every single from the album was a Dennis DeYoung composition (the others were "Don't Let It End" and "High Time"), and Shaw was not thrilled with the musical direction the band was headed, or his role at the Kilroy concerts, where he had to do some acting. When the tour ended, the band split up. They re-formed in 1990, but without Shaw, who had formed Damn Yankees. Shaw came back into the fold in 1996; three years later, DeYoung experienced serious health problems and couldn't tour, so the band hit the road without him, replacing him with Lawrence Gowan. DeYoung never returned to the group; "Mr. Roboto" became a highlight of his solo shows.
  • Pinocchio performs this song in the movie Shrek 2. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Andy - Apex, NC
  • After the Kilroy Was Here tour ended in 1983, Styx went 35 years without playing this song in its entirety (they sometimes played bits of it in medleys). On May 30, 2018, the band finally put the song back in the setlist when they played it at FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine, California when they came on for an encore.
  • This song became rather prescient decades later with the rise of smartphones and voice assistants. Speaking with Songfacts in 2020, Dennis DeYoung said: "That's going to be, like it or not - and I can't say I like it – the defining song over all of them. Because going forward, robots are going to matter."

Comments: 47

  • Stukka63 from St.augustine, Fla.The great daze.
    Used to crank Styx on the drive home from the beach.
    We would always detour through the town of Cassadaga.
    It’s a witch town, near central Fla. little paths into the woods to get to some type crazy church.
    Don’t drive back there!
  • Shandroise De Laeken from Davao City, PhilippinesLike Linda, I grew up believing this was performed by Queen and didn't bother to research it because I assumed its title is Secret. Then while I am listening to the radio today, I realised TODAY (2015-06-19) that the Secret, Secret song is the Mr. Roboto song by Styx! O_O
    I'll get to the meaning... amazing. Dennis' observation/reflection on the future regarding dehumanisation of humans is something
    I can relate to the "conspiracy theories" I read about - the New World Order - that one world government planning to control human minds by installing something inside their brains... My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain IBM...see that line. It reflects what is spoken of in the Bible (Revelations 13:16- And he [the antiChrist] caused all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark IN their right hand or IN their forehead - King James version) When the humans receive that, they'll be controlled, they will not be free as they used to be. This song explains what's going to happen when that time comes. They'd yearn to get their freedom back again. Great imagination, DeYoung - I thank God for that. I wonder if Mr. DeYoung knows this Biblical prophecy. He totally nailed it!

    People's tastes vary. I belong to the ones who like this song, now even more after knowing its message. It's sad this is one of the songs which led them to their "worst of times". This song is really awesome!
  • Mary from Indiana@Jameson and Shell: Kilroy was indeed a shipyard worker in WWII who counted the rivets and signed "Kilroy was here" with a cartoon drawing of himself. The whole story is fascinating. He won a jeep by proving he was the one and only Kilroy. Later on, when soldiers would overtake enemy posts they would write Kilroy was here, as a testament to American victory.
  • Russ from Lincoln, NeHey people. I attended a Three Dog Night concert at the old KRNT theater in Des Moines, Iowas in 1969. I was in row 3 and some girl wanted me to exchange seats with her boyfriend located 30 rows back, yeah right. I also remember white helmeted police lined the stage and I remember Chuck Negron taunting the cops (from behind) throughout the concert. Can anyone verify that and is so do you know the exact date of that concert?
  • Neal from Grand Rapids, MiWeird techno-rock fusion. Completely out of character for Styx, but somehow it works. Hate me if you wish, but this is one of my favorite Styx tracks.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxBands that attempt to take political stands often find them blowing up in their faces. I liked the song, but its message was a pile of CENSORED.
  • Randy from Marshalltown, IaSo Styx had to wait for the sun to go down before it could start. And everyone there was getting antsy and yelling "Styx Styx Styx", it was quite the commotion. But nothing compared to after the show started. My wife (or soon to be wife) and I left our seats in the balcony and burrowed our way through the crowd on the stage floor as close as we could get to the stage during the delay, and then we did the whole show standing about 5 people back from the center stage and Dennis DeYoung was terrific, those opening riffs of Mr. Roboto still take me back to there. The crowd went crazy!!!!!!!!! And it was like the best time I ever had. I was a Styx fan since 1975 when they played backup band for Three Dog Night concert I went to in Des Moines. And "Lady" was their hit tune at the time.
  • Randy from Marshalltown, IaI was present at the Styx Roboto tour concert in Cedar Falls, Iowa in 1983 or 1984. I am trying to track down the exact date of that concert. I know it was during warm weather so it was like summer. Some interesting facts from that concert. It was held at the UNI Unidome. This structure was basically a huge pressurized balloon, you had to move through a blast of air blowing out at you when you went through the entry doors. And the show was supposed to start at 7:00 PM but was delayed until after 8:00 PM for a reason that the band did not realize would happen. And this also reinforces my thought that it was high summer when Styx played there. You see, the roof of the Unidome let too much sunlight pass through it, and the concert show utilized big screens that movie clips were projected onto during the songs. Cont'd
  • Cheryle from Columbus, OhInteresting dichotomy with this song. For many people who were around in '83 when this came out, "Roboto" is cringe-worthy and the death knell of a once-great rock band. Younger folks seem to love this song and are disappointed it is not performed live (although this year, 2010, they sing a snippet during their opening medley). I'm sure Tommy and JY would probably live out the rest of their lives quite happily never having to hear this song again, but they also know they need to please their fans. The whole Kilroy album and tour are what put the final nails in the coffin of Styx, a process that began in 1979 with Cornerstone and "Babe." Dennis turned a great rock band into a Broadway act. Personally, I prefer them as they are now. More rock, less sap.
  • Rob from San Antonio, TxNevermind. I found it. It was the "Haunted World of El Superbeasto" a Animated Comedy from Rob Zombie.
  • Rob from San Antonio, TxI am trying to find out a newer movie I recently saw that I cannot remember and it had a guy with the Mr. Roboto Ringtone... it was a comedy.
  • Luna from San Diego, CaThis song is amazing and I love the story it tells. Not only is the music and the lyrics catchy but this song has a lot of memories tied to it. Did any other hots come from this album?
  • Chace from Colby, KsACTUALLY, Chase of Miami, FL, Queen DID use synthisizers, but not until their album "The Game." You are right in the respect that they created a bunch of synth-like sounds from their debut "Queen" to their seventh album "Jazz." In fact, on their first seven records every one of them included in the liner notes a phrase saying "No Synthisizers!" in one variation or another. On "The Game" album, they used an Oberheim. From that album on, every one of them featured a synth in one way or another. But HEY.......who's looking at techincalities, right?? :)
  • Chase from Miami, FlActually Ryan Eaton Queen did not use synthesisers, they relied on the amazing guitar tecknique of Brian May to do all synth like sounds wich apparently influents Tom Morrello.
  • Drew from B'ham, AlI like how this one starts out sounding peaceful & celestial and then eases into the '80s style. Someone mentioned dancing the "Robot" to this one. Yeah, that would easily fit in! The end which states the name Kilroy reminds me of Toy Story II in which Zerg speaks a robotic chant command "Kill Buzz Lightyear." "Kilroy" sounds like "Kill Roy". Is that a little bit of slick humor? I like it!
  • Eric from Mentor, OhJim Carrey performs the movements to "Mr. Roboto" in the 2005 movie "Fun with Dick and Jane."
  • Eric from Mentor, OhTo comment on Randy from Colerain Township, Ohio: John Panozzo did have a speaking part in the "Kilroy was Here" movie. Just before the riot in the lunch room, a prisoner [Panozzo] notes to a Roboto, "Hey, Roboto! You're mudder was a Toyota!" The prisoner starts to dance a mocking of Travolta, "Ain't got no rythmn! Ain't got no rythmn!"
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI love this song! I wish I had the chance to see them perform.It's about Robots taking over the world after WW2.
  • Stormy from Kokomo, InI agree with Jami from Redding, CA. My girlfriend at the time Diane (Wilson) Peterson took me to see the 1983 stage show of Mr. Roboto by Styx at the old Market Square Arena in Indianapolis for a graduation present from college and it was great!
  • Jami from Redding, CaOh yeah I forgot to add that this nice roadie guy invited me to go backstage to meet the band. I was married at the time so I had to go home. Bummer
  • Jami from Redding, CaI saw Styx do this show at the Cottonbowl in Dallas Tx June 18th 1983, my 23rd b-day. I was surprised by the movie video but it was pretty cool. Styx put on one hell of a show that night. Thanks for a great birthday memory guys.
  • Ryan from Eaton, InSomeone below said that their sister told them the lead singer (or someone in the band) got AIDS and died...

    There's a common confusion among casual fans between Styx and Queen songs....I don't know why, as they really sound nothing alike (no massive guitar harmonies in Styx, no massive synth in Queen); Queen would be the band where the lead singer died of AIDS-related pnuemonia.

    HOWEVER--Chuck Panozzo (former bass player) does currently have AIDS, however, he still joins the band for the occasional show if he's feeling up to it. John Panozzo (his brother; original drummer) died, but of cirrhosis of the liver, NOT AIDS.
  • G from Potomac, MdActually Joe's Garage came after 2112 and Kilroy is a rip-off of both.
  • Jake from Columbia City, InThis song is really wierd but awesome.
  • Michael from San Diego, CaAnother classic "early 80's" song with a video that tells a story. Hearing it takes me right back to high school!
  • Ryan from Farmer City, IlI personally love this song, and wish I had the album. It really makes me want to dance like a robot. I wish this song went on for a little bit longer, though.
  • Tim from Denver, CoThis album is, sadly, where Styx jumped the shark.
  • Jeffrey from Dowagiac, MiThis song is about 15 years ahead of it's time.
  • Jeff from Greenville , NcNot a killer song, but a kill me now! song
  • Chelsey from Patton, PaOMGS!! I LOVE THIS SONG!! I'm playin it for Marching Band and it's awesome!!! haha...sry about sister told me that this was like a comin out song cuz I think she said that the lead singer was gay and died of AIDS...well maybe not the lead singer but someone in that band yeah
  • Linda from Ranger, GaUp until a few days ago I thought this song was performed by Queen, Did Queen make a remake of it or something?
  • Miind Gamezz from Brooklyn, NyI always thought Dennis DeYoung wrote "Mr. Roboto" about a hairstylist by the name of "Mr. Roberto" that he knew & apphreciated and it got distorted as part of an inside joke, hence n forth i.e. "Mr. Roboto". If u look at Dennis DeYoung's hair, its flawless.lmao.

    Anyways,*kudos* & props to the great greatttt voice of Mr. Dennis DeYoung & my condolences to Phil Bonanno.
  • Randy from Colerain Twp., Oh Although Chuck and John Panozzo played Lt. Vanish and Col. Hyde, respectfully, in 'Kilroy Was Here' neither one had a speaking role in the movie.
  • Randy from Colerain Twp., Oh I personally thought that the 'Kilroy Was Here' concert was awsome. The first 11 minutes of the show had shown the story on a large video screen on stage of how Robert Orin Charles Kilroy, (Dennis) and his band (STYX) was performing at the Paradise Theatre when the MMM, lead by Dr. Everett Righteous (JY), stormed the stage and arrested the band. In the process, a fan was killed by a MMM member, but Kilroy was accused and sentenced for the crime and sent to prison. Kilroy and the other prisoners were forced to watch video of Dr. Righteous in their prison cells, as well as being served 'Dr. Righteous Fried Chicken', which was at the time a facsimile to KFC. Meanwhile, Johnathan Chance, (played by Tommy), had broken into Dr. Righteous's cable station and jammmed the airwaves with concert footages of Kilroy's band. Kilroy was able to break out of prison by overpowering a 'Roboto', which were used as prison guards, and meet Johnathan at the old Paradise Theatre. After Johnathan encounters wax figures of Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix at Dr. Righteous' Museum of Rock Pathology, he approaches the display of Kilroy's band which shows the violent death of the MMM protester. And this is where Kilroy, dressed as a Roboto, appears. As Kilroy removes his mask to Johnathan, the video screen and curtain on stage lifts up to expose Dennis and Tommy on stage as their characters in the movie, and Dennis begins to perform 'Mr. Roboto'. I thought at the time the whole show was excellent. But unfortunately, most people weren't accustomed to STYX performing in this manner. Sadly, this is what broke the classic STYX lineup. Despite what people say about Dennis, I think STYX just isn't the same without him. I think 'Cyclerama' is a piece of garbage. And coincidently, I thought 'Brave New World' was about as good as 'Pieces of Eight', which may be one of STYX's best albums. And for those of you who thinks that Tommy is the driving force behind STYX, 'Edge of the Century' was an excellent album, without him. Glen Burtnik did the right thing by leaving the band.
  • Sharon from Ottawa, CanadaI'm a die hard Styx fan and have to admit, I HATE this song and album. I own every Styx ablum but this one. I'm with the rest of the group, Dennis should have done this as a solo and not shoved this album down the rest of the bands, and fans, throats.
  • Aaron from Des Moines, Iathis song is about techno being outlawed in the future...check the booklet of their first greatest hits
  • Sarah Floyd from Bloomingdale, Ilmy brother got me listening to rock'n'roll music. and i like this song. and i dont know why i like this song. and i usually dont like rock'n'roll music i like popular music like michael jackson.
  • Dean from Pune, IndiaGreat album, though it seems to be a ripoff from Rush's 2112.
  • Dee from Indianapolis, InI've heard numerous stories over the years about who Kilroy is and such, but does it really matter? I've always liked this tune. If nothing else it's fun. I saw Styx some years ago with Kansas. They both put on killer shows, but they didn't perform Mr. Roboto. Dennis was even with them at this time. They hit every other major song they had but no Mr. Roboto. I was looking forward to that too. Oh well........
  • Daniel from Bellingham, WaI'm not sure, but I heard that this song is about the lead singers cleaning-man, a mexican named Mr. Roberto. Supposedly, Roberto helped him out of some tough emotional situations and did jobs no one else wanted to do, thus the part in the middle of the song.
  • Christopher from Greenfield Center, NyI think it was a GREAT concept LP. I mean, they talked about censorship in music before Tipper Gore even started her "crusade" against "devil music"
  • Jameson from Lexington, KyTurns out that Kilroy was actually a *supervisor* at an East Coast port during WWII. He supervised a guy whose job it was to count the rivets that each worker had riveted when building ships, as the men got paid by the rivet. Kilroy found out that his subordinate was over-counting the number of rivets riveted, and then sharing the extra money made with the workers. Kilroy nipped this in the bud by doing the rivet counts personally, and then writing "Kilroy Was Here" over the areas he'd checked, to keep everyone honest. His writing on the ships' hulls survived after the ships' departures, as it was written on the inside of the hulls, and thus the legend. I also read that Kilroy had a LOT of children, as in at least eight; I don't remember the exact number.
  • Shell from Riverdale, GaLegend has it that Kilroy was a shipping supervisor at a port on the East Coast (probably NY) during WWII who would chalk his name on items he had checked to show that they were ready for shipment. Someone added "was here" and the caricature of someone peering over the edge. GIs started using the image and words to mark their passage across Europe, some who shipped over to the Pacific Theatre continued the practice, and a pop culture icon was born.
  • Dimitri from Lima, Peru"Mr Roboto" es la expresiÃ?n artÃ?stica que expresa magistralmente, utilizando el gÃ?nero del ROCK, tanto la incertidumbre por un futuro tan cercano, como la crÃ?tica a un modelo social desligado de lo verdaderamente valioso, lo que no compra el dinero ni se puede obtener ni de la llamada "tecnologÃ?a" ni de la supuesta "modernidad".
  • Horace from Western, MdProbably the most popular song to mention the IBM Corporation, with the line "My Brain IBM".
  • Robert from Chicago, IlThe song is great, but was the beginning of the band's downfall. Dennis DeYoung crippled the band's spirits after taking their following tour into a scripted stage rock opera.
  • Patrick from Conyers, GaStyx tried to create a "Rock Opera" like The Who's "Tommy." However, it flopped big time, because the audience members wanted to hear Styx singing, not a bunch of talking dialogue that made no sense.
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