If there was one band that defined pomp rock in the 70s and 80s, it was Styx. By incorporating elements of musical theatre into hard rock, they took progressive rock into the stadiums, the charts, and our stereos in a way that few of their contemporaries were capable of managing. Almost half-century after they dropped their first album, they’re still around, still touring, and still delivering some irresistible tunes. Whether you’re new to their music or a long-time fan, these are the 10 best Styx songs that deserve your attention.
10. The Best of Times
In the early 1980s, Styx scored one of their biggest ever hits with The Best of Times. It reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and little wonder. As well as displaying some awesome guitar work from Tommy Shaw, it also delivers one of Dennis DeYoung’s finest vocal performances. The band hasn’t played it live since DeYoung departed the band in 1999 – considering just how much he contributed, it’s no surprise.
Written by DeYoung for his wife, Lady was a hit in the band’s native Chicago but barely made an impression on the national charts at the time of its release in 1973. A year later, Styx began picking up mass popularity when they left Wooden Nickel Records for A&M Records; fans started revisiting their back catalog (as did Chicago DJ Jim Smith, who made it his mission to get the song the attention it deserved), and by March 1975, Lady was at No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly enough, the piano-driven power ballad is the only song from the band’s Wooden Nickel period they’ll still play live.
8. Too Much Time on My Hands
At the time of the release of Paradise Theatre in 1981, Styx were transitioning from the hard rock band of their early days to the synth-pop group they’d become in the 80s. Too Much Time on My Hands represents a little bit of both, combining an ecstatic guitar performance from Tommy Shaw (who also wrote the track) with enough new wave electronica to appeal to a more modern audience. It obviously went down well with the fans, peaking at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 2 on the Top Rock Tracks chart, and No. 4 on the RPM Top Singles chart of Canada.
Released in 1979, Babe represents Styx’s first, and only, US number-one single. Like Lady, Babe was written by DeYoung for his wife, and the delivery and sentiment are remarkably similar. According to Wikipedia, the song, which was originally recorded with just DeYoung and Styx members John Panozzo and Chuck Panozzo, was never intended to be a Styx track, but James “J.Y.” Young and Tommy Shaw convinced DeYoung to add it to Cornerstone.
6. Rockin’ The Paradise
It swings, it rocks and it delivers everything you could possibly want from Styx. Rockin’ The Paradise is the sound of a band that knows exactly what their audience wants, and isn’t afraid to deliver it. If you’re in the mood for a bop, stick this sparkling little gem on the stereo and get ready to shake.
5. Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
Shaw’s riffs on Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) need to be heard to be believed. Inspired by the sound of a spluttering motorboat engine, they set the tone for this stand-out highlight from 1978’s Pieces of Eight perfectly. Described by Louder Sound as “very Springsteen in philosophy, but very Styx in execution,” the song is a riveting, high energy piece that took the band to No. 21 in the US on its release and still stands as one of their most popular tracks to this day.
4. Come Sail Away
Taken from the 1977 album The Grand Illusion, Come Sail Away represents one of the band’s most enduringly popular offerings. Described by redmusicreviews.blogspot.com as having a “ballad-type opening that transforms into hard rock that will blow your socks of,” it’s a sophisticated, invigorating number that’s designed to be played loud and often. Shaw’s ferocious guitar playing sets the tone, with DeYoung’s powerful vocals driving the song towards its effervescent conclusion.
From start to finish, Renegade drips attitude. Written about an outlaw who’s facing execution, it builds from an easy-going intro into a relentless, hard-rocking gallop before climaxing into a bleak conclusion. One part fierce and one part sorrowful, this is the sound of the band firing on all pistons. Over 40 years after its first release, it still remains one of the band’s most popular tracks, featuring regularly as the final song at their live gigs.
2. Suite Madame Blue
It didn’t make as much of an impression on the charts as some of their other hits, but that doesn’t make Suite Madame Blue any less glorious. A sweeping epic with some incredibly sweet riffs and a powerful, four-part vocal harmony, it casts a critical eye over America’s evolution and finds it wanting. Speaking to Classic Rock Revisited, DeYoung explained the inspiration behind the caustic lyrics: “The 200th anniversary of America was being totally taken over by commercialization in a rather unceremonious fashion. I had a moment of reflection. I had grown up in the so-called glory days of the United States of America, which was post World War II until 1970. To live in this country at that time was really the golden age. The fallibility of the United States was something that struck me and that set the tone for ‘Suite Madame Blue.’ Maybe I was fearful of being literal – I think I probably was.” For a band that’s often been accused of being safe, it represented a very new (and very welcome) change in pace.
1. The Grand Illusion
The titular track from the band’s 1977 album The Grand Illusion captures Styx at their very best. This was the album that turned them into stars, and this is the song that helped ensure it. A cynical take on the influence of celebrity culture, advertising, and popular media, it reeks of confidence. It’s got style without being stylized, pomp but no pomposity, and more ingenuity than the majority of the peers could have even dreamt of. If you want to listen to Styx at their very best, this is the song to play.