Styx had the brass ring. At the height of their commercial success they messed up their formula. Styx has been like REO and Journey. There is the early period of moderate success, the very big commercial period, and then after a hiatus and personnel changes their major success was over. Each is now a legacy band.
During their heyday of the 1980s, Styx was one of the biggest bands around.
Some of their commercial era material was fine, but that whole “Mr. Roboto” concept thing sucked. After Dennis DeYoung left, I gave up on them. So did a lot of other folks.
The period I like were the mid 1970s through 1981. That’s what I’ll talk about here.
Starting as a progressive rock band, the music kind of sounded like Kansas with those long, instrumental-fueled songs. “Lady” was the first song I remember the band playing. It was from their 1973 album. “Suite Madame Blue” is another solid tune from the early period.
Styx could best be described as a Lord of the Rings rock band, not uncommon at the time for prog-rock bands, with the sorcery, fantasy and medieval imagery.
After the band moved to A&M Records in 1975, their fortunes improved with “Lorelei” and “Light Up.”
The next year, Crystal Ball, was a step up. Although not quite as successful their previous album, the sound was tighter and more of what Styx would be known for. In part, the improvement in sound was due to the addition of guitarist/songwriter Tommy Shaw. “Mademoiselle” and the title tune pushed this album forward, which Shaw wrote or co-wrote.
The Grand Illusion came next, and it continued the band’s career arc. “Come Sail Away” and “Fooling Yourself” were the standout tracks, both charting. “The Grand Illusion”, “Man in the Wilderness” and “Miss America” were deeper, muscular cuts that gave the band FM clout and concert flair. The album climbed to number six.
Pieces of Eight was a harder edge album, and the three outstanding tracks were written by Shaw. “Sing For the Day”, “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man” all charted. Like The Grand Illusion, the album sold several million copies.
Cornerstone followed a year later, another three million selling album, which peaked at number two. The songs were song, although only one charting top forty track, “Babe,” a number one hit. Written by DeYoung, it showed enormous growth and captured the changing times where something new emerged, the power ballad.
Styx has been known for concepts that linked the songs on their albums, but Paradise Theater, raised the stakes. It became their first number one album. Styx took over where Pete Townshend left off, theatrical rock albums. Three top ten singles, not bad. “The Best of Times,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Rockin’ the Paradise” wore out the radio dial.
In 1983, Styx returned with Kilroy Was Here, featuring “Mr. Roboto.” I liked “Don’t Let it End,” a quality song, but the concept and theatrical thing was growing old. Style over substance. Sure, they were selling out large venues, fans eating up their favorites, but even they couldn’t keep it from ending.
The band toured on the success of Kilroy Was Here, then took a hiatus for solo work. When the band regrouped, Shaw was not with them. He joined Damn Yankees (with Ted Nugent). Styx tried, but failed to regain their past glory. They went from multi-platinum status to just gold, and a critical yawn.
Shaw returned for Brave New World in 1999, which was the last to include DeYoung, who was kicked out of the band. Over the next two decades several new albums arrived but only hardcore fans bothered to notice. Yet, as a touring band, Styx continues to tour on their cache of hits.
Several years ago, they were a headliner in a concert I attended. Really, I was there to see the two opening acts. I left about halfway through Styx’s set. I found them bombastic and more derivative of the many hairbands of the 1980s. They were loud, but not terribly impressive.
Styx were a very good band in their prime. They were one of the few bands to transition from prog rock to arena rock and actually get more successful. Styx was the bridge between heavy metal and soft rock. The time of their greatest success, they fit the period perfectly. Music changes and it’s on to the next greatest thing.