There are many bands that I feel are unjustly hated. One of these is Styx, which has been making great music since the 70’s. This time on Jason’s Jukebox, I’ll be ranking all of their albums from worst to best.
Styx (1972)** Single: “Best Thing”
This album begins the “Wooden Nickel” era, so named because they were signed to that label at the time. It’s an all right debut, starting with “Movement for the Common Man”, a 4-part suite. This was more of a prog rock sound, but they didn’t stay that way. Best tracks: “Movement for the Common Man”, “Best Thing”.
Styx II (1973) *** Singles: “You Need Love”, “Lady”
This is the first album not to feature songs written by James Young. (The album was later renamed Lady after Styx left Wooden Nickel) It’s a little better than their debut, and gave them their first big hit, “Lady”. Best tracks: “Lady”, “Little Fugue in G”, “You Need Love”
The Serpent is Rising (1973)* This is Styx’s first concept album, and the band considers it their worst recording. I won’t disagree. It contains a hidden track called “Flexible Plexiglass Toilet” that I think is their worst song. It’s good for a laugh, but I just can’t stand it.
Best track: “Krakatoa”
Man of Miracles (1974) ***1/2 This album has a different tracklist, depending on which version you listen to. My version had “Lies” on it instead of the re-releases that were on other versions. This was their final album on the Wooden Nickel album, and the best one from that era for me.
Best tracks: “Rock n Roll Feeling”, “Lies”, “Evil Eyes”
Equinox (1975) ***1/2 Singles: “Light Up”, “Lorelei”
This was their debut on A&M, which had probably the best production value so far. It’s a blast and just feels more bombastic than their Wooden Nickel material. I think this is a great place to start for them, and it shows a lot of promise.
Best tracks: “Lorelei”, “Midnight Blue”, “Born For Adventure”, “Prelude 12”
Crystal Ball (1976) ***1/2 Singles: “Mademoiselle”, “Crystal Ball”, “Jennifer”
This album has a recital of Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” leading into the final track “Ballerina”. Dennis DeYoung wrote “This Old Man” for his father.
Best tracks: “Jennifer”, “Claire de Lune/Ballerina”, “This Old Man”
The Grand Illusion (1977)***** Singles: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)”
This is my favorite Styx album, with many fantasy themes. This is considered the album that launched the band into stardom. And I love that album cover.
Best tracks: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself”, “Castle Walls”, “The Grand Illusion”
Pieces of Eight (1978)****1/2 Singles: “Blue Collar Man”, “Renegade”
This is the band’s second concept album, with a theme about perseverance. It achieved triple platinum success, and definitely deserves it. Lots of great songs on here.
Best Tracks: “Lords of the Ring”, “Blue Collar Man”, “Renegade”, “The Message”
Cornerstone (1979) ***1/2 Singles: “Babe”, “Boat on the River”
This album began the transition from prog rock to a more “arena” rock sound, as a response to the bad press they were getting on their first tour of England. The album is packed with ballads. While it’s a different sound from their previous work, I still like it.
Best Tracks: “Babe”, “Borrowed Time”, “Boat on the River”
Paradise Theater (1981)***** Singles: “Too Much Time on My Hands”, “The Best of Times”
This was the band’s third concept album, chronicling the rise and fall of the titular theater in Chicago. It’s Styx’s only #1 album. I really like the cohesion in the tracks, and it really does feel like a story.
Best tracks: “Rocking the Paradise”, “The Best of Times”, “Snowblind”
Kilroy Was Here ** (1982) Single: “Mr. Roboto”, “Don’t Let It End”
This was the band’s worst concept album. It’s the final album for the classic lineup. I get what they were trying to do here I really do. And this is coming from someone who loves concept albums a lot! But I just feel there was too much dysfunction behind the scenes, and it showed in the music. I really did try to like this album, but maybe if I saw the movie that came with it, I’d get it better than I did. The album was recorded in response to the censorship that many so-called Christians were trying to force on rock at the time, and yes, even Styx fell victim to it. I can understand Ozzy Osbourne upsetting Christians, but these guys? Really?
Best Tracks: “Mr. Roboto”, “Don’t Let It End”, “Heavy Metal Poisoning”
Edge of the Century (1990) *** Single: “Show Me the Way”
This was the final album to feature John Panozzo on drums before his death in 1996. “Show Me the Way” became sort of an anthem for the Gulf War troops.
Best Tracks: “Show Me the Way”, “Edge of the Century”, “Not Dead Yet”
Brave New World ** (1999) Single: “Everything Is Cool”
This was the first album to feature Todd Sucherman on drums, and it lead to the final firing of Dennis DeYoung. DeYoung had always seemed to want too much control of the band, and it finally came to a head. I do like the album art, though. Really nice picture.
Best tracks: “Brave New World”, “What Have They Done To You”, “Fallen Angel”
This is the only album I couldn’t find on Spotify. When I did find it on YouTube, I was utterly disappointed. Skip it. This is worse than The Serpent is Rising.
The Mission ****1/2 Singles: “Gone, Gone, Gone”, “Radio Silence”, “Hundred Million Miles From Home”
The most recent Styx album, chronicling a rocket mission to Mars, set in the year 2033. It really tells its story well, and I enjoyed this one a lot. They still have what it takes, even without DeYoung.
Best tracks: “Gone, Gone, Gone”, “Radio Silence”, “Hundred Million Miles From Home”, “Time May Bend”
14) The Serpent Is Rising
12) Brave New World
11) Kilroy Was Here
10) Man of Miracles
9) Edge of the Century
7) Styx II
6) Crystal Ball
4) The Mission
3) Pieces of Eight
1) Grand Illusion
One thought on “Jason’s Jukebox: Styx Worst to Best”
Hmm. I would never have thought of Serpent is Rising or Pieces of Eight as concept albums, though, doing some research, I see that the band did. For me, a concept album needs to ideally present a story, with or without characters, or at the very least present a unified experience. If I have to guess the theme, it’s not much of a concept album to me. But, I’m a big defender of authorial intent, so if they say Serpent and Pieces qualify, okay. I agree that Serpent is Styx’s worst album, but “Plexiglass Toilet” is a fantastic song 🙂 It’s intentionally ridiculous, and I never get tired of it. My favorite Styx album is “Paradise Theatre”, and to me, it’s one of only three real concept records Styx has done. There’s a narrative, a central speaker (even though he isn’t given a name) and unity throughout the piece. It achieves exactly what it sets out for, and the songwriting is excellent. “Kilroy was Here” is, I would contend, a weaker album than “Paradise”, but a better concept album. It’s a full-fledged rock opera, with characters, a story and a bit of spoken dialogue. And it’s a science fiction story! Loved it then, and still love it now. “The Mission” is a great concept album as well, but I rate it below “Kilroy” for not being ambitious enough, and for having not really very many memorable songs, even if the album is memorable as a whole. Even though “Kilroy” was a theatrical piece with a plot, the songs could still be enjoyed independent of the record, and they were MEMORABLE. I understand and agree with those who think “Paradise Theatre” is a masterpiece, but I don’t understand and probably will never understand why people don’t think “Kilroy was Here”, in all its scope, spectacle and ambition, isn’t almost as great an achievement.