Styx was formed in Chicago in 1972, and most would agree that their best work came between 1973 and 1983. They performed and released a variety of musical styles.
Styx was often considered progressive in their style, but they also included hard rock, ballads, and tech-based sounds in what they did. They released a series of albums over the years from 1972, the last coming in 2021. However, before that last album release, they had only produced one in the 16 years that preceded it. After 1983 there were periods when hardly anything was heard from them at all.
They would have had their reasons, of course. But today, I am going to look at Styx’s best songs. In total, they released 17 studio albums, nine live albums, along with 39 singles. Let’s start our look at the Top 10 Styx songs by going back almost to the beginning.
Top 10 Styx Songs
The first single released by Styx was “Best Thing” in 1972. That was taken from their first album, Styx. It had little impact, only reaching #82 on the American chart. But, one year later, they released their second single, “Lady,” to which there was a very different response. It was taken from their second album released in 1973, Styx II.
At first, “Lady” was not particularly popular. But that may have been due to a lack of airplay and exposure. The band moved to A&M Records in 1974, and suddenly it got airplay. They released it again in November 1974, and then it took off. It eventually reached #6 on the American chart in 1975.
“Lady” was the first of many of what you could call “Power Ballads.” All the elements we were to later associate with their music were included. Plenty of piano and heavy guitar in the chorus.
The song was written by Dennis DeYoung for his wife. It includes what is known in classical music circles as an “Alberti” bass pattern played by the left hand on the piano.
Another interesting thing about the song is that it is in the key of C, but starts in D and then moves down. A very well-written song borrowing from other influences but not copying them.
9 The Best Of Times
This is a track taken from Paradise Theater, their tenth album released in 1981. It had some chart success reaching #3 in America but doing even better in Canada, hitting the top spot. However, it only reached #42 in the UK.
The song was written by Dennis DeYoung and used in their concert schedule until his dismissal from the band in 1999. He continued to use it in his solo performances.
Continuing The Story
The album tells the tale of the Paradise Theater, which after a successful period, falls on hard times. The lyrics are interesting in that despite the song being called “The Best Of Times,” they keep referring to it being the “Worst of Times.”
“These are the best of times – The headlines read, “These are the worst of times” – I do believe it’s true.” A powerful song that has the hallmarks of a Styx recording.
8 Suite Madame Blue
Another Dennis DeYoung song that was released in 1975 on the Equinox album. It is the last track on the album, but it was never released as a single. This track has all the elements of a classic Styx song. Easy beginning with an almost pleading vocal. Things liven up a bit as we get further into the song with heavily distorted guitars and synthesizers.
It was written for the American Bicentennial celebrations but is more a criticism of America than anything else. The song is about the good things in the country, but also the bad.
“Once, long ago – A word from your lips and the world turned around – But somehow you’ve changed, you’re so far away – I long for the past and dream of the days – With you, Madame Blue.” Nevertheless, it is still a very good track and typical of what they produce and thus worthy of its place among the Top 10 Styx songs.
7 Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
This is a single taken from the 1977 album, The Grand Illusion. But, the single for “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” was not released until 1978.
Once again, the song did better chart-wise in Canada, reaching #20 than in America, where it peaked at #29. The song was written by guitarist Tommy Shaw. The idea of the song came from Shaw’s perception of Dennis DeYoung being an “angry young man.”
This song has got a “progressive” feel, which many of their tracks did not have despite claims to the contrary. Shaw’s intro on acoustic guitar is in 6/8 timing, and there is a synthesizer section from DeYoung in 7/4 time before it returns to 4/4 for the chorus. There are also sections of 5/8 and 6/8 before we reach the fade-out ending on synth. For more info on unusual timings, check out our comprehensive look at Odd Time Signatures.
Feet On The Ground Please
Whilst this is a very good track and shows the creative side of writer Shaw and keyboard player DeYoung, I have read some very unrealistic comments. Especially about DeYoung.
If we are talking about keyboards in Progressive Rock, DeYoung is good, but not anywhere near the same class as Yes keyboard player Rick Wakeman or ELP’s Keith Emerson. Or, even Thijs Van Leer of Dutch band Focus. They were all world-class. Three of those were classically trained, and Wakeman attended the Royal College of Music in London.
So, as far as DeYoung is concerned, it is sensible to keep your feet on the ground. Very good he was, especially in Styx, but world-class, not really. The track, though, is good and shows that despite the “Pop band” label, Styx could be creative and play. The object of a track is to please the people, and this certainly did that.
6 Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
Another song by Tommy Shaw, who wrote this track about a friend laid off from his job on the railroad. It talks about a situation that many could relate to.
Feelings of frustration from those who just want to work and not rely on state handouts. It is a common symptom of today’s world just about everywhere. Shaw sums it up perfectly in his lyrics, “But I’ve got the power, and I’ve got the will – I’m not a charity case.”
The song was taken from their 1978 album Pieces Of Eight. It reached #21 in America and 9 in Canada. This is a very good song, and if you are not familiar with it, it is worth listening to. A definite Hard Rock type start with Heavy Metal keyboards, and then the band coming in on cue. The standard trademark vocals are there too.
5 Mr. Roboto
This is a song that split the Styx fan base right down the middle. It was taken from their 1983 album, Kilroy Was Here. The song is part of a complex story about someone put in a place for misfit musicians. No need to go into the story here, but it is essentially a futuristic tale about robots.
Despite its controversial change of style, the single reached #1 in Canada and #3 in America. The UK wasn’t so impressed where it only just crawled into the top 100 at #90. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most successful Styx songs.
Not a song that will appeal to everyone…
I have included it here because I think there is nothing wrong with trying new ideas. And, like it or loathe it, they did do a good job of the music. Likewise, the vocals are exceptional.
It sends out some messages as well, which of course, are always subjective. “The problem’s plain to see – Too much technology.” And this, “Beyond my control, we all need control – I need control, we all need control.” Remind you of anybody?
4 Too Much Time On My Hands
This is a song that follows up on the character that Tommy Shaw wrote about in “Blue Collar Man.” Taken, of course, from the 1981 album Paradise Theater. Once again, it was commercially most successful in Canada, where it reached #4. It peaked at #9 in America and was Tommy Shaw’s most successful song as a writer.
A Graphic Picture
The song paints a picture of what can happen if a person starts to slip and lose all hope for the future. “And I’ve given up hope for the afternoon soaps – And a bottle of cold brew.”
Time is spent watching pointless afternoon TV shows or in the bar. Life becomes not about moving forward but about just getting through another day. And, of course, time is moving on. “I got too much time on my hands – And it’s ticking away, ticking away from me.”
Lyrically, it is a clever song, even if it is a bit tragic. But, what the song does musically is move the band on from the Rock band they were in the 70s. They become the more Pop-oriented band we know from the 80s.
3 Come Sail Away
Taken from the album, The Grand Illusion, from 1977, this is one of the most well-known Styx songs. No doubt a Progressive Rock song, but mixed in with Rock Pop ideas. And it was a successful record, reaching #8 in America and #9 in Canada, with an album track twice as long as the single edit. It was written by Dennis DeYoung.
“Come Sail Away” includes an almost mournful beginning using piano and synthesizers in the first part of the song. That gives way to a more heavy-sounding guitar-based second half. There was a shift in the band’s style at this time. They seemed to become more commercially minded, starting to drift away from a purely Rock sound.
Moving now to a song written by guitarist Tommy Shaw and released on the 1978 album, Pieces Of Eight. The single was released in 1979. It reached #16 in America and #10 in Canada and is worth its place at #2 on this list.
The song tells the story of an outlaw who has been captured and is about to be executed. It appears he was captured by a bounty hunter. “Retrieved for a bounty – Nevermore to go astray – This’ll be the end today.”
This song started life as a ballad…
But, as rehearsals for it progressed, it just naturally evolved into the song they ended up with. For a long time, it was the final song they would play on their live shows.
The guitar solo on this track wasn’t played by Tommy Shaw but by fellow guitarist James Young. It has an interesting beginning section with an unaccompanied voice with just a bass drum.
Harmonies lift the next section of the song, and the next stage is surprising and is carried along by a thundering rhythm. A good track that has that little bit extra but still manages to maintain the Styx formula of “Creative Pop Rock.”
And so, to the final choice on this list of the Top 10 Styx songs. One which won’t be a surprise to most. Unless you are Lennon and McCartney writing for The Beatles, world-beating songs will only happen once in the lifetime of a band. And not many bands will get that moment.
This was Styx’s moment, but it was a song that produced a rift in the band that never healed. There were members of the band who didn’t even get to play or sing on the song.
“Babe” was a track in the 1979 album, Cornerstone, and it became the biggest Styx song. It became their only #1 single in America and also hit the top spot in Canada and South Africa. Additionally, it was their only single to break into the Top 40 in the UK, peaking at #6.
As a song…
It was the perfect commercial hit. And, in many ways, it underlined how far from their origins they had moved. Of course, this is why many of their fans disliked it. Power Ballads were the “in-thing” in the late 70s, and of course, this track fitted the bill perfectly.
It takes a different approach to write and record a love ballad, which is what this is. But they seemed to have got it just about right. And, as usual, the high harmonies excelled.
It has been included as the top song by Styx for two reasons. Firstly, because it was their most successful. The track even did well with listeners in the UK, who, up to this point, had been unimpressed with them.
But secondly, because it is a well-crafted, Power Ballad Pop song. It had everything you needed to be successful, packed into its four minutes. “Babe” was the song that brought them real international recognition.
Interested in Finding Great Rock Songs?
If so, check out our thoughts on the Best 70s Rock Songs, the Best 90s Rock Songs, the Best 80s Rock Songs, the Saddest Rock Songs, as well as the Best Classic Rock Songs for more awesome song selections.
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Top 10 Styx Songs – Final Thoughts
Did Styx suffer from image problems? Most fans in America and Canada probably would not agree. Elsewhere, there was a little bit of that. For example, in the UK, people didn’t know quite what to make of them. Were they just another Glam-Rock band? They looked like they might be. Or, maybe power-ballad wannabe.
I don’t think many people in Europe saw them as an out-and-out Progressive Rock band. To the British, Progressive Rock was Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd. In Holland, there had been Focus. There were some similarities but only vague ones. Perhaps it was just a different interpretation of what “progressive” meant.
Styx just sounded different…
In my view, you could say they almost created their own genre. They weren’t Hard Rock; they were Pop Rock with a bucketful of creativity and great harmonies.
But, they were very good at what they did, wherever it fitted. And, in their style of “Commercial Rock,” shall we call it, they were streets ahead of others for a few years. If you want further proof of that, take a listen to their Greatest Hits album. There is ample evidence there to explain what I mean.
Until next time, happy listening.