The oft-mocked Kilroy Was Here and its hit song “Mr. Roboto” loom large in the background of whatever DDY does.
Happy birthday, Dennis DeYoung! Most know him as the voice of Styx, although even from its earliest days that rock band switched off vocals between singers of different styles. James Young mostly stuck to guitar, but occasionally took a lead vocal (“Miss America”, “Snowblind”). When Tommy Shaw came into the fold in 1975 after John Curulewski’s departure, he struck a balance between the more balladry style of DDY and the full-on rock approach from JY to craft classics like “Crystal Ball”, “Renegade”, “Blue Collar Man”, and “Too Much Time on My Hands”.
When Styx ended their initial run in 1984, the three chief songwriters embarked on solo careers with DDY’s being the most successful. In 1990, they reunited without Shaw, who was busy with supergroup Damn Yankees. However, the lineup which brought Styx its greatest fame came back together in the mid-‘90s to record new material for a couple compilations and then did a tour. The 1999 Brave New World album saw DDY, JY, and Shaw back together on a studio album for the first time in 16 years, but it didn’t last. In what has now become a clichéd move in the rock industry, DDY got sick and the band unceremoniously dumped their founder and soldiered on without him. Check out my article, “Are These the New Faces of Classic Rock?” on Pop Matters for an in-depth look at this trend.
Regardless of the bumpy spots in their history and some of their questionable musical endeavors, Styx has always remained a favorite of mine. In 2010, I penned a blog entry (“The Styx Defense”, available in my book No One Needs 21 Versions of ‘Purple Haze’) in which I used the band as an example of why people love what they love regardless of what critics say. DDY has endured a healthy chunk of the criticism for his tendencies toward Broadway and ballads.
Regardless of the criticisms, the Dennis DeYoung-led Styx will always be a favorite of mine. In celebration of the man behind so many classic rock standards, here’s a look at ten of my favorite DDY songs.
What Has Come Between Us (1972). It wasn’t a hit, but this cut from the first Styx album showcased DDY’s simultaneous ability to craft a ballad and a pseudo-prog-rock tune.
Lady (1973). A quintessential DDY ballad which also bares the distinction of launching Styx’s career when it was picked up a year after its initial release and turned into a national hit, going top 10 on the Billboard charts.
Golden Lark (1974). This is my favorite of the Wooden Nickel era Styx (the first four albums before they signed with A&M records). This was an early example of DDY shunning the rock side (for better or worse) and going for over-the-top schmaltz with violins instead of guitars.
Suite Madame Blue (1975). This is perhaps the Styx song best deserving of the tag “epic”. DDY crafted this homage to America in the wake of its Bicentennial celebration. It captures the keyboards and sweeping sound that defined Styx.
Mademoiselle (1976). This was a minor top 40 hit notable mostly for a rare duet between DDY and new bandmate Tommy Shaw. Frankly, I think it belongs in the canon of Styx classics, but it is often overlooked.
Come Sail Away (1977). This may well be the definitive Styx song. Like “Suite Madame Blue”, this captures DDY at his bombastic best with a keyboard-driven slice of classic rock that also found a home in the Billboard top 10.
Babe (1979). For better or worse, this #1 song may just be the place to start when criticizing bands for their obligatory forays into rock balladry which belong on radio stations devoted more to adult contemporary than classic rock.
The Best of Times (1981). This was the lead single from Paradise Theater, my favorite Styx album and one of my ten favorite albums period. DDY was showing some of his Broadway leanings with the concept behind this, but he hadn’t gone over the top yet. “Best” shows how to strike just the right balance between a conceptual album and a song that stands just fine on its own.
Mr. Roboto (1983). This one, however, does not. Timing wise, this came out when I was at the height of my “show Styx the love” phase so I unashamedly loved this one. It may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, though, when DDY forced a goofy concept about a Big Brother-style world where rock and roll is outlawed and DDY comes to save the day in robot gear. Yeah, it was as ridiculous as it sounds.
Desert Moon (1984). This one is a nod to DDY’s post-Styx years. It was a top ten hit and suggested he might do just fine commercially without Styx. He didn’t, but this slice of nostalgia was well crafted and deserving of the airplay it got.
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