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Best Styx Songs: 20 Dramatic Rock Tunes

An introduction to a band uniquely capable of mixing hard rock muscle, progressive rock ambition, pop songcraft, and Broadway dazzle.

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Styx in 2014
Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for STYX

Few American rock’n’roll bands have married the earthy and the theatrical with as much success as Styx. Their best songs are an exhilarating mix of hard rock muscle, progressive rock ambition, pop songcraft, and Broadway dazzle. During the halcyon years of the late 70s and early 80s, a golden halo seemed to encircle them – other bands did the things they did, but only Styx could do them all at the same time.

Their journey began in the Chicago suburbs in the early 60s, though things didn’t start rolling until they changed their name from TW4 to Styx at the start of the following decade. Even then, it took four albums to find both their sound and an audience. But when Styx hit, they hit big – starting with 1975’s Equinox, the band released a string of albums and singles that elevated them to the A-list, playing out across sports arenas and high school proms alike.

Listen to the best Styx songs on Apple Music or Spotify.

It helped that they had three stellar songwriters, each with their own recognizable identity and voice. Keyboard player and vocalist Dennis DeYoung was the master of the dramatic flourish, an old-fashioned song-and-dance man trapped in a rocker’s body. Guitarist/co-vocalist James “JY” Young provided the brawn and the ballast, anchoring Styx in the bar-rooms where they earned their spurs. Fellow guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw – who replaced original six-stringer John Curulewski in 1976 – brought twin shots of melodic muscle and musical adventurousness.

Yet the alchemical magic that fuelled their success also proved to be their undoing. The drama in their music bled out into real life, and by 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, Styx fractured and fell apart soon after. Subsequent decades have been punctuated by a series of reunions and albums. Today, Styx are active once more, with James Young and Tommy Shaw still holding the tiller. The 2021 album Crash Of The Crown draws a direct line back to their glory days, progressive inclinations and all. Styx’s golden halo still shines brightly after all these years.

The Rock’N’Roll Anthems

(Lorelei, Renegade, Blue Collar Man (Long Nights), Too Much Time On My Hands)

You can take the band out of Chicago but you can’t take Chicago out of the band, and Styx never lost sight of their rock’n’roll roots amid the grandstanding glory of their imperial period. Equinox, Styx’s fifth album, was their breakthrough, and its lead-off single “Lorelei” is among their best songs. The tune’s hard rock soul comes courtesy of James Young and the soon-to-depart John Curulewski’s intertwining guitar heroics.

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Tommy Shaw’s arrival in 1976 completed Styx’s triple-threat frontline, though he truly made his mark with “Renegade,” from 1978’s Pieces Of Eight. Escalating in both volume and power, this blazing, bad-boy-on-the-lam tale features one of Styx’s greatest guitar solos and remains a live favorite to this day.

For all their grandeur, Styx had an everyman streak as wide as the Lake Michigan shoreline. Shaw’s 1978 single “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” was a heartfelt ode to the working classes that was as honest and empathetic as any Springsteen number. They revisited the same territory three years later with the New Wave-tinged “Too Much Time On My Hands” – the sound might be sleeker, but the impact is the same.

The Theatrical Showstoppers

(Castle Walls, Come Sail Away, Pieces Of Eight, Mr. Roboto)

Styx were the closest many 70s hard rock fans would ever get to seeing a stage musical, and the more grandiose the band got, the more successful they became. They were equally adept at rocking the front rows and belting it out to the gods, but it’s when they combined both approaches in the same song that the magic happened.

Styx’s seventh album, 1977’s majestic The Grand Illusion, was proof of concept. In longtime fan-favorite “Castle Walls,” they constructed a magnificent hard rock fable that somehow knitted together moonlit towers, medieval minstrels, and Greek philosophers. But even that pales in comparison to the same album’s most famous song. “Come Sail Away” is Styx in excelsis – a brilliant, bombastic showstopper that remains the greatest hard rock song ever written about alien abduction. Even the South Park kids tried and failed to parody it, such is its OTT magnificence.

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By contrast, the gilt-edged title track of follow-up album Pieces Of Eight is comparatively restrained – though it would be a beacon of shining theatricality by any other band’s standards. But arguably Styx’s most melodramatic song – and certainly their most controversial – is “Mr. Roboto.” The cornerstone of 1983’s sci-fi-inspired rock opera Kilroy Was Here, it was a unique bit of pulsing, MTV-friendly robo-pop. It’s a world away, musically, from “Come Sail Away,” but it shares the same caution-to-the-wind spirit that makes Styx so unique.

Styx’s Best Ballads

(Lady, Babe, The Best Of Times, Show Me The Way)

Even in Styx’s pre-fame days, the band was ever-ready with a stirring piano ballad to balance out their more baroque excursions. Take “Lady,” from 1973’s Styx II album. The first of many love songs Dennis DeYoung wrote for his wife, Suzanne, it delivered musical and emotional heft in equal measure, and belatedly gave Styx their first big hit two years later.

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By the end of the decade, Styx was known as one of hard rock’s best ballad purveyors, and the lavish 1979 song “Babe” gave Styx their first US No. 1. “Babe” remains a masterclass in late 70s soft rock songwriting – as does “The Best Of Times,” another huge hit two years later.

“Show Me The Way,” from 1990’s Edge Of The Century, was a prayer for guidance in an unforgiving world. Its resonance intensified when America entered the first Gulf War just two months after its release, helping propel Styx into the Top 10.

The Progressive Epics

(Suite Madame Blue, The Grand Illusion, Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man))

Like many young American musicians in the early 70s, Styx were enamored by the boundary-pushing sounds of British progressive rock giants Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Rather than simply recreating the sounds coming across the Atlantic, they put a distinctly Midwestern spin on the genre, stripping away the self-indulgence in favor of tight songcraft and all-American pomp and splendor.

That approach is embodied by 1975’s “Suite Madame Blue,” the stately, six-minute suite written to mark America’s Bicentennial, though lyrically it was less a chest-beating celebration of what the country had been, and more a melancholic reflection of what it was becoming.

The Grand Illusion stands as Styx’s progressive rock high-water mark. The title track switches effortlessly between pomp-drenched keyboard fanfares, effortless pop melodies, and intricate guitar heroics in just four packed minutes, with a vivid treatise on the artifice of the American dream. “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” from the same album matched it for scope, piling on the changing time signatures, semi-acoustic passages, and triple-threat harmonies.

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Of course, progressive rock is ultimately just one of the many faces of Styx. Whether they’re piling on the emotion, cranking up the heavy rock anthems or playing out their Broadway dreams, there truly is no other band like them.

Think we missed one of Styx’s best songs? Let us know in the comments below.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Terry Britten

    June 18, 2021 at 2:47 am

    Crystal Ball?

  2. Long

    June 21, 2021 at 5:02 am

    I cannot refute the songs that you have featured here but I grew up listening to Styx ballads like Babe, The Best of Times, First Time, Boat on the Rover, and the 1983 hit Don’t let It End and Tommy Shaw’s 1986 solo single Can Count On You.

  3. David Gaines

    July 3, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    Composer here. Styx was my entry point into rock music and I still lean heavily towards their classical influences. From the progressive rock side I would absolutely include “Father O.S.A.,” which is an all-time prog rock classic complete with a massive church pipe organ, and the trippy “A Day.” From their otherwise forgettable 3rd album I’d add “The Grove Of Eglantine,” and from “Crystal Ball” you definitely dropped the ball (haha, get it?) by not including the title track, but also “Clair De Lune/Ballerina” and “This Old Man” are just beautiful.

  4. Paul littlefield

    July 3, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    Witch wolf, the Grove of eglantine, Miss America, and Tommy Shaws What if….

  5. Karen Cornelius

    July 3, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    I agree with Terry Britten and David Gaines. Crystal Ball is The Best. And on Tommy Shaw’s solo album, ‘Sing For The Day!’, there is an extra verse. Beautiful.

  6. Lee

    July 3, 2021 at 7:58 pm

    Tommy’s ballad to women: “Yes, I Can.” Get rid of Mr. Roboto (and thankfully, they got rid of DDY), and the guys are still rocking today. Their new stuff is just as good as they’ve ever been. “These Are the Times” by J.Y. reminds us they can protest with the best of ’em.

  7. Heather Hills

    July 15, 2021 at 7:25 pm

    Great article.

  8. GhostLight

    March 4, 2022 at 10:59 am

    @David Gaines – Yes, I’m in complete agreement with you about Styx II. A great album that holds up surprisingly well. I get an early King Crimson vibe from Father O.S.A. and ‘A Day’, and that is by no means a bad thing.

  9. Mark D Karau

    November 14, 2022 at 7:19 pm

    Ballerina

  10. Lauriann Bonner

    November 14, 2022 at 8:28 pm

    To me “Pieces of Eight” is their best album. I love “I’m OK” and the organ part of that song makes it a classic.

  11. John Cassin

    November 14, 2022 at 9:12 pm

    Best Thing

  12. John Haines

    November 14, 2022 at 9:54 pm

    “Put Me On” delivers on their trademark transition thunder like few others. AnPut other vote for “Father OSA” for its building crescendo with John Panozzo’s mighty flurries to the finish. “Rockin the Paradise” flaunts Mike Trautian speed and power. “Lorelei” w/decent lyrics coulda been 1st ballot HOF. 1st 8 bars of “Man of Miracles” is the soundtrack to entering Heaven. The Who envy Earl of Roseland, etc..

  13. Siouxsie

    November 14, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    Excellent article. It is nice to see Styx get their much deserved props. If possible, please change the cover photo to one that doesn’t leave out the man that created so much of the Styx catalog, Dennis DeYoung.

  14. Craigstyx

    November 14, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    All additional songs should 100% a part of this because music touches each of us in a unique way.
    Styx is great because of their multi stylistic and talented approach to songwriting, collaboration and recording. There was not a formula where they stuck to one sound and they didn’t rule out anything… Midnight Ride to Boat On the River to Babe to Mr. Roboto… this is the same band?
    It is disappointing to see a list someone makes of the greatest this or that and not seeing 1 Styx song but seeing several songs or artists you’ve never heard of before. But that’s just one person’s experience and opinion and let’s face it, until the past 10 or so years, the critics and Rolling Stone magazine have never been fans of Styx. But you know what? Styx played anyway, millions of albums sold, fans continued to see them for over 50 years… and they’re still going.
    But definitely “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Snowblind” should be on there somewhere.

  15. Terry warmack

    November 14, 2022 at 11:34 pm

    Isle of Misanthrope shows who was STYX and why they should do one last tour with Dennis Deyoung.

  16. Delton Perrodin

    November 15, 2022 at 1:49 am

    “Crystal Ball” is most deserving of a spot on this list, but “Love in the Midnight” is among a deep cut canon of gems second to none! At least we think so here at Scottish Highlands Radio “live” from central Florida’s Scottish Highlands on the Zeno Radio app and right here:

    https://zeno.fm/radio/Scottish-Highlands-Florida/

  17. Robert Romani

    November 15, 2022 at 2:53 am

    Less you forget Desert Moon a beautiful song from Dennis’s first solo offering. Tommy learned how to rock 80’s style with High Enough and Come Again.

  18. Steve Lane

    November 15, 2022 at 3:29 am

    No one mentioned Jennifer or Carrie Ann, the names of my 2 daughters. And yes, the names were strongly suggested by me because of the Styx songs!

  19. Balin

    November 15, 2022 at 3:56 am

    One With Everything, The Red Storm, Our Wonderful Lives, Save Us From Ourselves, Radio Silence …

  20. Nicole Seidel

    November 15, 2022 at 9:07 am

    Styx, in it’s hay day {“Lady” through “Show Me the Way”}, was a great source of joy and inspiration in my life. It’s nearly 33 years since their last hit… “Show Me the Way” written by Dennis DeYoung.

    It’s ironic to see a commenter here cheering that they {Tommy and JY} got rid of Dennis DeYoung {co-founder of Styx and writer of most of their hits, while he was sick and made the reasonable request to delay the tour}… Styx has had how many hits since Dennis was kicked out?… That sound you hear is crickets. The same commenter also whined about Mr. Roboto making this list, and yet, the current incarnation of Styx felt compelled to add Roboto to their set list, because it’s that popular, and they couldn’t ignore that anymore.

    Honestly, I wonder what would’ve happened to Styx if after Tommy’s toddler-level tantrum on stage where he quit the band and walked off stage DURING a concert, disrespecting a paying audience, if Dennis and the others had said no when Tommy wanted to come back years later. Sadly Dennis displayed too much loyalty to Tommy, willing for him to come back, and that loyalty was not reciprocated by petty Mr. Shaw.

    My husband and I have refused to see Styx without Dennis, but we’ve attended Dennis’solo concerts many times. Dennis in concert is the closest modern audiences get to real Styx… and just as my husband and I loved Dennis’s music in our teens and twenties, our adult daughter loves his music too, and she watches his concert videos instead of Styx2.0. I’m so glad the three of us got to see him in concert again before the pandemic struck. It truly was the best of times.

  21. John Lincoln

    November 16, 2022 at 12:49 am

    Crystal Ball is a top 10 Styx song! And then I’d throw in Lights, Rockin the Paradise, and Borrowed Time as my personal favorites.

  22. John B Hartman

    November 16, 2022 at 9:51 am

    I’m all in with the above mentioned songs, I would add “Queen of Spades” as a personnel favorite of mine. A beautifully written track mixing instrumental dynamics with their trademark incredible vocals, and in my opinion, one of the best finale solos in recorded rock history.

  23. Dan

    November 17, 2022 at 8:22 pm

    So many great songs from this band, of course they can’t all fit (and yet the author still came up short of their own headline with only 15? Odd.). Since everyone else has covered most of the great ones already, I’ll just fill in with a couple that have been overlooked:

    On My Way (from Return to Paradise)
    Just Fell In (from Brave New World)
    Gone Gone Gone (from The Mission)
    Do Things My Way (from Cyclorama)
    Captain America (Cyclorama again)
    Out Wonderful Lives (from Crash of the Crown)

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