The debut album often gets lost after a follow-up release tops the charts but sometimes a band’s first album reaches platinum levels. Either way, the Debut Album Series reviews the first album of various bands but with a bit of hindsight knowing what we know now.
Styx Debut Album
Nearly 50 years later, Styx shows no signs of slowing down in the studio or on stage.
Though in a seemingly perpetual state of touring the last 20 years or so, Styx released the excellent The Mission in 2017 their first studio album in 14 years and now, waiting for a break in the coronavirus pandemic to resume touring, Styx has a follow-up album dubbed “the greatest Styx record of all time” that fans will need to wait on, quite possibly until 2022.
Styx signed their first record contract on Feb. 22, 1972 and in August of that year released their debut self-titled Styx album (re-released in 1980 as Styx 1). (By the way, 2-22-22 might be the release date for the new album). Though guitarist and co-lead singer Tommy Shaw would not join for another three years, the original line-up of Styx featured bassist Chuck Panozzo and his late brother John Panozzo on drums along with childhood friend Dennis DeYoung singing and playing keyboards. Those three actually functioned as a covers band beginning in 1961 before adding guitarist John Curulewski in 1968 and James “J.Y.” Young also on guitar and sharing vocal duties in 1970. Young and Chuck Panozzo remain in the band though Panozzo on part-time duties because of health issues.
Styx the album consists mostly of cover songs as Styx the band wrote just two of the six songs on their debut but the opening track comes in more than 13 minutes so about half the album time-wise comprises original material. The record label apparently suggested the band record the cover songs none of which any of the band members knew.
Styx First Album Review
It makes perfect sense to begin Styx the album with an original song but probably not the best idea to feature an out of the box 13-minute track as the opener on your debut album, but Styx indeed introduced their first album with “Movement for the Common Man” a song divided into four parts in a concept of sorts.
“Movement for the Common Man” starts off well, quite well actually, with gritty rock guitar, solid solos plus a decent but short John Panozzo drum solo all participating in the somewhat soulful “Children of the Land” section before it dives straight off the cliff after five minutes with a lengthy spoken word feature sans any music aptly titled “Street Collage” which basically consists of interviews with people on the street. This goes on for about two minutes.
But the last half picks up with some classic Styx vibes in the sections titled “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Mother Nature’s Matinee” with keyboards in full control and more dogged guitar. Young and DeYoung share on vocals duties throughout the lengthy song with neither one showing much range at this stage.
Eliminating “Street Collage” and breaking the three other parts of “Movement for the Common Man” makes a lot more sense, offers a solid first half of music and, I would suspect, allows for better radio exposure. Give Styx credit for creativity and going bold on their debut but unfortunately this approach might have taken away from the initial reception. “Movement for the Common Man” kind of works as a concept song but in terms of telling a story I’m not sure it goes anywhere.
The cover song “Right Away” follows and closes the first half of the album with Styx fully embracing the conventional 70s sound and Young singing quite well sounding more like Chris Cornell on a Lynyrd Skynyrd track.
Side 2 of Styx opens with the cover “What Comes Between Us” as DeYoung takes the lead on vocals and now not only developing his voice but you can hear the classic Styx harmony when all band members chime in together. The occasional keyboards on this one a little too much like The Doors, the “Lovely lady” chorus overly repeats and at times interrupts the song’s flow, especially in the final minute, during a fully developed rocking jam that abruptly halts once the chorus returns.
The other Styx original “Best Thing” written and sung by Young and DeYoung brings more of a late 60s vibe. You can already see the keyboard spinning too. Young gets vocal duties for the excellent cover “Quick is the Beat of My Heart” a raw take with vibrant guitars, a polished rhythm and again sounding like a 90s alternative rock frontman. The keyboards date the song otherwise this one works in any era Styx has taken the stage. Finally, the cover “After You Leave Me” has Young again holding the mic in this slower more deliberate clenching guitar heavy track that shows the band has depth, at least in terms of musicianship.
The first Styx album establishes the band’s musical foundation with Young and Curulewski laying down the progressive and hard rock guitar roots, DeYoung doesn’t restrain the keyboards when played and though only sole lead singer on one track his range shows them the way for the chart-topping albums yet to come.
Debut Album Grade: B-
Overall Grade: B-
Styx Debut Album Songs:
- Movement for the Common Man
- Children of the Land
- Street Collage
- Fanfare for the Common Man
- Mother Nature’s Matinee
- Right Away
- What Has Come Between Us
- Best Thing
- Quick is the Beat of My Heart
- After You Leave Me