rockford illinois entertainment guide
Date: 08/11/2008
Styx - The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings
Hip-O Records © 2005
Reviewed by Gary Hill
out of

With the 21st Century version of Styx making their way to the stage for the On the Waterfront kick off concert, it seemed like a great idea to take a look at a CD from them. Well, to be more specific a 2 CD set that encompasses the reissue of four of their old LP’s. In keeping with truth in advertising claims, it should probably be noted that the lineup of the band on this CD is considerably different than the lineup you’ll be seeing at Davis Park. That’s because we are climbing into Mr. Peabody’s “Way Back Machine” and going to the heady days of the 1970’s and Styx’ earliest works – those made before the entrance of Tommy Shaw. If you’d like something more in keeping with the group you’ll be seeing check out my review of Big Bang Theory in the archives of the site (look in 2006).

This double disc set is a compilation of the first four Styx discs, all in one place. These albums (originally released on Wooden Nickel Records – hence  the title) are often forgoten about with the media attention focusing more squarely on the later hit-driven mega-star period of the group. That’s a shame because these are some excellent albums. Hearing them again reminds us that Styx were a progressive rock band at first – and these albums really show that fact off. It has me re-evaluating the whole history of the group. Surely they had a lot of straight ahead pop rock hits, but really most of their albums have enough prog rock to put them close to that genre. Plenty of prog bands turned their sound towards the more streamlined and mainstream oriented music to further their careers. I think I’m going to start looking at Styx more like that. Perhaps I should extend the same courtesy to Styx. Truth be told not everything here qualifies as progressive rock, but most of it does. Not every song is incredible either, but the majority of this CD is.

One thing you might notice if you are a real diehard fan of the band is that bass player and vocalist James Young had a much more prevalent position in the band than he did during their pop radio heyday. Much like the Beatles (and Kiss), Styx have always seemed to like to have the person responsible for writing a song take the lead vocals. While Young – or “JY” as he is affectionately called, had his share of songs from the “radio” era of the band (“Miss America” is the first one that comes to my mind), he often took the backseat to make way for both Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw. We get a lot of Young vocals in this set, though. His fans would surely want to pick this set up if for no other reason that his higher profile position in the band.

The first CD of the set is split between the self titled disc and Styx II. Of those who are old enough to remember, Styx II might well have been their first exposure to the group. They even played Rockford’s West High School (remember, it used to be a high school – not a middle school) just after this album had been released and you can be sure that they played their first hit from it, “Lady.” The second disc is made up of The Serpent is Rising and Man of Miracles. Here’s the verdict. You can’t do much better in terms of value than this set. You get four albums that are all long lost gems and showcase the origins of what was to be a 1970’s pop rock superstar group. It’s a great way to connect with the group’s history – and depending on your age a great way to reconnect with your own.

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