Best Of Styx, by Styx
It sometimes happens, as is the case here, where a band toils in relative obscurity for some years, building up their craft and developing themselves, in a minor label with minimal popular success and then breaks out into the mainstream after having joined a music label that is better able to promote their work. That is the case here, as Styx began their career in the early 1970’s with four albums released by the Wooden Nickel Records label between 1972 and 1974. Of these songs, three of them managed to hit the Hot 100 and only one of them “Lady,” became a hit, reaching #6 in 1975 and spurring the album it was on, Styx II, to gold. The rest of the songs that the band recorded for the label were fairly obscure, though, and after the band had broken to much higher success in the late 1970’s, their old label decided to capitalize on their success by releasing a best of compilation of their earlier material. So, is it worth enjoying and listening to even if the songs are highly obscure? Would a casual Styx fan appreciate this material, the first best of collection that had been made for the group? Let’s see.
The material included here is made up of eleven songs from the first four studio albums that Styx made. It begins with “You Need Love” and “Lady,” the two singles from the band’s second eponymous album. After that come such obscure numbers as “I’m Gonna Make You Feel It,” “What Has Come Between Us,” “Southern Woman,” “Rock & Roll Feeling,” “Winner Take All,” “Best Thing,” another minor Hot 100 charting release from the band’s debut album, “Witch Wolf,” “The Grove Of Eglantine,” and “Man Of Miracles,” the title track from the band’s fourth album and last Wooden Nickel studio release. By and large, these songs are tuneful but obscure. Many of them deal with themes of love and relationships, familiar material for the group overall. If you like a group that sounds like the Doobie Brothers as Southern rockers, that is what Styx sounds like in these opening songs, which have a lot of bluesy elements to them and show the band working out their instrumental chops. If some of the lyrics are a bit basic and repetitive, some of the songs, especially “The Grove Of Eglantine,” show some progressive ambition in songwriting material that would serve the band well in later efforts.
Overall, this compilation is exactly what you want to see from a group of relatively young musicians learning their craft. Other than “Lady,” most casual fans of Styx will not recognize any of these songs and it would probably take a pretty dedicated fan to be familiar with these album tracks and minor hits. Even so, this is a compilation worth being familiar with, because it reminds us that Styx didn’t come upon the mid and late 70’s and early 80’s fully armed with amazing musical skills and sharp songwriting. These songs were all from the period before Tommy Shaw’s entrance into the band, and he appears to have added a certain political angle to the group’s material that would provide some pointed hits. Still, the themes of love and relationships and the growing progressive rock elements make this an appealing album of a group developing into proficient musicians and songwriters and Dennis DeYoung and James Young, among other songwriters, have some solid work here to be proud of. Not everyone can say that their early works created in obscurity have something worth remembering but that is definitely the case here. It is simply a shame that most of these songs are just not better known.