Top 10 Dennis DeYoung Songs That Rock
Former Styx maestro Dennis DeYoung is an exceptionally diverse songwriter, capable of producing progressive rock, hard rock, ballads and even Broadway material with equal aplomb. His prototypical power ballad ‘Lady’ gave Styx their first hit, and he wrote the majority of the group’s highest-charting songs.
In 1979 DeYoung wrote ‘Babe,’ a straight melodic ballad that became Styx’s sole No. 1 hit. Many of his subsequent songs are lighter and more melodic, and in fact, his former band mates often cite his penchant for balladry as a prime motive for their eventual split. But DeYoung has written plenty of great heavier songs — as you’ll see in our list of the Top 10 Dennis DeYoung Songs That Rock.
‘Light Up’ is an interesting hybrid between progressive rock and hard rock, with a pop melody. Originally written as an ode to the Beatles (“I remember it was ’65 when I saw the band“), DeYoung changed the lyrics to extol the pleasures of “smoking that rope” after Styx were hired to play at a pot festival. A fan favorite, the song has been an important part of Styx’s live shows off and on over the years.
‘Lonely People’ married DeYoung’s innate melodic sense to heavy guitar power chords and a full horn section. The song’s middle breakdown flirts with New Wave, and the track features two very different guitar solos, but DeYoung’s impressive vocal performance is what makes it one of the Top 10 Dennis DeYoung Songs That Rock — especially when he sings the climactic, “So close and yet so far, they share the secrets of DESPAAAAIIIR!”
This underrated progressive rock classic is a showcase for everything that’s special about DeYoung, with a mystical feel in the verses that gives way to a flood of triple-stacked harmonies in the heavy choruses. The middle section dramatically plays DeYoung’s keyboards against massive power chords, with James “JY” Young contributing a perfectly-crafted guitar solo. DeYoung’s understated, haunting vocal performance is perfect for the track.
‘Rockin’ the Paradise’
Written by DeYoung, Young and Tommy Shaw, ‘Rockin’ the Paradise’ was a rockin’ homage to America, but with a twist. ‘Paradise Theatre’ was a concept album that drew a parallel between a once-proud theater that had fallen into disrepair and the state of America at the outset of the ’80s. DeYoung’s lyric was both a celebration of American ideals, and a warning about the nation’s growing complacency.
‘Born for Adventure’
DeYoung wrote ‘Born for Adventure’ with JY and guitarist John Curulewski, who preceded Shaw in Styx. The guitar-driven hard rock track casts DeYoung as a swashbuckling thief in pursuit of “women, whiskey and sin” – a stark contrast to his usually earnest persona. DeYoung’s vocal performance is reminiscent of an American version of Freddie Mercury – a legitimate singer who happens to sing in a rock band.
‘Queen of Spades’
James Young wrote the music for this hard rock track in the key of C# minor as an homage to his guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix. DeYoung added some eerie keyboards and yet another stellar vocal – especially the sustained high note when he sings, “Turn of a card, she’s THEEEEERRRRE!” DeYoung’s psychotic laughter and babbling admonishment, “You lose!” add the finishing touch to a song about the dangers of gambling.
‘The Grand Illusion’
No list of the Top 10 Dennis DeYoung Songs That Rock would be complete without ‘The Grand Illusion.’ The title song from Styx’s most important album is a rumination on the media and the illusory nature of success, set to a track that juxtaposes heavy guitar power chords, blazing solos and DeYoung’s flair for classical composition. The track has been an important part of Styx’s live shows over the decades.
‘Equinox’ was a vastly underrated ’70s hard rock album, and featured some of DeYoung’s most rockin’ material. Another co-write with James Young, ‘Lorelei’ was Styx’s second Top 40 hit (No. 27), and has stood the test of time as an important part of Styx’s live set list. The track weds DeYoung’s pop melody sense to huge power chords and fleet-fingered guitar runs from JY, all topped off by Styx’s trademark blaring vocal harmonies.
‘Cornerstone’ saw Styx turn away from the quasi-progressive rock that had dominated their early career and into a more melodic pop approach. DeYoung’s No. 1 ballad ‘Babe’ seemed a dramatic shift for some, but ‘Borrowed Time’ — written with Shaw — showed he was still interested in harder-edged material. The lyric warned of a coming crisis if America kept on borrowing against its future: “We’re living high, living fine / Living high on borrowed time” – a prediction which proved sadly accurate.
‘Come Sail Away’
‘Come Sail Away’ is, for many, the definitive song of Styx’s career. It brings together all of the elements that made Styx great in one place with its classical piano intro, beautiful vocal performance, and introspective subject matter. The song also features a prog-rock keyboard odyssey to rival any British band of the ’70s, but it is the super-charged guitar riff — which was, ironically, cannibalized from an old, unrecorded song of Shaw’s — that makes it head up our list of the Top 10 Dennis DeYoung Songs That Rock.