Top 10 James Young Styx Songs
For much of Styx’s amazing four-decade career (give or take a few years of inactivity), either Dennis DeYoung or Tommy Shaw have hogged most of the spotlight as the band’s primary vocalists and songwriters. Still, as any longtime fan will tell you, there would be no Styx as we know and love them without guitarist James ‘JY’ Young, who joined DeYoung and brothers John and Chuck Panozzo all the way back in 1970. Ever since, JY has contributed his own songs and guitar talents to define the Styx sound, so we felt it was high time to recognize his contributions with the Top 10 James Young Styx Songs.
We begin our list of Top 10 James Young Styx Songs with his only contribution to the fan-polarizing ’Cornerstone’ LP. While DeYoung and Shaw were exploring the, shall we say, tender sides of their creativity, JY conspicuously sat the album out -- except for the excellent ‘Eddie,’ which we believe forecast Styx’s return to form on the following year’s ‘Paradise Theater.’
All of Styx’s first four or five albums had their peculiar flaws, but only ‘The Serpent is Rising’ sunk so low as to contain an interlude named ‘Plexiglass Toilet.’ Luckily, even as the band was stumbling in search of its identity, JY could be counted on to simply rock the house by way of forceful opener (and album highlight) ‘Witch Wolf.’
The futuristic (though, in retrospect, very prescient) music censorship premise behind 1983’s ‘Kilroy Was Here’ left some fans (and even Tommy Shaw) scratching their heads. But JY capably faced the challenge of wrapping his songs around the album’s storyline — as evidenced by the amazingly catchy and conceptually relevant ‘Double Life.’
Styx’s fourth album ‘Man of Miracles’ suffered from some kind of bipolar songwriting disorder, where half its songs entertained art-rock aspirations and the other rocked out with a vengeance. Guess which category represented JY’s contributions? To find out, simply listen to his spirited album opener ‘Rock & Roll Feeling.’
The next tune in our list of Top 10 James Young Styx Songs launched the ‘Pieces of Eight’ album into the ring, and made it an instant contender for the heavyweight title of all-time best Styx albums. In all seriousness, ‘Great White Hope’ also epitomized JY’s no-fuss hard rock style, which so often provided a breath of fresh air amid Styx’s grander pomp-rock tendencies.
Surely one of the darkest songs in the entire Styx discography, ‘Snowblind’ perfectly reflected the metaphorical low point of ‘Paradise Theater’s’ Great Depression-inspired story thread. It also features one of the rare instances where its composer, JY, alternated lead vocals with fellow guitarist Tommy Shaw in what proved to be an unforgettable duet.
JY’s signature contribution to ‘Kilroy Was Here,’ ‘Heavy Metal Poisoning’ not only fleshed out his Dr. Righteous character in the interest of advancing the album’s conceptual storyline, but wrapped one of Styx’s nastiest-ever riffs around a delicious play-on-words that any metal-head could appreciate.
JY co-wrote the next entry in our list of Top Ten James Young Styx Songs with Dennis DeYoung, and while it’s the latter’s crystalline lead vocals that deservingly draw most of the attention during the song’s serene first half, it’s JY’s muscular riffs and blistering solo that steal the show during the song’s bombastic denouement. Classic Styx.
Styx weren’t exactly known for providing biting social commentary in their songs, but that’s exactly what JY delivered on the venomous ‘Miss America,’ which charged the entire pageant industry with shallow hypocrisy and rampant exploitation of women.
Dennis DeYoung may have spearheaded the grandly ambitious, decade-spanning concept behind ‘Paradise Theater,’ but it was JY who delivered the album’s dramatic climax via ‘Half-Penny, Two-Penny.’ With its distinctive guitar lick, venomous lead vocal and anthemic conclusion, the song exemplifies everything that made Young Styx’s reliable secret weapon from album to album throughout their colorful career.