25 Years Ago: Styx Mostly Reunite for ‘Edge of the Century’
Styx ground to a bumpy halt after their contentious tour in support of 1983's Kilroy Is Here, but frontman Dennis DeYoung always insisted they'd get back together. And the reunion he'd long predicted finally came to pass with the release of Edge of the Century on October 1990.
DeYoung and his former bandmates, in fact, had actually been trying to work out the timing for a new project for years. Guitarist Tommy Shaw was the first one to leave the lineup to pursue a solo career, and according to DeYoung, he only exercised his own solo option in order to stay busy while he waited for Shaw to "come to his senses." But once he signed his contract, DeYoung was unavailable even when Shaw did broach the subject of a reunion.
According to Shaw, he thought about getting the band back together while recording his third solo LP, 1987's Ambition, which included a guest spot from Styx guitarist James "JY" Young. "I really wanted to be doing something else. JY and I had gotten friendly enough to the point where he came and sang on one of my songs on the last record," Shaw told Sterling Whitaker. "You know, we were warming up. I thought, what the heck, I'm over all the stupidity of the Kilroy fiasco and all of that, so we started warming up."
Unfortunately, DeYoung had just signed a new solo deal, and was tied up working on his own third solo effort, 1989's Boomtown. That record's failure to chart led to DeYoung losing his contract, which paved the way for yet another round of reunion talks. But this time, it was Shaw who sealed his fate for the reunion. After briefly considering the prospect of another tour of duty with Styx, he ended up joining forces with Ted Nugent and Jack Blades in Damn Yankees.
To Shaw's dismay, the old band dynamic hadn't changed much over the years. "It was never a matter of, you know, 'What would you like, what are your feelings?' It was always like, 'We won't do it unless we get this, Dennis won't do it unless he gets that,'" he told Whitaker of their brief discussion of a reunion. "We never sat down in a room together. Not a band vibe at all. It was more a matter of, 'I'll do it only if I get this,' and 'I won't do it unless I get this.' It never once came up, 'Tommy, what would you like?' Never once. And I guess maybe I should have been the one to step forward and say, 'Well, I won't do it unless I do this.' That was the way it was. It all seems pretty silly now."
To this point, DeYoung has claimed he was always unwilling to move forward in Styx without Shaw, but with his own solo career in a deep lull and the other band members eager to get going again, he and Young decided to bring in a replacement. Fortunately, Young knew just the guy: Glen Burtnik, a gifted singer and multi-instrumentalist he'd seen performing with Jan Hammer — with whom Young had also recorded — and who'd just lost his own A&M Records contract after releasing a pair of underperforming albums.
"We met and one of the first things I remember was singing together. They would give me some parts to sing with them and we sang, you know, 'Lady' and Dennis showed us a new song of his, 'Show Me the Way,' which we sang," Burtnik told Ultimate Classic Rock's Matt Wardlaw. "Then I flew home and then I guess there were some negotiations, like how important was I to the band [as far as what] they were going to pay me and [figuring out] how we would create an album with me living in New Jersey and them living and recording in Chicago. We figured that out and at some point, I started flying out. They got a recording studio and chose the engineer and we started work on the album."
Burtnik's arrival came at the right moment for a band that not only needed to replace a crucial creative component, but was willing to experiment with its sound after a long period of inactivity. With a stockpile of songs left looking for a home after the collapse of his deal, Burtnik helped on both fronts. In fact, he came to his first meeting armed with two tracks — "Love Is the Ritual" and "Edge of the Century" — that were already more or less finished.
Watch the Video for 'Love Is the Ritual'
Although Styx had been one of the bigger bands of the '70s and '80s, Burtnik was less than star-struck when he got the offer from Styx. "I remember wanting to be a part of it because it was a successful business. I’m reluctant to say this, but I was not a Styx fan," he admitted. "It wasn’t that I disliked Styx, but you know, I just wasn’t a Styx fan. So that probably kept...it would have been different if it was, you know, the Beatles, the Police or somebody that I had bought all of their records and that kind of thing. But this was different — it was just like going for a job interview."
It was a job Burtnik took to immediately, becoming a major part of the songwriting process for what was to become the band's 12th studio LP, Edge of the Century. Aside from contributing "Love Is the Ritual" and the title track, he wrote or co-wrote another four songs on the 10-track album. "They were kind. And I was ambitious, so I was really happy about it. But you know, I was also cocky enough to feel like, 'Well, this is what these guys need. They need rock music,'" he recalled. "Because JY had his song, 'Homewrecker,' but other than that, Dennis, he just didn’t have the 'Come Sail Away' moment, so I guess I was convenient."
According to DeYoung, the decision to make so much room for Burtnik's material — and to release "Love Is the Ritual" as the first single — was a deliberate one, driven by a desire to make it clear the band had undergone an evolution. "I was absolutely fully in charge of the band and I chose the first single to be a Glen song. That was my choice, to put him out there ahead of myself to establish him and establish the rock identity that he brought to the band. That was my decision," DeYoung told Melodic Rock. "We titled the album after one of his songs."
It was a brave choice, but one that didn't initially seem likely to pay major dividends in terms of radio play or album sales. While "Love Is the Ritual" hit the Top 10 at Mainstream Rock stations, in advance of Edge of the Century's arrival, it barely squeaked into Billboard's Hot 100, and Burtnik couldn't help but feel a certain amount of responsibility and disappointment.
"They were this multi-platinum act and they took seven years off, which at the time sounded like a long time," he explained. "I know that Dennis expected the world to stop and to listen and then that didn’t happen. It was disappointing, and it was like, 'Okay, wait a minute — have we done the wrong thing here? Why isn’t this working? Why isn’t ‘Love Is the Ritual’ a big hit? We all believed in it, but nobody else is.'"
Edge of the Century's initial slow sales were undeniably frustrating for Styx, but they weren't exactly surprising. None of the band members had seen success with recent solo projects, and by adding a new member who made a substantial difference in their sound, they were taking a gamble — something Burtnik said he understood all too well.
"I think it shocked a lot of people who felt like, 'This doesn’t sound anything like Styx.' I did walk in with my own sound — another sound," he pointed out. "I guess classic rock bands have that problem. It’s like, well, you can get a guy like Journey and Yes and Boston, that you know, they found them on the internet and they sound exactly or as close to possible to the original singers who are no longer in the bands [...] I think classic rock bands always have to face this that if you change a member in a beloved band, it’s a challenge to the fans. And that was my role."
Edge of the Century's humbling start was just the beginning, however. The record's second single, DeYoung's ballad "Show Me the Way," was released right around the time the Gulf War broke out in early 1991, and thanks to a war-themed remix that captured the national mood, the song started lighting up request lines and soaring up the charts — and taking Edge along for the ride. Ultimately, the single peaked at No. 5, and the album sold more than half a million copies.
"During the tour, 'Show Me the Way' started to take off. 'Love Is the Ritual' already kind of tanked," Burtnik recalled. "When 'Show Me the Way' started to take off, it was like a breath of fresh air and it was like, 'Okay, we have something here that people like.'"
Watch the Video for 'Love at First Sight'
Even if it hadn't been the smash they might have been hoping for, Edge of the Century proved Styx still had an audience, and as the tour wore on, DeYoung predicted that the band would have its next album out fairly quickly. Sadly, things didn't turn out that way. Before they'd even managed to track another round of demos, they found themselves looking for a new label. After a long and very successful relationship with A&M — and a reunion record that seemed to suggest they had more hits left in the tank — they were dropped.
"I love telling this part of the story," Burtnik chuckled. "Dennis had an attorney who wrote a book called How to Make It in the Music Business or Making It in the Music Business. ... He got the big guns out and he was asking for the moon. He said, 'Okay, if you want Styx to continue on your label, it will cost you this much money,' and it was a big figure. It was risky, because we didn’t have a super-hit record."
Saying DeYoung's representative "essentially lost the record deal," Burtnik added, "Every time I hear people refer to that book or if I see that book, I say, 'Well, here’s the guy that lost Styx — this multi-platinum group, he’s responsible for them being dropped by a record label. So much for him knowing about how to make it in the music business."
Admitting they were "asking for a ridiculous amount of money," Young told the Illinois Entertainer that he believed record company politics also had a hand in Styx finally losing their deal with A&M. "I believe that the people we chose to represent us actually had another deal that they were negotiating at the same time with A&M that didn’t go the way A&M liked, so they sort of punished our representative by letting us go. But we were asking for an awful lot."
Although the band managed to soldier on for awhile, recording a series of demos (later dubbed Son of Edge by the fan community) and searching for a new deal, the momentum they'd generated with Edge of the Century quickly petered out. For Burtnik, whose songwriting career was starting to take off with the Patty Smyth hit "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough," Styx fell onto the back burner — and Shaw, who found himself at loose ends when Damn Yankees went on hiatus, was once again available.
The inevitable finally occurred in 1995, when Shaw joined his old bandmates for a new recording of "Lady," paving the way for a full-on reunion. Burtnik was squeezed out in the process, but he insisted he always saw it coming, and harbored no ill will. "I don’t recall getting the call from them saying that they don’t need me anymore or anything like that, but I was fine. I was busy and it always made sense to me and it still does, actually," he agreed. "I always felt like, 'Okay, if you guys want to make more money, then have a reunion and I guarantee the crowds would be double the size.'"
As Styx fans are painfully aware, the classic lineup's reunion would be relatively short-lived, producing only one album — 1999's Brave New World — before DeYoung himself was jettisoned. Proving there were no hard feelings, Burtnik actually ended up signing on to join the new lineup, filling in on bass for ailing co-founder Chuck Panozzo and sticking around until 2003. Although he's since left again, Burtnik continues to say nothing but good things about the band.
"I loved it," he told UCR. "It was a really good band and it continues to be a really good band. It was great. I had a great time."
See Styx and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the '80s
This Day in Rock History: October 23