Top 10 Tommy Shaw Styx Songs
Styx‘s addition of hard-rocking everyman Tommy Shaw before 1976’s Crystal Ball forever shifted the band’s dynamic toward founding guitarist James “J.Y.” Young’s clear penchant for straight-ahead rock. And, just like that, Styx started constructing some of the best-known albums of their career, even as they began moving away from co-leader Dennis DeYoung‘s Broadway-esque formalism. In fact, the new guy almost immediately became a central element in the retooled Styx. Shaw helped the band score just their third-ever Top 40 song with “Mademoiselle” in 1976, then added three more hits to the tally with his next two albums. Those tracks, along with 1981’s “Too Much Time on My Hands,” continue to shape both Styx’s image and the set lists on their ongoing tours. They also help define our list of the Top 10 Tommy Shaw Styx Songs.
“Boat on the River”
Even though Dennis DeYoung’s ballad “Babe” remains the best-known song from ‘Cornerstone’ in the U.S., where it became Styx’s first and only chart-topper, Shaw’s bluegrass-inspired “Boat on the River” was a Top 5 hit in Germany and Austria – and actually topped the Swiss charts. This passion for the rootsy sounds of his Alabama youth eventually sparked Shaw’s 2011 solo album ‘The Great Divide,’ which found him replacing the electric guitar for both a Dobro and (like he does for “Boat on the River”) a mandolin.
The addition of Shaw in 1976, after original guitarist John Curulewski’s sudden departure, opened the door for the heavy blues “Shooz,” which finds Shaw and co-writer J.Y. in a muscular tangle. Shaw quickly puts his stadium-rattling growl to use, tearing through a slide solo before giving way to Young’s best Jimi Hendrix imitation. Initially, ‘Crystal Ball’ climbed no higher than No. 66 on the album chart, but it eventually achieved gold-selling status after ‘The Grand Illusion’ went supernova. In fact, Styx’s next five albums would all be platinum Top 10 smashes.
A gorgeous Shaw-written tribute to Styx’s co-founding drummer John Panozzo, “Dear John” closed out 1997’s double-disc live ‘Return to Paradise’ album on an emotional note. Panozzo, who had long been battling cirrhosis of the liver, died the previous summer of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging at the age of 47. That left James “J.Y.” Young and John’s brother Chuck Panozzo as Styx’s only original members – and Chuck is only a part-time performer now.
“Difference In the World”
There’s a world-weary melancholy on “Difference In the World,” a hard-won realism that didn’t often exist in Shaw’s fun-rocking “Renegade” days. Over a plaintive guitar shape he admits, “It’s hard to keep from giving up / It’s hard to make a difference in the world today.” But through the course of a complex and involving musical soundtrack, Shaw rouses himself to try again. It’s a nice metaphor for the band itself, which has marched past some difficult lineup shifts.
“Man in the Wilderness”
Styx launched into superstardom on the strength of the ‘The Grand Illusion‘ hits “Come Sail Away” and “Fooling Yourself” (see later in our list of the Top 10 Tommy Shaw Styx Songs). But the album likely sold more than three million copies because of the consistency of deep cuts like “Man in the Wilderness.” Darkly introspective at first, this track eventually opens up into an appropriately thunderous finale – with Shaw still looking for life’s answers.
Shaw had developed an early version of “Crystal Ball” when he was still serving as entertainment in an Alabama bowling alley, one that didn’t even have a dance floor. (No kidding.) When he got the call from Styx, Shaw auditioned the song, but was met with indifference. True to form, he kept working on “Crystal Ball,” beefing up the chorus until it had an anthemic, more Styx-like sound. The song barely charted, but it helped make Shaw a member in full.
“Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”
Perhaps the earliest indication of the internal struggles that would eventually lead to a split with Dennis DeYoung, “Fooling Yourself” finds Shaw questioning his bandmate’s penchant for second guessing everything. But as the track became a central part of their playlists, not to mention a No. 29 hit, its universality inevitably shone through. Who hasn’t gotten a little lost in their own dashed expectations?
“Too Much Time on My Hands”
It didn’t fit with DeYoung’s overarching theme for ‘Paradise Theater,’ which focused on the demise of a beloved music venue. But “Too Much Time on My Hands” – which came to Shaw on his way to the sessions when he was under pressure to contribute one more song – was simply too radio-ready to leave off. Styx quickly worked it up, with Shaw humming the individual parts he’d heard in his head during the drive in, and a Top 10 hit was born.
A No. 16 hit, “Renegade” is a typical example of the way Styx incorporated prog into their basic arena-rock sensibilities. It begins with a dirgy menace – and a very dark storyline about a convicted criminal headed to the gallows – before finally ramping up into the kind of soaring outburst that makes it perfect for sports arenas. Tommy Shaw’s confederate James “J.Y.” Young, meanwhile, adds what may be his best-known solo ever.
“Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)”
An ageless track detailing the plight of (and the fight still left in) a jobless worker, “Blue Collar Man” will forever define Shaw as one of music’s centerpiece regular-guy rockers. And it’s not just the song’s lyrical content. Shaw says he got the idea for the grinding riff on this standout ‘Pieces of Eight‘ song while inside an idling boat, waiting for some particularly strong weed to wear off during a post-tour celebration. Dude!