[Review] Styx: Styx II (1973)

The second album proves that Styx was no fly-by-night band, ironically by sounding a lot like Fly By Night.

Kronomyth 2.0: Lady’s men.

Maybe you’ve heard Fly By Night by Rush and, if you have, you’ll know where I’m going with this. The second album from Styx is a statement of purpose. On their first album, their personality only partially emerged. Styx II is the first album where Styx steps up and stands apart. The material is completely original (a Bach fugue and a few seconds of “Strangers in the Night” notwithstanding), the vision too, and the appearance of a certain Lady is the first clear sign that the band is capable of writing a huge hit song.

The record opens with You Need Love, a partially successful attempt to emulate the progressive masters of the day. The band still needs to work on their arrangements, balance their harmonies better and write decent lyrics, but you’ve got to give them a B+ for effort and energy. “Lady” is an altogether different story. The arrangement shifts beautifully from light to dark, the harmonies are heavy but never clumsy and the vocals from Dennis DeYoung are just shy of perfection. Initially, “Lady” didn’t garner much radio play, but the band corrected that error soon after by plugging it with their local Chicago stations, after which point it caught fire and eventually pushed Styx II into Billboard’s Top 20. The second half of side one features two original songs from John Curulewski. A Day is the album’s longest track, a dreamy song that recalls the post-psychedelic West Coast rock sound of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Steve Miller Band. You Better Ask is closer to the Southern rock style of Allman Brothers, a cautionary tale with a sense of humor and some Duane Allman-inspired playing from James Young.

The second side begins with Bach’s Little Fugue in G before launching into the album’s other classic track, Father O.S.A. Inspired by a Catholic priest/teacher that the band knew (“O.S.A.” stands for the Order of St. Augustine), I’d rank this just below Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” in terms of theosophical songs that totally rock. Earl of Roseland most reminds me of Rush’s second album in its combination of innocence and the excellence to come. There’s a bit of The Who in it, and John Panozzo goes full Moon on the drums. The album’s confident closer, I’m Gonna Make You Feel It, isn’t empty boasting at this point. The keyboards and crushing chorus clearly point to a bright future, and the boys had to be feeling good about what they’d put on tape.

The tug of war between prog and rock isn’t so pronounced this time. Styx II clearly belongs in the prog camp, with James Young’s preference for hard rock contained to a couple of vocals (“You Need Love,” “I’m Gonna Make You Feel It”) and his guitar playing. While the band’s songwriting would sharpen with time, it was pretty clear after Styx II that they wouldn’t be playing other people’s songs anymore. In fact, the challenge would be in finding enough space to accommodate three distinctive songwriters.

Original elpee version

A1. You Need Love (Dennis DeYoung) (3:47)
A2. Lady (Dennis DeYoung) (2:58)
A3. A Day (John Curulewski) (8:24)
A4. You Better Ask (John Curulewski) (3:55)
B1. Little Fugue in “G” (J.S. Bach, transcribed by Dennis DeYoung) (1:19)
B2. Father O.S.A. (Dennis DeYoung) (7:10)
B3. Earl of Roseland (Dennis DeYoung) (4:11)
B4. I’m Gonna Make You Feel It (Dennis DeYoung) (2:23)

Original 8-track version
A1. You Need Love
A2. Little Fugue in ‘G’
A3. Father O.S.A. (part 1)
B1. Little Fugue in ‘G’/Father O.S.A. (conclusion)
B2. A Day (part 1)
C1. A Day (conclusion)
C2. I’m Gonna Make You Feel It
C3. Lady
D1. Earl of Roseland
D2. You Better Ask

The Players

John Curulewski (guitar, arp synthesizer, autoharp and vocals), Dennis DeYoung (organ, pipe organ, arp synthesizer and vocals), Chuck Panozzo (bass), John Panozzo (drums, percussion and vocals), James Young (guitar and vocals). Produced by John Ryan; engineered by Barry Mraz; executive producer: Bill Traut.

The Pictures

Front cover photo by Murray Laden. Back cover design by Bob Miles.

The Product

Released on elpee and 8-track in April 1973* in the US (Wooden Nickel, WNS/P8WN-1012) with diecut cover. (*First appeared in 4/14/73 issue of Billboard.) Also released on elpee in 1974 in Canada (Wooden Nickel, BXL1-1012).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1975 in the US and Germany (Wooden Nickel, WNS-1012) without diecut cover; reached #20 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).
  2. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and 8-track in 1976 in the US (RCA, AFL1/AFK1/AFS1-3111).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in Germany (RCA, NL 84233).
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in Japan (RCA, PG-124) with lyrics insert.
  5. Re-packaged as Lady in 1980 in the US (RCA, AFL1-3594) and the UK (RCA, PL1-3594) with unique cover.
  6. Re-released on remastered compact disc in the US (RCA, 3111-2-R).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc on December 16, 1990 in Japan (RCA, BVCP-5039).
Lady album cover
US RCA AFL1-3594 album cover

2 thoughts on “[Review] Styx: Styx II (1973)

  1. Great analysis of this album…wow…where can we get a wide range of music from a local band in Chicago….this album is my favorite from Styx and brings back tremendous amount of good memories

  2. Styx II shows the future of Styx and was easily the band’s best of their Wooden Nickel label albums. It’s unfortunate that 2 albums were released after its release and before its success. I also contend that this album could have been better with DeYoung having lead vocals on 2 songs he wrote but allowed JY to sing. Let’s dig in…
    You Need Love- a great opener written by DeYoung that briefly hit the top 100. DDY lead vocal and this is a top 40 smash. Great guitar duo leads follow a grand sustained explosive opening (perfected later on Equinox) and a catchy signature Styx vocalise that you will find yourself humming from time to time for the next 40 years. As you hear the first lyrics “Welcome, my friends, to a place…” you imagine Dennis DeYoung singing it and the song coming alive, but with JY it’s tense and not pleasing to the ear. If you listen closely you hear a riff with drumbreak with 3 hits that will surface again on Kilroy Was Here in the middle of “Heavy Metal Poisoning”… but that’s what we have here is a song with a lot of signature Styx sounds, but it just wasn’t all there.
    Lady- this song and recording are on a different level. The lead vocal is amazingly perfect… the classical piano opening gave future rock acts a license to incorporate this sound in their recordings. Lady is the first true power ballad by a rock band. The harmonies are tight and yet there is a rough edge to them (until that final chord which resonates perfectly with a classic touch of reverb that gives it a live rather than dry sound). Often ignored are import elements like the bassline on the 2nd verse and the all important tambourine and finger cymbals. But what really drives this song home by the end is the bolero pattern on the final choruses that rivals (and in my opinion is more powerful than) Alice Cooper’s School’s Out. Had it come out 2 years prior, Lady would have been a #1 song. It should have been on their first album, but that’s a story for another review.
    “A Day”- Progressive and yet a 60s hippie turned jazz vibe. Make no mistake, this is a masterpiece of a recording. The attention to details on the synthesizer swoops and resonance changes are not a mistake, these details must have taken hours to record the way they were meant to be for the final outcome. There’s a sound effect that sounds like Doppler or water droplets, guitar or Moog? It gets difficult to know when you consider what Pink Floyd did with no synths. John C’s voice is soothing and the voice doubling and harmonies are light which gives this a very different Styx sound. Good interplay between bass, piano, guitars, even autoharp is used for an effect in this one. Every effective. The chorus is soothing and then breaks into long triplets on the harmonies only to transition back to the slow, dirge like groove… when out of nowhere comes a faster, jazz fusion multi meter solo section 6/8 5/8 7/8 are all used and I’m guessing the guitar duet was composed prior to the organ solo, which uses its own meter changes. Must have been a nightmare for Panozzo on bass/drums to keep up. It does settle into patterns for each break, but again, it was carefully planned out, no way was this a totally improvised progression. Eventually it returns to the original dirge and ends with an autoharp run. Very creative and over 8 minutes that will leave you wondering “was that really just one song?”
    You Better Ask- finishes off the first side of this album. Almost a “Give Me 3 Steps” rip off, it’s a light hearted straight forward rock song that tells the story of a guy in a tough situation with a girl and her father’s less than amused reaction to her apparent pregnancy. Two solos feature great guitar work and an unforgettable organ solo that uses a percussive and almost wah wah effect. In true JC fashion, there is an odd carousel sound along with a reverb and echo drenched laugh as the song ends…
    Side 2 starts with Bach’s Little Fugue recorded at a nearby church in which I have heard cables were strewn across a street to the studio to capture this sound. Well worth the authentic pipe organ sound. While a lot of the fugue’s impressive work is missing, it’s a great introduction to classical (Baroque) music for rock audiences who might not be familiar with Bach. It’s also played in D minor to transition to Father OSA. Nicely done and while Father OSA starts with a pleasant guitar duo, it really plods along at the beginning compared to later in the song. A great sound during the introduction is the grand pipe organ riff between guitar duo work. DeYoung’s voice is classic Styx on this song. Although the song’s music is repetitive, the story and the arrangement around the 3 basic chords keeps you intrigued as a listener. I wish they could have harnessed the energy or played the guitar intro like they do after the guitar solo. It moves. The vocalise in this song use the same “bah” used in You Need Love but with a lighter, falsetto tone. Great guitar work.
    Earl of Roseland- a reflection by DDY about his childhood neighborhood in Chicago and the foundation of the formation of Styx. There is definitely some reference to the sound of The Who in this one and John Panozzo cuts loose on drums during this several times. What’s not often talked about with this song are the harmonies that use a much lighter, falsetto texture rather than the full voice 3 part Styx sound that is really their signature vocal sounds. One day this was playing as I turned on the car and didn’t recognize the band or the song. It was during the guitar solo. Just a different sound for Styx, but it works. The lyrics that I remember most often “Johnny clicking his sticks… and two men I don’t even know, rehearsing electric string tricks…”
    Final track: “I’m Gonna Make You Feel It” This easily could have been the first track. A DDY song that once again could have had some airplay if he had been the lead singer. Classic Styx, full voice 3 part harmonies, a great use of the Moog Synth on the introduction… JY’s guitar solo shines on this song and really a great double time laid back groove mixed with a straight forward rock feel during solos. I can’t get over the full and thunderous sound of the drums on this track. Almost industrial.
    Great way to end this album.
    Styx II. What could have Styx done differently had this album been properly promoted the first time around. The Styx story would have been completely different for sure.
    4 of 5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

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