These days, a “Classic” rock album has a second meaning besides the obvious – It also means “When everyone was actually in the band.”
Face it, your favorite past band is never getting back together.
Take the classic, Chicago-based arena rockers, Styx. Go ahead, take them – because most ‘folk won’t bother with them, anymore.
Basically, one of the founding members, Dennis DeYoung, has been out of the group for some time now, while Founding member James Young and Later addition Tommy Shaw (also of Damn Yankees, when HE wasn’t in Styx, either) have been happily touring with other half-bands on the “Empty Shells of Formerly Glorious Bands” Tour.
I am NOT knocking the talents of the individual players. Styx was chock-full of talent across the board, then and now. The lesson here is that any group is the sum of the parts that comprise it. Take one part away, and what you have left on both sides of the fence is only part of the music that made them famous.
I’ll leave you to look up the particulars of the Styx saga. Just know that in the present, all parties in or formerly in the band have continued to stay busy. In 2003, The Young/Shaw “Shell of Styx” released a Styx album: Cyclorama. It was OK, but nothing that I’m going to write home to mother about (if she even knew who Styx were), nor will I ever really listen to it after the first spin. They also released (another) live album, and an album of cover songs – Why I want to hear a shell of a group perform songs that aren’t even theirs is beyond me.
In 2009, Dennis DeYoung released a new solo album in the US (based on his original release a few years earlier in Canada). One Hundred Years Form Now. It’s actually a very strong album that many hailed as a could-have-been-Styx-album. Could have been, of course, because he’s the only member of Styx on the album – therefore it CAN’T be a Styx album.
Why must I live with these shells? Why cant I hear a new whole Styx album? If I could only put both sides of the fence back together, so the holes are patched, and everyone was together again….
Wait a minute, I CAN.
Modern technology allows this. With digital music and music players, all bets are off. If I don’t like a track on an album – Poof! it’s gone. If I think a greatest hits compilation is missing a track I would have liked to be on it – I can add it. If I want a Conway Twitty number in the middle of my Bruce Springsteen album, I CAN (it would be weird, but I can). It’s that simple.
So I set out to take two empty shells, and make them whole again. I think you’ll like the results, and you can simply buy the tunes and put them together yourself. Join me and make your own new Styx album.
I started with the Styx minus DeYoung album, Cyclorama (I couldn’t use the live or the covers album for my experiment), and the DeYoung minus everyone else album One Hundred Years From Now. Could I pick and chose tracks to build a real Styx album?
As I started to snip and prune, things started to come together. Frankly, it got a bit scary. Since Both albums were trying to be Styx, they were very similar in tone. Certain songs from each album actually fit together and flowed from one to the other. Not only that, but I could actually create a CONCEPT album from the pieces! Now understand, I use the term “concept album” loosely – but since most Styx concept albums were a bit loose, anyway, I figured I was on the right on track.
So now, I present to you the new Styx album – “Pheonix,” named for the re-birth of Styx from the ashes of their shell albums, and the journey of our non-named, musical Narrator through the album.
First, let me list out the tracks I purchased through iTunes (they are also available on Amazon.com) – Then the order I placed them in. It will cost you about ten bucks to make your own Styx album! After, I’ll explain the flow of the album – and be sure to make it to the end of this post for a special surprise or two to help finish the album.
Dennis DeYoung – One Hundred Years From Now
- Track 1 – One Hundred Years Form Now
- Track 4 – Crossing The Rubicon
- Track 6 – I Don’t Believe In Anything
- Track 7 – Private Jones
Styx – Cyclorama
- Track 6 – These are The Times
- Track 10 – Fooling Yourself
- Track 11 – Captain America
- Track 13 – One With Everything
Styx – Brave New World
- Track 9 – Great Expectations
I’ll admit – I’ve cheated here – but for a good cause. The above song isn’t from either of my “shell” albums. You see, I need to SELL my new Styx album – and I cant do that without a “ringer.” I need Dennis and Tommy singing on the same track, or it’s not really a Styx album – I never heard of the 1999 Styx album Brave New World. It was the last album that everyone appeared on (Tommy wasn’t on the preceding album, so I already gave up before this release). After listening to it, most people found it unfocused and underwhelming. I count myself one of the majority on that topic, but I’M making something that IS focused, by golly, and this song from that misfire will suit my purposes well.
Now, place the tracks in the following order for Styx-Phoenix:
- One Hundred Years From Now
- Fooling Yourself
- Private Jones
- These Are The Times
- I Don’t Believe In Anything
- Great Expectations
- Captain America
- Crossing The Rubicon
- One With Everything
Now, let’s see my reasoning behind the tracks, and the outlandish story I’ve concocted from the spare parts:
- Track one – One Hundred Years From Now
How do we begin this tragic tale? With this song. A prayer for peace – loosely referring to the current middle East situation. Senseless violence and loss. Since it’s the opening of his album, it has the prerequisite first-song vibe: We hear a record being played, and simple solitary keyboard work before the main song begins. Think Paradise Theater. This song sets up our theme, which will soon become tragic.
- Track two – Fooling Yourself
A revisit of the classic song. I’m sure Tommy wanted to give his new “styx” album credibility, so I’ll use it for the same reason. Who is “the troubled young man” in our new recording? Perhaps the Narrator himself, or the gentleman from the next song…
- Track Three – Private Jones
Private Jones is a well-meaning soldier who does not return from Iraq. This starts the narrative spinning downhill, as we move on to a voice from Styx we haven’t heard from yet –
- Track four – These are The Times
James Young takes to the Mic.
“Voices from beyond the veil, The comrades I have lost”
I’m certain there is some kind of deeper, unfathomable meaning to the opening lyrics, but for our purpose, it’s the battle field we just left, and then perhaps battle fields from all history. Along with James is Tommy – nice to her both of their voices after a tune from Dennis!
- Track five – I don’t believe in anything
Our unknown, musical narrator Is now pretty depressed about the whole situation. No longer believing in anything after being lied to about war, loss, politicians, movie special effects, you name it. The tune has a country vibe, but weaves some rock in, as well.
- Track six – Great Expectations
Still negative and down about having to produce and be what everyone wants him to be – our narrator is still on quite a disillusioned bummer that carries on from the previous track. This time, however, we’re a bit reggae. Apparently, in our little corner of Styx-Land; disillusioned narratives happen in musical styles other than standard rock.
- Track seven – Captain America
James is back, and looking for a savior to fix this mess we’re in. And we’re back to straight-forward arena rock.
“You remind me of the days in that infamous war – where we weren’t quite sure of what we were fighting for…”
“Is there someone in charge who can lead the way tonight?”
A call to action – to straighten up the whole stinking country and fly right.
- Track eight – Crossing The Rubicon
“I’m searching for an answer that somehow could explain why I feel this misery and pain.”
“The fault is mine in the end…”
A plea for forgiveness and a cry to finally stand up and make a change.
“I Know there’s no turning back.”
Time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and move on – the turning point on our little play. The scary thing is either Dennis is doing a spot-on impersonation of Tommy, or he found a ringer – at first you’d swear they were singing together. Some cool Styx-like keyboards at the end – which makes sense, since Dennis was the keyboardist of the group.
- Track nine – One With Everything
“Hold on tightly to your innocence and don’t let go.”
“You can be the light that shines.”
The uplifting end. Give yourself a chance and you can be one with everything. Our play draws to a close in the typical uplifting fashion of Cornerstone. More great keyboards here as well – odd, of course, because Dennis is nowhere to be found on this album – I thought these guys were trying to stay away from his stuff? Hey, it’s okay by me, because it suits the purposes of my new Styx album just fine.
With that, we draw it to a close – from the tragedy and aftermath of war, disillusionment with life and the trappings of the political machine, to finally overcoming and standing tall. You now have a brand-new Styx album!
There are, of course, a few caveats:
- You’ll probably have to adjust the final volume output of each file to even the whole thing out – after all they’re from different sources (three albums, to be exact)
- There’s a whole bunch of “session” players in our new Styx album (the ones trying to fill the shoes of the guys no longer in the current band that’s playing the song) – we’re kind of stuck with that.
- Obviously, it’s not a REAL Styx album – but I like it better than the original works from which it was derived.
Two More Fun Things
First off, our album needs cover art – I purchased a picture of doves from iStock photo.com, and did a little manipulation to change the pretty holiday blue background to a more foreboding war-like red. You are free to use this, as long as you don’t try to sell it or anything – iStock frowns upon that. Click-through to get it full-size.
A Parting Tune…
Lastly, If you like what you have, you can go one more extra step – and this requires a bit of work. I’m an media editor, so I have the tools to do this, but you can do it, as well, with the free audio software Audacity – which is available on both Mac and Windows.
I wanted a true close. Many Styx albums had an opening, and a close (Kilroy Was Here, Grand Illusion, Paradise Theater) – something that says, “Hey, we’re officially done” in an artistic and musical way, which refers back to the beginning of the album. I don’t actually have this, here – So I created it.
I copied the light keyboard piece from the beginning of track one, and flipped it in reverse (There’s a setting in Audacity to reverse a track.) Then I saved it out as a small, single song – that now plays in reverse. Styx used backwards masking in their later albums – mainly because they were accused of it, so why not do it? I think my backwards close works well for Phoenix: Our album started with record noise, then the keyboard piece – and now ends with the reverse keyboard piece, and then the record noise. It ends as it began. Fade to back….
- Track ten – Epilogue
I have included the reverse keyboard piece here for your listening pleasure. This will allow you to hear what the finished piece should sound like. You DON’T want to download this file – because it’s probably not kosher – it’s best to be safe. You’re already purchasing and downloading their actual tunes to make your new Styx album – so let’s not spoil it by actually downloading this – I don’t want them any more angry at me than they probably are already. Really, don’t download it. That would be too easy…
Technology brings the boys back into the studio together – whether they want to be, or not. That’s basically what DeYoung was singing about in “I don’t Believe In Anything:” everything can be manipulated in our modern, digital world.
You know what? He’s right! Enjoy your Styx reunion album!
Maybe I’ll take a look at Pink Floyd next…