Styx- Pieces of Eight- Tommy Shaw, James”JY” Young

Doggedly determined, Chicago-based Styx had finally cracked the code with their seventh(!) album, The Grand Illusion, a year before Pieces of Eight in September 1978. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarists Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young along with singer/songwriter/keyboard player Dennis DeYoung,  the new album immediately exploded across North America, for the first time in Styx’s long career arc, with breathtaking musical pyrotechnics  including the seminal “Blue Collar Man”,”Great White Hope”,”Sing for the Day”, and the perennial fist-pumper “Renegade”. 

Back when deejays on FM rock stations still chose the songs that you heard on the radio, before pre-scheduled computerized playlists, it wass not possible to accurately quantify exactly how many times a particular song or album was getting airplay in a given day, week, or month. But I’ll bet you a rib dinner at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous that the two most played new albums  when I joined ROCK 103 Memphis in Fall 1978 were Boston Don’t Look Back  and Styx Pieces of Eight.  We literally wore the grooves off of the initial white label promo copy of Pieces of Eight  by playing in heavy rotation “Great White Hope”, “Sing for the Day”, “Queen of Spades”, and two soon-to-be rock anthems, “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade”, responsible for explosive sales in car stereos and, when Styx played concerts, Bic lighters. While the facts of history (music or otherwise) remain constant over the passage of time, it is fascinating over the years how perceptions of those facts sometimes do change, even dramatically, as in the case of Chicagoland favorites Styx. For instance, here is Greg Prato’s assessment of the band on AllMusic.com circa 2013: “The rare art rock band with commercial success, capable of producing monster hits with stadium rock, sweeping power ballads, and concept albums.” With that glowing review, you might then be puzzled by Styx co-founder Dennis DeYoung warily telling a Rolling Stone  magazine writer in July 2011, ” The last time Rolling Stone  called to interview me, you know when it was? 1975. ‘Lady’ had just become a hit record by accident.” ( JY left, Tommy Shaw)

In my classic rock interview focusing on the  1978 release of Pieces of Eight, former Styx member and co-founder DeYoung  confesses that, in spite of his major conceptual songwriting role on the band’s 1977 breakthrough three million seller The Grand Illusion, the highly-anticipated follow-up Pieces of Eight was not his finest hour. This admission underscores the short term significance of how Styx guitarists/songwriters/singers Tommy Shaw and James Young stepped up creatively to fill the void on Pieces of Eight, again selling triple platinum with the muscular “Blue Collar Man”,”Renegade”,”The Great White Hope”,”Queen of Spades”, and “Sing for the Day”. Long term, however, it may have signaled the beginning of a divergence in the creative direction of Styx, an opinion shared by many long time Styx fans but rejected, albeit weakly, by DeYoung in the 2011 Rolling Stone interview.
What is without debate is the rave reception  received by the Shaw/ JY-led Styx with Lawrence Gowan, Todd Sucherman, and Ricky Phillips both on the impressive  Styx studio interplanetary Mars-themed concept album The Mission  and its recent lockdown follow-up, Crash of the Crown. –Redbeard