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Styx - The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings CD (album) cover

THE COMPLETE WOODEN NICKEL RECORDINGS

Styx

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lor68
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Well my good score -due to the enthusiastic moments only- regarding the recent 2005 tour of the new-line up, is my attempt to ask the critics for listening to their strong performances live on stage nowadays: as a matter of fact this US band is able to convince their denigrators about its quality, despite of forgetting the ingenuosness of a few commercial music songs,giving us a lot of easy-listening music passages !! Certainly I remember the first time I listened to Styx and my first impression as well received from the melodic notes at the piano by Dennis DeYoung...it was pleasant but nothing more than a melodic pop rock version of the early Genesis,being also enriched by means of several references to such 70's classic and melodic hard rock (coming for instance from bands such as Uriah Heep); but after all, considering their strange attitude to a kind of accessible pompous rock, being anyway seldom banal, We have to appreciate this US band!! Their lyrics are the unique bad example of course, nevertheless their impact live, especially their most progressive songs, are like an hurricane on stage!! This collection doesn't make you think of a great band, but anyway if you take care of their attention to details (especially during their pleasant solos in the recent Tour recalling the old times), you have to change your mind!!

Such a great professionalism on stage,also taking care for the songs written by the original members, as the execution of the old songs played by the new-line up (Chuck Panozzo is the sole survivor of the original ensemble) is much more persuasive,more over making them earn a special mention!!

Report this review (#38271)
Posted Saturday, July 2, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Styx gets a bad rap from many prog-rock fans as being second rate or sell-outs, boot- leg and with the music of their later career this may be true. Just like Yes, or Genesis.. They become a normal pop band during the late seventies. Their early work of the first four albums is for the most part just as complex and progressive as any other standard prog band of the day . A close analysis of these lesser known wooden-nickel recordings reveals a band full of complex musicianship and creativity that is misunderstood . The band during this time was yearning to be something great. One of the first American prog-rock bands. They never really got the credit they deserved for the adventurous music they made during this period, and after these four albums they became the Styx that everyone knows. The pop band that was too cheesy for their own good. The first four Styx albums are a more respectable Styx at a time when they were not your standard rock band . They were reaching for acceptance and trying to make a progressive statement. They were indeed a prog band who should get some respect with these first four albums compiled on this collection. Definetly worth the money of anyone who wants to hear Styx's roots going all the way back to their first album in 1972. American prog-rock two years before Kansas.
Report this review (#72277)
Posted Sunday, March 19, 2006 | Review Permalink
1 stars Styx early career was full of high pitched, jagged and uneven, screechy, sloppy and generally unpleasing music. This collection is simply their first four albums on two discs. If you really want to get these albums, then get this collection and save some money, but having each individual album would be better for their individual booklets, artwork, et cetera, because frankly, the booklet in this collection is quite useless. There's a dimly interesting and very zealous bio of the band's early years, but besides that, it's useless.
Report this review (#96059)
Posted Saturday, October 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars When most folks think of Styx, they obviously think of "Come Sail Away", "Renegade", "Blue Collar Man", etc. The late 70s / early 80s hits. Most folks aren't familiar with the band's first four albums, recorded for a small label with sometimes crappy production before getting signed to A&M Records. And that's too bad, because there are many treasures to be discovered here.

I've been a fan of these four albums for many years now, and I'm very excited to see them remastered and in a single collection.

In many ways, the least Styx-ish of the set is the first album, STYX. Only about half the album was written by Dennis DeYoung and/or James Young; the rest is made up of cover songs, and even includes a George Clinton tune! :-) Oddly, the album opens with the longest track the band, in any of its incarnations, would ever record: "Movement for the Common Man". However, it also gives us one of the band's early gems, the wonderful "Best Thing."

STYX II is a real triumph, a huge leap forward, with all the material coming from Dennis (mainly) and John Curulewski. Its a very cohesive album, much moreso than the first and third. It features the only enduring hit from this era, the lovely (and overplayed) DeYoung ballad "Lady". But in addition to this, we also get a few other winners: Dennis' "Father O.S.A." (I never knew what the initials stood for) and "Earl of Roseland" (a fun song about his early pre-Styx days in Chicago ["I can see Charlie on the porch, Johnny clicking his sticks / And two boys I don't even know rehearsing electric string tricks"]), and John C's absolutely superb "A Day". Spend some time with this song and it will reward you handsomely.

While II belonged mostly to Dennis, THE SERPENT IS RISING has JY and JC taking the reins, and what we find is what an unpredictable character JC is. Each of his few songs sound totally different from each other, ranging from II's gorgeous "A Day" to SERPENT's quirky title song and completely bizarre "Krakatoa" (and let's not overlook the silly and completely weird "Plexiglass Toilet"!!!). Both are very strong works, with "Krakatoa" being very experimental and 'soundscape-y'. JY turns in a couple of real gems here as well: "Witch Wolf" and "Young Man" are both terrific songs. He also gives a really great vocal performances on two Dennis-penned tunes, "Winner Takes All" and the excellent "Jonas Psalter". Plus, this album features one of my favourite Dennis songs of all time, the enigmatic "The Grove of Eglantine".

MAN OF MIRACLES closes the Wooden Nickel era, and is not only less experimental than STYX or SERPENT, but gives us glimpses of what's to come. This is much more a band album, with each guy contributing equally strong material (as opposed to II being very Dennis-driven and SERPENT being steered by JY and JC). Most of the stand-outs here come from Dennis. Most people point out "Golden Lark" and "Song for Suzanne", but for me, the highlights are "Mr. Christopher" and the absolutely excellent "Evil Eyes". Go have a listen to these less obvious tunes and see why they're so damn good. JY's songs here are mostly okay, "Man Like Me" and "Southern Woman" being the best. But the real surprise comes at the end: the title track is a brilliant song, and gives us shades of some of Styx's later mini-epics. JY's vocals on this song are absolutely outstanding, and Dennis' keyboards in the middle are foreshadowings of "Come Sail Away".

All-in-all, these are four very good albums, that show a band coming into its own, expanding its talents and abilities, and experimenting with classical music, church organs, spoken word pieces, cover tunes, and still turning in some very good, straightfoward rock music. They also show what a prominent role JY had in the band prior to Tommy Shaw's arrival in 1976.

And I'm completely thrilled to have them in my CD collection in newly remastered form.

Report this review (#100446)
Posted Sunday, November 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars On average, I have only given three stars on the first four albums of Styx. Don't get me wrong here with this remastered of their first four albums I give full four stars rating. The main reason is that this complete recordings packaged beautifully with excellent sound production and original artwork of the album. That brings special value for those who knew the band since its debut album. For those who know Styx for the "Come Sailaway" or "Babe" or "Show Me The Way" era, this compilation might not rate that high. But that's okay, I fully understand.

Excellent Recordings of First Four Albums

As far as prog concern, debut album by Styx can be considered as prog as some compositions have the music that characterized prog e.g. tempo and / or style changes. The opening track that serves like an epic with four parts has all the ingredients of what prog band usually offer. One part "Fanfare for The Common Man" (Aaron Copland) is a famous part where Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP) also played. "Movement For The Common Man" even though sounds like disjointed between parts it still offer a good style of music that most proggers might enjoy. Another song that has become one of my favorite Styx songs is "What Has Come Between Us" - it offers great vocal harmony and excellent melody. One of the band's key strengths is their choir comprising members of the band's voice. The debut album gives you a cohesive stream of Styx music that later became well- known with its unique style. At first glance, you might hear the influence of Uriah Heep especially on guitar parts that resemble what Mick Box typically plays. But Styx has its own brand name that sets apart from any other rock bands. This is a good addition to any prog (rock) music collection even though the music tends to be a hard rock one.

Styx II might not be a seminal album to consider; and it's not truly a prog album in conservative way . or something that in the past called it something as "art rock". In a more open mind way, this album does have some prog elements as well, even though not symphonic. However, in subjective judgment from my point of view this album has been very critical to develop me further as prog lover and it has been part of my life. The opening track "You Need Love" (3:44) might not be something that catches your attention at all when you hear the song at first time. But if you look this song into deep, you will find that all key characteristics of Styx sound was built through this track. Look how the choirs are performed and how Dennis De Young handles vocal department. The music grooves as well as guitar solo confirm the characteristics of Styx music which will carry forward into later days. "Lady" (2:56) was a major hit and is still now being played by FM radio because its pop orientation.

"A Day" (8:19) is a very melodic song with mellow opening, powerful singing style. The music is characterized by percussion as rhythm section augmented with keyboard and good bass guitar. I love this song the whole thing for an 8 minute duration! "You Better Ask" (3:54) is a jazzy-pop style which is quite catchy. "Little Fugue in G" (1:17) is basically a very nice organ work. The organ work is so catchy and memorable, it serves as great opening for the next great song: "Father O.S.A. " (7:08). It starts beautifully with excellent drumming right after the organ sound fades out, followed with nice guitar riffs that become critical elements of this excellent track. The music is nice, combining great guitar work, soaring organ work and good drum work.

The fourth album Man of Miracles was my first introduction to Styx. This is definitely NOT a prog album as the music is a straight rock music. However, this is an excellent rock album. Christopher, Mr. Christopher was then a hit in my country in mid of 70s. It's a very nice pop rock song with good keyboard and guitar works. The song itself is very melodic especially the song ambience at intro part where the guitar and drums work together beautifully. The other tracks of my favorites are: A Song for Suzanne (nice intro part), Lies, Evil Eyes (this is really great track! Especially on the melody and vocal line, combined with music ambience which supports the song), Man of Miracle (great organ work) and Southern Woman (energetic rock), Golden Lark (mellow track with an excellent piano). Styx strong point is in its vocal.

This complete recordings of Styx first four albums is highly recommended for those who love Styx. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW (i-Rock! Music Community)

Report this review (#182003)
Posted Sunday, September 7, 2008 | Review Permalink
Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Now -this- is how you do a collection

Often band collections and compilations are a waste of time but here is one which ticks off all the boxes. It has purpose, it's complete, and it's a good value. Styx is a great American rock band who began their recording career with a small Midwest label and albums quite different than the mega-platinum ones they would release down the road. It has often not been easy for fans to check out the early years with original guitarist John Curulewski and his more progressive rock musings. In years past some fans have paid big bucks to procure these individual albums. Here, for under $20 bucks, you can have all -four- maiden albums in their entirety, with good remastered sound and fresh biographical notes.

The set includes the foot-stompin' Styx debut with their early epic "Movement for the Common Man," and a sound that bounced all over the map, from British progressive rock, hard rock, blues, and Southern rock The second Styx album included the big hit "Lady" and John Curulewski's fantastic "A Day." Third came their most experimental and diverse set called "The Serpent is Rising," when for a brief moment they gagged Dennis DeYoung and stuffed him in the closet, handing over the control to JC. Some people, DeYoung included, hate this album but I think it's a blast. The fourth album "Man of Miracles" was a disappointment but included a few DeYoung tracks in which you could really hear his songwriting skills developing.

These albums set the listener up for Equinox and Crystal Ball, the two transition albums which marked the replacement of Curulewski by Tommy Shaw. They were all commercial failures but served their purpose in honing the skills of the musicians and building a fan base. Some fans belittle this first era, while a few think it is better than the big time successes of later. In any case, success didn't come easy for this band. They were together a decade before releasing their first album and 15 years before they really hit the big time. In my opinion both halves of their first recording decade are very enjoyable in their own ways.

This is an excellent set which provides great value and puts four albums into your hands. If you have any interest in the band and don't have this material, jump on this release before it goes out of print.

Report this review (#451673)
Posted Tuesday, May 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars A collective sigh of relief in rounding up all of these Wooden Nickel recordings can surely be heard now! Finally, we have all four Styx releases (not counting 1977's "Best Of") under one bonnet, as it were, and it's stunning.

"Man of Miracles"

Back in 1981, I had my first glimpse into the Wooden Nickel world of Styx. Of course, I, along with most of the rest of the world, had heard "Lady" from the Wooden Nickel years for the first time in 1975, when it enjoyed life for a second time, this time with resounding success that would help to propel Styx from more of a local band, to international stardom.

But back to that album. A friend of mine had gotten a few 8 tracks at a garage sale that summer, and "Man of Miracles" was one of them ("2112" by Rush being the other). Although we had to wait for our favorite songs to replay (no rewind or fast-forward on most 8 tracks!), it was (and is) a very rewarding album to listen to. The track list on 8 tracks was often juggled to accomodate space in each of the four 'programs,' and the order was quite different than that of the original album, but one curiosity I do recall, and that is that "Best Thing" (from Styx I) replaced "Lies" on this particular 8 track copy. I do not know if this was the case on all of them - whether it was a licensing issue, a space issue (it does not seem that "Lies" is any longer than "Best Thing"), or whatever. Years later, when RCA re-issued the Styx/Wooden Nickel albums, "Unfinished Song" appeared in the place of "Lies." That's got to be one of the most 'swapped out' songs around! The album has such a diverse compliment of songwriting - each member contributing in their own way and musical voice. (note: I've since read that "Lies" replaced "Best Thing" at one point. If anyone might know the answer behind the story, please email me.)

This 1974 release was Styx's last on Wooden Nickel. "Rock 'n' Roll Feeling" and "Just Havin' A Ball" have long been favorites of mine, with the latter having an interesting blend of guitar and keyboard, along with an incredible chorus/vocal harmonies and a very pleasingly long fade out. An extended space of silence sets the stage for the tone of the next two pieces, set into a sort of mini epic, by Dennis DeYoung. Recordings of thunder and a cello solo link the two and make a very pleasing shift in atmosphere. James Young returns in a very strong piece called "A Man Like Me," written for his wife, Susie. This is probably the first time that Styx used horns (a practice that they would continue throughout the rest of the 70s). It has such a powerful refrain and the levels were so high in the recording, that my vinyl pressings were always seemingly lacking in the ability to reproduce them faithfully. If it had been a pressing from the 50s on a label such as Liberty, with the virgin vinyl and deep grooves, then maybe it would've fared better. This is an excellent reason for this new remaster! Next up is "Lies" (or "Best Thing" or "Unfinished Song" - take your pick) - each executed nicely. As I prefer Styx's original material, I probably would prefer the latter two, but "Lies" is done in Styx's own style, and here, that means vocals, vocals, vocals, primarily. The combination of DDY and JY has always been very unique. "Evil Eyes" is a more sparse ballad, highlighted by accompanying vocals by the others. "Christopher, Mr. Christopher" is a track I've always liked - very original in the storytelling department and very exciting in the buildup and progression of the music. The ending is wonderfully unexpected, much in the similar mood as the ending of "Evil Eyes" - it drifts off and speaks for itself. "Man of Miracles" - the title track is a mini-epic combined with hard rock. James Young delivers great vocals, and Dennis shines with excellent organ work. The Hammond is becoming less frequent on this album - Dennis seems to be preferring the ARP string synth at this time.

"Man of Miracles" is more 'straight forward' than its predecessor, "The Serpent Is Rising", although it still retains an eclectic sense of style that would remain throughout most of the rest of the Styx catalog in the 70s.

"The Serpent Is Rising"

The next year, that same friend purchased the then-newly re-released RCA version of "The Serpent Is Rising" (1973) (RCA retitled it "Serpent" with new artwork that graced all of their Styx reissues from 1980). This album is such a joy to hear, and as huge fans of Queen, we relished in this 'new' revelation by Styx. The flow of the album is remarkably smooth, despite the sometimes highly eclectic juxtaposition of styles (e.g. "As Bad As This"). What really flowed through me and caught my attention was Styx's remarkable ability to harness feeling and breadth and depth of emotion into their recordings. The wonderful vocal blend was present from the first album and here is taken to new heights (e.g. "Grove of Eglantine," "Young Man," "Winner Take All," "Jonas Psalter") with Styx seemingly pushing the limits of the studios they used then.

"Grove of Eglantine" has to be my favorite vocal performance by Dennis DeYoung, and it seems to establish that romantic 'vagabond' type character which he would play from time to time in various songs ("Born For Adventure" et al). Also, this song features a Mellotron keyboard. Incidentally, this album marks the only time that a Mellotron keyboard was used on a Styx album. Dennis (as well as maybe James and John C) use the instrument tastefully and in a very orchestral manner, making it blend into the rest of the instrumentation seamlessly. Dennis later moved to ARP string ensembles on Man of Miracles, probably due to their improved portability and stability, when compared to the Mellotron, an instrument that is notorious for going out of tune and breaking down when used in live settings. Inspite of this, it adds a wonderfully shimmering color to the Styx sonic pallate not seen before or since.

"Young Man" has just about every element in place, moving from acoustic guitars, then full group in a hard rock section, with amazing vocals by James Young. The middle section can be considered very prog, being very reflective, before launching into the finale with the final seven crunchy chords.

The album moves from dense to sparse, with "As Bad As This" offering a natural contrast to the previous track, "Young Man." Just John Curulewski and his guitar, along with some 'big' drums, very nicely done, by John Panozzo, this piece is very reflective. The mood is then somewhat shattered by the very upbeat "hidden track". John Curulewski certainly plumbs the far reaches for new ideas, and comes back with amazing results. At first listen, one may wonder how the hidden track fits into the big picture, but somehow it does, "in the end" (no pun intended).

"The Serpent Is Rising" is probably Styx's more extrovertedly theatrical album (to date), bookended with a loose concept and very intriguing arrangements in every song.

Nicely Done Collection

Here, in this collection, we have Styx (I), Styx II, The Serpent Is Rising, and Man of Miracles. The packaging has been lovingly done, and the sound is terrific. The remastering sounds gentle, with little remastering or digital artifacts to color the original recordings. Styx favor keeping dynamics over remastering for sheer loudness, according to Bob Ludwig, and I think that is to be applauded. In the artwork department, I learned recently that Chuck Panozzo had quite a bit to do with Styx's album covers, and that he designed "Pieces of Eight"s cover. I wonder if he added his touch to these? I love the original covers, but I must admit that the RCA "graphic style" reissue covers from 1980 have a special place in my heart, as they were my first copies to own. Some of those are better than the others, with "Serpent" being the best, to me. Well, maybe "Serpent" is the only good one... The members of Styx certainly weren't happy with those RCA covers, but it's nice to see such attention to detail in this release. I'm sure Chuck is pleased!

My next wish is for the big, comprehensive Styx biography to be released, with complete tour dates, recording sessions, and the works!

A great deal of attention and care have been given to this collection - I highly recommend this release to all Styx fans.

Report this review (#497730)
Posted Friday, August 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Okay, first let me get it out there that I enjoy the classic albums of Styx. You know, Equinox, Grand Illusion, ...etc...but I consider the Wooden Nickel years to be pre-classic. I did have these as albums many years ago but failed to like them much. Rough, bluesy, rocky, unfufilled ideas, murky sound, and even really embarassing at times. So, looking at this I see a combo of their first four albums on 2 discs with pretty nice packaging. And for way less money than for the seperate discs. A decent value and fine for checking out the genesis of Styx. 3 stars for being useful even though the music contained herein deserves only 2 stars.
Report this review (#636543)
Posted Monday, February 20, 2012 | Review Permalink

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