Ever since the release of their debut album in 1972, Styx have always been a group in vocal flux.
Dennis DeYoung was the de facto frontman, with his distinctive tenor giving the band their unmistakable sound. As the the group’s most prolific songwriter and creative driving force, DeYoung also had a large say as to who would sing on what track.
Still, the band was blessed with other voices that could carry the lead-vocal weight. Early on, guitarist James “J.Y.” Young enjoyed a near-even split with DeYoung, often handling vocals on the group’s more traditional rock-leaning tracks. The arrival of Tommy Shaw in 1975 added another vocal powerhouse to the group. The guitarist, who displayed proficient songwriting prowess of his own, further enriched Styx’s three-part harmonies, while also taking lead on many of the band’s tunes.
While those three men represent the biggest vocal contributors in Styx’s history, they’re far from the only ones to grab the lead. Guitarist John Curulewski, bassist Glen Burtnik and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan have each had moments in the spotlight, while guest contributors include actor Billy Bob Thornton and comedy-rock duo Tenacious D.
So, who sang lead on the most Styx songs? We combed through their catalog of releases and added up the stats. Only studio recorded songs were counted, leaving in-concert releases out. Likewise, re-recordings weren’t included in our tally.
J.Y. Young – 6: “Children of the Land,” “Fanfare for the Common Man,” “Right Away,” “Quick Is the Beat of My Heart,” “After You Leave Me,” “Best Thing” (with DeYoung)
Dennis DeYoung – 3: “Mother Nature’s Matinee,” “What Has Come Between Us,” “Best Thing” (with Young)
Things get complicated right off the bat, as “Movement for the Common Man” – the first song from the band’s debut album – is actually a combination of four songs sprawling across more than 13 minutes of music. For the sake of argument, let’s break each movement out and count them as their own songs. It’s clear on Styx that Young and DeYoung both have defined vocal duties, with the former shouldering the heavier load on the LP. Both sang on “Best Thing,” the only track on the debut album that features dual lead vocals.
Styx II (1973)
Dennis DeYoung – 3: “Lady,” “Father O.S.A.,” “Earl of Roseland”
J.Y. Young – 2: “You Need Love,” “I’m Gonna Make You Feel It”
J.C. Curulewski – 2: “A Day,” “You Better Ask”
After taking lead vocals on the majority of Styx’s first album, Young drops back on the sophomore effort. He takes lead on only two of the tracks from Styx II, bookending the album with opener “You Need Love” and closer “I’m Gonna Make You Feel It.” In hindsight, Styx II feels like a band searching to find its voice, which explains the near-equal vocal timeshare among Young, DeYoung and Curulewski (who made his vocal debut on this album). The LP is best-known for “Lady,” the power ballad that became the band’s first hit. But it took a long time for the song to gain traction; it wouldn’t be until two years after Styx II’s release that “Lady” finally broke out.
The Serpent Is Rising (1973)
J.Y. Young – 5: “Witch Wolf,” “Young Man,” “Winner Take All,” “Jonas Psalter,” “22 Years” (with DeYoung)
J.C. Curulewski – 2: “As Bad As This,” “The Serpent Is Rising”
Dennis DeYoung – 2: “The Grove of Eglantine,” “22 Years” (with Young)
The band’s first dip into concept-album waters, The Serpent Is Rising ranks among the most criticized releases in the Styx catalog. Filled with sexual innuendos, including the not-so-subtle title track, the LP features a hodgepodge of various styles. Young leads the vocal count, lending his voice to five of the tracks, including the straight-ahead rockers “Witch Wolf,” “Young Man” and “Winner Take All.” Curulewski’s contributions are more experimental, including the blues-tinged “As Bad as This.” DeYoung is notably reserved on the LP, delivering only a prog-rock song about a woman’s vagina – “The Grove of Eglantine” – and joining Young on the boogie-woogie-styled “22 Years.”
Man of Miracles (1974)
J.Y. Young – 5: “Rock & Roll Feeling,” “Havin’ a Ball,” “A Man Like Me,” “Southern Eyes,” “Man of Miracles”
Dennis DeYoung – 5: “Golden Lark,” “A Song for Suzanne,” “Lies,” “Evil Eyes,” “Christopher, Mr. Christopher”
Styx finally went with a clean 50/50 split on Man of Miracles, as Young and DeYoung each contributed vocals to five songs. The style of the material reflects the musicians’ differing tastes. Young, who tended toward traditional hard rockers, voices the rousing “Rock & Roll Feeling,” buoyant “Havin’ a Ball” and grandiose title track. DeYoung, on the other hand, delivers a mix of ballads (“Golden Lark”) and voyages into prog-rock territory (“A Song for Suzanne,” “Evil Eyes”).
Dennis DeYoung – 6: “Light Up,” “Lorelei,” “Lonely Child,” “Born or Adventure,” “Suite Madame Blue,” “Mother Dear” (with Curulewski)
J.Y. Young – 1: “Midnight Ride”
J.C. Curulewski – 1: “Mother Dear”
DeYoung steps into the spotlight on 1975’s Equinox, handling lead vocals on the majority of the tracks. “Lorelei” was the album’s biggest hit, peaking at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Born for Adventure” showcases the whimsical storytelling style of lyrics, which would soon become a calling card of Styx material, while the power ballad “Lonely Child” displays the group’s theatrical flair. Young’s only track on the LP was Side Two opener “Midnight Ride.” The fiery hard-rock track is also the only tune written by Young for Equinox. In his final release with Styx, Curulewski sings on only one track, sharing vocal duties with DeYoung on “Mother Dear.” The guitarist departed the group prior to the Equinox promotional tour. He was soon replaced by Tommy Shaw.
Crystal Ball (1976)
Dennis DeYoung – 4: “Jennifer,” “This Old Man,” “Clair de Lune / Ballerina,” “Put Me On” (with Young)
Tommy Shaw – 3: “Mademoiselle,” “Crystal Ball,” “Shooz”
J.Y. Young – 1: “Put Me On” (with DeYoung)
Shaw’s arrival brought a new voice into the Styx mix. Of the three tracks he fronts on the LP, “Mademoiselle” was the biggest commercial hit. The song was released as the first single from Crystal Ball, peaking at No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100. Shaw’s emergence pushed Young further into the background vocally, his only credit sharing singing duties with DeYoung on “Put Me On.” DeYoung once again fronts the most songs on the LP, including the creepy ode to a 17-year-old girl, “Jennifer.”
The Grand Illusion (1977)
Dennis DeYoung – 4: “The Grand Illusion,” “Come Sail Away,” “Castle Walls,” “The Grand Finale”
Tommy Shaw – 2: “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man),” “Man in the Wilderness”
J.Y. Young – 1: “Miss America”
The album that is often credited with launching Styx to upper-level stardom, The Grand Illusion was released in July 1977. Its themes, focusing on the pitfalls of fame, resonated with listeners, resulting in more than 3 million albums sold. “Come Sail Away” was the LP’s biggest hit, its lyrics reflecting the chase to achieve one’s dreams. The song reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is one of four tracks that DeYoung wrote and sang lead vocals on. “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and “Man in the Wilderness” were both penned by Shaw, the latter having been inspired by a performance by Kansas. Meanwhile, Young’s lone track, “Miss America,” is the Side Two opener that takes aim at the world’s superficial obsessions.
Pieces of Eight (1978)
Tommy Shaw – 3: “Sing for the Day,” “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Renegade”
Dennis DeYoung – 3: “I’m O.K.,” “Queen of Spades,” “Pieces of Eight”
J.Y. Young – 2: “Great White Hope,” “Lords of the Ring”
Styx again went triple platinum with this concept album crafted around human beings’ pursuit of and obsession with money. “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Sing for the Day” and “Renegade” were all hits, with the latter peaking the highest when it reached No. 16 on the Billboard chart. Despite its commercial success, DeYoung was disappointed with Pieces of Eight. “Not in the record itself, because I think Tommy’s contribution is very strong,” he said. “But my own personal contribution, when I look back at it, I’m not crazy about what I wrote.” After this album, he started searching for new creative paths for Styx.
Dennis DeYoung – 4: “Why Me,” “Babe,” “Borrowed Time,” “First Time”
Tommy Shaw – 4: “Lights,” “Never Say Never,” “Boat on the River,” “Love in the Midnight”
J.Y. Young – 1: “Eddie”
After extended stints in the art- and prog-rock worlds, Styx took a decidedly pop-oriented approach to Cornerstone. While some die-hard fans were outraged by the decision, many more listeners discovered the band as it embraced a more mainstream sound. Notably, DeYoung’s chart-topping pop tune “Babe” alienated prog-rock fans, but scored the group its all-time biggest hit. They still sounded like Styx, so impressive guitar parts, three-part harmonies and catchy choruses were here in abundance. But the bigger result of Cornerstone was the further splintering of artistic direction within the group.
Paradise Theatre (1981)
Dennis DeYoung – 6: “A.D. 1928,” “Rockin’ the Paradise,” “Nothing Ever Goes as Planned,” “The Best of Times,” “Lonely People,” “A.D. 1958”
Tommy Shaw – 3: “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “She Cares,” “Snowblind” (with Young)
J.Y. Young – 2: “Half-Penny, Two-Penny,” “Snowblind” (with Shaw)
Even though Shaw and Young preferred a more straight-ahead rock approach, DeYoung continued pushing the artistic and experimental boundaries of Styx. The yin and yang of their sounds helped make the band such an engrossing group, and when all of the elements worked in harmony, their output was unrivaled. Such was the case on the 1981 concept album Paradise Theatre. The LP – which used the opening and eventual abandonment of Chicago’s Paradise Theatre as a metaphor for American society – featured several of the band’s most beloved hits. The DeYoung-fronted track “The Best of Times” hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, while “Too Much Time on My Hands” peaked at No. 9, the only Shaw-penned song in Styx’s history to make the Top 10. Paradise Theatre remains the only No. 1 album in Styx’s long catalog and marked the band’s fourth consecutive triple-platinum LP.
Kilroy Was Here (1983)
Dennis DeYoung – 5: “Mr. Roboto,” “Don’t Let It End,” “High Time,” “Don’t Let It End” (with Shaw)
Tommy Shaw – 4: “Cold War,” “Just Get Through This Night,” “Haven’t We Been Here Before” (with DeYoung), “Don’t Let It End” (with DeYoung)
J.Y. Young – 2: “Heavy Metal Poisoning,” “Double Life”
Fairly or not, Kilroy Was Here is often singled out as the straw that broke the camel’s back in regard to Styx’s differing directions. The rock opera was conceived by DeYoung as an album, stage show and film, created in response to the fundamentalist Christian groups that had spoken out against the band’s music. But DeYoung’s bandmates had grown tired of concept albums and wanted to indulge in the band’s more traditional rock side. Despite their protests, DeYoung pushed forward with his vision, which imagined a future where rock ‘n’ roll is banned by authoritarian rulers. Unsurprisingly, DeYoung is the most heavily featured singer on the LP, including its biggest hits, the power ballad “Don’t Let it End” and the polarizing “Mr. Roboto.” Kilroy Was Here would prove to be the final album by Styx’s classic lineup. While touring the album in 1984, Shaw finally had enough of the theatrics, smashing his guitar, walking offstage and quitting the band.
Caught in the Act (1984)
Dennis DeYoung – 1: “Music Time”
The sole studio recording released on Styx’s live album Caught in the Act is the campy “Music Time,” its uptempo sound and quirky lyrics a far cry from the seriousness heard on Kilroy Was Here. Though the band had already broken up, it maintained appearances for the “Music Time” music video. The cartoonish clip was full of over-the-top ’80s excess and is eye-rollingly bad in hindsight. Shaw, who refused to be filmed alongside his former bandmates, instead shot brief clips by himself, which editors then inserted into the piece to give the illusion that the band was still whole.
Edge of the Century (1990)
Dennis DeYoung – 5: “Show Me the Way,” “Love at First Sight,” “Not Dead Yet,” “Carrie Ann,” “Back to Chicago”
Glen Burtnik – 4: “Love Is the Ritual,” “Edge of the Century,” “All in a Day’s Work,” “World Tonite”
J.Y. Young – 1: “Homewrecker”
After a period that saw each of the Styx band members pursue solo endeavors, the majority of the group reunited for 1990’s Edge of the Century. The only absence was Shaw, who instead focused his attention to the newly formed supergroup Damn Yankees. In his place was Glen Burtnik, a singer-songwriter personally recruited by DeYoung. The newcomer took lead vocals on four of the album’s tracks, just one less than DeYoung, whose “Show Me the Way” proved to be the only successful single. Edge of the Century also marked the last album for Styx co-founder and drummer John Panozzo, who died in 1996.
Styx Greatest Hits Part 2 (1996)
Tommy Shaw – 2: “Little Suzie” and “It Takes Love”
For their Greatest Hits Part 2 compilation – the follow-up to 1995’s part-one release – Styx decided to include two previously unreleased tracks. “Little Suzie” is a chugging, straight-ahead rocker, while the soaring ballad “It Takes Love” was originally recorded for Edge of the Century but ultimately scrapped. Both songs feature lead vocals by Shaw.
Return to Paradise (1997)
Tommy Shaw – 2: “On My Way” and “Dear John”
Dennis DeYoung – 1: “Paradise”
Even though Return to Paradise is a live album, it features three new studio tracks. Two spotlight Shaw in the leading role, including “Dear John,” a song dedicated to the memory of John Panozzo. The track notably didn’t have drums, a nod to the late Styx drummer. DeYoung handled the vocals on “Paradise,” the only non-Shaw original on Return to Paradise. The song was originally written and recorded by DeYoung for his musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Brave New World (1999)
Tommy Shaw – 8: “I Will Be Your Witness,” “Brave New World,” “Number One,” “Best New Face,” “Everything Is Cool,” “Just Fell In,” “Brave New World,” “What Have They Done to You” (with Young), “Heavy Water” (with Young)
Dennis DeYoung – 5: “While There’s Still Time,” “Fallen Angel,” “Great Expectations,” “High Crimes & Misdemeanors (Hip Hop-Cracy),” “Goodbye Roseland”
J.Y. Young – 2: “What Have They Done to You” (with Shaw), “Heavy Water” (with Shaw)
What started as a reunion ended with a breakup. After more than a decade apart, Brave New World brought Styx’s three main singers and songwriters – DeYoung, Shaw and Young – back together. The result was a commercial failure, and things only got worse as the band attempted to tour. DeYoung battled health issues and was unable to perform. Frustrated, the group’s remaining members recruited singer and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan to take his place. The ensuing arguments, which resulted in DeYoung taking his former bandmates to court, drove a wedge among the Styx members that has remained until this day.
Tommy Shaw – 6: “Do Things My Way,” “Waiting for Our Time,” “Together,” “Fooling Yourself (Palm of Your Hands),” “One With Everything,” “Yes I Can”
Glen Burtnik – 2: “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye,” “Killing the Thing That You Love”
Lawrence Gowan – 2: “Fields of the Brave,” “More Love for the Money”
J.Y. Young – 2: “These Are the Times” “Captain America”
Billy Bob Thornton – 1: “Bourgeois Pig”
Tenacious D – 1: “The Chosen One”
Styx’s first effort without DeYoung also features the most vocalist of any of their albums. Leading the way is Shaw, who took over the reins as the group’s frontman. He fronts a total of six songs, including the album’s only single, “Waiting for Our Time.” After a successful stint touring with the band, Gowan makes his first recorded appearance with Styx, leading two tracks. Meanwhile, Burtnik and Young contribute three and two songs, respectively. Cyclorama also features a couple of unexpected appearances. First, Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton, who sings on the 49-second anti-establishment track, “Bourgeois Pig”; later, a hidden track titled “The Chosen One” features Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D.
Big Bang Theory (2005)
Tommy Shaw – 5: “I Can See for Miles,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “One Way Out,” “Summer in the City,” “Wishing Well”
Lawrence Gowan – 4: “I Am the Walrus,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” “A Salty Dog,” “Talkin’ About the Good Times”
J.Y. Young – 3: “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace),” “Manic Depression,” “Locomotive Breath”
For this 2005 LP, the Styx members decided to embrace the work of others. The album features covers of some of rock’s most legendary acts, including the Beatles, the Who, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix and more.
The Mission (2018) Tommy Shaw – 7: “Hundred Million Miles from Home,” “Locomotive,” “Radio Silence,” “Red Storm,” “All Systems Stable,” “Mission to Mars,” “The Greater Good” (with Gowan)
Lawrence Gowan – 4: “Gone Gone Gone,” “Time May Bend,” “The Outpost,” “The Greater Good” (with Shaw)
J.Y. Young – 1: “Trouble at the Big Show”
Styx’s first album of original material in 14 years is a return to concept albums. For The Mission, Shaw envisions a journey to Mars in the year 2033.The guitarist and singer handled most of the songwriting and lead vocal work on the album, fronting a total of seven track, the most he’d done on any Styx LP.