Deep Cuts: Styx "Miss America" (1977)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Love ’em or hate ’em, Styx was part of many an American boy’s soundtrack of the late 70s and early 80s. When I think of arena rock, the first two bands I think of are Journey and Styx; both bands encapsulated everything that was good and not so good about that style of rock.

Chicago-based Styx hit it’s stride slightly before the Bay Area band Journey, when guitarist Tommy Shaw’s entry into the band in 1976 added another songwriting voice to guitarist James “JY” Young and keyboard player Dennis DeYoung. The following year they had that breakthrough hit album The Grand Illusion and DeYoung’s “Sail Away” and Shaw’s “Fooling Yourself,” introduced their brand of big sound, bombastic rock to millions of young listeners who were having none of the punk or disco that were emerging at the same time.

Now there are Styx songs I am sick to death of (“Too Much Time On My Hands”) and some I never did care for (“Babe,” which I just heard somewhere the other day. Bleah). And then, there’s a few I just can’t hear enough of. “Lorelei” is one, and so is Young’s hard rockin’ entry in The Grand Illusion, “Miss America.”

There’s a real simple reason why I like “Miss America”: it’s that dope guitar riff. A good, straight, down the line, butt-kicking head thrashing American riff.

That aggressive galloping riff, performed by Shaw, goes hand-in-hand with JY’s snarling vocals, who sneers at the facade of the USA’s most famous pageant (“Well it’s true, just take a look/the cover sometimes makes the book”), and after one of DeYoung’s surging synth surges, Young takes a solo. He’s not a terribly original guitarist, sounding more than just a little bit like Jimi Hendrix (which, admittedly, is what most rock guitarists sounded like in 1977), but it’s as nasty as his vocals. In this case, his cover does make the book.

“Miss America” was one of those moments when Styx was actually great, putting that dual lead-guitar attack to some good use. They didn’t do that enough for my tastes, but when I go back and play the high school soundtrack of my memories, this is the Styx song that gets the airplay on my mental radio.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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