Styx Solo Albums from the Lost and Found (Part 1): Desert Moon / Back to the World

by Jeff Fiedler

Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.

While a sizable number of Styx classics – especially “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” and “The Best of Times” – remain quite common on classic-rock and oldies radio, it’s easy to forget that the band did not exist from 1984 through 1989 and that the members of the group spent the entire back half of the Eighties making solo albums. The discs may not have been all that commercially successful – Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw each only have a single Top 40 hit to their respective names as solo artists – but it’s a bit amazing, given the continued interest in Styx on classic-rock radio and as a touring band, that you never hear any of the band’s solo work on the radio, nor have any of their solo discs been particularly easy to track down on CD in recent years.

Of the band’s two primary lead singers and songwriters, DeYoung has been slightly more successful as a solo artist than Shaw, albeit not by much, and his 1984 solo debut Desert Moon (which retains the services of both Styx sideman Steve Eisen on saxophone and longtime Styx engineer Gary Loizzo, formerly lead singer of ‘60s hit-makers The American Breed of “Bend Me, Shape Me” fame) did produce a strangely-now-all-but-completely-forgotten Top Ten hit single in its lovely title track, a ballad not too far removed from Styx’s equally great 1983 Top Ten hit “Don’t Let It End” (the follow-up single to the much-maligned “Mr. Roboto” and a song that strangely got left off of the band’s double-disc hits package Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology.)

The single’s similarly-titled parent album is not without its flaws – namely, an ill-advised radical reworking of the Jimi Hendrix classic “Fire” – and the songs might be too adult-contemporary-oriented for Styx fans who prefer the band’s earlier, pre-Cornerstone pomp-rock stylings, but for pop music buffs, it’s hard to not like this album, if only for DeYoung’s winning way with a hook, and it’s slightly strange that nothing else on here followed “Desert Moon” into the Top 40. [“Don’t Wait for Heroes” stalled out at #83, while the album’s prettiest and catchiest tune, the acoustic-guitar-centered ballad “Dear Darling (I’ll Be There)” strangely missed the Hot 100 altogether.]  

While DeYoung tends to be known best for his ballads, he doesn’t go overboard with them here and provides a surprising number of up-tempo cuts like “Don’t Wait for Heroes,” the Rosemary Butler duet “Please,” and the mildly-jazzy stylings of “Suspicious.”  

Even the most deliberate throwaway cut here, the sex-obsessed-teenaged-boy-themed “Boys Will Be Boys” is just too catchy, hilarious, and unapologetically effervescent to not find charming, especially when DeYoung, playing the part of a teenager who has the house to himself for the weekend, lets loose and ad-libs with Robin Williams-like speed over the extended fade-out.  

It’s possible that the album, which reached #24, may have done even better, but DeYoung injured his back while shooting a video for “Don’t Wait for Heroes” and had to pull out of a solo tour opening for the then-red-hot Huey Lewis and the News.

The follow-up disc, 1986’s #108-peaking Back to the World, is noticeably both more serious-minded and more ballad-heavy, though it’s got just as many catchy songs.

Surprisingly, nothing here reached the Top 40, not even DeYoung’s Karate Kid II theme “This Is the Time,” which sports one of DeYoung’s prettiest melodies. “Warning Shot,” “Unanswered Prayers,” and the ballad “Call Me” (which was released as a single and climbed as high as #54) are all standouts as well, while the most loose and upbeat moment comes via the harmonica-laced bluesy rocker “Southbound Ryan.”

Following a non-charting one-off outing on MCA, 1988’s Boomchild, DeYoung would move in a very unpredictable and theatrical direction on his next two solo releases, 1994’s show-tunes-comprised 10 from Broadway (a one-off release on Atlantic) and 1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a DeYoung-penned stage-musical adaptation of the story of the same name. Not surprisingly, neither sold nearly as well as Desert Moon or Back to the World, and DeYoung – who, by now, had sadly been booted from his former band due to health issues that temporarily prevented him from touring – would not release another studio album as a solo artist until 2007’s One Hundred Years from Now, which nearly went unreleased altogether in the U.S. until Rounder finally issued it here two years later.