After dropping four poorly-received prog-driven studio slabs, the Chicago-birthed brigade, Styx, were rescued from the bottom rungs of rock’s tour circuit overnight when their 1973 album cut, “Lady,” became a surprise international smash in the spring of 1975. In short order, the five-piece combo graduated from the indie Wooden Nickle label and signed to music giant, A&M Records.
Styx benefited immediately from newfound major label resources. But while not a bona fide blockbuster, their fifth album, Equinox, certainly helped break the band on a larger scale. And along with the classic Led Zeppelin set, Physical Graffiti, it ranked quickly as one of my personal top two stoner 8-tracks when it arrived in stores worldwide. That was a very long time ago — 45 years ago next week, to be exact.
The last Styx effort to feature co-founding guitarist, John Curulewski, the self-produced eight-song LP was the gateway to the group’s unimaginable future, with fresh-faced 22-year-old Alabama guitar ace, Tommy Shaw, soon joining their ranks, just in time for the ensuing tour. Simply put, Equinox revealed the stylistic blueprint for what would define the band’s impeccable decades-long brand. And it sounded as big as the arenas they soon would be headlining.
“Light Up” set the stage perfectly as a mighty record opener. A high-energy, coliseum-caliber sing-along, the tune was brought to life by the iconic lead vocals of Dennis DeYoung and his magnificent, Mainstreet Electrical Parade-flavored keyboard work. The combination of Chuck Panozzo’s throaty bass chug and his brother, John Panozzo’s iron-pumping drum work lit up not only “Light Up,” but also provided the backbone for the entire record. DeYoung’s transparent lyrics more than adequately conveyed the song’s good-time, party-hearty message. As a result, the intro’s joint-toking sound effect and the outro’s “smoke it – smoke it” mantra both were gratuitous and kinda silly.
Crisp and catchy, “Lorelei” was the second Styx single to crash Casey’s Countdown — an upbeat, radio-friendly rocker that provided the crunchier yin to the softer “Lady” yang. Another noteworthy standout, “Mother Dear” was a delightful sonic cocktail — mixing psychedelia-soaked vocals with “Karn Evil”-inspired keys and stadium-sized guitars.
Bursting with ferocious riffs and wailing vocals, the James “JY” Young-penned, “Midnight Ride” was a white-knuckled excursion. Young’s soon-to-be signature guitar sound was like clanging sheets of metal — like two of Detroit’s finest colliding at a previously undiscovered intersection.
Highlighted by Curulewski’s masterful acoustic guitar work, DeYoung’s heart-stopping six-and-a-half-minute opus, “Suite Madame Blue,” would become a staple at Album Oriented Rock (AOR) FM radio. One of the band’s all-time greatest achievements, it remains a much-loved fan favorite.
Prior to arriving at a place of pop prominence as platinum purveyors of prom night provolone, Styx were an authentic hard-hitting rock act with plenty of street cred to spare. And 45 years later, Equinox stands tall as an important entry in their impressive catalogue — serving as a vivid snapshot of the band’s golden era.
Equinox Track Listing:
1. Light Up (4:17)
2. Lorelei (3:19)
3. Mother Dear (5:25)
4. Lonely Child (3:47)
1. Midnight Ride (4:17)
2. Born for Adventure (5:12)
3. Prelude 12 (1:21)
4. Suite Madame Blue (6:30)
Run Time: 34:32
Record Label: A&M
Release Date: December 1, 1975