By Jeb Wright
As a member of the band Styx, Dennis DeYoung penned several iconic songs from the 1970s and ’80s, including “Come Sail Away,” “Suite Madame Blue,” “Lady,” “The Best of Times” and “Mr. Roboto.”
When asked which 10 records changed his life, DeYoung had no problem spouting out, in chronological order rather than personal importance, many styles of music. It is this mixed bag of musical influences that shaped the one-time maestro of the accordion into the songwriter he is today.
1. Various artists, RCA: 60 Years of Music America Loves Best: Vol. 1: As an 11-year-old, I joined the RCA Record Club, and they sent me this record. Not an ounce of rock, but rather a vast spectrum of music, from classical to jazz. The Hit Parade introduced me to everything under the sun, which expanded my love of music.
2. Various artists, the first five singles I bought (no one bought albums then):
“Great Balls of Fire,” Jerry Lee Lewis; “Venus,” Frankie Avalon; “Runnin’ Scared,” Roy Orbison (there’s that “Bolero” again); “Jailhouse Rock,” Elvis Presley; “Little Jimmy Brown,” The Browns, which was a 78, not a 45. Holy crap, I’m old. This record made me cry. Special Mention for albums: Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Crosby, Stills & Nash;” Yes, “The Yes Album;” Blood, Sweat & Tears, “Blood, Sweat & Tears;” Chicago, “Chicago II;” Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Emerson, Lake & Palmer” (thanks, Keith); Three Suns, who kept me entertained on accordion until The Beatles.
3. The Beatles, The Beatles’ Second Album: My friend, Dave, had “Meet the Beatles,” but I didn’t become a fan until Ed Sullivan, night one. After that, and until this day, they have been the greatest influence on me. The Beatles held no songwriting boundaries — much like that RCA album above.
4. The Animals, The Best of The Animals: This was my first rock concert. I saw them live at the U of I-Chicago and stood no more than 10 feet from Eric Burdon. “We Got To Get Outta of This Place,” “It’s My Life,” “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Mad Again.” Cool organ stuff.
5. The Beatles, Rubber Soul and Revolver: At first listen, I thought they had lost their minds. But no: Goodbye Beatlemania, hello the future.
6. Jimmy Smith and Lalo Schifrin, The Cat: He is the Jimi Hendrix of organists. He had his mojo workin’, and it was workin’ on me.
7. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Robert Hilburn, L.A. rock critic, once wrote an essay about how this record ruined rock. Yeah, the same way the fork ruined eating.
8. Three Dog Night, Three Dog Night: Their power vocal triads would become the theory behind Styx harmonies, though higher and whinier.
9. The Beatles, Abbey Road: “The Grand Illusion,” “Pieces of Eight” and “Paradise Theater” were all disguised attempts at recreating that album. Yeah, Dennis, good luck with that.
10. The Who, Who’s Next: Thank you, Pete Townshend, for inventing the power chord and the windmill. Without power chords there would be no power ballads, nor half the songs on rock radio.