by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
Man of Miracles, Styx’s fourth studio album, was released 48 years ago today by Wooden Nickel Records on November 8, 1974. Man of Miracles was the band’s final album under their original contract with Wooden Nickel, the Chicago-based independent record label, before they moved into the big leagues with noted major label A&M Records for an impressive run of releases that started with December 1975’s Equinox — the first album wherein Styx found their true, collective studio acumen and songwriting footing.
Man of Miracles — which was named, as many Styx albums have been, by co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young — showed the band beginning to stretch their creative muscles even further in the studio, albeit with their fair share of hits and misses. Miracles was recorded at Golden Voice Studios in South Pekin, Illinois, and remixed at Paragon Recording Studios in Chicago. It was produced by John Ryan for Chicago Kid Productions in cooperation with Bill Traut and engineered by Gary Loizzo. Loizzo went on to engineer and co-produce a good number of the band’s subsequent albums and later served as their longtime live engineer, right up until his passing in January 2016.
Miracles ultimately peaked at No. 154 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart, which was 38 positions higher than where their previous album, October 1973’s The Serpent Is Rising, had landed.
“I love the opulence of the title song,” notes original, co-founding Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo about the ever-soaring “Man of Miracles” (which appears as the last track on Side 2 of the album in its vinyl form). He then pauses to sing the main harmonic line from the chorus before adding, “Critics may have called it ‘pomp rock,’ but, well, I’m sorry — we’re musicians, and we wanted to use our skills to make sounds that were all our own.” (Hear, hear, Chuckie!!!)
In addition to the uplifting title track, Miracles boasted one other bonafide FM radio favorite: John “JC” Curulewski and JY’s album-opening co-write, “Rock & Roll Feeling” — a song that also features the quite-telling lyric, “But I can’t play no nine-to-five game / Hanging loose is all I know.” Incidentally, “R&RF” continues to be the most-played song from Man of Miracles on Spotify, with a tally of over 595,000 digital spins to date, and counting.
“‘Rock & Roll Feeling’ was a BTO kind of hit,” observes JY. “It has a strong hook and that driving, Bachman-Turner Overdrive kind of feel. I got robbed on that record because ‘Lady’ obliterated it on the charts, so there went my big chance of writing a hit single!” he exclaims with a laugh, referring to the quite popular, late-blooming single from July 1973’s Styx II that garnered Styx their most consistent airplay in both their pre- and early-A&M days — and a song that remains in the band’s setlist to this day (sung with great aplomb, and properly enhanced with a quite expressive stage presence, by vocalist/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan). “But as a big-picture guy, I saw which way the wind was blowing,” JY concludes, “so there was very little point of me trying to contradict it.”
Incidentally, there’s more than one version of Miracles available in the marketplace. For example, on the subsequent RCA pressing of the vinyl LP, Styx’s energetic cover of The Knickerbockers' Beatlesque 1965 Top 20 hit single “Lies” was replaced at the start of Side 2 by JY and Dennis DeYoung’s “Best Thing,” a track originally found on the band’s self-titled August 1972 debut album. Why did they wind up doing “Lies” in the first place, I ask JY. “There was no single on that album,” he replies, “and they [i.e., Wooden Nickel Records] said we needed to do something to fix that.” (Record companies always wanted to chase that mythical hit single, didn’t they?)
Not only that, but the 1980 RCA cartoon-cover reissue of the album — simply renamed Miracles — replaced “Best Thing” with DeYoung and Chuck Lofrano’s “Unfinished Song,” a track that later appeared on The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings double CD featuring Styx’s first four Wooden Nickel albums in full, which was released by Hip-O Records/UMe in February 2005. (Can’t tell your Miracles without a scorecard, apparently. . .)
The striking, painted Miracles cover art by Leon Rosenblatt (ID’ed as “Lee” on the back cover) is of a white-bearded grand wizard, seen manipulating by hand and/or other mystical forces the planet Saturn and an array of six of its moons. This iconic design later made a callback/comeback of sorts as the main image on the front of a powder-blue t-shirt sold at the band’s official merch table during their 2013-14 North American Tour (which your trusty Styxologist happens to be wearing today as he writes this, in honor of such a hallowed anniversary). And if you look ever-so-closely, you may continue to find the Miracles wizard in the background of some other more recent, official 50th-anniversary Styx t-shirt designs — so happy oracle hunting!
He was a man of miracles, riding golden meteorites. . .