The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings (2 CD Set)
By Allan Hirt

Basic Information

Release Catalog Number: B0003922-02
Label: Hip-O Records/UMe
US Release Date: February 15, 2005
Review Date: February 14, 2005

Disc One (70:46)
Styx I
1. Movement For The Common Man 13:11
i. Children of the Land 5:14
ii. Street Collage 1:55
iii. Fanfare for the Common Man :45
iv. Mother Nature's Matinee 5:19
2. Right Away 3:41
3. What Has Come Between Us 4:55
4. Best Thing 3:14
5. Quick Is The Beat Of My Heart 3:51
6. After You Leave Me 4:02
Styx II
7. You Need Love 3:45
8. Lady 2:58
9. A Day 8:21
10. You Better Ask 3:54
11. Little Fugue In "G" 1:17
12. Father O.S.A.
13. Earl Of Roseland 4:40
14. I'm Gonna Make You Feel It 2:24
15. Unginished Song (Bonus Track) 2:59

Disc Two (77:21)
The Serpent Is Rising
1. Witch Wolf 3:58
2. The Grove of Eglantine 4:59
3. Young Man 4:45
4. As Bad As This 6:07
5. Winner Takes All 3:06
6. 22 Years 3:40
7. Jonas Psalter 4:39
8. The Serpent Is Rising 4:52
9. Krakatoa 1:35
10. Hallelujah Chorus (From Handel's Messiah)
Man Of Miracles
11. Rock & Roll Feeling 3:02
12. Havin' A Ball 3:53
13. Golden Lark 3:39
14. A Song For Suzanne 5:00
15. A Man Like Me 2:57
16. Lies 2:48
17. Evil Eyes 4:06
18. Southern Woman 3:09
19. Christopher, Mr. Christopher 4:00
20. Man of Miracles 4:56

Ratings (on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the best)
Overall: 5
Track Listing: 5
Sonics: 5

I. General Comments
For those unfamiliar with the pre-A&M Styx, they released four albums in a two year span from 1972 to 1974: Styx I, Styx II, The Serpent Is Rising, and Man of Miracles on the Wooden Nickel label. Wooden Nickel was eventually distributed by RCA Records (later part of BMG), and have seen numerous issues over the years on various formats. When they were reissued around 1979/1980 when Styx popularity was at its highest, they had cartoon covers, slightly altered names for two (The Serpent Is Rising and Man of Miracles became Serpent and Miracles), and a slightly altered track listing in the case of Man of Miracles (the previously rare track "Unfinished Song" was substituted in for "Lies").

All previous issues on CD have either been on RCA or BMG , and for the first time, are fully on another label. Bill Traut is specifically thanked, and all tracks are licensed courtesy of Wooden Nickel Records. I guess in the BMG/Sony merger, maybe the contract with Bill expired and since UMe seems to be getting behind Styx material, it was a perfect time to switch distriution. Whatever caused the switch, it's nice to see the material handled properly.

I'm not going to comment much on the music, but the only true "recognizable hit" for most Styx listeners is "Lady", from Styx II. I haven't sat down in quite some time and listened to each of these albums. I really do have a fondness for the early material, as it shows how the band progressed from a progressive rock band ("Movement for the Common Man" on Styx I) to the band they became in the A&M era that sold millions of albums. All of the elements are here.

As with any band's early history, there are great moments and some not-so-great ones. Arguably one of the not-so-great moments in Styx recorded history as to be the "Plexiglass Toilet" part of "As Bad As This" from The Serpent Is Rising. To this day I wonder what they were thinking, just as I did when I first heard it in 1983 in discovering the band's back catalog. Having said that, it's nice to see the band is not "self-editing" itself and choosing to only put their best foot forward and act like some of this never existed.

The best part of this two disc set is the inclusion of the track "Unfinished Song", which makes its CD debut. Prior to this, it could only be found on either the b-side to the "Young Man" single in 1974, or the Miracles reissue on LP or tape. As a collector, it definitely adds value to an already easy to justify set that has a lot of value. This truly is The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings.

II. Sonics
All I can say here is wow. I'll say it again - wow. Since I own every incarnation of the Styx albums on CD (the original RCAs, the 1990 "remasters", the Japanese 1990 pressings which were different masterings, and the most recent Japanese K2 remasters from a few years back), I can confidently say this 2 CD set is the definitive version of these albums on redbook CD.

Mastering credit is given to both Adam Ayan from Gateway Mastering, with additional mastering credited to Suha Gur of Universal Mastering East. Adam Ayan also recently did the Rush Atlantic remasters, and is Bob Ludwig's protoge. If I gad to guess who did what, I'd say Ayan did all of the albums, and Suha Gur did "Unfinished Song", as it sounds slightly different than the others in terms of mastering (or possibly a different master, such as a 2nd generation or safety, was used).

As noted in my Bob Ludwig interview, the early Styx tapes were in good condition. I also noted in the review of Come Sail Away that the versions of the songs on that released smoked their counterparts, even on the Japanese K2 remasters. I would tend to have the same comments: the songs here on The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings have better overall tonal balance (not as bright - the highs sound natural), and there is definitely some good bottom end. The Japanese sounds a bit more "aggressive" - more of a rock mix (if you will). The Complete version is a tad more laid back and smooth. I like both; it's just different mastering styles.

I did not import the tracks and compare waveforms, but these CDs are not ear bleeders. I can listen at a comfortable volume and not get fatigued.

III. Artwork
The packaging is nice for such a budget priced set. The booklet has essay by Martin Huxley, credits for each album, and reproductions of the album covers, as well as credits for this release. The Styx logo sports the Styx II look. The fonts used are true to the Wooden Nickel logo.

A nice touch is the artwork on the CDs. They look like the inner LP artwork found around the center (the brownish colors with the buffalo), and even reproduces the Heads to denote CD 1 and Tails for denoting CD 2.
I know as a collector I appreciate details like these.

IV. Conclusion
I don't know if Universal was really taking my suggestion when I wrote my review of Come Sail Away last year
"I also hope BMG/RCA decides to re-release the early material, and allows Gateway Mastering to remaster the early Styx albums. If what they did is any indication of the quality of the master tapes, bring it on! I'd buy 'em the day they were released."
but I'd like to think they were. Almost exactly one year later Hip-O/UMe has released the 2 CD set The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings.

Fans of the later years of Styx who are unfamiliar with the early works now have no excuse to go out and hear how Styx developed from a progressive rock band on Styx I to the massively popular band that sold millions of albums later. The elements are there, although not fully formed in some cases.

This set is not one to use to get someone into the band as as an introduction to Styx. Any one of the existing A&M-era collections should serve well for those purposes, with Come Sail Away being the best of the bunch since it has all eras, including the Wooden Nickel and CMC years.

With a $19.99 list price, this set is a steal. I do not say that much about many Styx re-releases, but it's easy to say here: four complete albums, definitive remastering, and the one rare track from the early years. How could you go wrong?