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World’s Worst Songs: “Miss America” by Styx

Detail from the cover of “The Grand Illusion” by Styx (Universal Music Group)

It has been suggested to me that I include “Come Sail Away” by Styx in this feature. But “Come Sail Away” is actually a perfectly fine record. It’s got everything that guaranteed a hit circa 1977: a singable melody powered by pretty keyboards that explodes into a big, riff-driven finale calculated to drive teenage listeners wild. I will, however, include another track from The Grand Illusion. On that record, “Miss America” is one of the World’s Worst Songs.

James Young was in a band with two fairly accomplished and high-profile singers, Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw. Once Styx hit it big in the late 70s, Young didn’t get many turns in the spotlight, but “Miss America” is one of them. Trouble is, his performance is thoroughly unpleasant, an unremittingly nasty lyric delivered in a bizarre, theatrical fashion, like David Bowie crossed with Ozzy Osbourne and played back at the wrong speed, backed by a chorus of screeching harpies.

“Miss America” is supposed to be an attack on the superficiality of beauty pageants, and the idea of someone being “queen of the United States.” But I am pretty sure nobody ever thought of Miss America as the queen of the United States, even back in the 70s when people still gave a damn about the Miss America pageant. The bigger problem is with the attack on poor Miss America herself. It’s so strident and belittling (“the cover sometimes makes the book” and “next year, what will you do when you have been forgotten?”) that I wonder if JY got turned down in high school by a girl who went on to become Miss America. And just in case anybody misses the point, the song features a flatulent synthesizer playing a minor key variation on the famous there-she-is-Miss-America theme song in a couple of places.

Styx could be remarkably un-subtle, but they were never un-subtle-er than this.