40 Years Ago: Kansas Transition From Prog to Arena Rock on ‘Point of Know Return’
As with its famous cover image, Point of Know Return found Kansas plunging over the edge of progressive rock oceans into the mainstream unknowns below. The journey there, however, wasn't a smooth one.
Kansas' fifth album, released on Oct. 11, 1977, had to be wrangled into shape amid escalating band member disagreements – and no small pressure that they double down on the long-awaited breakthrough achieved by the previous year’s Leftoverture album and its blockbuster hit, "Carry on My Wayward Son." What’s more, change was in the air, beyond Kansas’ insular work ethic and Midwestern location.
Over the previous year, the pestering buzz of punk rock had steadily grown from bi-coastal radio static to transatlantic uproar. Art rock’s days were clearly numbered. So, having proved their capacity to conquer the radio airwaves with "Wayward Son," as well as noodle on their guitar and violin necks along with the best of ‘em, there was really no turning back for Kansas. The watery cliff beckoned.
All of which makes their ensuing triumph as the perfectly balanced Point of Know Return became the biggest record of Kansas’ career all the more remarkable.
Its songs were kept consistently brief in length ("Closet Chronicles" and "Hopelessly Human" were the sole, leg-stretching exceptions), even as Kansas’ formidable virtuosic interplay remained on tracks like "Lightning’s Hand" and "The Spider." True, their subject matter remained reliably brainy (the Albert Einstein tribute "Portrait"), even bordering on confounding (the aptly named "Paradox"). But album-rock radio ubiquity and crossover success were nevertheless guaranteed by the irresistible one-two punch of the title track and "Dust in the Wind" – the plaintive Kerry Livgren ballad that made Kansas a household name.
By the end of the year, the band could be found headlining Madison Square Garden and countless other arenas – making Point of Know Return perhaps the ultimate expression of progressive rock’s transition into arena rock during the second half of the '70s.
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