Top 10 Kansas Songs
Think back to prog’s 1970s heyday and you’ll probably recall that British bands like Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Genesis pretty much dominated the landscape, leaving little room for American bands. Nevertheless, a few managed to emerge, like the Topeka-based Kansas, whose blend of rock, jazz, classical and other musical forms was particularly inventive, distinguished by Robby Steinhardt’s violin and thought-provoking lyrics penned by Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh. Like many of their U.S prog peers, Kansas would abandon their grander musical ambitions for streamlined arena rock. Our list of the Top 10 Kansas Songs covers both sides of the band.
This seemingly innocuous acoustic ballad comes from the final album recorded by the band’s original lineup. Soon after its release, frontman Steve Walsh would leave over guitarist Kerry Livgren’s insistence on preaching his born-again Christian messages in songs like this one. But most fans were unaware of the discord growing within the group.
‘Play the Game Tonight’
By the time Kansas returned two years later, they had replaced Walsh with a sound-alike singer (and conveniently a sympathetic Christian), John Elefante, who quickly proved himself on the band’s third and final Top 20 single. Unfortunately, the other songs on the largely prog-cleansed ‘Vinyl Confessions’ either failed to measure up to past efforts or buckled under the persistent proselytizing that was taking over the group’s agenda.
‘Portrait (He Knew)’
In 1977, Livgren and Walsh were still working their magic together and writing songs about Albert Einstein – like the fan favorite ‘Portrait (He Knew),’ the third single from 1977’s blockbuster ‘Point of Know Return’ LP. The song exemplifies the sort of cerebral subject matter that inspired the group at the start of its career.
‘Journey From Mariabronn’
Kansas showed quite a bit of maturity and ambition for a young band on their debut album. ‘Journey From Mariabronn’ is based on writer Herman Hesse’s magnum opus ‘Narcissus and Goldmund,’ about a man who embarks on a long, soul-searching journey across Medieval Germany. For their take on the tale, Kansas traverse the length and breadth of prog-rock’s firmament with several different passages and extended instrumental showboating.
Move over Roger Waters. Three years before Pink Floyd’s taciturn genius released an entire rock opera using a wall as metaphor for alienation, Kansas managed to address the same theme in less than five minutes. Plus, their ‘Wall’ exhibited the vast scope of the band’s orchestral vision and melodic gifts like no other Kansas song before it.
‘Icarus – Borne on Wings of Steel’
Kansas’ record company saw their third album as another under-performing release that yielded no radio hits. But the band’s fans adored ‘Masque,’ which is jam-packed with complex delicacies that are as sublime as anything its European counterparts were cooking up at the time. Their rousing and evocative retelling of the Icarus myth comes in at No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Kansas Songs.
‘Song for America’
The 10-minute centerpiece, and title track, of Kansas’ second album delivers a state-of-the-union address that spans decades, before and after European colonization. The band’s pro-environment stance and Native American sympathies would probably not sit well with modern-day “patriots,” but Kansas certainly have their hearts in the right place.
‘Dust in the Wind’
Kansas’ only Top 10 hit (and their most popular track on our list of the Top 10 Kansas Songs) is a stark and gentle lament that bridges the group’s transition from intimidating prog rockers to accessible hitmakers. The song’s massive success would eventually lead to the band’s end, but even Kansas’ staunchest prog fans couldn’t resist ‘Dust in the Wind”s pull.
‘Point of Know Return’
The title track to Kansas’ most well-rounded, and bestselling, distills the group’s adventurous sound into three compact minutes. ‘Point of Know Return’ has it all: a lush organ arrangement, agile violin runs, muscular guitar dexterity and a stirring vocal performance.
‘Carry on Wayward Son’
No track in Kansas’ vast catalog (or on our list of the Top 10 Kansas Songs) combines their progressive and commercial instincts better than ‘Carry on Wayward Son.’ The group’s career-saving Top 40 hit, the introduction to 1976’s watershed ‘Leftoverture’ album, fluidly shifts between studied technique and an infectious melody, culminating in a soaring chorus that has become virtually imprinted on the DNA of every single classic-rock fan.