Kansas has always been a little bit different from the rest of the bands that emerged in the 1970s. This is, after all, a band that once had an ordained Anglican minister in their mix. Spirituality, religion, and philosophy feature heavily in their orchestrated, catchy progressive rock. But while the band itself has always been searching for the deeper meaning, the rest of us are just looking for a hummable tune. Fortunately, they’ve given us plenty of material to work with. Here, we count down the 10 best Kansas songs of all time.
10. The Wall
Pink Floyd wasn’t the only 70s band to look at a wall and see alienation. Three years before Pink Floyd decided bricks and mortar deserved a metaphorical makeover, Kansas was doing the same. But whereas Pink Floyd dedicated an entire rock opera to the idea, Kansas summed up everything there was to say in under 5 minutes. With its vast vision and masterful execution, “The Wall’ kicks off our list with aplomb.
9. Play the Game Tonight
By the start of the 1980s, creative differences were driving a wedge between the band. Members began to drift away. Singer, keyboardist, percussionist, and violinist Steve Walsh was among them. Walsh, who’d been a core member of the band almost from the very beginning, was a tough act to follow. Stepping up to the challenge was John Elefante, a Walsh sound-alike whose Christian leanings chimed happily with the band’s increasing religiosity. The first album he appeared on, ‘Vinyl Confessions,’ was, not to put too fine a point on it, a dud. But not a complete one. ‘Play the Game Tonight’ was a highlight, with Elefante proving a worthy successor to Walsh and the rest of the band delivering an equally fine performance.
8. Lamplight Symphony
Picked by iloveclassicrock.com as one of the ten best Kansas songs of all time, ‘Lamplight Symphony’ sees Kansas at their spiritual best. The tale of an elderly man who longs for his wife, only to be visited by her at night, is, like most of the band’s songs, open to interpretation. What meaning and value the listener stamps on the song is between them and their conscience. But what isn’t open to interpretation is just how magnificent the track is. Musically, the band is on top form, with lush arrangements, lilting melodies, and stirring vocal performances. It may not have given them a hit, but it did give them a complex delicacy that’s well worth a second listen.
7. Icarus – Borne on Wings of Steel
According to ultimateclassicrock.com, Kansas’ record company wrote their third album off as yet another poor performer with no hits and no hope. But what do record companies know? ‘Masque’ may not have given the band their breakthrough but it did give us some sublime songs, including the stirringly powerful, hugely evocative ‘Icarus – Borne on Wings of Steel.’
6. Journey From Mariabronn
It would take until 1976 for Kansas to hit the big time. In 1974, they were still wet behind the ears and delivering the kind of complex, symphonic arrangements that, while clever, weren’t exactly designed to break the charts. Inspired by Hermann Hesse’s ‘Narcissus and Goldmund,’ ‘Journey From Mariabronn’ is elaborate, mystical, and far, far too intense for the mainstream. But the mainstream doesn’t always know what’s good for it. From its memorable introduction to its uplifting melody, ‘Journey From Mariabronn’ is a prime example of why anyone who thinks Kansas’ career began with 1976’s ‘Leftoverture’ and ended with 1983’s ‘Drastic Measures’ is doing the band a disservice.
5. Song For America
The title track for Kansas’ second album was never going to make a big impression on the charts. Scarily prophetic lines like ‘Ravage, plunder, see no wonder, rape and kill and tear asunder/Chop the forest, plow it under’? may have us all nodding along in agreement now, but in 1975, people were more interested in the size of John Travolta’s flares than deforestation and global catastrophe. It’s still a beautiful thing though, with lush arrangements, immaculate vocal performances, and dazzling violin work.
4. Miracles Out Of Nowhere
Loudersound.com writes that the album ‘Leftoverture’ was ‘the perfect distillation of what had made the group so special and unique.’ It was. On ‘ Miracles Out Of Nowhere,’ Walsh’s rousing vocals soar over beautifully balanced arrangments, interacting perfectly with the rest of the group’s performance.
3. Point of Know Return
In 1977, Kansas released their best-selling album of all time, ‘Point of Know Return.’ Whether the misspelled title was deliberate or editorial oversight, we don’t know (or should that be no?). What we do know is that it was a sublime album. Lush, commercial, and extremely well-balanced, it was the perfect way to build on the success of the previous year’s ‘Leftoverture’. Its titular track incorporates the album’s overall accessibility, adds some gorgeous violin runs, a few thunderous guitar riffs, and some impressive organ work, and thus delivers one of the band’s very finest moments.
2. Dust in the Wind
By the mid-1970s, Kansas had a small, committed group of fans but very little money and very little hope of hitting the big time. Their fourth album, ‘Leftoverture,’ changed that. Released in 1976, it transformed the band from a cult favorite into a major headlining act. Things would never be the same for them again, and by the time they released their follow-up album ‘ Point of Know Return’ in 1977, everyone was on board the Kansas bandwagon. Among the highlights of ‘Point of Know Return’ is ‘Dust in the Wind.’ Whereas Kansas’ earlier offerings were too high brow to find a commercial audience, ‘Dust in the Wind’ was accessible. Stark but still majestic, it reeled enough of us in to give the band their first (and last) top ten hit.
1. Carry on Wayward Son
According to factretriever.com, guitarist Kerry Livgren wrote ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ about his spiritual search for meaning. Whether he found it, who knows? And who really cares when the result is this catchy? Included on the career-defining (some say career-saving) fourth album, ‘Leftoverture,’ ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ sold over one million copies, certified gold, and today ranks as one of the most downloaded tracks of all time. From its acapella intro to its soaring chorus, it’s a gorgeous, melodic piece of classic rock that serves as Kansas’ finest and most recognizable song to date.