I give Kansas (and, in particular, their “Point of Know Return” album) credit for inspiring me to ascend from ‘casual listener’ to ‘active participant’ in the music world.
I was bummed because, not only could I not afford a Hammond organ and Leslie speaker cabinet that would let me create that incredible Kansas organ sound, but I also didn’t have a large enough vehicle in which to haul those monstrous pieces of equipment. Then, I got word that Steve Walsh started using the Crumar T-1 electronic organ in concert…not only was it a fraction of the cost, but it was also portible, meaning I could stop looking for a cargo hauler and keep the car I had.
Guess what I bought less than two months later?
While it was obvious to most of the musicians I played alongside during my playing days that Kansas music shaped my approach to the songs I wrote and composed, I additionally feel it in some subtle way I’ll probably never recognize colored my approach to just about everything I did back then.
This has been one of the toughest Sonic 12-Pack lists for me to put together so far; trust me when I say I have enough favorite Kansas songs to make a Part 2 list that I would like just as much as this list.
The Devil Game
This is a great example of how I like my progressive rock! There was a point in the late 90s where bands from all over the globe were attempting to emulate / recreate the prog metal sound as laid out by Dream Theater’s “Images and Words” album, only to rely too much (in my opinion, of course) on the melodic aspect and not enough on the energy and heaviness aspect that defined the ‘metal’ portion of the ‘prog metal’ label. I made the comment that some of Kansas’ older songs (this one in particular) was closer to prog metal than much of what I was hearing during that time. Not too many people disagreed with me, if I remember correctly. It’s a bummer that I never got to see Kansas play this song live; I can only imagine, based on how this song rocks me while I’m writing or driving, what it would have done to me at a concert.
No One Together
I’ve rewritten this blurb for “No One Together” about a dozen times. I was going to discuss how this song came to us at a time when the philosphical / world vision differences between the band’s two primary song writers / lyrisists, Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh, were more obvious than ever. I was going to discuss how many Kansas fans were griping that Livgren’s spiritual-draped lyrics took the unfortunate leap from explorational yearning to outright preaching. I was going to discuss how many of us sensed we were witnessing the beginning of the end of the band that meant the world to us. In frustration, I spun the song one more time, and came to realize none of that negativity had a place next to this song. Livgren composed yet another intricate and engaging prog rock gem. The band brought it to life. Walsh sold it with his voice. That is what matters. So, just listen, enjoy, and forget the other stuff I wrote about this song.
Silhouettes in Disguise
Steve Walsh had just returned to the Kansas ranks after finishing his run with his hard rock band, Streets (which I liked), and brought Streets’ bassist Billy Greer with him. Add Steve Morse to the ammended roster, and we ended up with an album that, to many Kansas fans, didn’t sound much like Kansas at all. I even heard a few people refer to it as Streets Part 2. Ya know what? Who cares? This song rocks hard!
When he takes the time to expand on a topic, Steve Walsh turns out some engaging and gripping stories. Plus, this song’s music amplifies the mood. As it turns out, the music also made a guest appearance into my dreams one night. As was my tradition for several years, I made the attempt to play a round of golf on my birthday. Well…seeing that my birthday is in late February, that didn’t always go too well. This time, however, the weather was looking as if it was going to behave for me. The night before my birthday, I drempt I was playing the ‘cloudburst’ instrumental section of the song with the band! In my house! Dreams don’t get much cooler than that! I, of course, was playing the keyboard parts, while Steve Walsh was feeding M&Ms to my wife’s Golden Retriever. Yep, my subconscious can be a great place to be sometimes. While we played, I was able to hear the same heavy thunder in the background as it is on the song…along with knocking on my door, and my mom-in-law calling my name. “Are you still playing golf today?” “Yes, I am!” Then, I woke up. And I heard a sound from outside my window I didn’t want to hear. “It’s pouring.” Oh, well…so much for my birthday tradition. At least, my subconscious gave me a cool gift.
In the early 80s, I was dating an out-of-stater freshman attending the University of Maryland, who I first met through a Kansas fan club. I still smile at the memory of her and I sitting in a local pizzeria, attempting to figure out who this song was written about. As it turns out, neither of us picked the right person. Many years later, I read a comment that claimed Kerry Livgren’s lyrics were based on the life and demise of Howard Hughes. The fact that neither of us figured it out highlights something I enjoyed about that song: the lyrics were crafted in an enigmatic way that tasked discussion and debate. Sometimes, that aspect can attract me to a song, like it did to “Closet Chronicles”…and just like it did for “Portrait” (she and I picked the wrong person for that song too), which was the preceding track on the album, and which really should have made this list as well. Also, having such an inventive instrumental break made this one of my favorite Kansas song to listen to. Oh…and, yes, I learned how to play the vibraphone part on marimba.
Mysteries and Mayhem
This is another one of those Kansas songs that, had it been recorded in the late 90s, could have been considered a prog metal song. Pay close attention to this song’s opening riff, ‘cuz you’re going to hear it again on this list within another song. You’re also going to hear this song’s outro again as an intro. There may be a quiz.
When the topic turns to 70s progressive rock compositional showing off, this is my entry into the discussion.
The Voyage of Eight Eighteen
For over fifteen years, we Kansas fans wondered if we were ever going to hear new music. But, with a couple of lineup changes, and the subsequent infusion of new ideas (that no doubt brought some old restless ambition back to life), Kansas cranked out “The Prelude Implicit” in 2016. I’m not one of those fans who belly-aches towards their favorite band just because they dared changed their sound and/or their style and/or their roster (and I’ve unfortunately heard my share of fellow Kansas fans do exactly that at any number of points since 1979), but I did happen to sport a satisfied smile when hearing how this album reminded me of their mid 70s exploits (which, in the event you didn’t already come to realize, was the timeframe where Kansas captured my attention and my imagination). “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen” would have been quite at home on one of the band’s 70s albums.
If it weren’t for the short verse of vocals at the beginning of this song, this would be the most tripped out instrumental I’ve ever heard. With the inclusion of the “Howling at the Moon” lyrics, it’s one of the most tripped out songs I’ve ever heard that just happens to have a very long instrumental passage. I like playing this song for all my non-Kansas fan friends who have no idea what this band is capable of.
Incomudro – Hymn to the Atman
‘Atman’ is a Sanskrit word for ‘inner self or soul.’ So, to play this song, turn out the lights, lounge or lay down to relax, slip on a quality pair of headphones, and enjoy your spiritual experience. Perhaps, you might hear a few words from your atman.
Stay Out Of Trouble
I was at the mall with my (at that time) girlfriend when I picked up the Monolith album.
I told her how much I liked the cover artwork. She looked at it and said in a disinterested tone, “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.” (NOTE: No, this is not why we eventually broke up.) A lot of my fellow Kansas fans cringed when they heard “Stay Out of Trouble,” but I liked the way it rocked the first time I heard it. “…and you drive with your right foot in hell.” I see that every time I hop on the Capital Beltway. As a bonus, a youth group friend and I got to hear them play this song live later that summer; Kerry Livgren and Rich Williams unleashed a two-guitar jam at the end of the song that melted our brains before that term was even invented. Incidentally, this youth group friend of mine got my extra ticket because I recently found myself without a girlfriend.
Recognize the beginning riff? I told you you’d hear it again. Musically, this is (in my opinion, of course) one of the most accomplished arrangements in Kansas’ discography, with (again, in my opinion) one of the greatest song endings of any band’s discography.
Thanx for checking out my Kansas Sonic 12-Pack. As I hinted at the beginning, I struggled to finalize this list, and had to play dozens of Kansas songs multiple times. Ah…the hardships of blogging.