Friday, October 10, 2014

Kansas, The #91 Artist of the Seventies*

In 1969, vocalist Lynn Meredith, keyboardists Don Montre and Dan Wright, and Kerry Livgren (guitars, keyboards, and synthesizers) were part of the Topeka, Kansas group The Reasons Why.  The following year, they merged with members of another Topeka act, a progressive rock group called White Clover (bassist Dave Hope, saxophonist Larry Baker and drummer Phil Ehart, among others) , and changed their name to Kansas. 

In 1971, Ehart, Hope, and the other former members of White Clover left to reform that group.  Ehart was replaced by Zeke Lowe and then Brad Shulz.  Rod Mikinski became the new bassist, with John Bolton joining the group on saxophone and flute.

In 1972, Ehart returned from England and, together with Hope, reformed White Clover with Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, and percussion), Robby Steinhardt (vocals, violin, viola, and cello) and guitarist Rich Williams.  The following year, they enticed Livgren to leave the second incarnation of Kansas, and that group subsequently folded. 

When White Clover earned a recording contract with Don Kirshner's record label, they adopted the Kansas name.  Kansas released their self-titled debut album in 1974.  Right away, fans could tell this was a unique group, with its complex, symphonic arrangements.  Kansas developed a cult following thanks to Kirshner's promotion skills and heaving touring.  The group released two follow-up albums (Song for America and Masque), however, to little fanfare. 
In 1976, Kansas released the album Leftoverture.  The single "Carry On Wayward Son" became their breakthrough hit.  It peaked at #11 in the United States, and reached #2 in Canada.  The song sold over one million copies and helped Leftoverture sell five million, making it one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*

The group was on its way, and the follow-up album, Point of Know Return, did not disappoint.  Kansas released the title song as the opening single, and its peak of #28 makes it another of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.  

Next came the release that would become the band's signature song, a ballad entitled "Dust In The Wind".  It was an across-the-board smash, landing at #6 on both the Adult Contemporary and Popular charts, and receiving considerable airplay from album-oriented rock stations as well.  "Dust In The Wind" has now been certified Double Platinum for selling two million copies.

Point of Know Return raced up to #4 on the Album chart and sold over four million copies.  A track on the album was sometimes misinterpreted as being about Jesus Christ, although Livgren, the songwriter of "Portrait", later reworked the song to be about Christ as the song "Portrait II".  Originally, members of Kansas said it was about Albert Einstein.  "Portrait" is one of The Top Tracks of the Rock Era*

Kansas became part of the "arena rock" scene, selling out the largest venues available at the time.  They were a major headlining act with a reputation for faithfully producing the songs on stage that they had recorded in the studio.  In 1978, they released the double live album Two for the Show, which featured recordings from concerts in 1977 and '78.

Kansas was named UNICEF Deputy Ambassadors of Goodwill in 1978.  The following year, they released the album Monolith.  The #23 song "People Of The South Wind" refers to the 'Kanza' (Kaw) native Americans, after whom the state and the band are named.  Monolith failed to generate the sales of its two predecessors, but eventually went Platinum.     

Kansas's work in the decade was rewarded with album sales of 16.5 million copies.  Creative differences led to the split of Kansas shortly afterwards, but they did reform again in 1986.

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