Not Your Average Hit List

© Nexus/Storm Thorgerson(/Derek Burnett) for the album cover.

© Steve Walsh/ Steve Morse/Bob Ezrin/MCA for the music (excerpt).

© Per A.J. Andersson for the text. Written June 2003, updated November 2011.

In the Spirit of Things
by Kansas

In 1988 the golden era of progressive rock music was long gone, and Kansas was a long way from being "in". This year's album was "welcomed" as a "pompous", "over-produced", "symphonic", "thing".... "In the Spirit of Things" was definitely released at the wrong time, and it very nearly meant the end of the whole band. A band that a decade earlier was one of the biggest acts in America.

— • —

But Kansas had a rough start as well. To begin with, they were clearly born at the wrong place. Prarie-state Kansas had no history of rock music in the tradition of Genesis, King Crimson or Cream. Their blend of long, often instrumental melodies with classical foundings with a rhythm-and-blues accent and more basic boogie rock made the few that came to their early concerts clueless. The psychedelia had hit the west coast, but the wheat fields of Kansas were far away from California.

Through a couple of short-lived groups, playing local bars in Topeka and beyond and slowly gaining a following, the pieces began to fall into place. When in early 1973, guitarist Kerry Livgren and drummer Phil Ehart decided to join forces, they had not just one of many bands. This was the band that was to make it! With a demo tape reaching the right hands, they eventually ended up with a recording contract with Don Kirshner and the big CBS label.

Even if the US had to get used to the music of Kansas, a country-wide exposure meant it was a lot easier to get their fame and fortune. The Britons of Led Zeppelin had become a huge name, and complicated music could mean big business. With the addition of songs suited for singles releases, that is. 1975 saw the success of ambitious "Song for America", followed by "Carry On Wayward Son" (more straightforward rocker) and "Candle in the Wind" (a hauntingly beatiful ballad) in the following years. But most of all, Kansas hit the nation with their concerts. Their powerful sound was well suited for the nation-wide tours filling arenas.

— • —

The progressive era ended, leaving a group with fewer alternatives. Within the band, things went sour. Kerry Livgren was a wandering soul, searching for a deeper meaning of things. And as the major composer for the group, he was the main architect behind the progressive style of the group, filling his songs with lot of existential poetry. In 1979 he became a Christian, and in due time this was to show in his lyrics.

In the end this meant Steve Walsh, the main vocalist, quit, forming his own rock group the Streets. The band kept on with new personnel, but in 1984 Kansas fell apart. Kerry Livgren kept pursuing a solo career on his own, and a fairly successful one. While Kansas reappeared in 1986, with Steve Walsh on vocals once more and a more straightforward approach.

The band's success was limited, however, and the album and mismanaged tour of 1998 was the end of the road. Noone at the record company longer cared about progressive rock, and the lack of success meant the group was left on their own. Kansas still exists today, much thanks to their concert tours (new management, thank you!) keeping Kansas afloat at a time when lucrative record contracts were just a distant memory. But that's a different story...

— • —

To end with, some words about my own favourite Kansas record - "In the Spirit of Things". Being the album that meant so many bad things for the group, it's hard not to forget it contains some of the most beatiful and entertaining music. External song-writers were called upon, and Bob Ezrin of Alice Cooper fame produced the thing. But Ezrin had also worked with Pink Floyd ("The Wall")...

Added to the guitars of founding-member Rich Williams was the eclectic brilliance of Steve Walsh, previously with Dixie Dregs (another progressive band following in the tracks of Kansas). The rhytm section featured Phil Ehart's powerful drum-beats and the bass guitar of Billy Greer (member the Streets). And the heart-felt vocals of Steve Walsh were in top shape, making the songs on this concept album around the small Kansas town swept away by a flood 37 years earlier feel close to the listener. With lyrics dealing with empty schoolhouses, open skies, feelings of proudness and searching for a place to feel home, con-men and locals, this was pristine Kansas.

Only half of the founding members were present, and the instrumental meanderings of Kerry Livgren's compositions were largely replaced with something more direct. But not less intense. And it sounded so damn good. Under one big sky. //

— • —

PS. In 2002 recordings from the early, "pre-Phil Ehart" days of Kansas (1971-73) were released, under the "band name" of Proto-Kaw. This ultimately inspired the band in question to reform (!), recording an album of new material written by Kevin Livgren and sending it to the marketplace in early 2004. To rave reviews from the progressive rock critics. And more was to follow...


(MCA, 1988)

• Ghosts
• One Big Sky
• Inside of Me (EXCERPT)
• One Man, One Heart
• House on Fire
• Once in a Lifetime
• Stand Beside Me
• I Counted on Love
• The Preacher
• Rainmaker
• T.O. Witcher
• Bells of Saint James

Compositions: S Walsh, S Morse, B Ezrin, H Kleinfeld, M Ehmig, M Spiro, D Huff, A Armato, D Morgan, A Hammond, M Jordan and B Gaitsch.
Production: B Ezrin

• Kansas (1974)
• Song for America (1975)
• Masque (1975)
• Leftoverture (1976)
• Point of Know Return (1977)
• Monolith (1979)

• Audio-Visions (1980)
• Vinyl Confessions (1982)
• Drastic Measures (1983)
• Power (1986)
• In the Spirit of Things (1988)
• Freaks of Nature (1995)
• Always Never the Same (1998)
• Somewhere to Elsewhere (2000)

ALBUMS by Proto-Kaw
• Early Recordings from Kansas, 1971-1973 (2002)
• Before Became After (2004)
• The Wait of Glory (2006)
• Foerth (2011)

People of the South Wind
The PotSW Mailing List
Rock N Roll Hell . Com

• King Crimson (experiments)
• Yes (heavy guitar)
• Procol Harum (eclecticism)
• Gentle Giant (elaborate prog-rock)
• Dixie Dregs (formal connection)

Not Your Average Hit List 43 minutes... Alla är Ambition Consequences Door to Door The Dreaming Dzien i noc État d'urgence In the Spirit of Things Kaze no tani no Naushika Lights in the Night Martwa woda Nuit d'amour Once in a Million Open Door People Are Strange The Royal Scam Stationary Traveller Victim of Love Whore Music Up North Music Out West Music Far East Music Down South Films I Like a Lot Comic or Not On and Off TV About Me There's so much more out there ...