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Top 10 Songs by Progressive Rockers: KANSAS

The best songs from Kansas, a unique progressive rock band mixing violin and guitar, and a review of their history.

Kansas is a progressive rock band that has existed since 1974, and still playing. They've released more than 25 albums and DVDs, and had a string of single hits in the 70s and 80s. Their use of violin and strings together with rock guitars and heavy drums has made them unique and unforgettable. Their songwriting contains deep lyrics and is often filled with religious overtones, or takes up the cause of the Native Americans. Songwriter/band member, Kerry Livgren, became close friends with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, after touring together in the mid 70s. I have always enjoyed the fantasy elements of their songs, all well crafted and beautiful to hear. The song Hope Once Again (1995 from the Freaks of Nature LP) just missed the list, tying at #10, or perhaps we'll count it as #11. Too many songs, too little time.

#10 Play the Game Tonight (1982 Vinyl Confessions) A straightforward piece (with Roger Taylor of Queen on backing vocals), this song was their last big hit in the 80s.

#9 People of the South Wind (1979 Monolith) One of many songs Kansas wrote about the plight of the native American, this song rocks. A good chorus and a furious anthem.

#8 Icarus: Borne on Wings of Steel (1975 Masque) A great violin/guitar opening, this song is a fusion of progressive rock and heavy metal. Clocking in at 6 minutes, it's from the years when the band told long, important stories in song. Actually, it's from a year when a lot of bands did that, and we're grateful for them. Without my wings, you know I'd surely die.... A song of freedom? Maybe. I'll accept that.

#7 All I Wanted (1986 Power) One of their few real love songs, this track had no deeper meaning than any other love song, but it did have a great melody and a perfect arrangement. For a lyrically driven band, this was a surprising pop hit, with little to say... but a great way to say it. A pleasure to hear.

#6 Chasing Shadows (1982 Vinyl Confessions) Primarily piano and acoustic guitar, this sweet piece has always been a favorite. It's a song about the futility of chasing was isn't there, and - as usual - with religious hints from Mr. Livgren.

#5 Dust in the Wind (1977 Point of Know Return) Another acoustic number, this song hit the Top 10 on the charts and stayed there for a million weeks (I exaggerate), and sent the album to #4. This song made Kansas one of the top bands of 1977. The album was the pinnacle of their career, as far as fame and record sales go. Is there anyone on the planet who has not heard this song, either its original or a remake?

#4 Carry On Wayward Son (1976 Leftoverture) From what is certainly one of the best LPs of the decade, this song propelled Kansas into the top 20 charts. The song was played extensively on FM rock radio for the next few years, and introduced Kansas into many LP collections. It's the opening song on a very important album, and it is the anchor for a hard working rock band who finally made it. The movements in the song are historic, and its melody leaves no one untouched.

#3 Hold On (1980 Audio Visions) A forceful song with spiritual lyrics from Kerry Livgren. This is a song of hope, and the music that drives it is unstoppable. A nice guitar riff in the middle puts icing on the cake. When I felt a bit uninspired or down, this was often the tonic. I've also seen/heard some great live versions of this in concerts. It cracked the Top 40 for a brief minute, then faded away. I have never forgotten it, though, and it stays permanently in my portable MP3 player.

#2 Miracles Out of Nowhere (1976 Leftoverture)  On a crystal morning, I can see the dewdrops falling. Another track from their perfect album Leftoverture, this song is both beautiful and bold. The soft opening leads to a powerful riff at its peak, and is both sad and hopeful. It's a song about growing old and dying, but no fear in doing so. The melody pulls hard, and there is no resistance. I have always just enjoyed it.

#1 Song for America (1975 Song for America) almost 10 minutes of musical perfection! It is neither short, nor simple. It's an intricate piece of music that reaches a higher plane. The songs tells of the beauty of America and its lands, and how the new "Americans" took the land from the natives, how modern times have scarred the lands with highways and houses. A song to defend nature. But to me, it's the music that stand out strongest. Sit on your balcony or rooftop at midnight and play this Kansas song with headphones under the stars. It's a musical epiphany. Very nicely done!

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