atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#7192: I always forget to talk about this

Or maybe I don't. I really can't remember if I talked about this, but WTF, I've repeated topics before and no one complained.


Their two biggest hit albums were Leftoverture, because of "Carry On Wayward Son", and Point of Known Return, because of the eponymous song and "Dust in the Wind". These days you hear "Carry On" more often than either of the other two but I'm too lazy to look up which of the three was their all-time biggest hit. Regardless, in the seventies, Kansas was an A-list big-time stadium-filling band.

I did not really like Kansas until Vinyl Confessions came out in 1982. I did not want to like Kansas, because my brother liked them, and whenever I started liking something he liked he'd tease me about it, because he was a jerk. The problem with not liking Kansas was that their music is extremely good and very difficult not to like, and so--when VC came out in 1982 without him--I settled on disliking Steve Walsh in particular as the reason I didn't like the band.

Like numerous bands before them, extreme success was both a gift and a curse for them. A gift because--well, they got rich, since everyone wanted to hear them perform, and touring is how bands make most (if not all) of their money. Record deals are, or used to be, just advertising.

Kerry Livgren wrote their biggest hits, and was unhappy that subsequent albums (Monolith and Audio Visions) didn't use very many of his songs. Steve Walsh was also becoming dissatisfied at the band's direction, because somewhere in the middle of the Monolith tour Livgren came to Jesus and started writing religious music. (Take a good listen to "Relentless"--it's about waiting for Jesus' return.)

Livgren did a fantastic solo album called Seeds of Change, Walsh released Schemer-Dreamer which was not as good. By the time they finished the Audio Visions tour, though, Walsh had had enough, and Kansas found itself looking for a new lead singer. They had a whole slew of people to choose from:
...over 200 applicants, such as Sammy Hagar, Doug Pinnick, Ted Neeley (who played the title character in the movie Jesus Christ Superstar), Warren Ham (ex-Bloodrock, who would join the band on the road in 1982 adding sax, flute, harmonica, back-up vocals and extra keyboards) and Michael Gleason (who would supply keyboards and back-up vocals on the group's 1983 tour).
From Wikipedia's entry on Kansas.

They picked a guy named John Elefante. I liked him, he wasn't Steve Walsh, and he wrote some pretty good music for Vinyl Confessions. "Chasing Shadows" is probably my favorite song on that album, and for years I thought Kerry Livgren had written it--but no, it was John Elefante and his brother Dino. And my next favorite song on that album, "Face It"? Same duo.

The weakest song on the album, "Fair Exchange", was written by Livgren.

The B side of the album (tracks 6-10) is stronger than the A side. The worst thing about the album in general is that it sounds...muffled, like someone deliberately turned down the treble to squelch a high-frequency noise.

...but what would Kansas have been like if someone else had been picked? Sammy Hagar--he went on to take David Lee Roth's place in Van Halen, but what if he'd been in Kansas? Ted Neely? Jesus from Jesus Christ Superstar?

Sammy Hagar had the voice, but he's a guitar player and Kansas already has two people for lead guitar. Example: I always thought that Rich Williams was Kansas' lead guitarist until I watched a video from the seventies of them doing "Carry On Wayward Son", and Livgren did the guitar solo!

But Walsh was an outstanding keyboardist, and while they'd be hard pressed to find someone on his level they did need someone who could do keyboards a lot more than they needed a third lead guitarist.

I don't know if Ted Neely plays any instruments. He, too, had the voice to take over for Steve Walsh, and most people who are professional musicians (even vocalists) play something, but I've never heard of him doing anything in particular other than JCS. Without Walsh at the helm, they had Kerry Livgren to handle all the keyboards, and for their signature sound they needed two keyboardists.

Still, I can't help but think about what it would have been like to have Kansas performing with Sammy Hagar in front.

* * *

As for Kansas?

Drastic Measures is where they went off the rails. Robby Steinhardt quit the band--and it is simply not Kansas if there is not a violin track in the mix.

Somewhere around here I have (should have, may have) a videotape which contains an audio recording of a radio interview done with the members of Kansas after they got back together to record Somewhere to Elsewhere. And in that recording Robby Steinhardt mentioned, in passing, that a lot of the violin tracks were added after the songs were basically complete. He didn't use the phrase "almost as an afterthought" but that's how I'd characterize what he said. But damn it, without that violin track, it really doesn't sound like Kansas at all.

Drastic Measures wasn't all that great an album. Not solely because Steinhardt left, mind you. Livgren's music was getting too religious, Elefante and his brother had expended their artistic ammunition and were now writing B-tracks, and the band had lost both of its signature vocalists. Elefante could sing very well, but without either Steinhardt or Walsh--and without the violin--it no longer sounded right.

After that, Livgren left and formed AD, and Time Line was that band's first album. Again, it was...okay. Not great. Catchy tunes etc but none of the gravitas that his former music had. I wanted to like Time Line at lot more than I ultimately did. Good songs...but not great.

The funny thing is that I dropped all pretense of disliking the band's earlier music after going to see their Vinyl Confessions concert. One of my close friends was a big fan of their music, anyway. I listened to the albums that the popular tracks came from and found some really deep songs, and (as I've mentioned in other posts) a lot of music that had a major influence on the construction of my SF universe, and on the stories that take place there.

Power came out in 1986, with Steve Walsh and most of the others, but no Livgren and no Steinhardt. It was good enough for the 1980s. In The Spirit Of Things was next, in 1988, which had more weight behind it; it was a concept album, and because of the caliber of musicians that played with the band at that time, it contained some outstanding performances.

When Freaks of Nature came out in 1995, though, it was amazing. They added a violinist (David Ragsdale) and the violin tracks weren't afterthoughts, and this was KANSAS. The band's signature sound was back. This album has one weak track on it, the eponymous track; the others are outstanding.

Somewhere to Elsewhere, 2000, was 100% written by Livgren, had Robby Steinhardt on violin and vocals, and Steve Walsh and keyboards and vocals. Some seriously good tracks there, though several are not to my liking.

In general, in fact, it used to be that I rarely listened at all to their earliest albums--Kansas and Song for America--because I formerly did not like their early sound. Masque was generally where I would start listening if I was going in chronological order. If I wanted to hear "Journey from Mariabronn" or "Song for America" I'd listen to them from their live double album, Two for the Show, because I liked those performances better. (Of course Masque is their album which has had the most influence on my stories.)

But then someone embedded the first song on Kansas in a blog post, "Can I Tell You", and that made me go back and listen to those first two albums--really listen--and I realized they were better than I originally thought. (Which is to say, my tastes have matured, plus twenty-odd years of increasingly shitty pop music have made me better appreciate them.)

(Okay, damn it, thirty-odd.)

Kansas, the original band, has pretty much retired. The band that currently produces albums and tours with that name contains just two of the original members, Phil Ehart (drums) and Rich Williams (guitar). I bought their 2016 album The Prelude Implicit and will probably buy their 2020 album The Absence of Presence when I get around to it, but I'm just not motivated to, since the band is mostly people other than those who founded it. THe former album sounded good but there weren't any songs on it that really grabbed me.

I guess that's about how these things go.

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