Artist Genere: Progressive Rock
Title: Song For America
Musicians: Phil Ehart-drums & percussion, Steve Walsh-organ, piano, vibes, lead & backing vocals, synth, Kerry Livgren-Guitar, piano, clavinet, Moog, Oberheim & ARP synths, Rich Williams-acoustic & electric guitar, Robby Steinhardt-violin, viola, lead & backing vocals, Dave Hope-bass
Producer: Jeff Glixman & Wally Gold
Mastering Engineer: Tom Rabstenek
Kansas is an American rock band (I’d call them Progressive Rock as they have all the required elements), that became popular in the 1970s initially on album-oriented rock charts and later with hit singles such as “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind”.
In 1969, Lynn Meredith, Don Montre, Dan Wright and Kerry Livgren (guitars, keyboards, synthesizers) were performing in a band called The Reasons Why in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas. After changing the band’s name to Saratoga, they started playing Livgren’s original material with Scott Kessler playing bass and Zeke Lowe on drums.
In 1970, they changed the band’s name to Kansas and merged with members of rival Topeka progressive rock group White Clover. White Clover members Dave Hope (bass) and Phil Ehart (drums, percussion) joined with Livgren, vocalists Meredith and Joel Warne, keyboardists Montre and Wright and saxophonist Larry Baker. This early Kansas group, which lasted until 1971 when Ehart, Hope and some of the others left to reform White Clover, is sometimes referred to as Kansas I.
Ehart was replaced by Zeke Lowe and later Brad Schulz, Hope was replaced by Rod Mikinski on bass, and Baker was replaced by John Bolton on saxophone and flute. (This lineup is sometimes referred to as Kansas II, and 30 years later would re-form under the name Proto-Kaw.) In 1972, after Ehart returned from England (where he had gone to look for other musicians), he and Hope once again reformed White Clover with Robby Steinhardt (vocals, violin, viola, cello), Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, percussion) and Rich Williams (guitars). In 1973 they recruited Livgren from the second Kansas group, which then folded. Eventually they received a recording contract with Don Kirshner’s eponymous label and decided to adopt the Kansas name.
Kansas’ band members began to drift apart in the early 1980s. Livgren became a born-again Christian, and this was reflected in his lyrics on the next three albums, beginning with Audio-Visions. “Hold On,” a Top 40 single from that album, displayed his new-found faith. Hope soon converted to Christianity as well. This would be the final album with the original lineup (until they reunited in 2000).
Due to creative differences over the lyrical direction of the next album, Walsh left in October 1981 to form a new band, Streets. In early 1982, Walsh was replaced by vocalist/keyboardist John Elefante, who—unknown to Livgren and Hope at the time—was also a Christian. He was chosen from over 200 applicants, such as Sammy Hagar and Doug Pinnick. Kansas’ first album with Elefante, Vinyl Confessions, was released in June 1982. The album’s mostly Christianity-based lyrics attracted a new audience. Still, sales of the album fell short of gold status.
Drastic Measures followed in 1983. For various reasons, Livgren contributed only three songs to the album. The rest was penned by the Elefante brothers (who later became successful producers for contemporary Christian music artists, including Sweet Comfort Band, Petra, Bride, Rick Cua, and Guardian). *With violinist Steinhardt leaving the group before the recording sessions, the result was a more mainstream pop-rock album.
During the band’s time with Elefante as lead vocalist, Livgren became increasingly uncomfortable with Kansas representing his Christian worldview. After a final New Year’s Eve performance on December 31, 1983, Livgren and Hope left to form AD with former Bloodrock member Warren Ham, who had toured as a sideman with Kansas in 1982, and Michael Gleason, who had done the same in 1983. They were joined by drummer Dennis Holt. Elefante, Ehart, and Williams sought to continue as Kansas, and recorded one more song, “Perfect Lover,” which appeared on the retrospective The Best of Kansas (1984), which has sold over 4 million units in the U.S. alone. The song would eventually be removed in favor of other songs on the remastered release of the compilation. The group disbanded after its release, which thus became the final Kansas recording with Elefante. Since leaving Kansas, Elefante has become a popular CCM artist, and has not performed with the group since.
Read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_(band)
Official site: http://www.kansasband.com/
The discography of Kansas consists of fourteen studio albums, six live albums, seven compilation albums, and twenty-five singles.
Song for America is the second studio album by American progressive rock band Kansas, released in 1975. (I consider them “classical-based” Prog). The album was reissued in remastered format on CD in 2004. The 10-minute title track was edited down to three minutes for release as a single. The 45″ edit resurfaced 29 years later as a bonus track on the remastered release, which provided improved sound as well as expanded liner notes, rare photos, and a live version of “Down the Road”.
A new version of the album, Playlist: Song for America, was released with “Magnum Opus” from Leftoverture instead of “The Devil Game” on the new album.
I have the 1975 album on vinyl here.
This album on vinyl has incredible depth and a very full sound. I used to not really care for this LP for some reason. Perhaps my analog front end was almost non-existent, I don’t know. I do know it did not sound good. Now that I have heard on a decent analog front end though, it is one of my better LPs in my collection.
Don Kirdhner or somebody knew what they were doing.
I wouldn’t bother with the CD or later releases. The vinyl is the only way to go on this album.
Down The Road – If Charlie Daniels was Rock, this might be what it would sound like. It appears to be about where either Steve Walsh or Kerry Livgren (or both) grew up. The line that stands out to me is “They’re all pimpin Judys and poppin speed”. Must have been the slang.
Song For America – This is where the progressive rock starts to show and clocks in at almost a 10 minute ride and its the title track. It starts out as an instrumental overture for about the first three minutes. It is dominated by keyboards, violin, and bass. It has a symphonic structure.There is some great bass and keyboard work on this song and many time signature changes (indicative of Prog Rock). There is also a long instrumental bridge about half way through in 9/16 time. This is one of my favorite cuts. It was written by guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren during the period of heavy touring for their first album. It is known for its symphonic structure, and its lyrics showing America’s state before and after colonization. The final section of the instrumental overture closes the song. The single version of the song had most of the instrumental parts edited out, and is cut down to three minutes. That’s more like a butcher job on the wrong song than an edit.
Lamplight Symphony – This is a nice listen in spite of the sad topic. It is story-like in structure with different sections giving the song feel. The emotional “Lamplight Symphony” portrays an elderly widow who encounters the ghostly apparition of his departed wife who tells him that someday they will be together again.
Lonely Street – If I had to have a least favorite song on this LP, this would be it, but it’s still good. The first verse is just bass and vocals. It’s a blues style song and the lyrics depict why.
The Devil Game – I wonder if this is Bach influenced as far as the keyboards go? This song has good structure. I’m not sure what the lyrics are about. They sound blatantly religious to a degree, but I’m not sure it’s meant to be taken quite that literal. Kerry Livgren did not write the lyrics so we know the source was not him. I believe this was pre-christian Kerry Livgren.
Incomudro-Hymn To The Atman – This is the longest song on the LP clocking in at 12:11. This is another one of my favorites on the album. The keyboard work is fantastic and somewhere along the way there is the requisite drum solo (who doesn’t like drum solos?)! The thing here is that they processed it through a flange effect. It would have been better had they left it alone. The song really rocks out towards the end. The song was written by Kerry Livgren.
“Incomudro-Hymn To The Atman” continued to reflect Livgren’s ongoing spiritual search. Livgren sums things up in his excellent 1983 autobiography Seeds Of Change:
“This song illustrates the syncretistic approach I took to religion
as it seeks to combine elements of Hinduism with those of Zen
Buddhism. “The man is not alive who knows the value of his soul”, this is the atman, valuable because it can be merged according to Eastern thought, with the universal soul, the all-that-is”.
Here’s Down The Road Live (1976). The visual quality is not so great, but the sound is alright:
Song For America: https://youtu.be/l4ZddyPX6vM