35 Years Ago: Kansas’ ‘Point of Know Return’ Album Released
Itâs been 35 years since Kansas plunged beyond the âPoint of Know Returnâ and over the edge of progressive rock oceans into mainstream unknowns below.
The year was 1977, and the rising progressive rockersâ fifth studio album had to be wrangled into shape amid escalating band member disagreements and no small pressure that they double down on the long-awaited breakthrough achieved by the previous yearâs Leftoverture album and its blockbuster hit, ‘Carry on My Wayward Son.’ Whatâs more, change was in the air, well above and beyond Kansasâ insular work ethic and Midwestern location.
Over the previous year, the pestering buzz of punk rock had steadily grown from bi-coastal radio static to transatlantic uproar, and while all its filth and fury would barely dent the armor of the â70s so-called dinosaur rockers, when all was said and done, the harsher reality was that not even Americaâs leading progressive rockers — bands like Styx, Journey and, yes, Kansas — had achieved the kind of popularity enjoyed by their British counterparts. With or without punkâs incoming sea change, art rockâs days were evidently numbered — as numbered as the crisp dollar bills held by U.S. record companies, which had never been as willing as their foreign counterparts to place creativity over commerce, in any event. So, having proved their capacity to conquer the radio airwaves with ‘Wayward Son,’ as well as noodle on their guitar and violin necks along with the best of âem, there was really no turning back for Kansas. The watery cliff beckoned.
All of which makes âPoint of Know Returnâsâ ensuing triumph in becoming the biggest record of Kansasâ career all the more remarkable.
While its songs were kept consistently brief in length (‘Closet Chronicles’ and ‘Hopelessly Human’ being the sole, leg-stretching exceptions), Kansasâ formidable virtuosic interplay remained as flamboyant as ever (‘Lightningâs Hand,’ The Spider,’ etc.) and their subject matter reliably brainy (the Albert Einstein tribute ‘Portrait’), even bordering on confounding (the aptly named ‘Paradox’). Not to worry, though, album rock radio ubiquity and crossover success were nevertheless guaranteed (the band would be headlining Madison Square Garden and countless other arenas before yearâs end) by the irresistible one-two punch of the title track and ‘Dust in the Wind’ — Kerry Livgrenâs plaintive middle of the road uber-ballad, which made Kansas a household name, whether they liked it or not.
Actually, history would suggest it was more of the latter, given Kansasâ subsequent internal battles over musical direction and commercial fall from grace; but this too only heightens âPoint of Know Returnâsâ status as perhaps the ultimate expression of progressive rockâs transition into arena rock during the second half of the 1970s.
Watch the Kansas ‘Dust in the Wind’ Video