Songs You May Have Missed #255

Kansas: “Reason to Be” (1979)

When you think about it, a lot of hugely successful pop and rock acts actually have a very short heyday. In the 60’s the Mamas & the Papas charted all their top 20 hits over a period of about a year and a half. Ditto the Lovin’ Spoonful. The top 20 window for Creedence was less than three years.

The same held true in the 70’s. Most of Steve Miller’s greatest songs came from two albums, Fly Like an Eagle and Book of Dreams. All of Elton John’s great albums came between 1971-73, unless you’re going to argue for Caribou‘s classic status. Carole King? Tapestry.

Kansas was no exception. The Leftoverture album in 1976 propelled them into the realm of arena headliners. Then they eclipsed it with the next year’s Point of Know Return, an album that was among the decade’s finest and, as it turns out, the best the band was capable of creating. Following it up was probably a little like trying to follow up Boston or Frampton Comes Alive. Predictably, Kansas put out a very respectable album with 1979’s Monolith and, predictably, it was called a disappointment.

If songwriter Kerry Livgren’s lyrics are any indication (and they always are–he writes more autobiographically than most) ’79 finds him already beginning to ask himself ‘is that all there is?’. This song sounds like a thematic companion to 1982’s “Play the Game Tonight”, with Livgren questioning the meaning of rock star life in the bigger scheme of things. The bigger scheme in question was a spiritual search that eventually led him to leave the band to make Christian music.

But while he pulled off the balancing act of pondering the big questions while making gold and platinum records, Livgren created some of the best progressive rock songs of the era (see: ‘The Wall’, ‘Carry On Wayward Son’, ‘Dust in the Wind’, ‘Sparks of the Tempest’, ‘Portrait’).

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