35 Years Ago: Kansas’ ‘Point of Know Return’ Album Released
It’s been 35 years since Kansas plunged beyond the ‘Point of Know Return’ and over the edge of progressive rock oceans into mainstream unknowns below.
The year was 1977, and the rising progressive rockers’ 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 year’s Leftoverture album and its blockbuster hit, ‘Carry on My Wayward Son.’ What’s more, change was in the air, well above and beyond Kansas’ 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 ‘70s so-called dinosaur rockers, when all was said and done, the harsher reality was that not even America’s leading progressive rockers — bands like Styx, Journey and, yes, Kansas — had achieved the kind of popularity enjoyed by their British counterparts. With or without punk’s incoming sea change, art rock’s 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 ‘em, there was really no turning back for Kansas. The watery cliff beckoned.
All of which makes ‘Point of Know Return’s’ ensuing triumph in becoming the biggest record of Kansas’ 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), Kansas’ formidable virtuosic interplay remained as flamboyant as ever (‘Lightning’s 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 year’s end) by the irresistible one-two punch of the title track and ‘Dust in the Wind’ — Kerry Livgren’s 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 Kansas’ subsequent internal battles over musical direction and commercial fall from grace; but this too only heightens ‘Point of Know Return’s’ status as perhaps the ultimate expression of progressive rock’s transition into arena rock during the second half of the 1970s.
Watch the Kansas ‘Dust in the Wind’ Video