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Have you ever wondered how to captivate your audience when your song has a lengthy instrumental intro? One approach is to start with an a cappella chorus, showcasing the vocal talents of the band without any instrumental accompaniment. In this article, we’ll delve into the a cappella vocal opening of “Carry On Wayward Son” and explore how it instantly grabs your attention and sets the stage for an incredible musical journey.
The A Cappella Experience
The Kansas hit song, “Carry On Wayward Son,” begins with a powerful a cappella vocal section that immediately grabs your attention and provides a distinct introduction to the track. The voices blend together beautifully, showcasing the band’s exceptional harmonizing skills.
A Progressive and Impactful Intro
Kansas has always possessed a remarkable sense of harmonizing, and combined with a strong and attention-grabbing melody, the intro of “Carry On Wayward Son” achieves the desired effect. It demands the listener’s full focus, prompting people to pause and truly listen. This aspect worked to the band’s advantage, especially on the radio, where disc jockeys often chose not to talk over the captivating intro.
An Intricate Introduction
The intro of “Carry On Wayward Son” is quite elaborate and remarkable, considering its aspiration for radio play and potential as a hit single. It consists of four distinct musical parts: the a cappella chorus, an initial guitar riff with additional keyboard accompaniment, a guitar solo section, and a stop-start riff section that gradually fades away, paving the way for the first verse.
While some may argue that such a complex intro risks losing the listener’s attention, Kansas embraced this ambitious approach. It showcases the band’s abundance of ideas and their eagerness to push musical boundaries. They sought a hit on their own terms, even if it meant challenging conventional radio-friendly structures.
The Journey Continues
As the final part of the intro fades, a lone voice emerges, signaling the start of the first verse. After the energetic and fierce opening of the song, the first verse creates a contrast with its softer instrumentation, primarily featuring a gentle piano accompaniment.
With the drums, bass, and additional instruments gradually joining in, the song gains momentum and builds up once again. While the verse still maintains a sparse feel, the instrumentation adds a lovely lift to the overall sound.
Leftoverture: The Album That Saved Kansas
“Carry On Wayward Son” serves as the opening track of Kansas’ fourth album, Leftoverture, and also marked its first single release. The album proved to be a career-saving breakthrough for the band. Previous records had not achieved significant success, with their third album, Masque (1975), even considered a commercial failure, despite selling around 200,000 units.
Signed to Don Kirshner’s label, Kansas faced mounting pressure to deliver a hit record or risk being dropped. Determined to prove themselves, the band retreated to their hometown of Topeka, Kansas, to relax and start writing for their next album.
The Pressure Album
The band’s lead vocalist and keyboardist, Steve Walsh, struggled with writer’s block during this pivotal period. As the band’s primary songwriter, Kerry Livgren stepped up to fill the void, generating song ideas and lyrics.
Livgren recalls the intense pressure they experienced during the creation of Leftoverture, dubbing it “the pressure album.” With Walsh unable to contribute songs, Livgren took on the responsibility of writing the majority of the material. Each evening, he would diligently craft new songs at home and bring them to the band for rehearsal.
The band was captivated by Livgren’s creative output, eagerly anticipating each new song he brought to the table. Livgren’s ability to consistently deliver exceptional material injected excitement and optimism into their recording sessions.
A Magical Last-Minute Addition
Surprisingly, “Carry On Wayward Son” was a last-minute addition to the album. Livgren composed the song just before they entered the studio, even though they had not actively sought out additional songs at that point.
As Livgren shared his new creation with the band, their jaws dropped in awe. They recognized immediately that this song possessed the special something that could save their careers. Despite limited rehearsal time, they decided to bring “Carry On Wayward Son” into the studio, a decision that would prove pivotal.
Upon hearing the song, producer Jeff Glixman was captivated by its magic. He wasted no time in reaching out to Don Kirshner, the label’s head, to share the exciting news. Kirshner’s enthusiastic response confirmed their belief in the song’s potential, providing a much-needed boost of confidence.
The Deeper Meaning
The lyrics of “Carry On Wayward Son” hold a personal significance for Livgren. Reflecting on the pressures and struggles faced during the band’s critical juncture, he poured his emotions into the song. The piano interlude and accompanying verse convey both the happiness derived from the band’s success and the underlying sadness and fear that it might all come crashing down.
The chorus, however, delivers a message of hope, encouraging perseverance in the face of adversity. It resonates with the idea that there will be peace at the end of any journey, regardless of one’s personal beliefs. Whether interpreting the chorus as a spiritual or metaphorical statement, the sentiment remains powerful.
A Remarkable Connection
Interestingly, there appears to be a link between the closing song of Kansas’ previous album, Masque, and the opening track of Leftoverture. The last verse of “The Pinnacle” from Masque speaks of rising above the noise, while the first verse of “Carry On Wayward Son” begins with the line, “Once I rose above the noise and confusion.”
A Resounding Success
Leftoverture was released on October 21, 1976. Thanks to the success of the single “Carry On Wayward Son,” which hit the airwaves almost a month later, the album climbed to #5 on the main US Billboard chart. The single itself became Kansas’ first Top 40 US hit, reaching a peak of #11. Since then, the song has remained a staple on radio playlists across the globe.
A Legendary Rock Anthem
“Carry On Wayward Son” is often hailed as one of the greatest rock songs of its era. Its success propelled Kansas to new heights, solidifying their place in the music industry. Moreover, it established Kerry Livgren as a highly respected songwriter in the rock music scene.
As Kansas embarked on subsequent tours, they experienced a significant shift in their status. From being an opening act or playing moderate-sized clubs, they transformed into headliners, even gracing arenas worldwide. The impact of “Carry On Wayward Son” forever altered the trajectory of Kansas’ career, propelling them towards a successful future.
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