Kansas – Leftoverture (1976)
Welcome to another week on Your Dad’s Car Stereo! We’re going to 1976 this week with an album that many consider the opus of the American prog rock movement, Leftoverture by Kansas. Generally only known for a handful of songs, most notably “Carry On Wayward Son,” Kansas wholly embraced prog rock for Leftoverture, incorporating sweeping epic fantasy tracks, unconventional instrumentation with a stadium rock appeal. The sound of Leftoverture is interesting in that it incorporates the operatic, synthesizer driven sound of Styx with the guitar sound of Yes. The whole album is driven heavily by synthesizers with some great moments of backing instrumentation from stringed instruments. Kansas would go on to record more albums through the 2000s, but 1976’s Leftoverture would be their best-selling album during the peak of the prog rock movement. They left their own mark on the movement, particularly the American prog rock movement, combining traditional folk and rock sounds with new technology.
I’ve never been a big Kansas fan, and like many I suspect, haven’t really listened to them much outside of their big hits, but Leftoverture is a prog rock album that can keep up with the best of them. It’s just the right amount of rock out loud combined with weird music writing and instrumentation. Kansas stands apart from the rest of the prog rock scene in the 1970s though by straying further from the mainstream, particularly with the incorporation of odd musical phrasing and song structure. Where other prog rock acts were more inclined to use non-traditional instruments, Kansas seems to have gone the other way, using non-traditional song structures, particularly on songs like “Cheyenne Anthem” and “Magnum Opus.” That’s not to say they didn’t use unusual instruments as much of Leftoverture is keyboard driven and uses strings as backing instruments, but there was no inclusion of flutes (think Jethro Tull), bagpipes, vuvuzela, didgeridoo, or other odd instruments that prog rock acts have tried. I was pleasantly surprised with how proggy and innovative this album was while having some real rock moments. It wasn’t all an artistic experiment in how far rock music can go, there are some genuinely good rock songs to be found here. I hope you enjoy the album!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Carry on Wayward Son: We start Leftoverture with a HUGE classic rock hit, “Carry on Wayward Son.” This song remains a staple of classic rock music because of its inventiveness and the way that it disregards typical song structure, giving Kansas’ prog rock influence a chance to discreetly show through on a more typical rock track. There’s no disputing that this is a masterful song, the vocals are top notch, the instrumentation is shrieking, and the tempo changes are really fun. Dad’s Rating 8/10
The Wall: “The Wall” takes a different turn after “Carry on Wayward Son,” launching into operatic rock ballad territory a la Styx. Going for a more melodic, primarily keyboard driven piece, was a bold decision and using the guitar as a sweeping backing instrument is a different way to do a song, but it works very well! This is a solid song. Dad’s Rating 6/10
What’s on My Mind: Leftoverture has got some awesome tracks, but “What’s on My Mind” might be one of the best hidden gem tracks that I’ve listened to and is my favorite song from the record. It has tough competition against “Carry on,” but this is a more traditional rock song and I think the vocal harmonies and guitar riffs are particularly memorable. The fact that this song doesn’t get much attention makes me like it even more. Definitely worth the listen and hopefully you’ll have a new song to add to your classic rock playlists! Dad’s Rating 9/10
Miracles Out of Nowhere: “Miracles Out of Nowhere” is a notch higher than “The Wall” in my book because it’s slightly more musically interesting. I love the introduction that begins with the synthesizer and string solo that will end up carrying through the song. That’s exactly the kind of progressive rock that I love to hear; it makes for a more complex song and more enjoyable listening experience for me. The whole song has a slightly folkish, almost Irish folk music sound with the way the strings were incorporated. This is a unique track that you shouldn’t skip over if you like to hear the prog rock that’s at the limits of what was being done. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Opus Insert: You would have to convince me that this isn’t a Styx song because the reliance on synthesizers makes for an uncanny sound. Having said that, this is a good track! You get elements of the song that combine the operatic, storytelling vocals with keyboards and xylophones, almost as if to show that they can, in fact, be used in a rock song. For fans of Styx, check this one out! Dad’s Rating 6/10
Questions of My Childhood: If you expected the keyboards to stop on “Opus Insert” then you would be mistaken. There can be too much of a good thing, and by this point on the album, the lack of variation in the sound starts to strain attention spans. This is a forgettable song, particularly with the splendid “Cheyenne Anthem” to follow it up. Dad’s Rating 4/10
Cheyenne Anthem: Wow. “Cheyenne Anthem” is an epic song that would be right at home in a space epic move and deserves as much attention as “Carry on Wayward Son.” It’s creative in its use of call and response between the synthesizers, guitar, and strings. There are a lot of moments where it feels like a cross between a Yes track, particularly because of how the guitar is played through the instrumental and a Styx track from the heavy synth sound. The song builds to a faster pace through the instrumental and you want to keep listening to see where it’s going to go and how the music will change next. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Magnus Opus: Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat/ Howling at the Moon/ Man Overboard/ Industry on Parade/ Release the Beavers/ Gnat Attack: It wouldn’t be a prog rock album without an extended, multi-section song, and “Magnus Opus” fills that role on Leftoverture. In many ways it feels like a traditional rock song that has been expanded and much less progressive. The whole song is very cohesive and doesn’t feature much in the way of segmentation the way that a lot of epics in the prog genre tend to. Highlights are the wailing guitar and xylophone section on “Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat,” the guitar solo on “Howling at the Moon”, and use of the synthesizer as the gnat sound throughout the song. Dad’s Rating 5/10
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