Song: “Carry On Wayward Son”
A last-minute addition to save their careers, this song did just that — and then some
The song this week is rated as one of the best rock songs ever recorded. It almost didn’t happen. Pressured by their label to produce a hit or be fired, writer’s block settled over Kansas’ chief songwriter, singer, and keyboard player Steve Walsh. Things looked dire, as their album — Leftoverture — was named such because it consisted of leftover bits of old song sketches.
To deal with the pressures, the band returned to Kansas — their home state — with Kerry Livgren, their guitarist, settling in at his parents organ, where he started composing what would become “Carry On Wayward Son.”
The band felt songwriting had wrapped when Livgren appeared to tell them, “I’ve got one more song you might want to hear.” Listening to it the first time, the band knew it was a hit, and they made it the opening track on the album.
Livgren became one of the most respected lyricists and songwriters in rock thanks to this — and other breakthroughs that followed.
The song reached #11 on the charts, and made the band an international phenomenon. Their follow-up included the mega-hit “Dust in the Wind.” The band had a few more hits, but then gradually wound down as members went in different directions.
The song has been featured in multiple movies, television shows, games, and other media.
The version below was performed in 2009, nearly 33 years after the original recording. One of the hallmarks of our current times is how deep into life performers can reach the heights — how they’ve learned to their voices and bodies in shape so they can still hit these notes and play this music.