Point of Know Return
Portrait (He Knew)
Dust in the Wind
Sparks of the Tempest
A good indication of the US music scene in the 70s is that as the punk wars raged in Britain, across the Atlantic Kansas’s pomp-laden prog rock was ruling the roost.
The follow-up to the massively successful Leftoverture was Point Of Know Return, another slice of intuitively melodic rock that again spawned a huge hit single, in this case the emotive Dust In The Wind (more recently used in a series of Butlins TV ads).
The opening title track and Portrait (He Knew) upped the pomp quotient, while Kerry Livgren’s highly personal closer Hopelessly Human showed an increasingly spiritual slant. Meanwhile, singer Steve Walsh had informed his band-mates of his intention to leave for a solo career, but was dissuaded.
“Lots of money was now coming in,” drummer Steve Ehart explained. “People were saying how great we were, and some of us started to believe those things. We’d come from meagre backgrounds, and some of us couldn’t even afford cars. Then boom – you can buy almost anything you want.”
“When you’re in your early 20s and suddenly become famous, and you’ve got women literally chasing after you, it’s almost impossible not to give in to temptation,” Livgren added. “What began to change us was success. It was all very satisfying, but left an inner void in us all. When your dream comes true, where do you go from there?”
Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute.
Other albums released in October 1977
- The Runaways - Waitin' for the Night
- Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers - L.A.M.F.
- Electric Light Orchestra - Out of the Blue
- The Charlie Daniels Band - Midnight Wind
- UFO - Lights Out
- Kiss - Alive II
- "Heroes" - David Bowie
- Lynyrd Skynyrd - Street Survivors
- Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell
- Genesis - Seconds Out
- Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
- Neil Young - Decade
- Queen - News of the World
- Sweet - The Golden Greats
- Barclay James Harvest - Gone to Earth
- Sparks - Introducing Sparks
- Levon Helm - Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars
- Santana - Moonflower
- Sammy Hagar - Musical Chairs
- Nils Lofgren - Night After Night
- Utopia - Oops! Wrong Planet
- Dead Boys - Young Loud and Snotty
What they said...
"The band's strength is in the purposefulness of its ensemble playing, because there isn't a virtuoso soloist on board. Keyboardist Steve Walsh's Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman imitations provide most of the single-line excitement, and his capsule presentation of the first Emerson, Lake & Palmer album, The Spider, almost gets to the point where it sounds like there's something going on. But the whole thing is unsettling – I have a feeling we're not in rock'n'roll." (Rolling Stone)
"The band is in peak form and also churned out the single Point of Know Return, which is still played daily on classic rock stations. While their pop-oriented approach and standard rock guitar sound helped define the classic rock sound of the '70s, careful listening reveals that this band's talent goes beyond colleagues such as Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Boston." (AllMusic)
"The Closet Chronicles, Helplessly Human, Sparks of the Tempest and Nobody’s Home all deal with life, death and the end of humanity. Maybe it’s the fact that Steve Walsh and Livgren were writing together, but Point of Know Return is remarkably consistent for a Kansas album. It’s hard to tell which songs were written by Livgren or Walsh and, for the first time, it doesn’t really matter." (Progrography)
What you said...
Brian Carr: In a Thin Lizzy review for the Club, I noted that they were a band that makes me wonder why I don’t listen to them more. I had the same thought when listening to Kansas’s brilliant Point Of Know Return this week. Everything about it is tremendous - the playing, the vocals (lead and harmonies), the composition - all of it.
I can listen to and appreciate music on the proggy side of life because the playing is almost always tremendous. I struggle to maintain my interest, though, because to my ears, the compositions often tend to go on and on. I feel the same way about “jam bands.” Kansas certainly has musical moments that are reminiscent to those two styles, but for me, they present a musical idea and stay on it for the perfect length of time before segueing into another stellar part.
The violin and organ are featured every bit as much as the guitar work, which might make me balk, but I never do because they dazzle, then move on to the next dazzling part. Again, it makes me wonder why I haven’t ventured much beyond this album and its predecessor. Probably time to right that wrong.
BTW, if you love musical documentaries like I do, check out Miracles From Out Of Nowhere, an excellent look into this often overlooked band.
Neil Immerz: A fantastic album from start to finish. I picked this up out of curiosity about 10 years ago now (the sticker on the front read “A classic rock masterpiece”) so I bought it, played it on my way home and loved it from the first listen.
Julian Clarke: Borrowed this from the library based on the cover around 1978. Now have pretty much everything they recorded. Sadly never saw them live.
James Last: Love this album. Even more than Leftoverture actually.
Richard Cardenas: My 100th concert around 1977 or so. Personally, I could never get too much beyond the hits. Much prefer their early stuff.
Walter Padron: Song for America is way better.
David R. Howard: This is a solid record. It was also my introduction to the band. My friend played it and I thought that I’d never heard anything like it.
Tom Dee: Outstanding!
Robert T. Stewart: I have every Kansas album released in the 70s. All are fantastic and Point Of No Return is no exception. Point was the most 'commercial' of all them and really struck the mainstream hard. Another great album by an outstanding group of musicians.
Jerry Lantz: Epic. One of my all-time favourites.
Victor Atanasov: The Spider. Ultimate.
Dave Janney: Never listened to much Kansas. Really like this! The frenetic nature and heavy organ remind me of ELP.
Shawn Stewart: American Prog. This was the first album I ever bought. I think I was 10. Informed a lot of my musical taste going forward. Didn’t really get punk until much later because of the amazing compositions featuring incredible musicianship and creativity put out by bands like Kansas.
Greg Schwepe: I sometimes play this musical mind game called “Pick Two Albums.” I choose a group and then determine which two albums from a band totally represents them, in a nutshell. Kind of like if a friend asked “So, I want to get into [name of band], if I could only pick two albums of theirs, what albums would you, Classic Rock Album Of The Week Club member, recommend?” And for Kansas, it’d be Leftoverture and this week’s Club pick, Point Of Know Return. The band must agree too, as they've done tours where both of these albums were played start to finish, and with a subsequent live album. Note to Classic Rock editors: I think this “Pick Two Albums” idea would be a TOTALLY great idea for another weekly column, but we can discuss later!
Now to the review! Point Of Know Return is the perfect bookend to Leftoverture. Same lineup, same instrumentation, but this time with even more confidence. I wore the grooves out of Leftoverture and it’s probably in my Top 10 Of All Time list, but in places Point Of Know Return out-rocks and out-mellows Leftoverture all at the same time.
This album brings you one of the most moving acoustic classics in Dust In The Wind. If you hadn’t heard that one played at some major life event gathering (wedding, funeral, graduation, high school prom, car wash grand opening; you name it!) in addition to hearing it on every FM station in the world, then where have you been? Steve Walsh’s vocals put him in good with company with other vocalists from that era.
Kansas usually gets lumped into the Arena Rock category (and it’s albums like this one that got them added to that group) with Styx, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, and the like. And a lot of times people either like those bands… or do not! So, you might have been on the fence already with Kansas. “Man, can’t stand those wussy keyboards and that violin…” you might say. But to that, I tell you to go to Sparks Of The Tempest and crank it at exactly 3:28 into the song. Rich Williams and Kerry Livgren deliver one of the most classic guitar breaks in history.
And the best part? Those gnarly guitar tones appear all over this album; Portrait (He Knew), Lightning’s Hand, and The Spider. And while you do get some introspective piano on this album, a lot of kick ass Hammond B-3 is prominent all over the place.
The funny thing about this album is that somehow I never bought it back in the vinyl heyday with all my other Kansas purchases. Started with Leftoverture, then bought and played the heck out of Monolith, Audio-visions, and Vinyl Confessions. Not sure how this got past me at the time. I mean, I would have flipped past it in the rack when I bought Monolith. But during a pre-streaming-CD-upgrade purchasing frenzy, I finally bought a copy of Point Of Know Return. And due to its massive airplay on FM radio, the remaining half of the album I hadn’t really heard before knocked me out. “Wow, shoulda bought this back when it came out! I could’ve heard this song 30 years ago…”
If you’re intrigued by this album, I also suggest finding the documentary Miracles Out Of Nowhere. Great stories about the band and the writing and making of both this album and Leftoverture. 9 out of 10 on this one for me.
Uli Hassinger: When I bought this album when I was 14 or 15 it was only because of Dust In The Wind. I was very surprised what I was hearing spinning the album. In this age the other songs were way too much orchestral and I didn't like the album.
In fact Dust In The Wind doesn't fit in the concept of the album. No keys, very calm and soft. Of course it's a huge classic and a brilliant song. I love the flute and violin combined with the acoustic guitar.
Over the years I learned to value the other songs higher. Portrait (He Knew), Closet Chronicles, Sparks Of The Tempest and Nobody's Home are all plain 10/10, the rest not much behind. I especially like the classic approach. Partly the band - the keyboard and the violin in particular - is playing like a chamber music ensemble.
Very good album. 9/10.
John Davidson: I remember seeing this cover on the wall of my local John Menzies alongside A Farewell to Kings , Songs From The Wood, Going For The One, News Of The World and Out Of The Blue. I can only assume the guy behind the desk was a fan of pomp/prog rock and although I don't recall it I'm guessing The Grand Illusion was up there too.
Needless to say my budget didn't stretch to all of them and though I did buy this eventually, beyond the pillars of the title track and Dust In The Wind I can't say I recall many of the songs.
Compared to Rush, Tull and Yes, Kansas were a second tier band, capable of producing some great songs but lacking impact when it came to their albums.
(As with many others I wore out the single I had of Carry On Wayward Son).
I'd rate Point Of Know Return a little lower than Leftoverture which seems to have more bite, but better than Monolith.
Between the highlights I often felt Kansas were too tame, too polished and in many ways too American (Rush - perhaps from being Canadian-resonated with British prog sensibilities far better than most of the bands over the other side of the Atlantic) and lacked the quirky charm that imbued so much of the prog that I enjoyed.
Best track beyond the obvious: Sparks of the Tempest.
As an aside I totally recommend the 2020 Kansas album The Absence Of Presence, which blends rock and prog very effectively .
Gary Claydon: Just one look at that cover and you know, instantly, this is a prog album. Except it isn't. Well, it is, but this is American prog. That's not a bad thing, it's just that, like a lot of American prog, Point Of Know Return is very slick, very polished, a bit too polite, never too far away from veering towards arena rock and AOR. Best tracks here are Sparks Of The Tempest and Lightning's Hand.
I quite like Kansas but I wouldn't put Point Of Know Return' among their best albums.
Mike Canoe: I worked for about six months in the state of Kansas in the early '90s. A co-worker, who was a local, and I were working in the stockroom and Carry On Wayward Son came on the classic rock station we were listening to. I asked him if it was the state's official song. Without missing a beat, he replied, "No, that's Dust In The Wind."
The sparse and melancholy Dust In The Wind is certainly a song for the ages - even if it doesn't sound like any other Kansas song that I've ever heard. No cathedral keyboards, no electric guitar, no time changes, no bombast in general.
Aside from the great opening title track, side two outshines side one, with "the official state song of Kansas,” the rocking Lightning's Hand, the cautionary Sparks of the Tempest, and the epic(ish) Hopelessly Human - which ends with terrific tubular bells.
Kansas was well-established by the time I came of musical age so they always felt like a band my big brother (if I had a big brother) would be into and I really never listened to them much beyond the hits. Listening to it this week, Point Of Know Return is an enjoyable example of one strain of 70s classic rock.
Philip Qvist: Ask the casual music fan to name any Kansas song and you are almost certainly going to be met with either Carry On Wayward Son or Dust In The Wind. Hardly a surprise, I suppose, but there is a lot more to them than those two tunes - even if Leftoverture and Point Of Know Return remain my to go to Kansas albums.
If Steve Walsh had writers block for the Leftoverture sessions, then he sure found his mojo for this album; as he and Kerry Livgren did the bulk of the songwriting heavy lifting. The title track, Dust In The Wind, Lightning's Hand and Sparks Of The Tempest are my picks on the record.
While I think it lags slightly behind Leftoverture there is still plenty to like about Point Of Know Return, with musicianship of the highest quality. I also have to mention the iconic cover which just grabs your attention, screaming out prog in the process. An 8/10 for me.
Bill Griffin: Although I like Monolith, this is probably the last of the great Kansas albums until recently. After this one, personality conflicts started becoming apparent leading to Walsh leaving. I think Livgrin also started running out of ideas.
Final score: 8.17 (145 votes cast, total score 1186)
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