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Cross/Polyrhythms in Kansas's "Carry on My Wayward Son"

I have very fond memories of this song, dating back to high school marching band.  In the 1990s, many of the high schools in my area had a tendency to play lots of 70s rock smashes.  "Vehicle" proved to be fairly difficult for our band, but this and "Free Ride" were always classics. 

It was through marching band that I learned about 70s rock, and later learned of Chick Corea and Samuel Barber (but I'm getting ahead of myself).  I did not have a great 70s rock background, as a child of the 80s and of parents with divergent musical tastes.  My father considered himself a great music fan, but the things I remember him playing most were 45s, singles, of George Harrison's "I Got My Mind Set on You" and Milli Vanilli's "Baby Won't You Call My Number".  My mom listened to country music, so I can karaoke George Strait, Travis Tritt, Reba McEntyre, and Diamond Rio with the best of them.  I was a grown-up MTV addict with a penchant for alternative rock in high school.  Thanks, high school marching band, for strangely enough expanding my tastes!

“Carry On My Wayward Son” - Kansas

 

Intro: Known for its progressive rock beginning and its folk leanings (with songs such as “Dust in the Wind”), the band Kansas formed in Topeka, Kansas in 1970. “Carry on My Wayward Son” appeared on the band’s 1976 album Leftoverture and reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #51 on the UK singles chart. Leftoverture reached #5 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart in 1977. The band would release 14 albums, the last in 2000, and continues to tour with its current line-up.  This song has also appeared on multiple film soundtracks.

 

Analysis: The main cross-rhythmic figure occurring in this song, which could be transcribed as quarter note triplets, appears at the end of the riff that follows each repetition of the chorus. Without changing tempo or meter, the guitar and drums move into a compound meter feel. The metrical feel returns to a simple duple with a short guitar solo punctuated by the organ, followed again by a seemingly metrical shift, and then followed by a well-known quarter note triplet feel. The metric shifts occur later in further guitar solos, and the quarter note triplet motif returns again at the very end of the song.

 

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no offensive subject material or language. Additionally, this song has been arranged and published for marching and even concert bands many times over, making it a good curricular connection and a very strong example of cross-rhythm. It can also be incorporated into performance literature, further reinforcing the concept.

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