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This was written by Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren
. According to Livgren, the song was not written to express anything specifically religious, though it certainly expresses spiritual searching and other ideas.
Livgren became an evangelical Christian in 1980, and has said that his songwriting to that point was all about "searching." Regarding this song, he explained: "I felt a profound urge to 'Carry On' and continue the search. I saw myself as the 'Wayward Son,' alienated from the ultimate reality, and yet striving to know it or him. The positive note at the end ('Surely heaven waits for you') seemed strange and premature, but I felt impelled to include it in the lyrics. It proved to be prophetic."
This song can be seen as the continuation of the last song of Kansas' previous album Masque. As stated in the last verse of "The Pinnacle":
"I stood where no man goes/Above the din I rose
Life is amusing though we are losing
Drowned in tears of awe..."
By definition in the Cambridge dictionary, "Din" is a loud unpleasant confused noise which lasts for a long time. The first line of "Carry On Wayward Son" is: "Once I rose above the noise and confusion." (thanks, Rich - Trenton, NJ)
This was the group's first major hit, and like their next one, "Dust In The Wind
," it was a last minute addition to the album. Kerry Livgren wrote the song just two days before they started recording Leftoverture
. At that point, the band was polishing the songs they had, not bringing in new ones. "I've got one more song that you might want to hear," he told the band, and when he played "Carry On," they knew it was a hit and made it the lead track on the album.
The a cappella vocals in the beginning of this song gave it a very distinctive intro. This worked well on Rock radio stations where disc jockeys rarely talked over the music.
This song has appeared in several movies, including Heroes (1977), Happy Gilmore (1996) and Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004).
This song is featured in the South Park episode "Guitar Queer-O." In the episode, Stan and Kyle become obsessed with the video game Guitar Hero and often play to "Carry On Wayward Son." The song is played throughout the episode. (thanks, Matthew - Hawthorne, NJ)
The Oak Ridge Boys recorded this for the album When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You'd Hear
. Cevin Soling, who put the compilation together, said: "The Oak Ridge Boys, I wanted them to do Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer
,' and I had this wonderful arrangement worked out... this very 'Elvira
' Country version of the Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer,' with all the doo-wops and poppa oom maus and everything. I could not wait to get them in the studio to work on that. I had alternate lyrics, you know, but they were still uncomfortable with doing that. So that kind of went back and forth and somehow "Wayward Son" got thrown out there. I don't remember exactly who picked that one, but generally I'd give the artist a few choices and they sort of pick among them." (Check out our interview with Cevin Soling
Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root
Michael tells the story of "Send Me On My Way," and explains why some of the words in the song don't have a literal meaning.