The album Leftoverture
not only propelled Kansas to international stardom, it also saved the band for the time being. Kansas' previous record, Masque
, was a commercial failure, and the progressive style of the band and their songs hindered their ability to get serious radio play. While he personally enjoyed the band, producer Don Kirshner gave Kansas one last chance: produce a hit record, or be dropped by the label. Overwhelmed and distressed with the predicament, the band returned to their hometown of Topeka, Kansas, to relax and begin writing for the next album.
Lead singer and keyboard player, Steve Walsh, began suffering from writer's block which hindered his songwriting contributions, and so it was left up to lead guitar player and lyricist, Kerry Livgren, to generate song ideas and lyrics. Sitting at his parent's home, in front of the family organ, Livgren composed the music for what would become "Carry On Wayward Son." In late 2011, Livgren stated in a short interview at his home that the lyrics were partially about himself and the struggles and pressures he was facing at the time when the band's career was on the line. The piano interlude and accompanying verse express how happy the band's success had made him, as well as how sad and fearful he was that it might possibly be over ("I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high"). However, the chorus expresses hope that everything will work out and that he must simply keep going. ("Carry on, my wayward son. There'll be peace when you are done").
In reality, the song was almost not included on the album, and thus contributes to the album's title of Leftoverture
. The album title comes from the idea that many of the songs are leftover songs from the band's past. For instance, the string part at the end of the second track, "The Wall", was an old song idea that was added on to the end of the song for the record. The album, while met with mixed reviews by critics, was commercially successful, going platinum five times. "Carry On" became the bands' first Top 40 hit (peaking at #11), and is often regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. It gave Kansas the staying power it needed to keep producing records with Kirshner, and earned Kerry Livgren the reputation as one of the most respected musicians and lyricists in rock and roll.