Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind” is a song written by band member Kerry Livgren, and it was first released on their 1977 album Point of Know Return. In 1978, Kansas’s only single to reach the top ten in the US was No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the week of April 22, 1978. After becoming a hit single, the 45-rpm single was certified Gold by the RIAA for sales of one million copies.
The lyrical theme, which offers a meditation on mortality and the inevitable conclusion of life, bears a striking resemblance to Genesis 3:19 (“…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”) and Ecclesiastes 3:20 (“All go to one place. dust all return.”) in addition, there are the famous opening lines of the Japanese war epic The Tale of the Heike (“…the mighty fall at last, and they are as dust before the wind.”) and this is from a book of Native American poetry, which includes the line “for all we are is dust in the wind.”
Writing, recording and impact
The guitar line for “Dust in the Wind” was created by Kerry Livgren as a fingerpicking exercise for learning the instrument. Vicci, his wife, heard him working on the melody and told him it was nice, so he decided to write lyrics for it. As a departure from their signature style, Livgren wasn’t sure whether his bandmates would like it. Livgren played “Dust in the Wind” during Kansas’ rehearsals for their recording sessions of June and July 1976, to astonished bandmates who asked: “Kerry, where have you been?” As Kansas guitarist Rich Williams recalled, Livgren played his bandmates an old reel-to-reel recording of him playing “Dust in the Wind”. [He] just kind of mumbl[ed] the lyrics, [but] even [hearing it] in that bare form…we said: ‘That’s our next single.'”
During the recording of “Dust in the Wind” at Woodland Studios in Nashville, Livgren played a Martin D-28 acoustic guitar borrowed from Williams: Featuring the electric violin work of Robby Steinhardt, it featured Steve Walsh as lead vocalist despite being recorded just a month after Walsh had resigned from Kansas (Walsh’ 1977 “departure” from Kansas lasted a month). “Evocative lyrics” and a “catchy melody” were also praised by Billboard, as well as the lead vocal performance and the string instruments. Cash Box said it had a “solid melody, excellent vocals and harmonies, and an impactful lyric.”
Additionally, Kansas released a live version of “Dust in the Wind” on their album Two for the Show, as well as a symphonic version on Always Never the Same.
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