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Direct Link To This Post Topic: ? (Kansas - The Christmas Album)
    Posted: October 23 2017 at 11:01

Edited by Kansasfan! - October 23 2017 at 15:00
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 23 2017 at 11:54
I see that the review was posted on April 1, 2016 so an April Fool's Day prank. Seems this should not have stood the PA archives test of time. Makes me question the raters, too, at least one of which I have long suspected rated without listening to the music.

This deserves saving, both review and entry, before any deletion.

Kansas - The Christmas Album

1. Dust in the Wind (sleigh bells mix) (4:13)
2. Miracles out of 42nd Street (4:43)
3. Magnum Opus Reduex (10:16)
a. Father Christmas left me coal
b. Santa's shadow on my roof
c. Man I want a new sleigh
d. Industry on parade
e. Release the reindeer
f. Gnome attack

4. Holy sh*t it's Christmas (2:35)
5. Silver Bells (and Golden Needles) (4:24)
6. Mysteries and Marzipan (3:45)
7. Nobody's Home (this year for Christmas) (5:13)

Total time: 36:09

Line-up / Musicians
- Kerry Livgren / guitars, bells, keyboards, timpani
- Steve Walsh / vocals, bells, Farfisa organ
- Rich Williams / banjo, ukulele, musical saw
- Dave Hope / bass, mead glasses
- Phil Ehart / drums, producer, engineering
- Robby Steinhardt / violin, viola, cello, Irish fiddle

Releases information
CD Rainbow Sounds RSCD-1369 (1989) US, EU

Thanks to Rudoph12 for the addition

Originally posted by ClemofNazareth ClemofNazareth wrote:

By mid-autumn 1990 the members of Kansas were not in a very good place. The group had reformed in late 1985 and released two studio albums on the MCA label, but changing public tastes and a rapidly condensing music industry combined to cloud the band's future. Having Steve Walsh, one of the most recognizable voices in American rock, along with five-time Guitar magazine artist-of-the-year Steve Morse should have all but ensured success for the group, but MCA had set sights on the MTV generation and was in the process of unwinding its relationship with Kansas following a critically-acclaimed but financially disappointing 'In the Spirit of Things' album and subsequent tour. There were rumors of Morse's departure, which were confirmed in the spring shortly after the 'Spirit' tour sputtered to a halt. And despite persistent efforts by drummer and band leader Phil Ehart to bring original violinist Robby Steinhardt back into the fold, the group appeared ready to close out the 1980s without a label and without their signature string sound.
And then came a glimmer of hope. The story goes that in late summer 1990 a German concert promoter made a deal with the original Kansas lineup to reform and embark on a European tour. In reality that 'German promoter' was Phil Ehart himself, working behind the scenes to inject some sign of life into a band that otherwise appeared headed for the boneyard, though his role would not come to light until many years later. Unfortunately Steinhardt was still off in Florida creating musically average and unjustifiably hard-to-find CDs with ganja buddy Rick Moon, but the rest of the group including Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope agreed to spend the winter of 1990 trapesing through the rapidly transforming European countryside. Like many other American and British bands, they saw the financial upside of belting out rock anthems while perched atop recently dismantled Soviet monuments to slightly shell-shocked crowds of prospective patrons as they emerged from drab Cold War hovels and embraced their glorious capitalist future. Or something like that. Wind of change indeed.

One problem - the band had no album to promote. And since MCA had dropped them in favor of pop-star du jour Tiffany they also had no studio sponsorship and no advance money to cover the cost of producing an album, not to mention no one to write the songs. Ehart considered framing the upcoming concerts as a European leg of the recently completed 'In the Spirit of Things' tour, but the legal drones at MCA made it clear the band would spend the winter in court rather than on the road if they tried to abscond with the label's copyrighted property.

Which is how the band Kansas came to add a Christmas album to their discography.

On the surface this project made no sense. Before the 1990s few if any progressive rock (or even hard rock) bands had ever released a Christmas record; in fact, even today holiday records are mostly cranked out by country singers, evangelists or washed-up actors. The most notable prog rock example is Jethro Tull's 2003 Christmas album, and Ian Anderson has often and openly credited Kansas for inspiring him to add a holiday record to his own band's collection. Walsh was quoted several years after the recording saying he found the experience to be more spiritual and inspiring than 'any of that cross-hugging crap Kerry made us play in the 1980s', and in fact he has since gone on to appear on several upbeat, Christmas-themed records including the 2001 December People collection; a 2003 album titled 'Remember the One' recorded with children and a priest from Walsh's old primary school in St Joseph, Missouri; and of course 'Glossolalia'.

So the band needed a tour and one magically appeared, and now they needed an album. And one magically appeared. Once again Ehart pulled a rabbit out of an orifice and came up with the idea of wrapping a holiday theme around the upcoming shows, and given the tour would start just three weeks before Christmas, he figured that featuring the holiday prominently made perfect (albeit contrived) sense. Phil has said his inspiration (and several of the song tracks) came from a drunken all-nighter the band pulled during the early studio sessions for 'Vinyl Confessions' back in 1981. At that point Walsh hadn't walked out on the band and been replaced by John Elefante yet, but as the holidays approached their time in the studio was becoming more fractious and correspondingly less productive. Queen's drummer Roger Taylor, who was guest musician for the sessions but found himself acting increasingly as referee between the holy (Livgren, Hope) and hell-raiser (Walsh, Williams) factions of the band, recounted to them how he and Freddie Mercury eased tensions of their own during the final Trident sessions for Queen's first studio album back in 1972. Queen had also been recording late in the year with holidays approaching, and like Kansas the sessions were strained. In Queen's case this was due to the band being forced to re-record several tracks they had previously laid down at De Lane Lea studio earlier in the year but which producer Roy Thomas Baker had refused to mix. The band was being squeezed into downtime slots at the studio to save money and nerves were wearing thin. Taylor brought them together one evening with a case of Nyetimber Cuvee and a collection of classic Christmas tunes. The results were several spectacular hangovers along with the legendary (and never released) Queen Christmas recordings now known as the 'lost Trident Nativity Scene'.

In Kansas' case Taylor had his work cut out for him given half the band's members were teetotalers, but he somehow got them to agree to a late weekend session and managed to keep them happy with a combination of non-alcoholic spritzers and a couple of cases of Grolsch's stout lager (along with Walsh's frequent trips to the restroom to do lines off the back of a toilet seat). The reward was a stellar rendition of 'Magnum Opus' as well as a rather silly but charming version of 'Dust in the Wind'.

'Magnum Opus' turned out to be a great choice given the lengthy instrumental parts of that song, which meant the band had to change only a few lyrics to make it work as a Christmas medley, and the slightly cynical nature of those words were perfectly explainable given the amount of alcohol consumed that evening:

'Yuletide again, and the snow it falls, The frost dances light in the air; Under the tree in the room, those presents are all for you, And no, you don't have to share. But once this night is over, I'll be paying off the bills 'til June.'

The 'Dust' version features bells and glass harp in place of strings. Most people don't know this but the original 'Dust in the Wind' included a viola score along with violin (Steinhardt played both), so this version with bells playing the supporting viola role comes off as a faithful reworking of the well-known tune but with an added touch of more range and a flourish to the melody.

I read somewhere that Walsh actually recorded vocals for 'Miracles out of 42nd Street' and if that's true those would be very cool to listen to today. Unfortunately the band didn't keep the vocal tracks from the recording, or maybe they decided the 'substituted' lyrics were either too racy or too rough to include in this release. So we're left with an instrumental that is basically 'Miracles out of Nowhere' but with several bridges that splice in snippets of 'Winter Wonderland' and 'Frosty the Snowman'. The whole thing works mostly because of the song's placement, coming just before 'Magnum Opus Redeux' which itself has numerous abrupt tempo and mood changes. So this portion of the record ends up sounding a bit like a Kansas retrospective medley but with the occasional off-key note and more tinny percussion than what appears on most Kansas albums. Near the end of the song there's a faint spoken vocal in the right speaker that the post-production people seem to have overlooked. I'm not exactly sure who is talking but it sounds like Rich Williams, and the only words you can make out are 'on your mother's slack- jawed face' so I'm guessing there's a missing punchline there as well.

The first of two hidden tracks follows 'Gnome Attack' and is preceded by about 4.5 minutes of dead space. The first few times I listened to the record I thought the space was just tape hiss, but if you crank it up on a decent pair of speakers you'll realize the sound is an almost uninterrupted stream of pissing into a porcelain toilet. I'm not sure if this was looped or if the band members just left a microphone in the bathroom and spliced together all the evening's urination opportunities to come up with this impressive stretch of tape. Either way it's an interesting touch that I'm guessing was lost on most listeners.

The first hidden track is kind of lame, nothing more than a bland version of "Pact with Lucifer" from Coven's 1969 debut album (the one-hit wonder whose claim to fame was the melancholic 'One Tin Soldier'), admittedly and probably intentionally a strange choice for a Christmas album. The song was actually recorded as a rehearsal piece during a preparation session for the band's 1979 'Audio-Visions' tour, making it one of the few tracks on the album that includes Robbie Steinhardt and features violin. Rather than backward-masking (a technique Tipper Gore incorrectly thought was widespread at the time), the band recorded the song as-is and then had the grooves on the vinyl album cut backwards so it could only be played 'normally' by back-spinning the record. Their rather elaborate effort is completely lost on the CD version, where listeners can hear an accurate and mostly boring version of the song with Steinhardt providing vocals.

Since we're discussing hidden tracks, the second and final one appears at the very end of the album/CD. This one is also preceded by a couple minutes of silence but in this case the space seems to actually be silence and not some urologic event. This time the band delivered something truly special, and in doing so started an urban legend that made its way to the internet and will probably live on forever. This is a complete and very tight studio cover of Gary Wright's 'Dream Weaver', the version rumored to exist since shortly after Wright recorded it back in 1975. I've never found anything in writing that explains when or where Kansas recorded this song (or why they never released it), but turns out it does very much exist. Wright of course came up as a member of Spooky Tooth, and the two bands appeared together several times in concert during the Tooth's (Teeth's?) 1973 tour supporting their 'You Broke my Heart, so I Busted your Jaw' album, so the Kansas band members all knew Wright and presumably followed his music. Who knows why they made the recording, but it turned out great and makes for a nice bonus on this album.

The reason this record is considered a studio album and not a compilation is largely thanks to the second half songs. While the first three tunes (and both hidden tracks) were dredged out of a vault somewhere, Phil Ehart did manage to book some studio time for the band to record a few new tracks to include on their European Christmas album. The group laid most of the tracks down at the Rainbow Recording Studio in Omaha Nebraska, a small and mostly urban music studio but one that was available cheap and on short notice. Local sound engineer Ricardo Cabeza assisted in production. Interestingly enough, Cabeza once worked as a roadie for the band during their early touring days and was present at the club known as 'A Warehouse' (New Orleans) in December 1970 when Kansas appeared on stage with the Doors for their disastrous final concert with Jim Morrison before his death. The concert is mentioned in the liner notes of the 'Ultimate Kansas' boxed-set released by Legacy in 1994.

Back to the story at hand. Ehart used the studio's name to come up with a fictitious label ('Rainbow Records') and catalog number (RSCD-1369), but in reality the album was underwritten by MCA as a modest parting gift when they dropped the band from the label. This is also why the copyright notice is dated 1989, when the record was actually put out in 1990. The backdated release date allowed the label to take a tax write-off on the studio expense since they could claim the band was still employed by MCA at the time.

The first of the new tracks is, along with 'Dream Weaver', a cover tune. 'Holy sh*t, it's Christmas' is the brainchild of comedian Red Peters. Peters first released the song on his studio album 'I Laughed, I Cried, I Fudged my Undies' in 1994, but it dates back to the 1970s when Peters was known as Matt Maverick and appeared extensively as a regional opening act for many touring bands including Badfinger, Spirit and Kansas. Frank Zappa once called him 'the best musical comedian in the world'. This is a light song, obviously meant to be humorous and was probably included so the band would have something they could play as a closing number for smaller venues during the tour.

Despite the similar title 'Silver Bells (and Golden Needles)' has no relation to the Jack Rhodes/Linda Ronstadt country standard 'Silver Threads (and Golden Needles)'. Rather, it's a simple version of the pop standard 'Silver Bells' made famous by Bob Hope in the 1950s, but in this case the band managed to convince Steinhardt to provide cello accompaniment to the song. I'm not sure if he actually appeared in the studio or mailed it in, but this is a very nice touch to what would otherwise have been a fairly pedestrian rendition of the classic. This is also one of the few tunes the original Kansas ever recorded where Walsh or Steinhardt did not provide vocals. The singer is Livgren, marking the first time since 'Point of Know Return' that he adds vocals to a Kansas tune, and the first time since his 1980 solo album 'Seeds of Change' that he is the featured singer.

'Mysteries and Marzipan' is of course a version of the 'Masque' song 'Mysteries and Mayhem'. This is the version I always thought the band should have made for a live album, as it features black gospel backing vocals from the late Reverend James Cleveland's Southern California Community Choir, a group introduced to the band just two years before when they appeared on 'In the Spirit of Things'. This version also features Rich Williams on banjo and Walsh playing a Farfisa organ, both of which combine to provide a primitively festive, almost Appalachian folk vibe to the song. The original has always been overlooked on the 'Masque' album but I count myself among those fans that believe this song was never arranged right when it was first recorded, and that it has at its core a gospel soul. The version on this album lets that soul shine brightly.

And except for the second hidden track, the album closes with 'Nobody's Home (this year for Christmas)', a feel- good a cappella reworking of the Bing Crosby wartime Christmas classic 'I'll be Home for Christmas' that manages to add in the string solo from 'Nobody's Home' off the 'Point of Know Return' album. As far as I know this is the only time you'll ever hear all five members of Kansas singing a capella (yes, Steinhardt shows up here too), although I'm pretty sure all of them sang on the original 'Magnum Opus' and also on 'Whiskey Seed' from Livgren's first solo album. The combination of somber yet hopeful lyrics and the mournful strings from 'Nobody's Home' make for a really emotional end to the album. The group definitely outdid themselves on this one.

I'm not sure how many of these records the band managed to sell at their merch tables during the 1990 European tour (and I believe that tour ended up extending into Japan and the Philippines in early 1991 as well). It was never distributed in North or South America despite being printed and released in New York City, so copies are all but nonexistent outside of Western Europe today. The vinyl version was only released as a promo, and there are a few copies of that floating around the U.S. and Canada, though most are probably in private collections. 'Holy sh*t, it's Christmas' was released on a white vinyl 12 inch picture disc, and I have a mint copy of that in my man cave to this day.

If you ever run across a copy in decent condition, snatch this one up and hang onto it. Little pieces of music history like this don't come along every day, and given Kansas are in the twilight of their career, this is probably your last chance to own something like this from them.

If I had to rate this solely on the music I'd give it two stars since the record is almost the definition of 'for collectors only', but given the history and the fact reviewers are free to give any rating they want regardless of actual merit, I'm going to go with four stars. I won't give this a strong recommendation based on the quality of the songs, but will say you should add this to your collection if you are ever flipping through stacks in a dusty old record store in some seedy little out-of-the-way European burg, or at least as long as some of those places still exist.


KANSAS The Christmas Album ratings only
chronological order | showing rating only
5 stars reelkk
1 stars vbprogplus (vincent boucher)
2 stars TheWillowFarmer (Cil Phollins)
2 stars Lynx33 (Balázs Markó)
3 stars lord777lord7 (Kuehne, Axel)
3 stars NickArvas (Nikhil R Vasisht)
5 stars dannyb
2 stars johngat (Jamal)
3 stars APartOfTheUniverse (Matthew)
5 stars gochevvkk (gochevvkk)
5 stars lechevv (Ivan)
2 stars The Stygian Heresy (Sonja Fjord)
1 stars Kingsnake (Monsieur Renard)
3 stars mhernand3 (Martin Hernandez Valdez)
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ClemofNazareth View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 23 2017 at 14:38
Evil Smile
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 23 2017 at 15:51
Deleted it, and that was overdue, but it was a funny and well-done April Fool's Day entry.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 24 2017 at 02:24
Rats! I really enjoyed that review when I first saw it a year ago or so.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 28 2017 at 09:03
Hmm....that's copy of that album has Carry on My Wayward Santa and Song For An American bonus tracks.


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 28 2017 at 15:02

That band just can't win ... gosh, you'd think that KC would be ripe for some humor, but Kansas?
... none of the hits, none of the time ... now you know what the art is all about!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 29 2017 at 06:08
KC? Kringle Crimson?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 29 2017 at 08:49
Karate Chimps.

Btw I love that Kansas review. Very well done Bob - had me chuggling all the way through
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 29 2017 at 14:49
Kansas has a Christmas album? Is Reba McEntire on it?
"It just has none of the qualities of your work that I find interesting. Abandon [?] it." - Eno
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 30 2017 at 08:49
I knew that was fake.
But was hoping it wasn't.
Nigerian Prince much? 
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