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“Dust in the Wind” is a song recorded by American progressive rock band Kansas and written by band member Kerry Livgren, first released on their 1977 album Point of Know Return.
The song peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of April 22, 1978, making it Kansas’s only top ten Billboard Hot 100 charting single. The 45-rpm single was certified Gold for sales of one million units by the RIAA shortly after the height of its popularity as a hit single. More than 25 years later, the RIAA certified Gold the digital download format of the song, Kansas’ only single to do so certified as of September 17, 2008.
Background and writing
A last-minute addition to the track lineup for Point of Know Return, “Dust in the Wind” would also be its greatest success.
The guitar line for this song was written by Kerry Livgren as a finger exercise for learning fingerpicking. His wife, Vicci, heard what he was doing, remarked that the melody was nice, and encouraged him to write lyrics for it. Livgren was unsure whether his fellow band members would like it, since it was a departure from their signature style. After he played the demo for the band, there was a “stunned silence” and the band asked him, “Kerry, where has this been?” In spite of Livgren’s reservations, the rest of the band knew it was going to be a hit.
The title of the song is a Bible reference, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes:
“I reflected on everything that is accomplished by man on earth, and I concluded:
Everything he has accomplished is futile — like chasing the wind!”
A meditation on mortality and the inevitability of death, the lyrical theme bears a striking resemblance to the well-known biblical passage Genesis 3:19 (“…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”), as well as to 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 from a book of Native American poetry, which includes the line “for all we are is dust in the wind.”
“Dust in the Wind” was one of Kansas’s first acoustic tracks; its slow melancholy melody and philosophical lyrics differ from their other hits such as “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Point of Know Return”. The guitar track comes from two guitarists playing six-string guitars in unison, one in standard tuning and the other in Nashville tuning, to create a chimy sound similar to a twelve-string guitar. The instrumental bridge contains a distinctive melodic line and harmony for violin and viola.
Kansas also released a live version of the song on their album Two for the Show and a symphonic version on Always Never the Same.
Steve Walsh – lead vocals
Kerry Livgren – acoustic lead guitar
Robby Steinhardt – violin, backing vocals
Rich Williams – acoustic rhythm guitar
Phil Ehart – percussion