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Chicago Transit Authority

Review: 143
Date: 29 Aug 03


Rating: 5 Stars

Robert Lamm - Keyboards and Vocals; still with the Band
Terry Kath - Guitar and Vocals; left us in 1978
Peter Cetera - Bass and Vocals; retired
Daniel Seraphine – Drums; retired
Walter Parazaider - Woodwind Instruments; still blowing with the Band
Lee Loughane – Trumpet; still blowing with the Band
James Pankow – Trombone; still blowing with the Band

Tracks Listing:
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Questions 67 and 68
Poem 58
Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I'm A Man


Chicago (they were only called 'Chicago Transit Authority' for this, their debut album, before dropping the Transit Authority bit to be the more manageable 'Chicago'. I mean imagine putting all that on the back of your T-Shirt! It would go from paw to paw) are probably the only band in history to start out with a classic ground breaking debut album and then never reaching that peak again, but slowly spiraling their way down on the helter skelter of Rock 'n' Roll. Certainly in terms of creativity if not commercial success.

In the mid-seventies Chicago were one of the most successful in the world. By the time of their last album, cleverly titled "Chicago 26" after yes, you guessed it, "Chicago 2","Chicago 3", "Chicago 4", etc. They had sold over 120,000,000 albums worldwide with nineteen gold albums, thirteen of which went platinum in America alone. “Chicago 5” was top of the Billboard Charts for nine weeks. Twenty top ten singles and five number ones. Not bad for a band that was slowly going down the drain! Today the band is still going with four of the original seven, still in their ranks. (They could of been five, but stunning guitarist Terry Kath was tragically killed in a shooting accident at a party.)

But when this album came out in 1969, incredibly it was a double album, unheard of in those days for a debut album to be a double. Most established bands found it difficult to fill up both sides of a single Vinyl record without adding some filler to take up the slack in the required forty minutes. Seems remarkable in these days of seventy two minute CDs. The Chicago Transit Authority were the top ticket. Groundbreaking in every aspect, they had a conventional four piece line-up with bass, drums, keyboards and lead guitar; the vocals shared between the three that weren't drumming. However, they also had three other full time members of the road and studio band playing a combination of trombone, trumpet, and woodwind instruments. That gave them a unique sound combining Jazz/Pop/Rock/Funk/Soul with glorious musical skills. Before they had even signed a recording contract they had been invited out on the road with both Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix famously being quoted as saying that Terry Kath was the best guitarist in the world. One listen to this album and you have to admit that Jimi might not have been wrong.

The music kicks off with the aptly titled "Introduction" singing of how they are looking forward to playing for you. In the space of it's six and a half minutes each section of the band gets space to stretch their musical abilities, specially mid-song when they slip away into a Samba direction reminiscent of today's Santana sound. A stunning start. This is quickly followed by the first single from the album. Although the single is not a hit until after their breakthrough single the following year, the hard driving "25 or 6 to 4'' from "Chicago 2". “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is" with it's simple piano refrain and driving brass backing is music to tap your feet to. "Beginnings" is easily good enough to have been the opener. It is similar in vain to "Introduction'', but slightly more laid back with a nice groove that has you swaying along. "Questions 67 and 68" is the second single taken from the album with soaring vocals and fluid runs from Terry Kath, instantly laying the template for the 'Chicago' sound. "Listen" is a nice little number for the rhythm and horn sections to show off their wears. The next three workouts belong primarily to the guitar playing skills of Terry Kath. This boy could shred the wallpaper off your walls at one hundred yards. "Poem 58" slowly grinds its way up to a shattering climax that leaves you wanting more, so Terry Kath delivers a solo "Free Form Guitar" all six and a half minutes of it. What it says is what you get performed on a Fender Stratocaster guitar through a Showman amplifier equipped with a twin 15 bottom utilizing a Bogan P.A amplifier as a pre-amp. No electronic gimmicks or effects were used in the recording of this section. The intent being to capture as faithfully as possible Kath's solo spot from their live show as it sounded on stage. "South California Purples" starts off with a classic rock guitar riff allowing all the band members to come in on its back before breaking into snatches of Beatles lyrics and chords, almost like sampling from the present day. Then we get "I'm a Man", a cover of the Spencer Davis classic written by Steve Winwood. Chicago turn it into their own including a short sharp sweet drum solo from Danny Seraphine . "Prologue" is an actual recording of a Democratic Convention in Chicago, 29 August 1968, with militants exhorting demonstrators with ''God Give Us The Blood To Keep Going". Then when the march begins and the police attempt to disperse the marchers, they chant "The Whole World Is Watching", a dramatic beginning to "Someday", Chicago's song in support of these demonstrators.

The last song, "Liberation", is the crowning jewel in Chicago's locker. A fast paced dance track that is driven along by pounding bass and drums with all the soloists given space during its fourteen and a half minute stretch. If "Chicago'' never sounded so good again over the next thirty three years, it’s no wonder. This album was simply impossible to follow.

The sort of music all New Zealand headmasters have displayed on their shelves. Quite rightly, too.


Pawed by Mott The Dog
Remastered by Ella Crew


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