(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
Pawed by Mott The Dog
Remastered by Ella Crew