Got The Fever

Friday, October 06, 2006

Chicago

What ever happened to …?

Long after they have stopped becoming relevant, Chicago continues to churn out album after album. It seems that every year Chicago has yet another album with a higher roman numeral after its name. Look at it this way though – somebody has to be buying in order for them to continue to churn out album after album.

But, in the beginning …

Chicago was a powerful and potent elixir of horns, biting, socially relevant lyrics and a crew of musicians that were second to none. This mix was especially apparently true within the confines of the first handful of albums. They were even considered a blast of cool, fresh air in the time and era when the prevailing mood was that the guitar was god. So, in other words, Chicago helped to provide an alternative type of music to the masses.

They wrote sharp and cutting gems that drove rock, jazz, classical, pop and anything else they got their talented hands on, into an amalgamation of early FM album/spilling into AM singles that we all eagerly bought up (OK, stole and hid from our older siblings).

As a testament to this and to further the proof, they released their first album – the very first offering from a then unknown band – as a double album! It went gold and then platinum. Someone tell me – what other bands in the past have done that successfully? Who lays down solid, hard cash today for a double album from an unknown entity? I said today?

Evidence One: South California Purples
One of the very first songs I learned to play as a budding beat crazed teen. That aside, this is one of those mini-jams that raise the bar of excellence on this thype of platform. Organ, fuzz bass, sweltering horns, masterful vocals and maniacal sticks. And yes, they did manage to get Terry Kath’s rippin’ guitar solo into this one. It's sad that Kath later accidentally killed himself with a handgun, because forever after his death, Chicago, without Kath's say in band direction, would begin their journey toward pop ballad hell. OK, I admit I’m rough there.

Listen to homage to John Lennon at 4:22. Take this one and let it meander to and fro while taking care of other things – don’t stare at it while its playing, just walk away and let it ring out.

Evidence Two: I’m A Man
Sometimes a band can elevate itself not only on what it has to offer in terms of originality, but in how masterfully it can bend, manipulate, mold and mash a cover till it becomes their very own. Such is the case with this one, originally penned by Steve Winwood while in The Spencer Davis Band. Right from the beginning clutching bass riff, into the shuffling drum, the scratch guitar, the off beat percussion (times 2!), to the right use of the tambourine, right to the bulging organ and the fade-in guitar parts … wow – layer upon layer upon layer … delicious.

“If I had my choice of matter
I would rather be with cats
All engrossed in mental chatter
Showin’ where your mind is at
While relating to each other
How strong your love can be
By resisting all the good times with each groovy chick we see”

Try to restrain your air guitar hand when Kath’s first swellings comes in at 1:08. Teamwork going on here with vocals being traded between Kath and Cetera (he, the later king of junior high prom themes). Not a weak moment going on this track. A perfect stroke was to let drummer Danny Seraphine slap the skins silly beginning at 3:13 for a bit. Usually, when the drummer takes the lead and begins a solo, it’s an automatic signal and opportunity for me to get up and go whiz – turns out to be a real yawn-fest most times. But here, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t fit right in perfectly. But, not content to simply let it beat you ceaslessly after its use has expired, they once again masterfully proceed to build layer after layer.

Peel away the layers of consternation that you've built up over the years and pull down those first few Chicago platters. You'll once again realize just how damn great they are.

Chicago Transit Authority: South California Purples
From: Chicago Transit Authority [April 1969]

Chicago Transit Authority: I’m A Man
From: Chicago Transit Authority [April 1969]

Unexpectedly, Blogger is now posting images. Well, I did find out, after experimenting, that I had to join the new Beta version first. Hey - put up a sign somewhere and let me know about this stuff next time, will ya?

5 Comments:

  • Nice to see a post on Chicago showing how they kicked ass! Great choice of tunes!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:22 PM  

  • Nice choice of songs. Good blog - keep it going.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:10 PM  

  • Yes, those guys could really play, back in the day. I have been listening to records like "25 or 6 to 4" and "Beginnings" for 35 years, and they never fail to amaze.

    By Blogger jabartlett, at 10:24 PM  

  • A fine choice of tunes. I like that you show Chicago in a good light for their early material.

    I come here every day - good blog!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:59 AM  

  • When I hear "I'm A Man", I chuckle because my first exposure to the song was in the clubs when a gay group named Macho did a cover of it. I could never really understand their lyrics, but I knew it was for their target audience because there is a lyric that goes
    "and I never have no problems;
    and my butt is made of foam"!
    LOL! What a shock when I found out that Chicago wrote a gay song!! HA! Of course later I learned the real deal. Both versions are classic!!

    By Blogger soulpeeps, at 12:42 AM  

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