Chicago Transit Authority (1969)
Introduction/Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is/Beginnings/Questions 67 and 68/Listen/Poem 58/Freeform Guitar/South California Purples/I'm A Man/Someday/Liberation
This is a remarkable debut album from 1969, a really ground-breaking piece of funky jazz rock.The opening Introduction is six minutes of upbeat, funky jazz instrumental finished off with some random vocals and Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is is an exciting, uplifting horn-driven vocal number. Beginnings has just a wonderful opening bass line and laid back groove, matched by a soulful vocal. This puts so much musical output from 1968 to shame. It is ten years ahead of its time. The remastered sound is excellent too. Outstanding in fact.
Questions 67 And 68 is a fast-paced, bass-heavy, punchy brass poppy piece of catchy brilliance that takes your breath away. Listen utilises some searing electric guitar in a tune that surely influenced early Santana at times.
Poem 58 is eight minutes of potent, rumbling and at times incisive piece of guitar-driven funk, but, unfortunately, Freeform Guitar is, to be honest, a God-awful racket and sits uncomfortably with the sublime nature of the rest of the album. I have to admit to moving on to the next track, which is another funk ‘n’ horns classic, South California Purples, which samples I Am The Walrus at one point. I'm A Man is another funked-up delight. Great drums in it too.
Someday and Liberation end this remarkable debut double album in great vocal, then instrumental style. The latter is probably a minute or two too long, but then again, probably not.
A triumph of an album.
Chicago II (1970)
Movin' In/The Road/Poem For The People/In The Country/Wake Up Sunshine/Make Me Smile/So Much To Say, So Much To Give/Anxiety's Moment/West Virginia Fantasies/Colour My World/Now More Than Ever/Fancy Colours/25 Or 6 To 4/A.M. Mourning/P.M. Mourning/Memories Of Love/It Better End Soon/Where Do We Go From Here
Released two years after their debut (also a double album), this is by far Chicago's most experimental, innovative album. Chicago II is a sprawling, maybe a little bloated, double album of all sorts of musical styles. Predominantly jazz rock, there is also soul, funk, easy listening, searing lead rock guitar, clever, tuneful bass, Beatles influence, Beach Boys influence. Excellent horns abound throughout this album and also Blood, Sweat &Tears-style vocals.
The album starts with a series of relatively long, fully-formed songs - the jazzy Movin' In, followed by the funky The Road. Then we get the very Beatles-ish and tuneful Poem For The People. Late 60s Beatles influence is all over this album.
Next up is the soulful, funky In The Country with its simply great guitar, and its gruff soul vocal and impressive tempo changes.
The Beatles influence is obvious on Wake Up Sunshine, but also Beach Boys harmonies too. Make Me Smile features a full on Blood, Sweat & Tears, David Clayton-Thomas influenced vocal and some great percussion and, yet again, stunning guitar parts.
The album changes momentum now and we get some short, semi-songs - the vocal So Much To Say, So Much To Give and segue-ing into Anxiety's Moment, an instrumental, with Sgt Pepper brass and Abbey Road drums; then straight into the jazz rock of West Virginia Fantasies and then on to the more substantial piano-driven, beautiful ballad, Colour My World. Then it is back to the instrumental To Be Free before the short but punchy, drum dominated Now More Than Ever. It all sort of plays as one continuous piece, again an Abbey Road influence.
The extended rock guitar and brass of Fancy Colours sees a return to longer, more substantiated tracks. As indeed is the hit single, 25 Or 6 To 4, which sounds like Cream meet The Lovin' Spoonful to hang out with Crosby, Stills and Nash. A great late 60s/early 70s feel to it. Classical influence is clear on A.M. Mourning and P.M. Mourning. Memories Of Love is a beautiful, laid back song.
Finally, we get the four movements of the politically-motivated It Better End Soon, heralded in by some spectacular Santana-style guitar, a great vocal followed by flute, bass and drums in movement two, as the band move into full “jam” mode. The third movement enters What’s Going On territory. Solid, passionate anti-war stuff. The fourth movement is a funky call to arms. Where Do We Go From Here is a final heartfelt call for unity for the whole world as it entered a new decade.This album almost has to be listened to apart from Chicago's other output. When the band’s music is played in a random selection, for example, the tracks from here stick out a bit from the more mainstream, jazzy a.o.r. funk of some of the later albums, even those from just a few years later. To be appreciated properly, it needs to be listened to individually. It suffers a bit from the “its a bit bloated” curse of all double albums, however.
CHICAGO III (1971)
Sing A Mean Tune Kid/Loneliness Is Just A Word/What Else Can I Say/I Don't Want Your Money/Flight 602/Motorboat To Mars/Free/Free Country/At The Sunrise/Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home/Mother/Lowdown/A Hard Risin' Morning Without Breakfast/Off To Work/Fallin' Out/Dreamin' Home/Morning Blues Again/When All the Laughter Dies In Sorrow/Canon/Once Upon A Time/Progress?/The Approaching Storm/Man vs. Man: The End
This was Chicago's third consecutive double album and, like the others, is a veritable cornucopia of musical styles - jazz, funk, rock, soul, psychedelia and country rock all merge together, backed by the now trademark brass. Chicago really were a most inventive group, yet an awful lot of their stuff went under the radar, comparatively. The "chocolate box" nature of the album's musical diversity makes for a challenging, but ultimately interesting and rewarding listen.
Sing A Mean Tune Kid is a nine-minute piece of funky brass punch. This is rally quite innovative, decidedly uncommercial stuff for early 1971. The are clear Sly & The Family Stone influences at play here. Loneliness Is Just A Word is a short, soulful jazz funk number, while the country-ish rock of What Else Can I Say has clear Band influences. The Beatles are in there too. The Electric Light Orchestra were quite influenced by this sort of thing in the mid seventies as well. The heavy, chunky I Don't Want Your Money also has The Beatles meeting The Band over a punchy brass backing. There is a bit of Canned Heat about it too.
The next part of the album is formed of a group of songs called the Travel Suite. Despite that, there is no obvious connection between them. The breezy, melodic country rock of Flight 602 is so CS&N you would almost think it was them. Country rock was very de rigeur in 1971, so, also, were drum solos and guess what? We get one! Motorboat To Mars drums its way into the soulful, funky groove of Free. The musical variety on this album is stunning, you can never relax into a particular frame of mind or mood while listening to it. Free Country is a gentle interlude of piano and flute ambient doodling that, unfortunately goes on a few minutes too long, clocking in at nearly six minutes. It could easily have been left off the album, to be honest, but maybe paring it down was never in their minds. At The Sunrise is a McCartney-esque short and appealing number. Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home is a very early seventies slice of semi-instrumental, flute-driven indulgence. It's ok, with some captivating passages, but again, it goes on far too long. So ends the first half of this double album, which could have functioned effectively as a single album in its own right. It's a sunny day. I'm off out.
The album's third quarter is somewhat Abbey Road in its composition - a couple of regular numbers before we get to a medley of short snippet tracks. Of the regular numbers, Mother is a pounding, brassy mid-pace rock song, a bit proggy in places. The trumpet/trombone interplay in the middle is superb. Lowdown is a staccato, bassy, rhythmic rocker with some sublime percussion and organ parts followed by an excellent wah-wah guitar solo. Five very short tracks now follow, under the generic heading of An Hour In The Shower. There is quite a lot of Blood, Sweat & Tears influence on this part of the album. All the tracks merge into each other in a very Abbey Road fashion. Dreamin' Home sounds very Beatles-esque.
The final Medley is entitled Elegy and is pretty much made up of pointless indulgence, such as the cacophony of traffic and roadwork noises that is the appalling, unlistenable Progress?. Yes it makes a point, I suppose, but sonically, it is Chicago's Revolution 9. The Approaching Storm is funky instrumental jam, but, again it is pretty inessential.
Listening to this album in two halves is not a bad idea at all. It makes it easier to appreciate, in my opinion. Otherwise it runs the risk of becoming sensorily tiring. Is definitely a creation worthy of respect and attention, however. In fact, listen to the first three quarters and forget the last one!
Chicago V (1972)
A Hit By Varese/All Is Well/Now That You've Gone/Dialogue, Pt. 1/Dialogue, Pt. 2/While The City Sleeps/Saturday In The Park/State Of The Union/Goodbye/Alma Mater
After three double albums, plus a live album, this was Chicago's first single album release.
A Hit By Varese is a sort of free-form jazz meets prog rock on a thumping, bass, brass, funk and prog opener. Madcap trumpet merges with proggy keyboard swirls and there are a few incidental vocals thrown in. The bass is superbly throbbing too. All Is Well is a CSNY, folk rock influenced laid-back number, augmented, of course, by brass, in this case, trumpet. The vocal harmonies are also very reminiscent of The Beach Boys' output from the same period. Now That You've Gone is a superb slice of jazz/funk fusion, full of rolling drums, sonorous trombone and crystal clear percussion. The soulful vocal from Terry Kath is very David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears-influenced. The bass/trombone/percussion interplay is sumptuous and uplifting.
Dialogue, Pt. 1 begins with a catchy Latin-inspired intro redolent of Paul Simon's Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard. It is upbeat, soulful and ebullient with a great vocal. The bass line is just gorgeous too. The track is full of funk/soul. It merges into Dialogue, Pt. 2, which features some excellent trumpet riffs, over wah-wah-ish electric guitar. Both these tracks are excellent. The sound quality is outstanding as well.
While The City Sleeps is ushered in by wind noise, then some car-horn brass before it bursts into a classic piece of brassy, bassy funk. Saturday In The Park was a popular hit single and summer radio favourite. It is easy to hear why, as it is full of sunny, summery enthusiasm. There is quite a bit of The Doobie Brothers in there, some America-style harmonies too. Chicago have always liked to get a bit political, and the blues/funk of State Of The Union does just that, wanting us to "tear the system down...". To a jazzy funk backing, of course. The funk is unrelenting on this track. Goodbye is a very jazzy number, introduced by a fifties-sounding trumpet. It has a light, breezy vocal. The percussion is intoxicating as is the song's whole rhythm.
Alma Mater is a plaintive, piano and vocal ballad that very much addresses the problems of the period. Overall, this had been a transitional album between the extended jazz/rock/funk fusion workouts of the first three double albums and the shorter, poppier compositions of Chicago VI. In that respect it actually makes for one of their best albums.
Chicago VI (1973)
Critics' Choice/Just You 'N' Me/Darlin' Dear/Jenny/What's The World Comin' To/Something In This City Changes People/Hollywood/In Terms Of Two/Rediscovery/Feelin' Stronger Every Day
This is the first Chicago album to really move away from the extended jazz/rock/funk fusion workouts that so characterised their first three (double) albums. The album was much shorter, as were the songs - polished, finely created and more poppy. This was where Chicago crossed over into the mainstream with an album of perfectly crafted light, AOR-style pop/rock. It is a most appealing album and it still contains that trademark brass sound, together with those beautiful bass lines for which they had become known.
Critics' Choice is a stark, piano and vocal ballad taking a swipe at negative music media critical assessment. It is all done in a polite, classy manner, though, as befits the group. Just You 'n' Me is a beautiful, soulful number, with a captivating melody, great vocal and sublime bass sound. It also features some lovely saxophone. Darlin' Dear is a slightly swampy-sounding blues rock number, that sounds a lot like Little Feat. Some searing guitar kicks in half way through. Jenny is marvellously soulful, with a deep, emotive vocal and some infectious percussion/cymbal work from new percussionist Laudir De Oliveira.
What's The World Comin' To showed that they hadn't left brass-driven funk behind either, with an energetic, cookin' track that featured horns turned up to the max. Great stuff. Something In The City Changes People is an America-influenced harmonious vocal and subtle bass number, with that airy breeziness that was all over mid-seventies folk/rock, of which this had lots of hints of. It seems to suit the recording location of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. Hollywood is a laid-back, beautifully jazzy Steely Dan-style track.
In Terms Of Two is a spirited song, introduced by some vigorous harmonica and more Steely Dan-esque vocals, sort of like Steely Dan meets CSNY. It is nothing like anything Chicago had done before. Rediscovery is a deep, rich soulful Al Green-ish soul/jazz number. Some funky wah-wah guitar enhances the track too. A really great groove to this one, very funky. The album ends with a track more typical of the "new" Chicago, the AOR strains of Feelin' Stronger Every Day. It does feature some decidedly glam-rock riffage at one point, though.
A most enjoyable album. Chicago really were a good group, and far more credible than they are often given credit for.
Chicago VII (1974)
Prelude To Aire/Aire/Devil's Sweet/Italian From New York/Hanky Panky/Life Saver/Happy Man/(I've Been ) Searchin' So Long/Mongonucleosis/Song of The Evergreens/Byblos/Wishing You Were Here/Call On Me/Woman Don't Want To Love Me/Skinny Boy
Despite the commercial success of 1973's Chicago VI, the music media and, indeed, some of the band itself, had expressed misgivings about their departure from the lengthy jazzy material of their first three albums into shorter, more poppy, airy sounds. So, they returned, one more time, to the tried and trusted double album format of funky jazz fusion workouts. It was their jazziest album to date, but it also included some of the poppier, rockier material too. It had initially been planned as a jazz-only album, but a compromise was reached, thus it became another double album.
Prelude To Aire has Chicago going all Santana, with world music drum rhythms and flute pounding and floating all around. Aire itself is a bit of a throwback to the band's early albums - a horn-powered, jazzy instrumental. It also features some excellent guitar in the middle passage. The instrumental vibe continues with another Santana-esque number, Devil's Sweet. There are distinct echoes of Miles Davis in this too, for me. It is a ten minute number, so we had a whole side of music before any vocals arrived. Like those late sixties/early seventies days. The drumming is excellent on here, even including a solo, unusual for a studio album.
Italian From New York continues the instrumental groove, this time featuring some decidedly futuristic electronic ARP sounds, as if Brian Eno had found his way to the Caribou ranch in Colorado. Mixed with some funky, buzzy wah-wah guitar, it makes for a heady mix. Saxophone arrives as it morphs into Hanky Panky too. Pretty adventurous stuff.
Vocals finally arrive in the Beatles-esque but also funky rock of Life Saver. This is still very much in the vein of the first three albums. The old "side two" closed the first disc of the double album with the laid-back folk-rocky Happy Man. As competent, interesting and listenable as the instrumentals had been, I can't help but feel that the album sort of starts here.
(I've Been ) Searching So Long was a lush, polished ballad of the sort that the band would come to do more of in the future, featuring Peter Cetera's higher-pitched voice (compared to both Robert Lamm and particularly Terry Kath's deeper voices). The strangely-named salsa-influenced instrumental Mongonucleosis (one "g" away from the name of a disease) is lively and energetic. Song Of The Evergreens is a slow-paced, evocative bluesy, brooding rock number. About half way through it changes tempo rather like songs by America did during the same period and becomes much faster.
Byblos is a laid-back folk-rock number with some simple beautiful cymbal work. It develops into more of a jazzy vibe as it progresses. Wishing You Were Here features three Beach Boys (Dennis and Carl Wilson and Al Jardine) on harmony vocals. The song is introduced by the sound of waves. It is very similar to the sort of material The Beach Boys were putting out at the same time - laid-back and breezy. Call On Me is a catchy, bright and brassy poppy number with a slick vocal from Cetera. Woman Don't Want To Love Me rekindles the brassy funk that they used to do so well. Great wah-wah guitar comes in near the end. Skinny Boy is a soulful groove with hints of Little Feat and The Band. It features an excellent vocal from Robert Lamm.
This is a somewhat sprawling, but inventive and highly interesting album. It is worthy of several listens to truly appreciate it. I have to say that I prefer both Chicago V and VI, however.
Chicago VIII (1975)
Anyway You Want/Brand New Love Affair, Parts 1 & 2/Have Never Been In Love Before/Hideaway/Till We Meet Again/Harry Truman/Oh Thank You Great Spirit/Long Time No See/Ain't It Blue?/Old Days/Sixth Sense/Bright Eyes/Satin Doll (Live)
This was Chicago's eighth album in seven years, and on this one they replace their jazzy influences somewhat with an upbeat brassy, r'n'b and soul sound. Some have suggested it is a weary, lazy album but I don't really get that. It sounds pretty vibrant and refreshing to me, with the usual inventive variety of tracks that have always been the hallmark of Chicago albums, together with superb musicianship.
Anyway You Want is a piano-driven, chunky rock number that sounds like the sort of material Ringo Starr was putting out at the same period. Brand New Love Affair, Parts 1 & 2 is a deliciously late night soulful number. The track has an excellent horn/wah-wah guitar instrumental interplay in the middle. It has caught on to the whole funk/rock thing as exemplified by The Doobie Brothers and Tower Of Power at the same time. Never Been In Love Before is a laid-back easy-listening rock ballad with one of those recognisable, high-pitched Peter Cetera vocals. Supertramp must have been influenced by this, surely, particularly in the piano parts. There is a lovely, crystal clear percussion sound on this one too.
Hideaway is a heavy, riff-driven chugging rock number, as heavy as Chicago could get and it is pretty impressive. It is often forgotten that they could rock out if they wanted to. Till We Meet Again is a short, acoustic song that provides a pleasant interlude. They then get political with the piano-led Beatles/Wings rock of Harry Truman. Oh Thank You Great Spirit is prog rock meets Hendrix-esque psychedelia in a lengthy and experimental track, full of innovation if not any catchy appeal.
Long Time No See is another one with a Beatles-ish influence, for me it sounds a bit like some of George Harrison's seventies material. Ain't It Blue? is a return to funky, punchy soul/rock, featuring some killer horns, searing guitar and impressive vocals. Old Days is a throwback to the poppy soul of some of the earlier albums. Sixth Sense is an infectious piece of funky, jazzy instrumental. Bright Eyes is a melodic, laid-back piece of samba-influenced summery fluff. Satin Doll is a lively jazzy instrumental again.
This is a better album than many give it credit for, despite the band being said to be exhausted while recording it.
Chicago X (1976)
Once Or Twice/You Are On My Mind/Skin Tight/If You Leave Me Now/Together Again/Another Rainy Day In New York City/Mama Mama/Scrapbook/Gently I'll Wake You/You Get It Up/Hope For Love
By 1976, Chicago had long abandoned the bloated, jazzy, experimental double albums that made up their first three offerings. This was their eighth studio album and they were now concentrating on succinct, perfectly-formed, short poppy songs. This album forms a transition point from Chicago "phase one", finally, into the more commercial, easy-listening band that may people only knew them for being. Yes, this album contain the huge hit single that became their most famous song, but there is also still some pretty credible horn-driven, upbeat soulful rock on here. People who bought the album on the back of If You Leave Me Now may well have found themselves a little disappointed. Not me, I have always been pleasantly surprised by the album. It is certainly no "easy listening" offering. It is far more of a funky rock one.
Once Or Twice is a surprisingly frenetic, horn-powered lively bar-room rocker of an opener, while You Are On My Mind changes the feel completely with a summery, samba-influenced groove. There is a bit of Tower Of Power about the horn parts. Skin Tight is a solid, muscular piece of bassy funk rock.
If You Leave Me Now was a number one single, it was considered a bit of a throwaway by the band themselves. What did they know, huh? It has been heard thousands of times, but that still doesn't detract from its perfection. It is so nostalgic for me. Reminds me of the cold winter of late 1976 and the video clip of the band in concert that was shown on Top Of The Pops. Of course, nobody could reproduce Peter Cetera's falsetto when singing along.
Together Again is another chunky, brassy rocker. Another Rainy Day In New York City is sort of Paul Simon-esque in places, with its cod-Latin rhythm. Mama Mama is a slow tempo, sweet soul number that will please the If You Leave Me Now fans. Some delicious brass on it. Scrapbook is an infectious piece of funk rock with more Tower Of Power influence.
Gently I'll Wake You is a Paul McCartney & Wings-ish mid-pace unthreatening number. You Get It Up serves up more of that punchy, brassy stuff with considerable funk. Wah-wah guitars all over the place. Hope For Love is a soulful "message" song with some big orchestration. Overall this is a lively, appealing album that contains no tracks remotely similar to its most famous inclusion.
Chicago XI (1977)
Mississippi Delta City Blues/Baby, What A Big Surprise/Till The End Of Time/Policeman/Take Me Back To Chicago/Vote For Me/Takin' It On Uptown/This Time/The Inner Struggles Of A Man/Prelude (Little One)/Little One/Wish I Could Fly/Paris
This was unfortunately Terry Kath's last album with Chicago before he tragically killed himself in a gun accident at home. It was also their first album after their huge global hit If You Leave Me Now (which was always, ironically, quite unrepresentative of their overall sound, even though it was their biggest hit). It is certainly not all an "easy listening" album, containing some blues, jazz, soul, funk and classically-influenced material. It was a bit of a cultural anachronism, however, coming at the height of punk and disco and having no relation to either. The album is an inventive one one full of variety. It doesn't fit into any pigeonholes and certainly has considerable credibility.
The opener, Mississippi Delta City Blues is a superb, bassy, funky upbeat blues, with Kath on gruff vocals. The ubiquitous brass section plays a big part too. It is very much a throwback to the group's early albums. Baby, What A Big Surprise is an appealing rock ballad, with Peter Cetera on high-pitched vocals. It has some grandiose-sounding horn parts. Till The End Of Time is a rock 'n' roll-style slow number but with a deep, soulful vocal and some Stax-ish horns. Policeman is a jazzy, infectious number about, obviously, a policeman. It has a touch of bossa nova about its rhythm. Take Me Back To Chicago is a catchy jazz/soul number with some funky guitar/backing vocals.
Vote For Me is an ebullient and cynical song about the two-faced nature of politics. It features some fine organ/piano interplay. Takin' It On Uptown has some heavy rock guitar and a bluesy rock vocal over a thumping drum sound. There is an underlying funk beneath the rock foundations of the track. Its wah-wah guitar, from Kath, is superb too. This Time is trademark, melodic Chicago soul/rock, with sumptuous brass backing and a great soul vocal. It has a bit of a Doobie Brothers vibe to it.
After a lot of soul/rock tinged with funk we get a rather incongruous classical instrumental piece in The Inner Struggles Of A Man. For me, it doesn't really fit and it merges into the short Prelude (Little One) which then goes into Little One which brings the laid-back soulful ambience back. It again features some sublime brass sections. There are touches of Stevie Wonder in the vocal delivery. Wish I Could Fly is a Doobie Brothers-style piano and guitar-driven instrumental. Paris is a rhythmic, piano-driven light, jazzy vocal ballad.
Despite its often catchy songs, this album still has a decidedly uncommercial feel for me, making it an interesting offering which needs several listens.
The pic above shows Chicago performing with The Beach Boys in 1977.