TITLE: Chicago Transit Authority
YEAR RELEASED: 1969
CHART ACTION: #17 US, #9 UK
SINGLES: Questions 67 and 68 (#24), Beginnings (#7), Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is (#7), I’m a Man (#49 US, #8 UK) – All of these high points were a year or two after release, when Chicago II started to hit.
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: South California Purples
LINEUP: Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera, Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Danny Seraphine
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Double debut album (a rarity) resulted in street cred for the politically charged jazzy group, and several songs later found success when cut down for singles after the fact. (No, I’m not kidding about any words in that statement).
SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Writing for the album right after the Democratic Convention of 1968, the band Chicago made a lot of political statements in their debut album (See “Someday (August 29, 1968’). They also used a lot of jazzy intros, horn charts and some nifty playing and time signature jumps in some songs, and most all of the songs were long (just three per side for this double album).
Everyone knows the hits, which are all much longer on the actual album, but tunes like “Poem 58” and “South California Purples” show the band wasn’t just trying to emulate Blood, Sweat and Tears but create a fusion on their own. The playing of Kath and Lamm on guitar and keyboards, and the drumming of Seraphine are highlights. Cetera’s bass work is solid as well, which is not what we remember him by. (In fact, Cetera only shares lead vocals on a few songs and doesn’t have one single solo lead vocal.)
The long songs do make for a lot of noodling that could have been edited a bit more judiciously (and there’s a drum solo, of course), and then there’s “Free Form Guitar”, which is Kath just making a holy feedback racket with his guitar. It’s impressive as art; less so as something to listen to all the time and it disturbs the flow of the album. You’ll either love it or exile it immediately.
NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band went by various names at first, settled on Chicago Transit Authority, and had to change it after they were sued by the CTA during their initial US tour. Also, the initial single released from this album was “Questions 67 and 68” and it hit just #71 at first.
IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Not that I’ve found.
GRADE: B+: It’s refreshing to hear Chicago as a jazz rock force. Some editing could have been done.