Category: Chicago

Chicago – Chicago at Carnegie Hall

ARTIST: Chicago                                     

TITLE: Chicago at Carnegie Hall

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They did all of their early hits

LINEUP: Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Danny Seraphine

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A four (FOUR) record set (and four CDs in the bonus version) documenting their 1971 residency at Carnegie Hall. Zzzzzzz…..

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Several albums in history have had notorious bad reviews, and Chicago’s quadruple live record had some of the worst in history. I’ve given this one a shot…and…the reviews are mostly spot on.

It’s way too long, To be clear, extremely way too long. Chicago always extended songs with intros and jams, but in their early albums they also had the long-ass free-form intros as well. They had suites that contained some classic pop and meandering solos. None of those were cut here, and they were even extended past tolerance. But the worst offender is the sound of them tuning up and dead space between tracks, and elongated applause. I mean, tuning up? On stage? Why put that on the record? Ye Gods.

With some judicious editing, I think they could have got this to a double or triple live. That wouldn’t have improved the sound, which is flat and doesn’t benefit the group at all. Some of the performances are ragged, especially vocally.

All in all, you don’t need this or want this, except for the one unique song “Song for Richard and His Friends”, which showed Chicago’s political side – siding with the leftists. That didn’t last.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: At least three members of the band hate this album or said it shouldn’t have been released. It could have been edited down for sure.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, somehow a quadruple album has a bonus disc of alternates, etc.

 GRADE: C-: Meh sound, way too long, not the best performances, I mean, a perfect storm of exiled records. I did, except for the new political track.

Chicago – Chicago III

ARTIST: Chicago                   chicagoiii

TITLE:  Chicago III

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: #2 US, #9 UK

SINGLES: Free (#20), Lowdown (#35)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I really don’t think so

LINEUP: Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Danny Serpahine

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT:  A more experimental and jazzy album that relies again on big suites. This time, though, the jazzy elements fall flat, and the band seems tired.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Three double albums released in 2 ½ years? That would tax anyone but the most prolific or insane artists (Robert Pollard, please step forward). Because Chicago relied on jazz and improvisations for some of its material, it didn’t really seem as daunting.

But it was. The band resisted (for now) the temptation of pop stardom and still tried to expand its musical palette, adding funk and country elements and giving some room to free jazz that was missing from Chicago II. But the funk seemed strained, the country insincere, and the free jazz tedious.

There are some nice moments. “Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home” sounds absolutely joyful with some great flute work by Walter Parazaider. “Mother” has some interesting horn charts before going into a jazz-funk motif. But the hooks weren’t there, and the excitement didn’t seem there for the band or rock fans. It sold a lot at first, but no one really plays this anymore.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Included with the double album was a poster of the band dressed in historical military uniforms in front of a field of crosses. A powerful anti-war statement, perhaps more powerful than the music itself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: B-: Some of the more boring or blah stuff is exiled.

Chicago – Chicago II

ARTIST: Chicago ChicagoAlbum

TITLE:  Chicago II (Chicago as it was first released, but you know…roman numerals)

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #4 US, #6 UK

SINGLES: Make Me Smile (#9 US), 25 or 6 to 4 (#4 US, #7 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Color My World, Now More Than Ever

LINEUP: Robert Lamm, Terry Kath, Peter Cetera, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane, Danny Seraphine

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second double album features three almost side-long suites, of which one works great, and some other songs which are hit and miss.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Chicago started to develop its pop ear on this album, but they didn’t sacrifice their musical chops or risk-taking. The dominant track on Side 2 is “Ballet for a Girl in Buchanon”, which contained the big hit “Make Me Smile” along with “Color My World” but also had some very nice jazzy moments.

Their experimental side was still in vogue with “Fancy Colours”, a song that doesn’t end with a resolution and is just fantastically arranged, and “25 or 6 to 4”, which is one of the best jazz/rock songs in music history. While “Color My World” is sappy, and “Wake Up Sunshine” does have a sweet side as well, they’re well done and heartfelt.

This is a double album though, and while the first side is OK, it’s rather pedestrian, and the other two suites don’t work very well. The suite on side three is a classical based one that’s not in the band’s wheelhouse, and the political suite on side four is noble, yet a little forced to my ears and too stretched out to be effective.

Seraphine is the secret weapon here. His drum chops allow the band to take the chances on unconventional structures and time signatures. Without him, I don’t think they’d be able to pull this off. As it is, Chicago II would have been a fantastic single album stretched to a double. (Everything past “25 or 6 to 4” on side 3 and 4 could go and I’d be thrilled!)

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Memories of Love”, the side three suite, was written by Terry Kath and noted TV and film composer Peter Matz

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Single mixes for the hits appended.

GRADE: B+: It’s an album that overstays its welcome, for sure. But dang the songs that hit are just tremendous, and really you shouldn’t by cynical about them. The rest, though is padding.

Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority

ARTIST: Chicago CTA_album
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.