Chicago (they were only called ‘Chicago Transit Authority’ for this, their debut album, before dropping the Transit Authority bit) are probably the only band in history to start out with a classic ground-breaking debut double-album.
In the mid-seventies Chicago were one of the most successful bands in the world. To date, they have 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 (they never bothered with titles for their albums, just numbered them and we are now up to Chicago XXXVI.) The band had some twenty top ten singles and five number ones and today they are still going strong with four of the original seven; Robert Lamm, Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughane and James Pankow remaining in the ranks. (That number could have been five, but stunning guitarist Terry Kath was tragically killed in a shooting accident in 1978.)
When this album came out in 1969 the band had a conventional four piece line-up with bass, drums, keyboards and lead guitar; the vocals being shared between the three that weren’t drumming. However, they also had three other full time members playing a combination of trombone, trumpet, and woodwind instruments. That gave them a unique sound combining jazz, pop, rock, funk and soul.
Before they had even signed a recording contract they had been invited out on the road with both Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, the latter 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” and in the space of its six and a half minutes each section of the band gets space to stretch their musical abilities. This is quickly followed by the first single from the album, “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?” with its simple piano refrain and driving brass backing. “Beginnings” is easily good enough to have been the opener while “Questions 67 and 68” is the second single taken from the album with soaring vocals.
There are three workouts belonging primarily to the guitar playing skills of Terry Kath. “Poem 58” slowly grinds its way up to a shattering climax that leaves you wanting more, so Kath delivers. “Free Form Guitar” features no electronic gimmicks or effects in the recording, the intent being to capture as faithfully as possible Kath’s solo spot from their live show, while “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.
Then we get “I’m a Man”, a cover of the Spencer Davis classic which Chicago turn into their own. 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 (massive slushy hit singles aside).
A solid 5 stars.
Robert Lamm – keyboards and vocals
Terry Kath – guitar and vocals
Peter Cetera – bass and vocals
Daniel Seraphine – drums
Walter Parazaider – woodwind instruments
Lee Loughane – trumpet
James Pankow – trombone
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Questions 67 and 68
Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m A Man
Note: Written by Mott The Dog and Hells Bells, who can be found jamming down in Jameson’s The Irish Pub, Soi AR, North Pattaya.