This is album retro-review number 182 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
Big band music featured heavily in the years prior to R&R, but through the latter part of the 1950’s, and definitely through the 1960’s – that big band brass sound was lost.
Then, in the late 1969’s, it returned, and with a bang!
The group whose album and music is Chicago Transit Authority and this, a CD album is the self-titled – Chicago Transit Authority.
Originally released on the Columbia label in 1969 as a double LP set in a gatefold cover, it was remastered and rereleased in 2002. There are around 71 releases of this album between 1969 and 2015!
This is the 2002 remastered CD album, which is released on the Rhino label with the identifying code of 8122-76171-2. It is a twelve track album that runs for almost 80 minutes.
Much of the following info came from the band’s web site. As I started to write about them, I realised how little I did know about the group other than the music.
In 1967, a group of musicians living in the US city of Chicago, Walter Parazaider, Terry Kath, Danny Seraphine, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Robert Lamm, and Peter Cetera formed a group. They had one common dream and that was to integrate all the musical diversity from their beloved city and weave a new sound, a rock ‘n’ roll band with horns.
Their dream turned into record sales topping the 100,000,000 mark, including 21 Top 10 singles, 5 consecutive Number One albums, 11 Number One singles and 5 Gold singles. An incredible 25 of their 34 albums have been certified platinum, and the band has a total of 47 gold and platinum awards.
Walter Parazaider was in some ways, the key to the group’s formation.
Parazaider enrolled at Chicago’s DePaul University, where he met another young Chicago musician, Jimmy Guercio, who years later would become Chicago’s producer. While doing all that academia work, Parazaider had also gotten a non-classical musical idea he thought had promise: a rock ‘n’ roll band with horns.
In the trendy world of pop music, horns took a back seat in the mid-’60’s, when bands, imitating the four-piece rhythm section of the Beatles, stayed with the limits of guitars-bass-drums.
Even the Saxophone, so much a part of ’50’s rock ‘n’ roll, was heard less often. Only in R&B, which maintained something of the big band tradition, did people such as James Brown and others continue to use horn sections regularly.
In the summer of l966, the Beatles turned around and brought horns back. Their Revolver album featured songs such as “Got To Get You Into My Life,” which included two trumpets and two tenor saxophones.
At the time “Chicago” formed. Parazaider’s current band at the time was the Missing Links, which featured a very talented guy named Terry Kath on bass. Kath, born in Chicago on January 31, 1946, had been a friend of Parazaider’s since they were teenagers.
On drums was Danny Seraphine, born in Chicago on August 28, l948, who had been raised in Chicago’s Little Italy section. Trumpet player Lee Loughnane, another DePaul student, sometimes sat in with the band.
Loughnane, born in Chicago on October 21, 1946, was the son of a former trumpet player. “My dad was a product of the Swing Era,” he recalls. “He was a bandleader in the Army Air Force in World War II.”
Now, Parazaider, Kath, Seraphine, and Loughnane decided to develop Parazaider’s concept for a rock ‘n roll band with horns.
To make the concept work, they needed to bring in additional band members. The first musician Parazaider approached, in the fall of 1966, was a newly transferred DePaul sophomore from Quincy College called James Pankow, who played trombone.
“Walt had been kind of keeping an eye on me in school,” said Pankow. “He approached me and said, “Hey, man, I’ve been checking you out, and I like your playing, and I think you got it.” I said, “Well, what do you mean, I got it?”
He had that twinkle in his eye, and I figured, well, whatever the hell be means, I guess he likes what I do.
Pankow’s recruitment brought the new band’s complement of horns up to three, but they still needed bass and keyboards.
They thought they had found both in a dive on the South Side when they heard piano player “Bobby Charles” of Bobby Charles and the Wanderers, whose real name was Robert Lamm.
Lamm was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 13, 1944. Like Pankow he seemed ready to rock the cradle.
“I was interested in music from the time I was a toddler,” he said. “Both my mother and father were collectors of jazz records, and there always seemed to be music playing at our house.”
They rehearsed in Parazaider’s parents’ basement as often as they could. “We figured that the only people with horn sections that were really making any noise were the soul acts,” says Pankow, “so we kind of became a soul band doing James Brown and Wilson Pickett stuff.”
But the group needed a name. Parazaider is reported as saying, “An Italian friend of mine who was going to book us said, “You know, everybody is saying “Thing, Thing this, Thing that. There’s a lot of you. We’ll call you the Big Thing”.”
There was still one missing element and that was a bass player. Up until then Lamm had been using a bass pedal to provide the sound, but the overall sound of the group was building, and that sound demanded a dedicated bass player.
It was found in Peter Cetera. But they also needed needed a tenor voice. The group had two baritones (Lamm and Kath), and they had the midrange and lower notes covered.
But they needed a high voice for the same reason that you have three horns. You have trumpet, tenors and trombone. That way you cover as much range harmonically as you can.
The group reportedly wanted to do the same thing vocally. So when Peter Cetera joined the band he also provided that element and that solidified their vocals.
The group could get could get more color musically, and they started building from there.
By now they had re- connected with Jimmy Guercio, who had become a producer for CBS Records. He loved the developing sound of the band but knew they had to keep developing further, and so the Big Thing kept gigging around Chicago, improving all the time.
Then in march 1968, Guercio came back for a second look. Impressed by the band’s improvement, he took action.
“He told us to prepare for a move to L.A.,” said Pankow, “to keep working on our original material, and he would call us when he was ready for us.”
In June of ’68 the band indeed moved to Los Angeles and the band and were renamed Chicago Transit Authority by Guercio in honor of the bus line he used to ride to school.
This commenced a real creative fervor. Kath, Pankow, and especially Lamm were writing large amounts of original material, with Lamm completing two of the group’s most memorable songs, Questions 67 and 68 and Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? just prior to the departure from Chicago (the city).
From this point on, the band not only took LA by the scruff of the neck, but the rest of the USA, and not long after, the rest of the world.
Their story is full of triumph, and of course the corresponding tragedies, such as the tragic accidental death of their guitarist, Terry Kath. He died from a gunshot wound when fooling around with a gun he believed had no ammunition in it.
Despite the shock, the band continued on. Despite change up’s to its lineup and over time it has had eighteen different members in it and the group continues to tour and play right through to recent times.
Lineup for this album.
Robert Lamm – Vocals & keyboards
Terry Kath – Vocals & guitar
Peter Cetera – Vocals & bass
Daniel Seraphine – Drums
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet & vocals
James Pankow – Trombone
Walter Parazaider – Woodwinds & vocals
This CD album comes with a four double page glossy booklet, giving us eight pages of information and background on the group. It lists the tracks, informs as to who worked behind the scenes and provides quite a bit, but, sadly no lyrics.
2. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
5. Poem 58
6. Free Form Guitar
7. South California Purples
8. I’m A Man
9. Prologue, August 29, 1968
10. Someday (August 29, 1968)
Track one is the simply titled Introduction.
If you have not heard this track, you could be forgiven for believing that you are in for a short vocal introduction and maybe, a short piece of music.
Well it’s nothing of the sort. Running at 6:35 it really is anything but simple. On one hand it has a complexity and richness of variety, all underpinned by some bloody brilliant drumming from Seraphine and some powerful horn playing.
But, and this is a BIG but – it’s kind of like some sort of “demo” piece to show what the band is about. They hit us, the listeners, with everything, as the saying goes, “except for the kitchen sink”!
I am at two minds over this track. Remembering I maintain that the opening track of any non-compilation album, is the group’s calling card. Therefore it should be strong and memorable. Well I vacillate between brilliant, and bloody overwhelming, in fact the term confusing starts to pop up.
Check it out and see what you think.
Track two is Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?
This is one of their classic “hits”, instantly recognisable and another track that helped establish them and their sound as powerful and unique.
Written by Lamm it was a huge hit, but not their first. It was not in fact not released as a single until their second album – simply titled Chicago, was released in 1970.
That album had two tracks lifted as singles, 25 or 6 to 4 and Make Me Smile, both rocketing into the top 10. Why they waited until then to release is Does Anybody Know, is anybodies guess.
A shortened version of this track was released for a number of CD compilation albums, but this is the complete original version which kicks off with a beautiful free-form piano piece by Lamm, who really has fantastic keyboard skills.
Then the brass section comes in, supported by the drums, and then the piano reintroduces itself in a more settled manner before things really kick off.
If you turn the volume of your player up, and hopefully you are listening through some decent speakers, well the hair on the back of your neck should stand up.
The excellent arrangement and instrument playing is totally supported by the casual sounding but great vocal lead and vocal chorus backing.
What a complete track!
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Track 3 is Beginnings.
On this track Lamm plays acoustic guitar in a gentle almost folk style which is at odds to what we would expect and in fact get from the group. The drum variations complement the fast powering guitar, but they also sit nicely in with the bass.
The crescendo effect the group gets with their horns, and which really became a trademark, adds to the emotional drive of the period. It’s actually nice when they break and allow the acoustic guitar to regain its dominance.
There are some nice percussion pieces added and at nearly 8 minutes long it is the 3rd longest track and it’s a good track.
Track 4 – Questions 67 and 68 is noteworthy for a few reasons.
To start it is the first track to feature the voice of Peter Cetera. Not only did the guy show he had a very good voice, as the group continued to record and play and as time rolled on, it was his voice that became more and more featured.
There is some subtle and very nice guitar and excellent drumming that underpins the track.
However, maybe the horn section could have backed off a little more and not been quite so constant, at times it seems as though the vocals are fighting to be heard, and it’s not that they are mixed too far down into the track, it is more like they are just overpowered.
OK, we know that the horns are a feature of the group, but sometimes ‘space” is a powerful thing!
Questions 67 and 68
Listen is a nice enough track.
Not the best on this album, but, neither is it the worst. It kicks off with an extended single sustained guitar note, that thankfully is brought to an end just as it becomes annoying.
It also shows that Terry Kath was no slouch on guitar with a nice solo during the piece.
Overall it holds its place on the album
Track 5 is Poem 58.
This is a strange track, not because it is played weirdly, although it has its share of confusion.
It leaves me wondering whether it was a work in progress that they got sick of and just used as is. To my ear it’s not really all that cohesive and in fact at times it is like a slightly uncontrolled jam,
However, as I began to feel a little uneasy, Kath comes in with some nice distorted guitar and the piece fairly rocks along. However, that soon turns into what can only be termed as that classic 1970’s “guitar noodling” – the endless extended solo.
Maybe it was great for the “acid heads” or the “stoners”, but today it leaves me wanting to shout out to – “tighten up for god’s sake!”
Then the whole thing begins to crash into an explosion of chaos, but lo and behold, around the 11 minute mark, something really beautiful falls out!
We are provided with a lovely tasteful bit of guitar playing, gentle by supportive horns and we have a beautiful track – all is saved.
But wait, then comes the seemingly obligatory drum solo, and once again, we are left wondering, why?
Track 6 is Free Form Guitar.
Once again we are reminded of the needs of the “stoned audience” are not the needs of today. This is nearly seven minutes of free form guitar “playing?”, that kind of was an emulation of the “Master” James Marshall Hendrix but never came close to equalling.
I listened for almost 2 minutes and gave up!
Track 7 is South California Purples and is a rather groovy blues based piece that heavily features Lamm on hammond organ and the electric guitar work of Terry Kath. After the previous track, it is a beautiful relief and a great track.
Track 8 is I’m A Man and is a standard winner. Written by Steve Winwood and popularised by Spencer Davis Group, Chicago make it their own in a version that kicks of with straightforward bass playing by Peter Cetera. He is joined by the drums of Seraphine and percussion instruments for 45 seconds, before the organ comes in with that incredibly familiar and great refrain, that announces – I AM A MAN.
One of the great features of this version is that all three principal vocalists take turn about.
Kath does the 1st verse, Cetera the 2nd and Lamm the 3rd.
Another feature of the track is that for well over 2/3rds of the track, it is dominated by drums and percussion – maracas, cowbell, claves and tamborine. It certainly gives Danny Seraphine an opportunity to show what he’s got on drums, and he’s got a lot!
Yer, we listen to Chicago because of the horns, but this is a nice break, and, a nice groove and some really nice guitar work!
It’s not until about 6 minutes into the 7 minute 40 track, that subtle horns are introduced, along with an electric lead line all backed with vocals.
I’m A Man
So we get to the final three tracks, and to be honest, if the producer had finished the album with track 9, he would have finished on a high and despite some ho-hum moments, I would have said we had got our money’s worth.
But oh no – there’s more!
Track 9 is Prologue, August 29, 1968.
Now I have to be honest I had to go and research what the hell this mess was all about and, it seems as this bizarre set of chanting is from the 1968 Democratic convention protests.
Well, I as a listener protest back!
What a load of crap – poorly edited it does nothing for me, and it does nothing for the group, who I am sure thought they were being switched on and groovy back in 1969.
It sure isn’t that way in 2020!
However, if you can stand to listen to the first 1 minute of chanting (or fast forward), the music does kick in. many Chicago fans love this track. I’m not one of them.
There is very little redemption in track 10 – Someday (August 29, 1968).
Here we are back at the same protest, and this time the boys really hit the “doom & gloom” button!
Ok, it’s good to tell it as it is – to tell the tale of society around them, but shit, this is bad!
This leads us into the 14 minute 39 track, the final track, Liberation.
We kick off with some sort of what appears to be a loose jam. It meanders around for a while before finding its “legs’ and for almost 4 minutes we have a damn fine piece of music.
Shame this part wasn’t edited out and released as is, because it’s some damn fine playing but then it all breaks down, again!
It is so bad I swear that Lamm’s guitar is going out of tune, or maybe I just need some wacky weed to smoke (I think i would need a lot!).
What is worse is at this point we aren’t even half way through the track. God only knows what we were being liberated from!
It helps to remember this was originally a double album, and I can only speculate this was a classic “filler”, put something, anything on it to fill the album up.
So it ends, and you might be forgiven for thinking, “why the “F” did he feature this as part of the Cream of The Crate series?
Simple! Ignore the last three tracks entirely, understand the Free form Guitar was a ‘stoner” track from the period, as Poem 58, but what you are left with are some absolutely wonderful and classic Chicago tracks.
Powerful enough and good enough to carry the entire album. Another way to look at it is in a historical sense, it does show the influence that drugs had on music, was not always positive!
So where does that leave my conclusion?
Chicago Transit Authority (the group) were unique, talented and provided some damn fine music and this album reminds us of some of the best, and worst!
As albums went on, they grew stronger, but also the sound did become sameish after the first dozen or so albums, but, they remain popular even today.
With so many albums to their name, there is something for everyone. So find your own, but in my mind, this and through to Chicago III remain in my opinion, the best!
The album Chicago Transit Authority we have just shared, is available widely.
A trip into Youtube reveals that except for their “hits’ which I have spoken of, nothing else from this album has any live footage.
So I have provided one clip – Beginnings, which I didn’t provide the music for in the review, and one clip – I’m A Man, because I like the track!
I have also provided a live clip of a track from their follow up album, simply titled “Chicago”, so we can see how they built upon the successes of this album.
I’m A Man
25 or 6 to 4
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier
#159. The Band – Stage Fright
#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One
#170. Chain – Two Of A Kind
#171. Bob Marley – Legend
#176. B.B. King – The Best Of
#180. Flowers – Icehouse
#181. Joe Tex – The Best Of