by Mott the Dog
re-mastered by Ella Crew
Chicago (they were only called ‘Chicago Transit
Authority’ for this, their debut album, before dropping the Transit Authority
bit to be the more manageable ‘Chicago’. I mean imagine putting all that on
the back of your T-shirt! It would go from paw to paw) are probably the only
band in history to start out with a classic ground breaking debut album and then
never reaching that peak again, but slowly spiraling their way down on the
helter skelter of rock ‘n’ roll. Certainly in terms of creativity if not
In the mid-seventies Chicago was one of the most successful
bands in the world. By the time of their last album, cleverly titled “Chicago
26” after yes, you guessed it, “Chicago 2”,”Chicago 3", “Chicago
4”, etc., they had 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. Twenty top ten singles and five
number ones. Not bad for a band that was slowly going down the drain! Today the
band is still going with four of the original seven still in their ranks. (They
could have been five, but stunning guitarist Terry Kath was tragically killed in
a shooting accident at a party.)
But when this album came out in 1969, incredibly it was a
double album, unheard of in those days for a debut album. Most established bands
found it difficult to fill up both sides of a single vinyl record without adding
some filler to take up the slack in the required forty minutes. Seems remarkable
in these days of seventy-two minute CDs.
The Chicago Transit Authority was the top ticket.
Groundbreaking in every aspect, they had a conventional four-piece line-up with
bass, drums, keyboards and lead guitar; the vocals shared between the three that
weren’t drumming. However, they also had three other full time members of the
road and studio band playing a combination of trombone, trumpet, and woodwind
instruments. That gave them a unique sound combining jazz/pop/rock/funk/soul
with glorious musical skills.
Before they had even signed a recording contract they had
been invited out on the road with both Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi
Hendrix 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”
singing of how they are looking forward to playing for you. In the space of its
six and a half minutes each section of the band gets space to stretch their
musical abilities, especially mid-song when they slip away into a Samba
direction reminiscent of today’s Santana sound. A stunning start.
This is quickly followed by the first single from the album.
Although the single was not a hit until after their breakthrough single the
following year, the hard driving “25 or 6 to 4'’ from “Chicago 2”,
“Does Anybody Know What Time It Is” with it’s simple piano refrain and
driving brass backing is music to tap your feet to.
“Beginnings” is easily good enough to have been the
opener. It is similar in vain to “Introduction’’, but slightly more laid
back with a nice groove that has you swaying along. “Questions 67 and 68” is
the second single taken from the album with soaring vocals and fluid runs from
Terry Kath, instantly laying the template for the ‘Chicago’ sound.
“Listen” is a nice little number for the rhythm and horn sections to show
off their wears.
The next three workouts belong primarily to the guitar
playing skills of Terry Kath. This boy could shred the wallpaper off your walls
at one hundred yards. “Poem 58” slowly grinds its way up to a shattering
climax that leaves you wanting more, so Terry Kath delivers a solo - “Free
Form Guitar”, all six and a half minutes of it. What it says is what you get
performed on a Fender Stratocaster guitar through a Showman amplifier equipped
with a twin 15 bottom utilizing a Bogan PA amplifier as a pre-amp. No electronic
gimmicks or effects were used in the recording of this section. The intent being
to capture as faithfully as possible Kath’s solo spot from their live show as
it sounded on stage.
“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, almost like sampling from the
present day. Then we get “I’m a Man”, a cover of the Spencer Davis classic
written by Steve Winwood. Chicago turns it into their own including a short
sharp sweet drum solo from Danny Seraphine. “Prologue” is an actual
recording of a Democratic Convention in Chicago, 29 August 1968, with militants
exhorting demonstrators with ‘’God Give Us The Blood To Keep Going”. Then
when the march begins and the police attempt to disperse the marchers, they
chant “The Whole World Is Watching”, a dramatic beginning to “Someday”,
Chicago’s song in support of these demonstrators.
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
Robert Lamm - Keyboards and Vocals; still with the band
Terry Kath - Guitar and Vocals; left us in 1978
Peter Cetera - Bass and Vocals; retired
Daniel Seraphine - Drums; retired
Walter Parazaider - Woodwind Instruments; still blowing with the band
Lee Loughane - Trumpet; still blowing with the band
James Pankow - Trombone; still blowing with the band
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Questions 67 and 68
Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m A Man
To contact Mott the Dog email: firstname.lastname@example.org