I may know Craig Smith because of KISS, but today, it’s about Chicago.
Craig Smith is a music connoisseur. The podcast he runs with Eric Miller, Pods and Sods, talk music, often down to the granular level. When Craig teams up with his girlfriend, Megan Stemm-Wade, they produce SamePageCast, a podcast about music and films. Today, they spend 90 glorious minutes talking about Chicago: The Columbia Years.
Joining them today is Jimmy Pardo, from the Never Not Funny podcast and the Chicago documentary that aired on New Year’s Day.
Craig teased this episode last week and I already told him I was very, very excited about this episode. Nice guy that he is, Craig sent me the link on Tuesday and I’ve already listened to it. You are in for a treat. The episode is chock full of Chicago goodness, but it is tagged as Chicago For Beginners. If you are a deep fan like me, most—but not all—of this information is known. But this is a fantastic way to get a music history of one of my two favorite bands.
So, when I listened to the episode, I started sending comments and feedback to Craig. As the word count grew, I had the idea of compiling my comments into this post, a sort of a side commentary to the episode.
Had I more time, I would have dropped in time markers. I am listening to it now, so I can throw in the marker for the first line item (below). But most of the time, I kept my comments per album and you can easily follow along.
[Comment about relevancy 8:24 mark] Chicago really stopped being relevant when SOS was rejected. That was when they stopped being a rock band and became a nostalgia act. Big Band record is good. Christmas records are wonderful! But really...
Agree that 14 (Columbia) was the natural ending point. For me, the eras are the following:
- Originals - 1967-1977
- Dacus/14 - 1978-1980
- Warner - 1982-1992
- Nostalgia - 1995-present
Regarding the listenability of a podcast devoted to each album of Chicago…ABSOLUTELY it’s worth it. I’ve toyed with it myself. You never know. I still might. If the existence of Pod of Thunder—that examines every studio song by KISS; Every. Song.—is any indication, you can easily do it with Chicago.
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY
[My full review here. [http://scottdennisparker.com/2017/04/27/music-review-chicago-transit-authority-1969/] It’s an older piece I republished on this blog last night, but it still is accurate.]
Free Form is noisy. I listen infrequently. It's not on my MP3 CD playlist I have in my car.
Someday is wonderful. Especially when the chant becomes the downbeat. And the bombs in the last chorus.
[They didn’t discuss Liberation, a song I put on and just let my mind go. Great song. Would have liked to have had a version of it on the remastered Carnegie Hall CD.]
[Time: 18:55] Agreed that last great tour was 1988 (19) but the 1995 tour (with the acoustic set including Look Away) was pretty darn good. The 1987 set was pretty wide spread in terms of songs, too. Oh, and in terms of "New-to-Me" songs, the 1998 Christmas tour had greater than 50% of never-heard material (Christmas + Back to You).
Chicago 18, and the 1986 version of "25 or 6 to 4" are special to me. It was the first album released after I discovered them and "25" was the first single. Also, in 1987, they opened concerts with the 1986 version and closed with the 1970 version. Thus, the 1986 version was literally the first ever live sound I heard from Chicago. I snuck in a tape recorder to that show (at the Houston Rodeo!) and you can hear my auralgasm. Thirty years ago last month.
Other than "25 or 6 to 4" - Likely the distillation of the band's definition of a "rock band with horns" - my fav track is Poem for the People. The complex horn arrangement is wonderful. It Better End Soon I have grown to really, really love, especially the flute solo. Also the sentiment of The Road, especially the lyrics and its Vietnam-era stylings.
My fav song from III has become Mother, but I prefer the Carnegie Hall version b/c all horn players play at the same time. Love the ending. Lowdown is another fav. Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home is a great tune. I play along with it. And I dig Approaching Storm mainly because all 5 solos are so distinctive of the players. Also, I've come to appreciate the sax/guitar solo from Sing a Mean Tune.
A Song for Richard and His Friends - To me, this is the best way for a "Free Form Guitar" solo to work: as part of something else. I like how Lamm plays his keyboard to sound like machine guns. It took me a long time to come around to this song, but now I enjoy it.
Oh, and in 2003 when the Dixie Chicks got lambasted for criticizing Bush while playing in the UK, Chicago (on Live in Japan) did the same sort of thing. No pushback then...
Sat in the Park is pure pop perfection and, honestly, might be the turning point in Chicago's sound. Ironic that Lamm was the writer. Dialogue is also just a quintessential song. Other than those two, Now That You've Gone has become my go-to song. Thing to listen for: tambourine. I actually play air tamourine while driving in my car! Also, Serephine's drumming on this song I particularly appreciate. Goodbye and its trumpet solo is also a highlight.
Robert Lamm’s SKINNY BOY is a good "of its time" record. The vibe of "Love Song" is sooo 1972. And the electric organ I really dig. Whenever I want to mentally go back in time, this is one of the records I use.
Yeah, I pretty much knew it all, too, but my wife--who watched with me--enjoyed it and learned. And, yeah, even she commented on Lamm's hair! :-)
At this point in my fandom, I've heard Just You n Me probably too many times. But I still love it. For me, What's This World Coming To is my fav. And I really enjoy Something in This City Changes People. There's a 1973 live recording from Paris (?) where they do these songs and they sound really good. I think this is the tour ('73) when they also did "A Hit by Varese" from V. That's an interesting song live.
Again, the hits I've heard a lot of time, but Call on Me I never tire of. Searchin' So Long as well. But my go-to songs are Aire, Italian from New York, Byblos, and especially Woman Don't Want to Love Me. That last song is one of my fav scripted Kath solos, especially how he interacts with the horns. [This sounds familiar. Did I already write this?] The pathos of Kath singing Byblos is heartbreaking.
Nice point on the Terry sound. I would agree with that. It probably started with Jenny, but with 7 and 8 it's put into stark contrast.
I had VIII with the iron-on transfer. I traded it in 1995 for a cassette copy of SOS. But I found another one and tried to iron it on. Didn't work.
Brand New Love Affair I love!
Harry Truman is always great. I asked Lamm once about this song and he commented that it was a Merle Miller book...which I went out an bought. I do not think Lamm was being sarcastic. He was being spot on. Granted, Truman died Dec 1972 so, in 1974 (when VIII was being recorded) Nixon resigned. Low point in America to that point. You look back and see Truman and he looks pretty darn good.
Then there's Oh Thank You Great Spirit. More proof of the Kath sound. Blistering is probably an overused adjective, but it fits here.
Old Days is always good.
All in all, VIII was a late discovery for me, so I've come to enjoy it.
CHICAGO in 1982.
There's a great show from Star Sessions. I think it's Champlin's debut. They're hungry again and you can hear it.
CETERA ON BASS:
Yes, Craig, CTA and II are a showcase for Cetera's bass playing. Heck, just Introduction is a good enough example. McCartney-esque. Ditto with Gene Simmons, BTW. And What's This World Coming To from VI is another good one.
Love how Once or Twice kicks this album off. You Are On My Mind is wonderful. I have heard IYLMN waaay too many times...but it's still a good tune. But I don't need to hear it again. ARDINYC I have always enjoyed, and the 2001 version (with Lamm singing). Mama Mama is cheesy fun. Scrapbook is a nice culmination of their history.
Of all the Columbia records, for whatever reason, I came to this one last. Still not sure. Maybe I just had to mature for it. But likely it was because I opened my eyes to Kath. He's all over this LP. I LOVE MDCB. I remember being a youth and thinking "why the heck is he laughing?" Now, I know it's b/c Kath knows this tune is great. The guitar, the horns, the voice. "Big Surprise" is ... never listened to anymore. Between this and IYLMN, I'll take the former.
The more I think of this album, the more I get a sense that--although they clearly didn't know what was coming with Kath's death--they put their best on this record. Megan's idea of a distinct Kath sound is full on display here, especially with Uptown. Lamm's all over his politics here--last time until We Can Stop the Hurtin from 17?.
But it is the last two cuts (This Time and Little One) that just makes your heart soar and then crushes it. The scripted guitar solo in This Time is my favorite of Kath. And the bittersweet sentiment of Little One--even though Serephine wrote it--as sung by Kath, the last time we hear his voice on record, is heartbreaking. Like X, Kath opened and closed XI, but his stamp is over everything on this album. Top 10 for me.
ME: Hmmm, what are my top 10? CTA, II, SOS, V, 19, III, XI, 17, VII, and Hot Streets.
CRAIG: That's a very interesting Top 10.
ME: Yeah. It would have been much different 15, 20 years ago. But time has a way of changing what I prefer. Since 19 is the most un-80s record, I tend to like it. (Ironic since I'm a child of the 80s, graduating in 1987). Probably why I like the latter half of 30 so much (because it sounds like 19). It's the "Crazy Nights" of the Chicago catalogue. Ron Nevison producer, BTW. This was the record where Champlin took over. SOS was, like CTA and 16 and to some extent HS, the album Chicago made for themselves. They asked "Who are we in 1992?" and SOS was the result. It was fresh and unique, willing to try different things (rap; heavy rock), and light on ballads.
When the label said, "No," they stopped being a rock band with horns and became a nostalgia act. Dawayne Bailey left soon thereafter. You could probably say the same thing about KISS and Revenge (or COS)...because, as much as I enjoy Psycho Circus/Sonic Boom/Monster, they are all riffs on former sounds.
I just friggin' dig Alive Again. The bass falls, the brass. It's all there. And the joy. Perhaps the band's second mission statement song (after Introduction and post Kath's death). The title cut is fantastic. Maybe Top 10 Lamm song for me (I may have to give that some thought). Love that it features both flute and guitar. I put TGLOE as a semi trilogy with IYLMN and BWABS. I like this one the best. It's on that MP3 CD I mentioned earlier. They gave Dacus the keys to the band and, for a 1978 record, it's perfectly in the pocket. Love Was New I love. I is SO of its time. Odd that the 80s albums (16-18) are so of their time and I tend not to listen to them, but so is HS-14 for its time...and I listen to them. Perhaps that tells me I prefer the 70s sound...?
Again, find the live 1978 concert at the Greek. They play with an orchestra. The sentiment of being alive, playing together is palpable.
[I had to take a break from the episode to take a walk around my office building. Here is what I wrote upon getting back to my desk.] Okay, I just took my 10am walk around my office building and I listened to the live version of HS. Such a great song. Cetera's bass playing under the flute solo is just like he did back in 1969. And the Dacus solo is certainly something Kath would have played in 1978.
You know, I have an MP3 CD of my fav stuff from the entire catalogue, but I specifically have a Dacus Era MP3 CD that includes HS, 13, the live 1978 show. I enjoy this era of Chicago and it was good to hear Pardo extol its virtues as well.
Easily my fav cover.
As a band kid in the 1980s, Street Player with Maynard Ferguson I enjoyed immensely. Mama Take is just good clean cheesy fun circa 1979 in the vein of REO Speedwagon's Keep On Lovin' You. The horn come in subtly. I dig it. And I dig that the brass is just all over the place (the brass/guitar interplay on Aloha Mama echoes VII's Woman Don't Want to Love Me). Sure, Cetera's "other" voice is odd (Window Dreamin'), but what the hey. Life is what it is = Love Was New, Cetera version. Plus a trombone solo. What's not to like? As much as I enjoy the Kath/Cetera/Lamm vocals, the Cetera/Lamm/Dacus blends well.
There's a TV special they aired around 13. Cheesy and goofy.
Oh, and Loser with a Broken Heart? Proto Hard to Say I'm Sorry.
Okay, so yeah, it's probably the nadir, but like I wrote elsewhere, you add in the unreleased cuts (from the reissue) and remove some of the cuts that made the album, it would certainly be better. Song for You is yet another run-up to the ballad-heavy 80s. Even for someone like me, Birthday Boy is just ugh. Side 2 of XIV is better. Doin' Business (from the box set) is a good tune. I enjoy it, but I prefer HS and 13 more.
Talking about Nadir, XIV is the one album that doesn't fit neatly. You have the eras 1967-1977, 1978-79, 1982-85, 86-etc. and all have multiple albums. XIV is the one that is its own era. The guitarist, Chris Pinnick, is pretty darn good, their first attempt to get a "Kath" sound (and that Keith Howland has done for 22 years now). He went on to tour for 16 and 17 but left after Cetera left to make way for DaWayne Bailey, the true 80s rock guitarist.
ANY DOUBLE LPS CONDENSED DOWN TO ONE?
Not for me. Even VII. I like the instrumental stuff. Not all the time and not always driving in the car with the windows down, but when I'm in the mood, it's good.
IS THERE A “ROCK AND ROLL ALL NITE” OF THE CHICAGO CATALOGUE?
Yup, 25 or 6 to 4.
NEVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN?
If You Leave Me Now easily. More that than any of the 80s ballads. And yeah, the new live arrangements put the horns in. But even those ballads live starting around 1988 and especially 1992 were punchier and heavier. Of the 80s ballads, You’re the Inspiration is my least favorite. Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away is Cetera's gold standard for Chicago ballads for me. Hard Habit To Break is good for the vocal interplay. Look Away I really enjoy. For Scheff, Will You Still Love Me is probably it although I'm pretty done with that song, too. Just heard it too much. He did it live, acoustically, with just him at piano for a while. That was nice. I now lean more to Scheff's material 19 and beyond because he stopped trying to sound like an obvious Cetera clone. What Kind of Man Would I Be? (remix) is pretty darn good. Twenty-1's Explain it to my Heart is HHTB part 2 but with Scheff. SOS's Better than Elvis is strong because of the history behind it. But even Scheff got too high and whiny. Some of the ballads from 30 are hard to hear...so I don't.
Oh, and Look Away acoustic with just Champlin and Keith on guitars was also great. And the live version is my preferred version. There's a 1993 Live at the Greek (?) that features probably the last time Chicago was a *rock* band with horns. You even get a SOS song thrown in.
DESERT ISLAND LP?
CTA (although I could cop out and say Carnegie so I also could get 25 or 6 to 4)
DESERT ISLAND SINGLE?
Introduction. My Favorite Chicago Song. Period. 25 or 6 to 4 is second.
I've basically tuned them out, but Chicago IX - where it all started for me—might be it. You don't get Introduction, but you get basically all you need from Chicago sans the later material. The garden one Pardo mentioned is okay.
Oh, back in 1997/98, here in the states, Chicago put out their own version of a blue and red hits albums (like the Beatles). They threw on 2 new songs each so...I had to buy them. The red one (which came out first) is probably too ballad heavy, but one of the new songs, The Only One, was produced by Lenny Kravitz. He sings on it, too, and it’s pretty good. The blue one, a year later, has stronger uptempo songs, but put on "Love Me Tomorrow" versus...anything else. All Roads Leads to You is one of the two new cuts and features vocals by all three guys. Taken together, "The Heart of Chicago" might be the one I'd choose.
But...in Japan, they put out 4(!) "Heart of Chicago" albums. And they broke the catalogue down to 1967-1981 and 1982-1998. That was the red and blue from Japan but you also got a yellow and a green one. In those days, pre-SOS being officially released, that was the only way to get 3 of those tunes. They filled the rest of the albums with great rarities like pristine mixes of the dance version of Along Comes a Woman, the full HTSIS/GA together, Please Hold On (LP version), Someday, Street Player (dance mix), and more goodies. And, even though my memory can't recall if Introduction is on there, I'll take Heart of Chicago from 1997, 98 (Japanese versions) as my go-to compilations.
And there you have it. I really enjoyed this episode. Being a deep fan, naturally I'd want to dig deep into individual cuts, why I love them, etc. But this was so much fun!
Thanks to Craig, Megan, and Jimmy for the episode. I really dug it.
Now that you, Reader, have gotten this far, here’s the link to the podcast so you don’t have to go back to the top.