I had always passed over Chicago records before, due to their notorious reputation of producing sickly overblown wet AOR. However, in a magnanimous moment of open mindedness, I decided to procure a whopping six albums all in one go, shelling out three of my hard earned pounds for the lot. The portents were promising for a reappraisal, as they were released from 1969 through to 1974, thus missing out on Peter Cetera's blow dried songwriting from the Eighties. I have found from experience, as a general rule, the earlier the release in a band's career, the safer the bet. I am staring at serious slice of a band's output wandering where to start, well there's only one thing for it, review every glorious note, chronologically, day by day, track by track. This is going to turn into a CHICAGOTHON.. raising money for charideey! erm.. well, three pounds as already mentioned. I declare this week to be CHICAGO WEEK!
The Chicago Transit Authority 1969
Let's start with the cover, which has to be one of the worst in rock history, all black except for the logo in the middle that's to small to read. The same logo is on the back, covering the whole space, yet is still impossible to make out the words due to the graphic designer's insistence on using a vinyl wood grain fill effect. They had a bad day at the office, methinks! Inside, things improve as we are treated to pictures of the shaggy haired band members within a lovely gate fold sleeve (always a promising sign) The image of Andy Williams makes a welcome appearance on the inner sleeve covers.
The band were...
Daniel Seraphine on drums
James Pankow on trombone
Peter Cetera bass and lead vocals
Walter Parazaider woodwinds and vocals
Lee Loughnane trumpet and vocals
Terry Kath guitar and lead vocals
We are straight into background music for an American 70's detective t.v programme. I’m thinking Columbo here, during a car chase scene. It’s funky, it’s fruity, it’s trombonetastic, it’s giving me the horn!
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (4.33)
A piano lead in breaks into loungy effort, providing a jaunty feel good vibe, like driving in a Mustang down the freeway with the sun beating down, wind in your hair and not a car-jacker in sight.
Beginnings ( 7.58)
This is the big one, working up to some Crosby Stills & Nash blended vocals, then winding down with clacky percussion, that goes on just a bit too long, like the technique that Family Guy deliberately uses to make the gag scene painfully uncomfortable. Chicken Fight anyone?
Early impressions: their motto should be "Never knowingly underbrassed!"
'If you find another band who out trump us, we will give you double your trombone quota back!'
Questions 67 and 68 (5.04)
More brassy loveliness from the first single.
Woahh! here’s where our boys get seriously Starsky & Hutch funky, working up a good groove. There is a definite Cream influence as well.
Poem 58 (8.37)
This is the point where Terry Kaff lets loose with some guitar licks with interesting key changes and there’s a Frank Zappa vibe going on.
Free Form Guitar (6.53)
It does what it says on the tin, indulge yourself Terry, Hendrix would approve.
South California Purples (6.10)
A Hammond heavy romp, that's slightly menacing, there's a hook line that I immediately recognise It’s like a pub quiz question, that’s on the tip of my tongue..
I’m A Man (7.40)
The only cover version on the album, of Spencer Davis Group's 1967 hit. The tightness of Steve Winwood’s songwriting reaps rewards, as their indulgent streak is kept in check. It's like a flabby stomach that’s been given a corset to hold it all in.
Prologue, August 29, 1968 (0.57)
The Transit get political, with a clip of the crowd at the Democratic Convention. The sleeve notes explain that black militants exhort demonstrators: "God give us the blood to keep going" the march begins, police attempt to disperse marchers "The whole world’s watching" they chant. Stick it to the man!
There’s high tempo guitar in the now familiar recipe of funk rock brass fusion.
Time for a freak out finale and true to form, the guys stretch it out for a mind blowing fifteen minutes of parping perfection. In the parlance of film making, nothing is left on the cutting room floor, the only four letter word that upsets these boys is EDIT.
One down, five to go: Overall, I would say this is a meaty effort, a brave experimental work, from a band finding their feet, some fat could have been chopped off the edges but you can’t argue with a band that gets your toes 'a' tapping with brass beats.