Archive for Chicago

Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Chicago

Posted in Lost Classics!, Your Sister's Record Rack with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2011 by 30daysout

Mom and Dad dropped the bomb last night at the dinner table: my sister isn’t coming back to live at home. Well, I hope she does well wherever she is. I kind of miss her already – even if I can’t sneak into her room and sample her record albums.

Ah, then: let’s spin a couple albums from the group Chicago. At first they were Chicago Transit Authority but had to shorten their name when the real CTA threatened to sue. Why didn’t the city of Chicago complain?

Guess it’s a good thing they didn’t – Chicago went on to be one of the most successful pop and rock groups of all time. Their albums should be extremely familiar to most people; so today let’s do something different and examine Chicago’s experimental side,  by listening to a couple of suites from their early albums.

Perhaps influenced by the Beatles,  Beach Boys and other progressive acts of the era, the band offered on its second album (Chicago, otherwise known as Chicago II, from 1970) a “suite” of songs strung together as the album’s centerpiece. Written entirely by trombonist-arranger James Pankow, the suite was one of three on the double LP but it got the most attention because it spawned the band’s first big hit singles.

“Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” was actually the first foray into these multi-part songs for Chicago. Inspired by classical music suites, Pankow told the story of a man trying to regain a long-lost love. The suite, just shy of 13 minutes long,  is made up of seven tracks, three of which are instrumentals. It gets right out of the chute with “Make Me Smile,” a peppy tune with catchy horn parts. But the lyrics are a bummer: this guy mopes around parks while kids play and laugh, he misses his true love. This part features a characteristic guitar solo from Terry Kath laid over a tasty bed of horns – actually Chicago’s trademark. Kath also sang the lead vocals throughout the ballet.

The song finally switches gears into “So Much To Say, So Much To Give,” then moves into two instrumentals – the first of which, “Anxiety’s Moment,” will give you Beatles flashbacks with its piano plunks. After “West Virginia Fantasies,” the second instrumental, the ballet really slows it down for the piano ballad “Colour My World,” which you may have heard about 1,000,000 times if you were around in the early 1970s. This one kind of sticks out because it doesn’t flow with the rest of the piece, almost as if they were inviting someone to lift the song straight out. Pankow remembers writing this part first, on the road in a Holiday Inn, and Walt Paradizer added flute parts on the spot.

One more instrumental interlude, then “Now More Than Ever” wraps up the song cycle by revisiting “Make Me Smile.” Chicago’s record label at the time, Columbia, decided to lift “Colour My World” as a single, but as a B-side: an amended “Make Me Smile,” with the “Now More Than Ever” closing, was the A-side. Pankow remembers driving in Santa Monica one day when he heard “Make Me Smile” on the radio. “I realized, hey, we have a hit single,” he said. It was Chicago’s first Top 10 single. The second hit single off Chicago was Robert Lamm’s driving “25 or 6 to 4″ – “Colour My World” wouldn’t have its time in the Top 10 until 1971, when it was re-released along with “Beginnings,” from the band’s first album.

MP3: “Ballet For A Girl in Buchannon”

MP3: “Make Me Smile” (single)

OK, just for laughs let’s cue up Side 2 of  Chicago’s next album, Chicago III, from 1971. With the hit singles, Chicago had lost its “underground” status and was a full-fledged pop band. But they wanted to get a little more funky and free on this one, and this double album (at this time Chicago had put out three double LPs in two years!) sported not one, not two, but three suites. Let’s listen to “Travel Suite,” which took up one whole side of an LP.

The new approach is evident with “Flight 602,” a country-ish ditty by Robert Lamm, which he also sings. Danny Seraphine contributes an instrumental next, “Motorboat to Mars,” then it’s back to Lamm with a rocker “Free,” sung by Kath. The suite then comes to a screeching halt with the experimental, moody “Free Country,” a long piano and flute instrumental that recalls “Colour My World” a bit but without vocals. The last two pieces, “At The Sunrise” and “Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home,” are Lamm compositions which he sings in tandem with Peter Cetera. This vocal blend would become most evident on Chicago’s long run of hit singles in the 1970s and indeed, “Free” was a single lifted out of this suite.

Chicago III was another big hit for the band, and it had one other single, the middling “Lowdown,” by Cetera. The band would release a monster live album next – four LPs cut at Carnegie Hall – then Chicago V in 1972 would be the band’s first one-disc album and a huge platinum-selling monster. Kath would die in 1978 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and Cetera would finally leave the band for a solo career in 1985. Chicago soldiers on today, with Lamm, Pankow, Paradizer and Lee Loughnane as the remaining founding members.

MP3: “Travel Suite”

MP3: “Lowdown”

Chicago official website

Je n’ai rien appris, Part 2 – More foreign language fun

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2011 by 30daysout

The Beach Boys in Japan, 1966.

More versions of English/American hits done in other languages by the original artists. Now, there are TONS of hit songs that were remade for European and Japanese music fans – the Beatles’ remakes alone could fill a large warehouse – but we thought we’d focus here on the versions cut by the people who made the hits. I would give anything to see how long it took Johnny Cash to lay down German versions of his songs.

Full disclosure: “Santo Domingo” by Wanda Jackson, was actually originally recorded only in German in 1965. She cut a handful of German-language songs that were eventually collected on an album, Made In Germany.

MP3: “Le Temps des Fleurs” (Those Were The Days) by Mary Hopkin (French)

MP3: “Lowdown” (live, sung in Japanese) by Chicago

MP3: “Santo Domingo” by Wanda Jackson (German)

MP3: “My Cherie Amor” (Italian version) by Stevie Wonder

MP3: “Wer kennt den Weg” (I Walk The Line) by Johnny Cash (German)

MP3: “Sie Liebt Dich” (She Loves You) by the Beatles (German)

MP3: “L’amore Verrà” (You Can’t Hurry Love) by the Supremes (Italian)

MP3: “Call Me” (Spanish version) by Blondie

MP3: “96 Tears” (en Español) by ? and the Mysterians

MP3: “Waterloo” (French version) by ABBA

MP3: “Wie Schön Das Ist” (How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You) by Marvin Gaye (German)

MP3: “Green Circles” (Italian version) by the Small Faces

MP3: “Downtown” (German version) by Petula Clark

MP3: “Gira Gira” (Reach Out I’ll Be There) by the Four Tops (Italian)

Review: “Stone of Sisyphus,” Chicago

Posted in Review with tags , on June 17, 2008 by 30daysout

After bottoming out in the mid-1970s after the death of Terry Kath, Chicago came back the next decade with a vengeance with a string of hits like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Hard Habit To Break,” and “You’re The Inspiration.” Most of these tunes featured a lot of keyboards and very little of the signature brass sound that helped the band gain its initial popularity.

In 1994, the band decided to bring the brass back on Stone of Sisyphus. However Warner Bros., their record label, wanted no part of it. Executives called the collection “unreleaseable” and they decided to shelve the project. The band said the company was getting back at them because talks about putting out their back catalog broke down. I don’t know who is telling the truth; all I do know is that Warner Bros. was right and Chicago should have left this collection under a stone somewhere.

Chicago has some great tunes: “Saturday in the Park,” “Just You and Me,” “Beginnings,” and the list goes on. All had memorable melodies. I’m sorry to say there isn’t one song on this collection that is memorable. There is more brass, but there are no songs. The worst of the bunch is a ballad called “Bigger than Elvis.” Apparently, singer Jason Scheff wrote it about his dad. There are really are better ways to do this type of song. Uptempo numbers like the title track, “The Pull,” and “Plaid” just lay there and drone on and on.

If I would have paid attention in Greek mythology class I would have known that Sisyphus was a character who was punished by having to push a boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have it fall back down right when he got to the top. Unfortunately, the boulder crushes the members of Chicago before they even get going on Stone of Sisyphus.

MP3: Bigger than Elvis

MP3: Stone of Sisyphus

YouTube: The Pull

Chicago Official Website