Archive for Peter Cetera

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

Sampler Daze: Warner Bros. holiday samplers

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , on December 10, 2010 by 30daysout

Guess this could be a holiday companion piece to our series on the WB-Reprise Loss Leader samplers that came out in the 1970s – these are two radio promo albums released by Warner Bros. in 1987 and 1988 to help radio stations and listeners celebrate the holiday season with the Warners’ stable of artists.

Yulesville came out in 1987, all decked out in red (or green) vinyl to look like a Christmas ornament and the track list was a mix of spoken-word promos and a handful of music tracks.  Artists like Brian Wilson, George Harrison, Madonna and others cut the PSAs (public service announcements) while the Ramones, the Pretenders and the like have holiday-themed tracks.

The Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” was exclusive to this LP at the time, while the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles” appeared on the 1983 album Learning To Crawl and Prince’s “Another Lonely Christmas” was originally the B-side to the 1984 single “I Would Die 4 U.”  There are a few other music tracks, including “Yulesville” by Edd “Kookie” Byrnes (from 1959!), Erasure doing a short little holiday ditty and a couple of godawful tracks from long-forgotten bands like 54.40 and the so-called New Monkees (featuring no one named Jones, Dolenz, Tork or Nesmith).

The next year, in 1988, Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops and unleashed a double holiday promo album, Winter Warnerland.  This one had more PSAs from their artists, more tracks from label losers (another one from 54.40!) but also had some cool stuff from the likes of R.E.M.,  Los Lobos and Daniel Lanois, as well as some contributions from Warner Nashville label mates Mark O’Connor and Randy Travis.

Lonesome George Harrison turns up again, this time doing a promo bit as Nelson Wilbury, his alter-ego from the Traveling Wilburys.  Pee Wee Herman livens up the proceedings with his weirdness, and former Chicago lead singer Peter Cetera turns in a country-rock version of “Silent Night” that works for some strange reason.

One of my favorite tracks on this one is “Santa Claus Is Getting Down,” a blues tune from guitarist Jesse Ed Davis.  Davis was an A-list session guitarist of the era who played with people like John Lennon, George Harrison, Leon Russell, Taj Mahal and many others.  Davis popped up at the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus event in 1968 and was a featured player at the Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971.  Davis is probably best known for contributing the guitar solo on Jackson Browne’s hit single “Doctor My Eyes.”  During most of the 1970s and 1980s Davis was troubled by his drug abuse, and finally in 1988 he died in California of a suspected heroin overdose.

To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of circulation these albums had at the time.  Aside from promotional distribution to radio stations and news media types, it seems that Winter Warnerland had some kind of commercial availability as a CD in 1988 or so.  Both albums turn up frequently on eBay and other internet selling services, so maybe they’re more easily obtained today than they were when they were released – only now they’re more expensive.

MP3: “Merry Christmas Message” by Brian Wilson (from Yulesville)

MP3: “2,000 Miles” by the Pretenders (from Yulesville)

MP3: “Holiday Greeting” by the Bee Gees (from Yulesville)

MP3: “Happy Holidays Message” by Joey Ramone (from Yulesville)

MP3: “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight)” by the Ramones (from Yulesville)

MP3: “Another Lonely Christmas” by Prince (from Yulesville)

MP3: “Christmas Medley” by Pee Wee Herman (from Winter Warnerland)

MP3: “Deck The Halls” by R.E.M. (from Winter Warnerland)

MP3: “Rudolph The Manic Reindeer” by Los Lobos (from Winter Warnerland)

MP3: “Holiday ID” by Nelson Wilbury (from Winter Warnerland)

MP3: “Santa Claus Is Getting Down” by Jesse Ed Davis (from Winter Warnerland)

MP3: “Silent Night” by Peter Cetera (from Winter Warnerland)

MP3: “Holiday Greeting” by Pee Wee Wilbury (from Winter Warnerland)