Chicago Transit Authority – 50th Anniversary Remix – Columbia RR!76171 8081227911010 (1969)/Rhino Entertainment (2019) 180-gram stereo double vinyl, 77:41 *****:
(Terry Kath – guitar, vocals; Robert Lamm – keyboards, vocals; Peter Cetera – bass, vocals; James Pankow – trombone, percussion; Walter Parazaider – woodwinds, percussion, vocals; Lee Loughnane – trumpet, percussion vocals; Danny Seraphine – drums)
While there are many rock bands that have persevered for decades, Chicago is unique. This group (with some personnel changes) has been performing continuously for 52 years. The group formed in 1967, playing covers as The Big Thing. The band was composing original songs, looking to expand beyond the limitations of the Chicago club scene. Producer/manager James William Guercio convinced The Big Thing to move to Los Angeles and sign with Columbia. They also changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority (which they abandoned after one album as the utility of the same name objected). Chicago Transit Authority established a reputation as consummate performers in Hollywood opening for acts like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.Their muscular amalgamation of rock, jazz, soul and pop (with some classical influence) was coming together quickly. With guitar virtuoso Terry Kath fronting the “all for one, one for all” band onstage, they had three lead vocalists (Robert Lamm/keyboards; Peter Cetera/bass and Kath), and were anchored by drummer Danny Seraphine. And they had a phenomenal horn section featuring Walter Parazaider (woodwinds), James Pankow (trombone) and Lee Loughnane (trumpet). In 1969, they released a double album for their self-titled debut. The extended jams on the album were conducive to FM radio. Eventually four singles (“Does Anyone Know What Time It Is?”, “Beginnings”, “Questions 67 And 68” and I’m A Man”) were released and Chicago was on the path to stardom. Chicago Transit Authority would spend an astonishing 171 weeks on the Billboard charts.
Rhino has released a re-mastered 180-gram double vinyl of Chicago Transit Authority. Remixed by Tim Jessup (with Chicago and Bob Ludwig), this epic album is even more explosive. Side 1 opens with the horn section (Pankow arrangements) leading the group in a hard-charging rock jam, “Introduction”. Terry Kath’s unmistakeable raw vocals are compelling. This 6:37 number transitions to syncopated organ-infused hooks as the deftly arranged trumpet, sax and trombone rip. At 4:07, the band slides into a mellower groove with jazzy solos by Pankow and Loughnane before Kath shreds on guitar. It is truly an introduction to this band, their innate chemistry and instrumental prowess. Switching gears, Robert Lamm’s “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?” displays pop craftsmanship (after a classical-influenced piano intro). The catchy structure, Lamm’s easygoing vocal style and the final Pankow trombone riff are exemplary. The horns envelop the melody. This continues on another Lamm tune, “Beginnings”. At nearly 8 minutes, it’s surprising that this became a single. Simple acoustic guitar strumming ioffers a nice backbone to the music. As Lamm brings the song to a closing inflection point Seraphine’s propulsive drumming and Cetera’s pumping bass are countered by mariachi-like accents with Loughnane and Pankow wailing away. The repeat “…Only The Beginning…only the beginning…” refrain with lush harmony eases into a breathless one-and-a half minute percussion jam.
Side 2 consists of three Lamm numbers. “Questions 67 And 68” feels quintessential Chicago. From the opening horns with a blistering Terry Kath run, it showcases the crystalline tenor voice of Peter Cetera. The middle swing transition is one of Pankow’s stellar configurations and is capped off by Kath before returning to the melody verse. Kath who was always the heart and soul of this group sings lead on “Listen”. There are some great bass lines by Cetera and a scorching distorted guitar solo. The tempo undercurrent is hypnotic. Kath kicks off the mostly instrumental “Poem 58” with crisp guitar lines that only increase with incendiary fury as the song continues. After swirling horn accompaniment, Lamm offers some soul of his own. Terry Kath was considered by his musical peers to be in a class with Jimi Hendrix. His guitar improvisation, “Free Form Guitar” is an ear-shattering frenetic eruption with high volume sonic intensity. Amazingly, it was done without effects or pedals. In a group with this high level of instrumental largesse, it is the only solo track on the album. Flexing big ensemble blues attitude, “South California Purples” is gritty and sorrowful with hot organ licks and the inimitable horn chorus. Kath also contributes another edgy solo. The group maintains the core blues structure, but has a stunning key shift at 4:35.
I’m A Man” is the only cover on the album. This psychedelic blues song was written by Steve Winwood for the Spencer Davis Group. Chicago expands and brings a nastier rock and roll vibe to it. With Cetera’s bass intro and Seraphine’s drumming, the rock quartet arrangement erupts. In what Chicago fans would see on later songs, both Kath and Cetera alternate lead vocals. At 3:08, the band cuts loose on another wild percussion jam centered around Seraphine’s drumming. Then it reengages verse and chorus with the dual vocalists.
As performers, Chicago Transit Authority were popular on the college circuit with empathetic socio-political views. On Side 4, the message is delivered with purpose. “Prologue, August 29, 1969” is one minute recording of actual chanting at the 1968 Democratic Convention in their hometown. The chant segues into an anthemic plea (“Someday August 29, 1968”) by Lamm and Cetera, with punctuated horn shading and a funky tempo break with a slightly dissonant conclusion. The finale (“Liberation”) is a rollicking r & b-flavored instrumental performance that puts an exclamation point on this protest trilogy. The internal fury of the band (and another unbridled Terry Kath solo) is sonically combustible. There is relentlessly pugnacious atonal passage that morphs into a Memphis-groove guitar. Of course, there is an emphatic conclusion with inspired orchestration. “Liberation” was recorded live and unedited.
Rhino has done an outstanding job in re-mastering Chicago Transit Authority to 180-gram vinyl. The overall sound mix is vibrant, and the stereo separation is flawless. There is a precision that allows the horn/reed trio to mesh with the quartet without any blurred density. The bottom of the mix (bass and drum) is solid and the different voices of the singers are captured with clarity. Kath’s guitar pyrotechnics (even at increased volumes) are exhilarating. If you have a good set of stereo headphones, the musical quality will be enhanced. The double gatefold packaging is top-notch.
Whether you are a vinyl aficionado or a Chicago fan, this album is a must!
Side 1: Introduction; Does Anyone Really Know What Time it Is?; Beginnings
Side 2: Questions 67 And 68; Listen; Poem 58
Side 3: Free Form Guitar; South California Purples; I’m A Man
Side 4: Prologue, August 29, 1968; Someday (August 29, 1968); Liberation