Sun Spin: Chicago Transit Authority


This week in 1976, Chicago scored their first No. 1 hit with "If You Leave Me Now." However, the song was the group's eleventh Top 10 single in a career that was off to the races from day one. Such was the freshness and sculpted togetherness of their self-titled 1969 debut, when they were still known as the Chicago Transit Authority, that folks pricked up their ears immediately. Eschewing the looseness of the time, CTA poured rock heat into a framework not unlike the road heavy Midwest jazz orchestras of the '40s and '50s. Call it Lionel Hampton or Count Basie with big amps and a few copacetic tokes. The words were a mingling of Summer of Love musing and end of decade apprehension that would fully blossom in the confused, me-me-me '70s. The only thing like them at the time was Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Sons of Champlin, and while the Sons' first (Loosen Up Naturally - 1969) and BS&T's debut (Child Is Father To The Man - 1968) give 'em a run for their money, Chicago Transit Authority takes the prize simply by it's ambition, breathless vision and visceral nature.

Spread out over a double record set, it set the blueprint the band would follow until the late '70s when their sound shifted strongly towards lighter fare. The original lineup – guitarist-singer Terry Kath, keyboardist-singer Robert Lamm, bassist-singer Peter Cetera, drummer Danny Seraphine and brass/woodwind players James Pankow, Lee Loughnane and Walter Parazaider - were capable of sophisticated eloquence and punchy radio numbers, giving each equal weight on their sprawling first salvo. Like many of the finest groups to come out of the sixties, there's a hungry edge to Chicago at this time, and they held onto that roughness a bit longer than many of their peers, balancing out increased commercial expectations with their own fairly lofty artistic aims. But, they never soared quite as high or dug quite as deep as their debut again. For jam fans, this is either a holy piece of vinyl sacrament or an undiscovered treasure waiting to enrich your listening. Either way, it's essential stuff that remains remarkably un-weathered by the years.

Chicago Transit Authority track list:

Side One
"Introduction" (Terry Kath)
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" (Robert Lamm)
"Beginnings" (Lamm)

Side Two
"Questions 67 and 68" (Lamm)
"Listen" (Lamm)
"Poem 58" (Lamm)

Side Three
"Free Form Guitar" (Kath)
"South California Purples" (Lamm)
"I'm A Man" (Jimmy Miller/Steve Winwood)

Side Four
"Prologue, August 29, 1968" (James William Guercio)
"Someday (August 29, 1968)" (Lamm/James Pankow)
"Liberation" (Pankow)

Much of the footage of the band from this era is a bit dog-eared, but please forgive the shoddy film quality or dodgy sound for a glimpse into young men doing their part to infuse high level musicianship into rock's rapidly evolving sound.

We jump back with what may be the definitive arrangement of the Spencer Davis Group's "I'm A Man," captured live on the BBC with Chicago firing on all cylinders. This is an unbelievably righteous performance. Seriously, take a five minutes to get yo' head blown!

This clip of CTA doing "Questions 67 & 68" on their first tour of Paris in 1969 is warbly but fascinating.

Despite having one of the most irritating premises ever (if you walked up to someone with a watch and asked the time and they responded with this light philosophy lesson you might slug them), "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" is a terrific bit of radio music. The running time code here adds a nice bit of irony.

Last, it's "Beginnings" live at Budokan in Japan on the '72 tour.

[Published on: 10/19/08]

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rainydaywomen420 starstarstarstarstar Sun 10/19/2008 12:58PM
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Such an underated and often overlooked band, the early stuff was so good. Terry kath can fucking rip and you gotta love the brass.

fishbone1 starstarstarstarstar Sun 10/19/2008 01:46PM
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This album is so sick - a defining work in music history.

DrFunkinstein Sun 10/19/2008 04:27PM
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Rock with horns? What a concept!

bubbarock starstarstarstarstar Sun 10/19/2008 08:36PM
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In 1972, when I was 12 years older cousin brought me to a record store so I could buy my first album. I was ready to become "a man"...and she told me to buy this album...CTA. I listened to it endlessly in my room...often by myself...and it altered my perception of what musice was all about. Total psychedelia...long jams...war had it all. I grew my hair long and shaggy...started smoking weed...and playing drums.Danny Seraphine was a god on the drums..."Beginnings"..."I'm a Man"...and Terry Kath..."Introduction"..."Free Form Guitar"...incredible. And then, later, "Colour My World"..."Make Me Smile". I was devastated when he accidently shot himself...I was 17. I had all ten of their albums up to then. Thanks Jambase for the flashback memories! Chicago opened all the doors into rock and roll for me.

RothburyWithCheese starstar Mon 10/20/2008 07:52AM
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Eh. If you really wanna here some good rock with horns check out Electric Flag w/Mike Bloomfield or the first Blood Sweat and Tears with Al Kooper. Question for all you Trey fans: didnt you guys just hate the horn section that he used to play with. To me (with the exception of Jenniger Harswick's occasional trumpet) I thought it was annoying and not needed at all.

futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Mon 10/20/2008 10:35AM
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futhepharmer first rock concert. what memories. my older cousin Robin took me to the Long Beach Arena when I was like 7. yeah, I'm old, get over it. I remember standing on my seat on the floor so I could see. Little did my cousin know (or maybe she did?) that that moment would cement my love of live music forever in my brain. Thank-you cousin Robin!

futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Mon 10/20/2008 10:36AM
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Terry kath was indeed a stellar player...feeling stronger every day!

futhepharmer Mon 10/20/2008 10:40AM
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3 and out....sorry I forgot. I was in a Rehab with Bobby Lamm around '80-81. very nice man, he even gave everyone in the hospital section we were in tickets to the local show on his tour that was coming up.

theguykeator Tue 10/21/2008 10:31AM
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Great article!!! I cant push a single CD on anyone more than this one. I wish everyone would go out and grab it, give it a good listen. Still get chills when listening to it! I told my friends to play Liberation at my funeral........

theguykeator Tue 10/21/2008 11:03AM
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"For jam fans, this is either a holy piece of vinyl sacrament or an undiscovered treasure waiting to enrich your listening. Either way, it's essential stuff that remains remarkably un-weathered by the years."


Blues, Rock, Jazz, Funk fusion!!! RIP Terry- you moved me at an early age.