Graded on a Curve: Chicago,
Chicago IX: Chicago’s Greatest Hits

Celebrating Peter Cetera, born on this day in 1944.Ed.

Every night I dream the same horrid dream. I am being chased, butt naked, through the night forest by a howling mob bearing torches and pitchforks. My crime? My pursuers have somehow unearthed my deepest, darkest secret—that I kinda like the 1975 greatest hits LP of Chicago, the horn-based “rock band” that gave us “Colour My World,” the slow dance anthem of my benighted adolescence.

I cannot tell you how my affection for Chicago IX shames me. But the recent release of Chicago MCXXXIV impels me to attempt to vindicate myself. First: don’t get me wrong; I’m not insane. I have never listened to another Chicago LP, nor have I ever felt the slightest desire to do so. What’s more, I despise horn-based rock as a rule—the mere thought of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” makes me dizzy to the point of nausea—so Chicago IX’s appeal remains a dark mystery.

I’m fatally drawn in by the good melodies, I suppose, and tight horn arrangements, to say nothing of the guitar of Terry Kath, who would later die from an accidental self-inflicted gun shot wound. Plus Chicago had three dudes who could handle lead vocal chores, which added some variety to their sound. And they boasted some top-notch percussion in the personages of Laudir De Oliveira and David Seraphine. But I’m not making excuses. I know I’m guilty, and if that mob finds me, I’ll just be getting my just desserts.

I try to console myself by thinking that I don’t like all 11 tunes on the band’s greatest hits. “Colour My World,” for example, is an offense to all right-thinking people everywhere, and should be behind glass in a defendant’s booth like the one they put Adolf Eichmann in during his trial in Israel. I don’t like “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” either, because despite its chipper horn arrangement fronted by trumpet player Lee Loughnane and catchy melody, the song’s hippy dippy lyrics strike me as total bullshit. Vocalist Robert Lamm may claim he doesn’t care what time it is, but I’ll lay even money that despite his affected contempt for the clock he always manages to show up to collect his royalties check precisely on the dot. As for “Call on Me,” which is sung by the band’s most prominent vocalist Peter Cetera, it’s just plain boring.

I must admit to a liking for the bright but facile “You ‘N’ Me,” with its jazzy arrangement that devolves into a Traffic-like instrumental section and Cetera and Company’s group vocals at the end. “25 or 6 to 4” opens with an unforgettable guitar riff and one snazzy horny arrangement, at which point Cetera sings about sitting cross-legged on the floor and staring blindly into space, which I think makes this a drug song, and hence groovy, man. “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” opens with some heavy horns, at which juncture Cetera jumps in. But what I really like about the tune is its powerful second half, which speeds up with the band throwing in some “Yeah yeah yeahs” and repeating the chorus ad infinitum amidst some nice keyboard work and those overworked horns.

Kath sings “Make Me Smile” in his gruff soul voice, and the backing singers provide a cool running commentary. But the best part is the end, when the backing singers lift their voices to a crescendo while Kath kicks out the jams on vocals and Seraphine lays down some heavy drum thump. The slow and atmospheric “Wishing You Were Here” is, like, heavy man, the quintessential road song, with the backing vocalists all smoothed out on ‘ludes while first Kath and then Cetera whine and moan about how horrible it is to be millionaires forced to stay in four-star hotels while seeing the world for free, the poor saps. But I dig its cool dope vibe, dude.

“(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” opens on a Lionel Richie note, with Cetera singing effetely, and you expect the worst until the ballad morphs into a big, bad sing-along with everybody throwing in vocally and the horns blaring and Kath coming in just in time on his guitar. You may not like “Saturday in the Park” just like I don’t like it, but you have to hand it to the boys for coming up with the funniest hippy call and response (“Can you dig it?” “Yes I can”) in rock.

The band may sing we’re all “waiting for a song,” but it’s not this one, it’s album closer “Beginnings,” my favorite Chicago tune. It opens with some cool guitar strum and those ever-present horns, over which Lamm sings, “I wish I could sing it to you,” despite the fact that he’s already singing it to us. The song’s sunny tone is irresistible, but doesn’t really go over the top until the brass dives in, in the form of a trombone solo followed by a trumpet solo, at which point all the horns are blaring and the band is repeating, “Only the beginning” as the percussion gets wilder and wilder. Meanwhile some band members cry out, and we’re left with just the percussion, which I personally could listen to forever.

So there I am, in my dream, hunkered down in the hollow at the base of an old elm tree as the mob marches past, chanting, “Die, Chicago fan, die!” And I’m feeling pretty down and lonesome when another naked guy appears to join me in my hiding place. “Chicago?” I ask. “Chicago sucks,” he replies snidely, and just then I hear another mob approaching crying, “Die, Huey Lewis and the News fan, die!” And I cry, as any responsible citizen would, “He’s over here!”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text