CHICAGO — Transit Authority

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CHICAGO - Transit Authority cover
3.61 | 10 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1969

Filed under Jazz Related Rock


A1 Introduction 6:35
A2 Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? 4:33
A3 Beginnings 7:58
B1 Questions 67 And 68 5:04
B2 Listen 3:22
B3 Poem 58 8:37
C1 Free Form Guitar 6:53
C2 South California Purples 6:10
C3 I'm A Man 7:40
D1 Prologue, August 29, 1968 0:57
D2 Someday (August 29, 1968) 4:13
D3 Liberation 15:41

Total Time: 76:10


- Peter Cetera /Bass, Lead Vocals
- Daniel Seraphine /Drums
- Terry Kath /Guitar, Lead Vocals
- Robert Lamm /Keyboards, Lead Vocals
- James Pankow /Trombone, Arranged By [Brass]
- Lee Loughnane /Trumpet, Backing Vocals
- Walter Parazaider /Woodwind, Backing Vocals

About this release

Columbia ‎– GP 8 (US)

Thanks to EZ Money, snobb for the updates


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My first exposure to the seven-headed behemoth known as Chicago came in April of 1969, just a few days before the release of this, their debut. I and my buddy Frank Lee had corralled two tickets to see Jimi Hendrix perform at Dallas Memorial Auditorium and these guys were the opening act. They looked like a raggedy bar band that had somehow gotten incredibly lucky and been recruited to tour with a living legend on very short notice because Peter Cetera's aqua blue metal-flake Kustom bass amplifier and matching speaker cabinet stuck out like a swollen toe, Robert Lamm's Hammond B-3 appeared to have picked up quite a few nasty scars, bumps and bruises from being hauled up and down narrow stairwells and the poor horn section was squeezed into the edge of the stage area like an afterthought. But once they started to perform none of that mattered. These boys were not some Blood, Sweat & Tears clone trying to finesse us into awe-struck acceptance of them via their individual virtuosity. They were a rough gang that was going to jackhammer the house down into rubble or die trying. They presented a forceful, honest blend of rock & roll and big band jazz and everyone in the arena was impressed when they finished their set (and that's no easy feat when the antsy crowd is itchin' for their "experience.") Chicago wowed us and earned our respect that night. Within days several cuts from this LP were spinning in heavy rotation on the local FM stations and a career that would last well into the next millennium was underway. It was a very bold move to ask the record-buying public to spring for a two-disc set right out of the gate (they had to accept a smaller royalty percentage to get Columbia to do it) but that risky gamble paid off large. They sold over a million copies in half a year. Of course, having two or three hit singles crossing over into the Top 40 didn't hurt. The bottom line is that this collection of musicians possessed the right attitude at the right time in the right place and they owned the creative talent to back it all up. Add to all that the chutzpah to put a healthy dose of jazz/rock sensibilities and an unorthodox array of sounds into "Chicago Transit Authority" and it's no wonder they made such an immediate impact on the populace. No one else was doing what they were doing the way they were doing it.

Guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath's "Introduction" kicks things off with a bang. While these sorts of how-de-do's can be cringe-inducing corny (as in "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees"), when they work (aka Nazz's exhilarating "Forget All About It") they can disarm even the most skeptical of listener right off the bat and make them more pliable. It's an upbeat yet hard- driving piece of music with jazzy changes and stimulating dynamics to boot. The horns are brash and in-your-face. The mellower section allows James Pankow on trombone and Lee Loughnane on trumpet to step out from the shadows and into the spotlight. They then jump-start it back up into rock mode and the whole ensemble collectively shines. I'm pretty sure you've heard "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" but what you may not have heard is Lamm's exquisite solo piano intro that sets it up. The tune's initial salvo is clever and then they wisely present (in terms of commercial viability) some very tight, Laura Nyro- ish pop intended to bathe the AM airwaves. The inclusion of brief snippets of Pink Floyd- like background conversations into the mix keeps it from being overly predictable.

Robert's "Beginnings" is a simple love song that's upgraded to exceptional by the expressive horn arrangement that allows it to develop peaks and valleys. I liked it the first time I heard it in concert and still do. The repeating 3-chord refrain that dominates the second half of the track is kept fresh and robust by energetic trombone and trumpet bursts peppered throughout and the joyous, free-spirited hand-held percussion exposition that carries on into the fadeout is ingenious. Conservative Republicans they were not. Lamm's "Questions 67 and 68" is two steps backward in that it's exactly what the typical big band/rock copycat groups of that era were putting out there. It's not a bad tune but quite middle-of-the-road and unremarkable in contrast to their other material. Also, it didn't age particularly well and is embarrassingly dated. "Listen" follows and the onset built around Kath's single feedback note is still cool today. It's more of a true rocker in that they emphasize the guitar, bass and drums and the horns are only there to embellish.

"Poem 58" is a guitar-driven, power trio jam in which Terry comes off as a capable axe-man but somewhat limited in his technical prowess. The second half of the song is more interesting with ascending background vocals and punchy brass but Kath's incessant riffing is annoying. Letting one of the horns take a turn would've been a better option for this odd little number. Speaking of Terry, his uninhibited work on the next eclectic cut screamed to their audience that ordinary would not be an adjective casually applied to this group. In order to shake up the status quo the band stepped out for lunch and let Kath get psychedelic with his gear and make rude noises at will. I've had bouts of indigestion that were more enjoyable to listen to. If their intent was to shock then mission accomplished but I'll bet I've sat through this exercise in abstraction called "Free Form Guitar" only once on purpose. I got my fill the first time.

The bluesy "South California Purples" is my favorite cut on the album simply because it seriously rocks! Lamm's Hammond lead won't elicit comparisons with Brian Auger but the hot, snappy horns make it a moot point. Terry's gutsy guitar ride is edgier than normal, as well. Some tunes just beg to be elaborated upon and Steve Winwood's classic "I'm a Man" is one of them. Chicago covers it excellently even though they relegate the horn section to whaling away on percussion instruments. That threesome's infectious enthusiasm goes a far distance in keeping Daniel Seraphine's lengthy drum solo from getting stale, though. "Prologue, August 29, 1968" is a one-minute sound bite taped on the streets during the previous year's dramatic Democratic Party Convention held in their hometown and I find it strange that producer James William Guercio claimed a writing credit for it. Is that egotistical or is it just me? Anyway, they follow it with "Someday (August 29, 1968)" in which the splashy horns are prominent and propel this politically-charged ditty from start to finish. It's not a great song but there's a good collaboration of different ideas to be found in the arrangement.

They go to elaborate measures in the liner notes to highlight the fact that James Pankow's "Liberation" was recorded entirely live in the studio "complete and uncut" and to that I exhort a hearty "so what?" It's really little more than a glorified jam session that leaves a lot to be desired. Its frat party anthem leads to another long (and I mean LONG), frantic Kath guitar extravaganza that eventually collapses into another wild melee of cacophony that everyone feels compelled to dog pile onto. A more peaceful movement ensues and then the group evolves steadily into a big band build up to the concert-worthy grand finale.

While I can't help but admire the bullish male orbs it took for an unknown group to take so many chances on their adventurous four-sided debut, I'm convinced they could've achieved similar results with a disc's worth of guitar rides and sundry indulgences edited out. Having said that, this release charted at #17 in the USA and #9 in the UK so what do I know? (Not very adventurous-minded in this instance, am I?) There was a calculated shock value at play in this presentation of excess that disappeared by the time they got down to the business of recording their sophomore album and it's a good thing, too. "Chicago II" is one of their very best efforts mainly because of its conciseness and lack of filler. Yet that fine LP would probably have never been the success it was had it not been for the brazen, fearless statement they made with this one that made the entire planet sit up and take notice. The whole world was watching, indeed.

Members reviews

Sean Trane
When one thinks of brass rock, he generally thinks of the group Chicago as they were the mainstay of that genre and are still alive today, although doing very different things. Actually the wide public sort of made a rivalry between the cheesy crooning Blood Sweat & Tears and this great energetic virtuosic septet from the windy city. Directed and produced by local producer Guercio, Chicago is your standard prog quartet (with three singers all able to sing lead) with a three man brass section, but most of the writing comes from keyboardist Robert Lamm (mainly), guitarist Terry Kath (a bit less) and (strangely kept on side 4), trombonist James Pankow. Out of this album, some four (or five) singles were issued, with three of them reaching the top 10, mostly coming from the first disc of this double set.

Already showing great signs of self-confidence is starting on a double Lp debut album Opening on the self-explanatory Introduction, the group goes through a bunch of movements that fits exactly what they set out to do in their early career, a progressive blend of jazz rock, but attacking it a bit the opposite way than Miles Davis. Indeed if Miles was walking towards rock from his jazz, CTA was doing the opposite walking towards jazz from the rock realm. It was nothing all that new of course as BS&T had already done this the previous year, but Canadian crooner DC Thomas made most tracks extremely cheesy. Nothing of the sort here, as CTA has a real wild psychedelic side to them and their members are obviously so much better at their respective instruments. A little further down the album, after Intro (and past the uninteresting but chart topping What Time It Is), we have the much better 8-mins Beginnings, again moving all over the place, allowing much interplay between the musicians. The flipside seems obsessed by numbers as Lamm asks us about Questions 67 & 68 about Poem 58 and tells us to Listen, but it is Kath's guitar on the latter that steals the show, although it's clearly the 8-mins+ Poem 58, the centrepiece of the album with some excellent drumming from Seraphine. Excellent stuff, saving an otherwise weaker second side.

The second disc is much more open and experimental than its predecessor, starting on the wild Free Form Guitar, where Kath pulls a Hendrix/Marino/Genrich number that is certainly a tad out of place in a Chicago album. South California Purples (sounds like a LSD tab) is much more in the line, being a straight blues. Saving a weaker third side, the Spencer Davis Group cover of I'm A Man (recorded live by the sound of it) is certainly the album's bravura moment, showing the band in its best light. The flipside opens on recordings from protest march before the group slowly enters via the crowd chants and guitar wails into the Someday song itself before returning crowds shortly.The album closes on the wild Pankow-penned 14-mins+ Liberation where the group really shows off their skill and virtuosity and their free jazz improvs, Terry Kath above everyone, obviously eying Hendrix. Great stuff

What a strange and daring double debut album, and a mighty successful one at that.
Chicago's 1969 debut has enough dynamic power to blow the sugar off all their hits of the 80s.

Chicago Transit Authority is a tremendous energetic, daring debut from a group that would soon be known around the world as Chicago. I had been brain washed or ear washed into believing that Chicago were only capable of saccharine sweet love power ballads, as the radio waves were soaked by the inundation of 80s slush such as 'If You Leave Me Now'. Everytime the song comes on women everywhere sing it with affection, oh, the romantic lyrics and schmaltzy vocals, it was enough to cause me to steer well clear of this band. So to hear this album is a wakeup call like no other; it may well be the revelation of the year for me personally.

The jazz fusion and avante approach on this incredible debut is astounding. The jazzy brass and odd time sig on 'Introduction' is a prime example. Kath's bluesy vocals are always a delight, but the brass section with sporadic percussion are truly mesmirising. There are touches of Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra scattered in the music, and some of the most bizarre guitar playing I have heard. Most of this is sheer creativity embellished by brass, keyboards and fuelled by the power of improvisation; just listen to 'Does Anyone Know What Time it Really Is' as an example, a great melody backed with jazz time swings and bluesy vocals. Of course this was 1969, the birth of prog in a sense, so creativity is the name of the game, people were searching for a new sound. The drums remind me of Santana, there are influences of Canned Heat and Grateful Dead, and Davis among others. I am certain this double album would have had a dramatic impact on other bands and musicians. This is ground breaking masterful playing. 'Liberation' is notable for the jazz fusion style and a blazing guitar solo. There are some experimental moments especially in the guitar solo of 'Free Form Guitar' which explains the free form feel. It is as inaccessible as the band can get, rather disturbing, and would send all those women running who love to sing along to 'I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love'. Of course this is a different beast, and it wasn't until the 80s that the band would succumb to the money churning pop ballads that would skyrocket them to worldwide acclaim.

In the meantime the prog or jazz fusion addict can revel in this early Chicago, including extended wah wah guitar solos on 'Liberation' or some truly weird rants on 'Someday' and 'Prologue', the protest era is evident in the crowd chants. 'Questions 67 and 68' is a powerful track with a ton of heavy brass and fast guitars, and the vocals sing a fairly catchy melody, a majestic feel is generated, almost anthemic, and the famous Chicago harmonies are here.

The constant time sig switches are key features, but there is a sound structure on each track. 'South California Purples' has great Hammond and very cool bluesy guitar riffs with strong Zeppelin like lyrics, "Since I lost my baby I been losing my mind". This was quite typical of the era, songs about break up and make up, over a bluesy riff with extended solos. When they throw caution to the wind the creativity is astounding; they even throw in a verse from The Beatles 'Come Together' on this track. Kath is a powerhouse on vocals and guitars on this album; Chicago are a force to be reckoned with when they go into full flight.

The riffs are great on this debut, the bluesy guitars and striking Hammond on 'Listen', enhanced by the ever present brass; it is excellent musicianship. 'Poem 58' has a cool riff and Kath's guitars with Peter Cetera's bass are a driving force. There are psych prog nuances in the guitars improvised over a strong riff, and at times there is a break and the time sig takes off in another direction, as was the case in a lot of 1969 music. 'I'm A Man' is one I had heard on some 60s documentary but I was startled that it was a Chicago song. The cool riff and fast percussion are a feature along with Kath's indelible vocals.

The extended solos drag the album out to a wonderful 76 minutes, perfect for a CD, you might say. There is not a dull moment, even though the guitar solos can be cumbersome, there is always a compelling edge to this early incarnation of Chicago. So forget everything you know about this band if you are new to them. Like me, I am certain this music will take you by surprise.

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