CHICAGO — Chicago IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits (review)

CHICAGO — Chicago IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits album cover Boxset / Compilation · 1975 · Pop/Art Song/Folk Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
AtomicCrimsonRush
A good start for a Chicago newbie and a surprising trip down memory lane.

OK I am a newbie I admit to one of the most prolific bands on the music scene who have been around since the late 60s. The only thing I had heard from Chicago is the flaccid sugar sweet ballad 'If you Leave me now' that my wife likes, and I despise. So I took the plunge and decided to grow slowly into the band with one of their many compilations. I decided that a compilation from 1975 would eradicate all the pop balladry that they declined into in later years. So as a lone reviewer of this well known band's compilation I can at least give an unbiased if uninformed opinion of the music.

We start with a classic that can be found on just about every compilation and has become a bonafide live staple for the band, 25 Or 6 To 4. The heavy guitar riff and strong beat appealed immediately to me, and then a delightful brass section comes in. The vocals are strong and have an unreserved early 70s feel. The harmonies are very well executed. I even recognised the tune from somewhere, perhaps a late night music show from the past. The lead break is terrific and the incessant riff is infectious, not to mention beautiful brass embellishments. The instant recognition was a sheer delight and I instantly fell in love with this awesome track that I could listen to over and over again without too much coercion.

The brass is even stronger on the next track, another classic Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? The jazz fusion is dynamic and this track from the first album certainly delivers. Another very cool riff dominated by clean vocals and piano rhythms. Cool lyrics too "And I was walking down the street one day, A pretty lady looked at me and said her diamond watch had stopped cold dead, And I said Does anybody really know what time it is". I was stunned at how jazzy Chicago is and yet one does not get a hint of this in their popular mainstream ballads. Once again I was hooked on this from the beginning.

Colour My World is next, a very slow dreamy track driven by piano. It feels like a ballad yet nothing like the 80s Chicago. I particularly like the Hammond line beneath the music. There is a real beauty here embellished by flute passages.

Just You 'N' Me follows, with a strong horn section and love inspired forlorn lyrics. The harmonies are well accomplished in the chorus. I like the wah wah rhythm guitars and there is a nice tenor sax section to enhance the mood also. I am not a real fan of the sugar sweet lyrics though there is a good sound here.

Saturday In The Park is another classic that appears all over the place and this is the first time I had heard it though. Or so I thought, as immediately I recognised it from somewhere. I had heard a lot from the radio in the 70s so it makes sense I would have heard this. The brass carry it along and I particularly like the vocals on this and some great lyrics; "Another day in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July, People talking, really smiling, A man playing guitar, And singing for us all, Will you help him change the world." It even changes time sig later into a jazz funk style before returning to the intro beat. Great musicianship and a bonafide treasure form the group.

Feelin' Stronger Every Day is next on the compilation, from Chicago 6. Immediately again I knew the song but I guess did not know who had sung it. So really this was quickly becoming a nostalgic trip for me. I loved this song and it brought back some haunting memories. The instrumental section changes in to a faster signature and works so well with that cool 70s sound. A delightful gem from the group.

Make Me Smile does not sound too good on paper, a bit kitsch really, so I had trepidations about this one. It comes from Chicago 2 and has a powerful brass thing going on and the vocals are very soulful from Terry Kath also adept on lead guitars. The track is actually very good, cruising along with a strong beat and infectious melody. You gotta love that soul vibe with the lead guitars and brass trading off. I heard that Terry has passed on now but if this is any indication of the material he has produced with the band, Chicago 2 seems like an absolute must!

Wishing You Were Here follows, from Chicago 7, featuring Terry again, and this track reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974 deservedly. It begins with acoustics over waves crashing on a lonely beach. The harmonies are strong, and there is an ethereal atmosphere that once again rings a bell from somewhere in my distant past. The haunting harmonies work brilliantly to create a powerful dreamy ambience. The vocals are fantastic on this track, especially Pete Cetera, I love the whole thing, and I am already a fan of the band by now.

Call On Me is next, a very radio friendly track that did not resonate with me, far too mainstream and not my style. I did like the tom tom and trumpets though. The weird thing is I knew I had heard this somewhere too, perhaps on the radio I would say. It began to occur to me here that I had grown up with Chicago but I never knew it till now.

Moving on to the next track we have (I've Been) Searchin' So Long also from Chicago 7. The dreaminess of the music here is compelling. There is a sweet melody in the balladic style. The strings and trumpets enhance the mood. Not my favourite by any means but I can still appreciate the musicianship and song structure excellence.

Last track is Beginnings, ironically enough. Again I knew of this track from the debut and that it is quite famous from the band. The pleasant vibe is unmistakeable with upbeat vocals and harmonies. The strong rhythm machine of drums and guitar is paramount to the sound. The brass is powerful again, along with very emotive lyrics; "I can never think of the right words to say, I am silent, only the beginning, what I want to feel forever." It ends with an extended jamming percussion section.

So at the end of this compilation, I feel I have at last been initiated into Chicago: a world of dynamic jazz fusion music. I can continue to cringe when I hear 80s Chicago ballads, but at least now I know there is more, so much more to this fantastic group of virtuoso musicians who have made such an indelible impact on the music scene for so many years.

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