The rock band Chicago gets a bad rap among my generation, largely because of their string of 80s soft rock hits with tenor Peter Cetera at the helm. Those songs (like “Say I’m Sorry” and “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration”) were hard to avoid if you were alive in the 80s. Even now you can hear them walking into offices around the country.
But Chicago (who started playing together in 1967 as “Chicago Transit Authority”) was more than the fluff we like to hate. Before producer David Foster and lead singer Peter Cetera helped define the saxophone driven arrangements of the 80s ballad, they were a tight rhythm and brass driven band, an interesting blend of rock, jazz, and R & B. With guitarist and vocalist Terry Kath (who died of a self-inflicted gunshot) as one of the band’s front men, Chicago had a string of early 70s albums that are more than worth a listen.
5. “Does Anybody Really Know What Times It Is?” (1969/1970)
Sung by Robert Lamm, this song has many forms depending on the album you find it on. Featured first on their debut album (Chicago Transit Authority), the album version is a little long but a nice journey. It wasn’t released as a single until after the second album came out.
4. “Colour My World” (1970)
Part of the same suite as “Make Me Smile” (below), this ballad really spotlights the beauty of Terry Kath’s voice. It’s a simple song, reminiscent of a high school dance, but Kath takes it somewhere else. (My uncle–a self taught guitarist whose been playing music my whole life–plays the song, and sings it just as well. You could say I have a soft spot for it.)
3. “Beginnings” (1969)
Another Robert Lamm tune, the album version is almost 8 minutes long. It shows off a lot of their strengths, especially in drums.
2. “Make Me Smile” (1970)
From their second album, this James Pankow song is one part 1 of a 7 part suite that lasts 13 minutes. With vocals by Kath, it’s a great, meaty rock tune.
1. “Saturday In The Park” (1972)
From their fifth album, this song is hardly my favorite but I can’t help liking it. When I was a kid I remember hearing it on the radio regularly and, most memorably, in a commercial for Magic Mountain. It makes me feel like the seventies. It makes me feel like I’m a kid wearing striped socks pulled up to his knees, drinking a Slurpee in an East L.A. park in summertime.