1969, Music

Chicago Transit Authority (1969)

Imagine you were out on the street and you went to check your phone, and the battery ran out. And you said to the person nearest you “Do you know what time it is?” And he responded “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so I can’t imagine why. We’ve all got time enough to cry.” What would you do? It would be all I could do not to say something along the lines of “For fuck’s sake…” in response. But this is the kind of pseudo-philosophical bullshit the songwriters of Chicago would like you to consider. Because they’re deep thinkers, man. And they’ve got opinions about the nature of reality and what happened in Chicago. (Also, you care about time if you are wearing a watch you fucking hippy hypocrite!)

I first listened to this record in my teens, when I wasn’t as discerning. I think I was really impressed by the feedback solo and the climactic number but I had also been inundated with the hits from my Oldies listening and new I shouldn’t trust them. (I was very skeptical of pop music back then.) So I never listened to anything they did since. And I basically forgot about this record.

Chicago sound like they heard Child is Father to the Man and thought “We can do that better!” In reality, they might have already been performing with horns but hadn’t been signed, I don’t really know. But given that Blood, Sweat and Tears had already released two albums before them, it’s hard not to make comparisons. Chicago is both more and less ambitious than BST – BST was, initially more musically diverse (with better lyrics!), and more conscious of genres outside of psychedelic rock and jazz rock, but they also didn’t release 78 minutes of music, include 7 minute Hendrix imitations or 16 minute jazz rock epics. The Chicago songwriters have a strong knack for melody (to go along with their ridiculous lyrics) but they are super prone to excess as a band. And you can already hear the soft rock creeping in on some of these hits. (One of these songs, the afore referenced song about the nature of “time,” is basically “rock lounge,” which definitely sits weirdly on an album with a 7 minute guitar solo…) This is the kind of band that tried to make interesting music (at least some of the time) until they realized there was more money in toning down the idiosyncrasies and excess and upping the lounge vibe.

Still, it’s all very well played, well arranged and would seem shockingly original were it not for the prior existence of Electric Flag and BST. I would probably be more kind to it if I didn’t know that the direction the band headed in was more towards the softer, less interesting material than the material that is actually good.


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