Chicago IX: The Album That Started It All

11 Mar

First off, go listen to Pods and Sods Episode 89 where they discuss Chicago IX. I’ll wait…

Okay, now that you’ve done that, here’s my take on the episode and Chicago IX. But first, some history.

I wasn’t always a Chicago fan. My prawns didn’t listen to a lot of music. Most of what I liked back then I discovered myself or for some other source. I liked Roger Miller because he voiced the rooster in the Disney version of Robin Hood. I discovered KISS on my own–much to my parents’ chagrin. Other things I learned about from the radio.

Not so Chicago. My best friend knew the band and his parents had a few of the albums, Chicago X I believe. He and I were in band together. He played trombone and I played alto sax. Somewhen during the summer of 1985, we had a conversation, the subject of which is lost to time. Rhe sub just must have been music-related because the end result was him loaning me a cassette copy of Chicago IX. “You’ll probably know half the songs and like the rest, too.”

Soon thereafter, I popped the tape in my Walkman and took my dog for a walk. I pushed played and everything changed. The opening track was “25 or 6 to 4,” just about the perfect blend of jazz and rock as you can get. When those horns entered, I was amazed. The riffs the horns played throughout the song was like nothing I had heard before. And that guitar! At the time, I increased my walking pace to keep time with the awesome tempo. My heart was racing. It not from the walking. I was hearing something I never knew existed.

Next track was “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” Where “25” had knocked my socks off with the power of a jazz/rock sound, DARKWTII was pure joy for a horn player. The brass was so in your face and so present in he mix that they were basically the fourth “voice” of the band.

I ran home. Literally ran home and grabbed the phone. I called my friend and was ecstatic about this music. I don’t remember what he said–probably finish listening to the whole thing–but my fate was sealed: I was a Chicago fan. I discovered Chicago 17, then 16, then went back in time, picking up and finding the early records. Over the years, I’ve seen the band numerous times, bought all new CDs, traded for a copy of Stone if Sisyphus when it was still a bootleg, and found tons of rarities and live material. I’ve come to love their first album the best and “Introduction,” side 1, track 1 if album 1 is my favorite song.

But it all started with Chicago IX. That’s why I was so excited when Pods and Sods chose it as their first (of many?) track-by-track analysis of Chicago IX. Here, then, is my take and comments on this episode originally published on their Facebook post and re-printed here.
Loved the episode. I know how y’all see KISS so it was great to hear y’all talk about my other favorite rock band. I’m one of those Chicago fans who do know the LPs by the numbers. You say “Chicago V” and the track list appears in my head. Some of them–15 (the second greatest hits collection) and 20, yet another hits collection–not so much but for all studio LPs, absolutely yes. As of 2014, they are up to XXXVI “Now”. That’s a nice collection with some throwback sounds mixed with modern production.

A few clarifications: IX wasn’t the first LP with the members on the cover. VI was. Hot Streets was the other. Not all the LPs had roman numerals. 13, 16-19 were Arabic numbers and 21 was “Twenty-1”. 15 wasn’t really “15” but the 15th LP. Same for 20. Of the 7 original members, all were from Chicago save Lamm. He is from NYC. That’s from the original liner notes by producer Guercio when he writes about them on CTA. BTW, “15” was the last LP for Columbia, the one they used to fulfill their contract and leave. That makes 16 a sibling to CTA as they had a second chance to make a first impression. They got a third chance with Stone of Sisyphus.

25 or 6 to 4 – My fav track on the LP. Perhaps my fav Kath solo on record, with Poem 58, Liberation, and Oh Thank You Great Spirit good examples of improv soloing while Woman Don’t Want to Love Me and This Time great examples of a scripted solo. I’ve got this song split into separate tracks and the Kath guitar part isolated is phenomenal. But, then again, Kath was phenomenal.

DARKWTII – Agree with Megan re: original LP version. Preferred. It’s jarring, like with MMS, *not* to hear the LP version.

CMW – Agree on Megan’s take that Walt’s solo was probably one take. I’ve always had the opinion that many of the songs from first 3 LPs were one or two takes. Before they got really precise. There’s a missed sax note on “Question 67 and 68” that you figure someone would take out. Kath was the soul of Chicago and in this tune, he puts it all on the line.

JYnM – Agree on Megan’s take re: Walt’s sax solo as ‘spooky and restrained.’ Since y’all commented on the flute, in the late 80s and early 90s, Walt soloed with a flute and it was a nice change mainly because he had to do something different.

SitP – Lamm may lament the pop direction Chicago took but you could make the case that SitP was the first song that pointed in that direction. Sure, CMW was their first successful ballad and DARKWTII is pretty poppy, but SitP just nailed it in a 3-minute pop song.

MMS – Agree that version from Only the Beginning–with everything together–is best. I bought that CD collection just to have a clean version of this song!

COM – This is Lee’s first song writing credit. By VII, the non-writers were not getting as much money as the writers. So VII is the first time all members wrote a song. Might have to check if this is the only CD like that.

SSL – Good song made better by Kath.

Beginnings – It’s a 12-string guitar. In concert, Lamm gets out from behind the keys and plays stage front. The bass here is, as y’all say, fantastic. I think Cetera, along with Gene Simmons, really take direct inspiration from Paul McCartney. On a side note, Jason Scheff’s bass playing is also quite good and in this bass solo break in concert, he shines, often slapping the bass vs. plucking the strings. When I taught myself guitar, this was among the first tunes I learned.

To y’all’s question about these songs working better here on IX vs. original LPs, I always go to the original LPs. I’ve so internalized the tracklist of the original LPs that it was jarring to hear this LP again.

Standout cut: 25 or 6 to 4. Bar none. This was the 1st Chicago LP I listened to and this was the first song. This one tune sold me on Chicago. SitP is pure pop brilliance. CWM is sublime. Beginnings is sheer joy. MMS is almost unmatched. I like all cuts but those are my standouts.

Perfect album? Yes, but I’m cheating. The original CD version had the long version of Beginnings and a longer version of MMS but no solo (odd, huh?). So Yes providing I get to select album cuts.

Hard to Say I’m Sorry – Agree that it’s one of their best overall songs period. Cetera does what he does brilliantly. His first solo LP (1981) tried to steer away from that, but by 1986’s Solitude/Solitaire, he knew what he was good at. His 1988 One More Story is, to me, the stand-out of his discography because he really did do something different (Pink Floyd meets Chicago anyone?). But you listen to those 80s ballads and they are wonderfully crafted. By the late 90s, Pankow had written horn charts for the ballads so they have been Chicago-ified.

So, when are y’all gonna do another Chicago record? CTA? II? 17? Stone of Sisyphus?

*Bonus points if  you get the time stamp of this post… 😉

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