With the fiftieth anniversary of the band looming on the horizon, Chicago has no intention of giving up. Things have changed over the years, but remarkably, the sound remains as vibrant as ever. Terry Kath, keyboards and bass, died of an accidental gun shot wound in 1978. Peter Cetera left the band in 1985 for a solo career. Original drummer Danny Seraphine was dismissed in 1990. There are two sides (or more) to that story. Original sax player Walt Parazaider, oldest of the group, does not make all the shows and is increasingly covered by Ray Hermann. The current lineup as been together quite a while and their most recent album is a winner. Chicago was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
A view from Chicago, the band
Chicago has been around a long time. No, I don’t mean the city, I mean the band. In 1967, five guys from DePaul University recruited a sixth from Roosevelt University and started a band known as The Big Thing. Soon they recruited a tenor, moved to California, and changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority. In 1968 they released a self-titled, double album that included some of their biggest hits and led them down the road to a Hall of Fame career. After threat of legal action by the home town transit authority, the band shortened its name and the rest is pop history.
Their pop, rock, jazz infused sound was ground breaking. In an era of bands that included a guitar player, bass player, and a drummer, Chicago’s music majors were letting a trumpet, a trombone and a saxophone lead the way. It was a sound that led to more groups backed by horns.
As with many bands of the time period, they had their share of songs with social messages. A war protest song (It Better End Soon), a song following the moon-landing (Where Do We Go From Here?) and a political commentary (Dialogue, Part I & II). They certainly did not rely on this type of song, but they were not afraid of them either.
As the decades rolled on they just may have relied a little more heavily on ballads and soft rock. That’s why it is interesting to find that Chicago is back with another album, Chicago Now, aka Chicago XXXVI, with a heavy reliance on the type of horn sounds of their early years and a commentary on the American scene.
America, America is free!
America is you and me!
America, the third track on the newly released album, was actually available for download in the fall of 2013. With music and lyrics by founding member Lee Loughnane, it is not a throwback to another era, but a push forward for a band that has done something older bands are reluctant to do. That is, put out an album of new material.
The dream was fading before our eyes
Take some time to revive it.
‘We the people’ must start right now
Don’t expect our leaders to show us how
They don’t have a clue what to do
If they knew how to stop this slide
We’d have seen some signs by now
To turn back the tide.
Lou Pardini provides keyboards and lead vocals for this anthem. The beauty of the chorus and its tight harmony is in contrast to the attack of Pardini on the verses. At times he is almost at a growling pace as he delivers his lines and the song’s message.
We can’t keep havin’ you make our rules
When you treat us common folk like fools
It’s time to stand up for our rights
Put congress in our political sights.
Make them pass laws that help us all
The Founding Fathers echo
Will be heard in the hall
By the people, for the people, everyone equal.
If you thought Chicago was gone, even though they tour every year and have periodically released new music, they are “NOW” back and they mean business. Watch the video below for the lyrics and yes, that is the Chicago skyline at the opening. What did you expect?