Becky's Chicago (the GOOD PARTS Version) Reviews

Becky's Reviews of Chicago Albums, CTA through 17

Release Date: April 1969
Cover Design: Painted Wooden Sign
Proves Cover Theory?: Yes
Becky Rating: VI out of X


And they're off! After "years preparing before this group was born," the then-Chicago Transit Authority released its debut album in 1969. It's notable for being the first double debut; it's notable among Chicago releases for the heavy emphasis on Terry Kath's guitar playing; it's notable for containing the single worst Chicago track ever; and it's notable to me for being the one Chicago album I like less every time I hear it.

I should qualify that. There's no doubt in my mind that Terry Kath was a great guitarist; even Jimi Hendrix admired him. However, since getting turned on to the music of the Grateful Dead, I tend to prefer the more melodic soloing styles of Jerry Garcia to Terry's extended noisy solos. He's everywhere on this album; from Poem 58 to Liberation (a live track) to South California Purples, and a little of this goes a long way.

Then there's Free Form Guitar, which in my opinion is the single worst track Chicago ever recorded. It's their Revolution #9, their What's Become of the Baby, their Love Me. Pure unadulterated noise. NOISE. Worse than Space at a Dead show. Almost. Six and a half minutes of guitar effects which were once described as a "distorted garbage truck." That's being kind to garbage trucks! Maybe if you're very very interested in electronic effects, maybe if you're very stoned, maybe if your party guests have stayed too long and you're trying to get them to go home, you might want to play this. Terry, James, what were you people THINKING?

Speaking of studio tricks, for years I listened to the Prologue (taped chants of demonstrators yelling "The Whole World's Watching" from the 1968 Democratic convention) and wondered how they all of a sudden miraculously started chanting in rhythm. I didn't realize it was a tape loop!

I'm making this album sound like a total waste, and it most certainly is not. I do like it, but not as much as II, III and V. The horns are in great form on CTA, particularly on the first record (Introduction through Poem 58); we get an inkling of Robert Lamm's social concience on Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is; and even through tons of classic rock radio play and an unfortunate Clinton/Gore connection, Beginnings is one of Chicago's most powerful songs. (Trivia note for Deadheads: They sing "Aiko-Aiko" on the fadeout). Like many early Chicago albums, CTA contains several self-referential songs in Introduction (in which the band introduces itself to the public) and Listen (Robert's first song about the music business, forshadowing Sing a Mean Tune Kid and Critic's Choice). They almost seem self-conscious about attempting to make it big here. Even Questions 67 and 68 ( a great horn song which is pitched just a little high for Peter Cetera's voice) could be heard as being about the band and its place in the business rather than a relationship.

If you're wondering why I rated it so comparatively low (VI out of X); well, I took off one point solely for Free Form Guitar. CTA is an auspicious start for Chicago, and things get even better with the next two albums.

(c) 2001 Becky Banfield for Dos Gardenias Productions

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