Chicago IX: Greatest Hits (1975)

The Coca-cola style logo of Chicago became instantly recognizable on its album covers, magazine ads and a large lighted sign behind the band’s stage.

On their greatest hits album, the art is scene as a work in progress, like the band’s musical career.

In less than six years of their recording career, Chicago had more than enough hits for a “best of” album. This was the first Chicago album I bought, and it’s a good one. Since then, Chicago has released several “best of” collections, making this one obsolete, especially since it only held 45 minutes of music, the functional limit of a vinyl album.

If you went deeper on their early albums you could find some very tough rockers, and some experimental works, but radio seemed more interested in their more gentle, melodic songs, which they were quite adapt at writing and singing.  Few artists at the time sold more albums or placed more songs on the chart than Chicago.

 

Side one

“25 or 6 to 4” (Robert Lamm) – 4:51  A number four hit.  The opening riff, followed by the horns gives this song a toughness.  Chicago really was a rock band, but success gravitated them toward ballads.

“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (Lamm) – 3:20 Edited version for time.  This song was not released as a single until the second album, then it reached number seven.  A jazzy mid-tempo song, one of the shining moments from their debut album.  The first song from Chicago that caught my interest.

“Colour My World” (James Pankow) – 2:59  A number seven hit.  At first it was released as a B-side, but became so popular it was released as an A-side.  A very popular wedding song, soft and gentle with the flute solo.

“Just You ‘n’ Me” (Pankow) – 3:42 A number four hit.  Trombone player Pankow proved to be a quality songwriter, he usually turned the vocals over to Peter Cetera.

“Saturday in the Park” (Lamm) – 3:54  A number three hit and one of my favorites.  Lamm was the chief songwriter in the early years, a painter of contemporary pictures in his songs.

“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” (Peter Cetera/Pankow) – 4:14  A number 10 hit. The song is about Cetera’s recovery from a divorce.  An upbeat rocker, but not too aggressive for AM radio where Chicago had great success.

 

Side two

“Make Me Smile” (Pankow) – 2:59 This is the single edit.  Another quality song from Pankow, bright and upbeat.

“Wishing You Were Here” (Cetera) – 4:34  A number 11 hit.  The Beach Boys sang background vocals.  A smooth ballad with silky vocals.

“Call on Me” (Lee Loughnane) – 4:02 A number six hit, with Cetera on lead vocals. Another smooth groove, it broke free of the Chicago pattern for their ballads and was quite successful.

“(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” (Pankow) – 4:29  A number nine hit.  Chicago was becoming known for ballads and mid-tempo, polished songs.  This is a beautiful song from a very successful double album.

“Beginnings” (Lamm) –  6:28  The song was released as a single and failed to chart. Later it was re-released and reached number seven n the chart.  Another fine song from their debut album, too long for radio it was edited down in length.  A great beat, this had drive, and still one of my favorites.

Forgotten singles

As many hits as this album represents, there were a few left out.

“Questions 67 and 68”  The first Chicago single release, it didn’t chart very hight but was re-leased two years later with greater chart impact.

“I’m A Man” A cover of the Spencer Davis song, the B-side of “Question 67 and 68” and received heavy airplay. Their debut album was chocked full of hot-blooded rockers.

“Lowdown” Written by Cetera and drummer Danny Seraphine, another politically themed song, broke the top 40 but not by much.  A song that disappeared quickly.

“Dialogue (Part I & II)” A rather long song, edited for radio, about a conversation regarding the Vietnam War.  An interesting song and a bold subject for a single.

“Old Days”  Reached number five, but lead vocalist Cetera reportedly didn’t like the song, so it was dropped from the concert list.  “Old Days” and “Harry Truman” came from the same album, with fewer ballads and a tougher sound, but didn’t sell as well.

“Harry Truman”  Written by Lamm after the resignation of Richard Nixon, a way of praising a President who spoke honestly to the people.  Reached the top 20 but not a song that the band played live very often.

If you thumb through the first eight Chicago albums, I noticed a few things. Chicago lost some of their roughness and rockabilly. Chicago had one of the best guitarists and soulful singers, and they moved away from his talents. Lamm remained a key songwriter, but his single contributions decreased, as Pankow and Cetera supplies more radio candy songs. Radio success also seemed to homogenize their lyrics away from topical issues.

If you have this album, it’s a great walk through the early 1970s.


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