Chicago II

Artist: Chicago

Album: Chicago (Chicago II)

Not too many bands can string together a series of strong, eponymous titles (uh, Led Zeppelin, perhaps?). And not too many bands kick off a career with two (yes, two!) double-album releases.

Chicago got its start as The Big Thing, playing small gigs around their Illinois namesake – first as a sextet, then a septet – in the late 1960s. In 1968, the band fell under the wing of James William Guercio – a friend of one of the bandmates – who moved them to Los Angeles and got them recording under the moniker, Chicago Transit Authority (which was also the name of the group’s first album).

In 1970, a name change occurred at the behest of the Chicago transportation department, which claimed Chicago Transit Authority was proprietary, and a second album – also titled ‘Chicago’ (sometimes referred to as Chicago II).

(It may have also kicked off the practice of naming bands after cities, followed as it was by Boston, Toronto, and, my personal favourite, Chilliwack.)

I’ve mentioned before the splintering of rock into different genres at the end of the ’60s; Chicago tapped into progressive jazz-rock fusion, a form that features a strong emphasis on horns and background vocals that was also popularized by groups such as Canadian band Lighthouse, and Blood, Sweat and Tears (featuring Canadian David Clayton Thomas).

Chicago shifts it into top gear right off the mark, with the stirring horns on the first track on side one, Moving In. Side two is a six-song ‘suite’ penned by the group’s trombonist James Pankow, Wake Up Sunshine (Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon), which itself ended up spinning off two hit singles, the high energy Make Me Smile and the plaintive Color My World.

Probably the biggest hit off this album is 25 or 6 to 4, another high octane rock-jazz piece that still receives a considerable amount of play on classic rock radio.

The band also chimes in on the political climate of the time (hey, it was the ’60s – everybody was doing it), with Poem for the People, and It Better End Soon: ‘They’re ruining this world for you and me; The big heads of state won’t let us be free; They made the rules once but it didn’t work out; Now we must try again before they kill us off.’

It’s difficult to sum up this album; I couldn’t say it was groundbreaking or pushed the musical envelope. But it was a strong solid effort from a group that would continue to hold its place in the charts for the next 35 years.