Chicago III

Chicago III: Chicago Double album, CBS 1971

Chicago III

Chicago, (1971)

Produced by  James William Guercio

Double LP (UK CBS  S64162 / USA Columbia 30264) /
2-on-1 CD (USA Chicago Records CRD-3003)
Remastered CD (Rhino / Atlantic R2 76173) 2002

side Iside II: Travel Suite
Sing A Mean Tune Kid
(R. Lamm)
Flight 602
(R. Lamm)
Loneliness Is Just A Word
(R. Lamm)
Motorboat to Mars
(D. Seraphino)
What Else Can I Say?
(P. Cetera)
Free
(R. Lamm)
I Don’t Want Your Money
(T. Kath / R. Lamm)
Free Country
(R. Lamm / W. Parazaider / T. Kath)
At The Sunrise
(R. Lamm)
Happy ‘Cause I’m Goin’ Home
(T. Kath)
Sides one and two
side IIIside IV
Mother
(R. Lamm)
ELEGY:
Lowdown
(P. Cetera / D. Seraphino)
When All The Laughter Dies In Sorrow
(K. Lascelles)
AN HOUR IN THE SHOWER:Canon
(J. Pankow)
A Hard Risin’ Morning Without Breakfast
(T. Kath)
Once Upon A Time
(J. Pankow)
Off To Work
(T. Kath)
Progress
(J. Pankow / J.W. Guercio)
Fallin’ Out
(T. Kath)
The Approaching Storm
(J. Pankow)
Dreamin’ Home
(T. Kath)
Man vs Man: The End
(J. Pankow)
Morning Blues Again
(T. Kath)
Sides three and four

Musicians:

Terry Kath – guitar, vocals
Pete Cetera – bass, vocals
Robert Lamm – keyboards, vocals
Daniel Seraphino – drums
James Pankow – trombone
Walter Parazaider – saxophone
Walt Perry – brass
Lee Loughrane – trumpet

CHART:
US ALBUMS #2
UK ALBUMS: #31 (Guinness Hit Albums) though Wikipedia reckons it got to #9. It didn’t.

Free US singles #20
Lowdown US singles #35

What the critics said:

“(The first album was) received with a degree of critical acclaim shown, by subsequent releases, to have been premature … On (Chicago II) the earthiness gave way to smooth, mechanical jazz-rock excursions that were not mitigated by self-parodic arrangements and gauche lyrics for which Chicago have become infamous. All releases from this point on compound errors of taste and misplaced belief in their cultural significance that the band lapsed into, the quality of music trending sharply downwards into vapid grandiosity”
(The NME Book of Rock 2, 1973)

The band’s critical acclaim rapidly wilted. Bludgeoning a fresh and inventive formula to death, by issuing three consecutive double albums, and a live quadruple in the space of two years didn’t help matters either …
(The Mojo Collection, ed. Jim Irvin, 2000)

Chicago is a C minus group if ever there was one.
Robert Christgau

Despite a tendency to overplay on a number of songs the album remains an assertive, crucial milestone in their development.
(Rich Wilson, Record Collector review, September 2002)

My thoughts …

There comes a point, that first flush of spare cash in your first job, where, for the first time,  you can afford to buy new releases by the artists you’ve always liked automatically. I still suffer from the habit. I found it hard to ignore any releases by Jefferson Airplane or Lou Reed or Paul McCartney even if they were reviewed badly, and I knew in my heart of hearts that I was really not going to play them that often. I should have learned long ago, from Chicago III , not to make automatic purchases. 

This had a great cover. What looks like the original threadbare Star-Spangled Banner, complete with cannonball holes is the background to a threadbare blood red Chicago logo. The subtitle ‘III’ only appears on the discs themselves.

The poster came with the LP

Open it up and you get a large … no, huge, 4 x LP size, pull-out folded poster of the assembled group in a First World war cemetery. You wonder if they gave the Village People inspiration – they’re dressed up in military uniforms of various eras (Hello, sailor!). In the bottom corner there’s a list of American casualties, 17,435 died in the Mexican War of 1846 to 1858 etc. On the reverse you get the poetry  lyrics. Heavy stuff. Deeply meaningful. My copy hasn’t been opened for more than a quarter of a century. I should listen to it while I’m writing this. Shit. Or I should listen to this shit while I’m writing it.

Look at that vinyl.
Mint.
Played only once.

Second-hand albums tell you a lot about their previous owners. I once found the third Velvet Underground album secondhand. The cover was creased and torn, and I hope the stains were coffee. Inside the vinyl was scratched and abraded and appeared to have the brown remains of a crumbled Oxo cube adhering to the grooves and a strong smell of what I can only suppose to be patchouli oil or incense. Chicago III is quite easy to find second-hand, It sold reasonably on the back of the first two albums in Britain (#XXXI) and was a stonking great US hit (#II). And yet all the second-hand ones I’ve seen are near-mint.

Little did we know then that there’d be a IV, V, VI, XVIII, and XXII. The Xmas album is appropriately XXV. One day it’ll look like film credits: Chicago MCMLXXXVIII .

Chicago Transit Authority  was a musician’s favourite. Terry Kath was the latest killer guitarist. This was harder and heavier jazz-rock than Blood, Sweat and Tears, though it had the same producer, James William Guercio. It was more melodic than The Electric Flag. I’m a Man even came close to the Spencer Davis version. CTA  was in the US Top 100 for 171 weeks, reaching #XVII in the USA, #IX in Britain. Then came Chicago (US #IV, UK #VI). In retrospect, it’s now always known as Chicago II. Oh, how we sat crosslegged on the floor in the early hours and headbanged, Sitting cross-legged on the floor at 25 or 6 to 4. (XXV or VI to IV)

Then this band made the definitive …

…third album.

Directionless. Dull. Too long.  Uninspired. Tired formulas. I used to look at peoples’ record collections. This one was always untouched. They went on to have five successive US#1 albums, so it did them no harm.

What’s worrying is Robert Lamm got most of Side II, Terry Kath got Side III and James Pankow got Side IV. There were eight in the band. If they all have to have a side you’ll end up with a four LP set! That’s ridiculous … No. It’s called Chicago IV.

I knew I wanted to include this album. I saw a copy on CD (on Chicago Records, their own label, not released in the UK). Much more convenient for writing notes. But I couldn’t bring myself to buy it at first. I don’t want to hear it that often. At all, really. But I succumbed. And didn’t play it. I looked at it … put it on, never got past 30 seconds.

Rhino remastered edition, CD 2002. Slip case on left. Rear of inner sleeve on right

Then the remastered version emerged – with sleeve notes! So, with this chapter in mind, I bought it again. As the sleeves to II and III don’t have numbers, just the logo, I watched the girl behind the counter carefully as she added the disc to the sleeve:

‘Are you sure it’s the right number?’ I asked.
 ‘Yeah. Chicago One hundred and eleven.’

I bought that CD in 2002. I’ll have to listen to it again.

You get two suites, one by Terry Kath on side III; another by J. Pankow on side IV. Just look back and re-read the track titles for side IV again … Man vs Man: The End. Oh, dear. They print the lyrics of When All The Laughter Dies in Sorrow twice (II). They even print it on the CD in preference to musician credits.

They didn’t put any of this stuff on their Greatest Hits collections (IX and XV), even though both singles were respectable hits, #XX  and #XXXV, in the US Top C. Enough Roman numerals!

The album track-by-track

Our approach to music was not based around hit singles. It was classically oriented with extended solos and extended instrumental passages. So we felt two discs were absolutely essential if we were going to cover our full spectrum.
James Pankow, trombone

Sing A Mean Tune Kid (R. Lamm)

There’s a nice funk guitar part, teasing keyboards, punchy horns. The lead vocal is a bit screechy though. Never mind there are lots of voices to join in. It’s a great groove.

Because of our need to do double albums , many others followed suit. But what they would do is take a song and solo for ten minutes rather than compose a musical piece. And I think that separated us from many others.
Lee Loughrane, trumpet

Good. Avoid ten minute songs. I agree. Wait a moment, there’s nine minutes 18 seconds of this. Still, I’m glad they avoided ten minutes. That 9m 18s includes a very long guitar solo. I typed that some time ago and made a cup of tea and came back. Terry Kath is still going.

Loneliness is Just A Word (R. Lamm)

B-side of Lowdown, the II nd single in May 1971

It’s stuck in the groove! Oh, no, it just did that repeating thing six times as if it was. Jazzy, nice bass riff, jazzy vocal over the top. This sounds a lot more like Chicago II. Harmony voices. Classic Hammond sound and plenty of it, long bass run. All familiar but pleasant. Very Blood Sweat and Tears in fact. No, the backing voices mean it’s Chicago. That’s how you tell the difference.

What Else Can I Say? (P.Cetera)

Vocal at the fore … Pete Cetera songs would stand them in good stead over the next few years. A Beatlesque middle bit. Points the way to their hit single era. A definite tune … Tonight … Tonight … Tonight … I’m standing here … is actually catchy. Pete Cetera joind the list of singing bassists with a melodic gift … Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Rick Danko,John Wetton, Sting.

I Don’t Want Your Money (T.Kath / R. Lamm)

Boring take on brassing up a blues cliché. Impressive playing all round.

Travel Suite: Flight 602 (R. Lamm)

At least it’s not Flight DCII. Though Flight DC III would be a good title for a song.

Nice start. Acoustic guitars. My goodness, this sounds like Crosby, Stills and Nash! What’s the song? It’s getting to the point … Is it Suite Judy Blue Eyes? It’s on the first CSN album … oh, no. Apparently this ISN’T the CSN song. Yes, it is! No. It’s not.

The song re-appeared on the fourth 4-LP box set Live At Carnegie Hall, which wasn’t called Chicago IV, but the next was Chicago V. And this had four albums.

It’s the best song so far. It sounds nothing like CTA (Chicago I) and II. It sounds too much like CSN. I have play lists on iTunes by the year. I’ve just moved this onto to 1971.

Travel Suite: Motorboat to Mars (D. Seraphino)   

 It’s one minute thirty seconds long. It’s a drum solo. That’s all. It’s the drum solo you’ve heard many times too (from a distance while taking the opportunity to nip out for a pee). He has tom toms and cymbals and all that stuff that you need.

Travel Suite: Free (R. Lamm)

Single preceding the album (US #20, or XX)   
There is no pause after the drum solo. Sounds like generic early 80s stadium rock, so ahead of its time, but not in a good way. It has that choppy Chicago (the town) funky rhythm guitar. It does sound like the earlier albums, and also familiar because the single had a reasonable amount of airplay.

Just in case you’re getting bored. A joke.

The prisoner walked out of the prison gates, looked round at the sunshine on the street, raised his hands in the air and shouted ‘I’m free!’
‘Tho what,’ said the little girl, ‘I’m four.’

Travel Suite: Free Country (R. Lamm /W. Parazaider / T. Kath)

B-side of the above.  An instrumental.  Plinkety plunk vaguely avant garde piano. Gentle flute over the top, so Lamm and Parazaider duetting then a delicate touch of tinkling vibes. Is it going anywhere?  They could have waited a few years and done a Windham Hill album. Not much of a B-side for a raucous stadium rock single. I bet those single B-sides are near mint. What does Terry Kath do? I don’t hear guitar.                    

Travel Suite: At The Sunrise (R. Lamm)     

Bouncy piano. This would have been a far better B-side, but maybe they were holding it for a third single. There’s something vaguely solo Paul McCartney about it, especially the bass recording.  One of the best tracks.         

Travel Suite: Happy Cause I’m Goin Home (T. Kath)

Acoustic guitar and lots of percussion and la-la-la-ing. Wordless. The compulsion to use a brass section from time to time is a Chicago issue. As guitarists, drummers, keyboard players and bass guitarists will point out, they spend their evenings on stage with their fingers moving all the time. The brass section gets to stand around a lot waiting to come in. Nice flute on this … a flute and drumming extravaganza towards the end. It’s long … 7 minutes 28 seconds, but I find it enjoyable. Really great playing.

Mother (R. Lamm)

Also re-appeared on the fourth 4-LP box set. It opens side three. It’s pre-Steely Dan in a way, plus Chicago brass. The trouble is, as so often the varied bits of the song don’t bear much relation to each other. OK, I’ve got a song. I’ll sing a verse. Then the brass section can do their bit.

Lowdown (P. Cetera / D. Seraphino)

Single in May 1971 (US #35 or XXXV). Also re-appeared on the fourth 4-LP box set. Nice jangly guitar, bass and drums then classic Hammond sound and a strong song … a good choice of single. My CD jumps a tad at 20 seconds in. Terry Kath guitar solo.

 -AN HOUR IN THE SHOWER-     

Terry Kath’s suite of mainly very short pieces. He could have tied them together but you get better composer royalties this way. Terry Kath’s voice is a surprising contrast to Lamm and Cetera. Rougher. This “suite” is a mess.

A Hard Risin’ Morning Without Breakfast (T. Kath)          

Off To Work (T. Kath)  

46 seconds                           

Fallin’ Out (T. Kath)     

53 seconds                                     

Dreamin’ Home (T. Kath)             

49 seconds. I thought I was still on track one till this started.            

Morning Blues Again (T. Kath)

1 m 12 s. Oh! Different song. I thought the previous one was the intro.

– ELEGY-  

Our music is not cookie-cutting music. This is music that thought was put into
(Trombonist Jim Pankow, sleeve notes to 2002 remaster)  

Some of these are very short too. Mercifully short.                                                 

When All the Laughter Dies In  Sorrow (K. Lascelles)

This is a recited poem, written by Kendrew Lascelles. I could tell Ray Davies and The Waterboys that this sort of thing gets skipped after the second hearing. The Clancy Brothers just about got away with it on O’Driscoll. Lascelles had recorded this himself as the B-side of The Box. Apparently he performed it live on the Smothers Brothers Show in 1971 and got a million letters. Given that Chicago III was recorded in late 1970, they would seem to be the first off the blocks with it. BUT the single by Lascelles is listed on Discogs as 1970.

Canon (J. Pankow)

1m 05 s. A horn entry to the king sort of thing. Horns only.

Once Upon A Time (J. Pankow)

2m 34 s. Lush instrumentation. A nice piece of instrumental film music, though the beefier ending wouldn’t fit in with scenes where you’d use the first half.

Progress? (J. Pankow / J.W. Guercio)

2m 35 s. It segues on from the previous track. Competing horns with an air of organized chaos then car horns and roadworks drill noises. I get it! They’re saying “progress” isn’t always a good thing. It ends with the sound of a toilet flushing.

The Approaching Storm (J. Pankow)

6 m 26 seconds. Punchy horns. Urgent rhythm guitar. A touch of Cannonball Adderley to me. Great playing all round. Everyone gets a star bit. A strong candidate for the end of a concert just before the encores with the band roll call … and on guitar Mr Terry Kath! … etcetera.

Man vs Man: The End (J. Pankow)

it carries right on with the showcase … and on drums, Mr Danny Seraphino … 1m 34 s. ‘Dramatically cinematic soundtrack jazz’ according to the sleeve notes. Drum solo with punctuation?

Chicago vs Peter Viney: The End

So why do you review stuff you’re negative about? First because it is the CLASSIC third album. All the good tunes had been used up.

Next, I really did love the first two albums, Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago II. I came to it with great expectations.

As can be said of virtually all 60s, 70s and 80s double albums, there’s a good single album in there waiting to come out. It all fits on one CD nowadays. I’d scrap the tracks in both suites, except for The Approaching Storm which I’d give a less pretentious title.

Collectability

In the 2016 Rare Record Price Guide, the only Chicago album listed was Chicago IV: At Carnegie Hall at £20 mint. Still cheap for FOUR albums. Only albums worth over £15 are listed.

Move on to the 2020 Guide (published 2018) and it’s joined by the first and second albums, Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago (now normally known as Chicago II) all listed at £20 mint. About what I’d guess. Chicago III isn’t listed. I love the tattered flag sleeve to the point where I think it’s a candidate for framing.

3 thoughts on “Chicago III

  1. Peter,
    Lowdown is the only song that made my Chicago playlist. BTW, BS&T’s 3rd album also got trashed when first released. I have it and listen to it very infrequently. Some of the covers are hard to take. Joe

    Like

    1. Yes and Symphony for the Devil as I recall. BTW, I was reading your section on format wars. One other format I remember was the ELcassette. I think you needed a special player and it was touted as better fidelity than the regular cassette. Not sure if that format made a big splash in Europe. I am thinking that that format came about in the early ’80s.

      Liked by 1 person

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