Way back in the day (yeah, I’m old), I had this song on a 45 RPM single. Chances are I stole it from my brother gave it to me.
I was totally taken in with the backwards tracked guitar and other wild sounds that start the album.
The oscillating, reversed guitar which opens the song originated from the rehearsals at Russell’s house, where Williams recorded with a 1958 Gibson Les Paulguitar with a Bigsby vibrato unit. According to Lowe, “We were recording on a four-track, and just flipping the tape over and re-recording when we got to the end. Dave cued up a tape and didn’t hit ‘record,’ and the playback in the studio was way up: ear-shattering vibrating jet guitar. Ken had been shaking his Bigsby wiggle stick with some fuzztone and tremolo at the end of the tape. Forward it was cool. Backward it was amazing. I ran into the control room and said, ‘What was that?’ They didn’t have the monitors on so they hadn’t heard it. I made Dave cut it off and save it for later.”
I remember dancing, well what I would call dancing – I’m sure you’d disagree, around my tiny bedroom with this turned up full volume. Needless to say, my mother was not impressed. The video appears to be from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, although I cannot find it listed on this page. Watching drummer Preston Ritter just pounding the kit, along with vocalist James Lowe (and his autoharp) make me laugh. As was usual for any show such as this one, everything was lip synced. You’ll notice that there are no amps for the guitars. I’ve often wondered how the audience perceived the “performance” by the artists. Could they tell it wasn’t live (nor Memorex)?
Now, this takes me back to high school (shudder – I hated those days). Back in those days, I was a band geek. I stall am a geek, just no longer a member of a band. But in theory, it’s all the same. The reason this song is stuck today is probably because I have a little mini-reunion with some of my high school band members tonight. </sigh>
As a trumpet player the band Chicago (A.K.A. Chicago Transit Authority) was my go to band in my late teens. The way they blended rock, horns and political statements was mesmerizing to me. They used a rather unique lettering or font on the album covers. I even started making any papers I had to turn in at school in this font, at least for any titles and drop cap type of format. Mainly hoping it help hide the usual lame prose I was turning in! Doubt it helped any.
This track is from the first album Chicago Transit Authority released way back in 1969. It was 1970 that I picked up the trumpet, and this song jumped out at me immediately.
According to Cetera, the band was booked to perform at Woodstock in 1969, but promoter Bill Graham, with whom they had a contract, exercised his right to reschedule them to play at the Fillmore West on a date of his choosing, and he scheduled them for the Woodstock dates. Santana, which Graham also managed, took Chicago’s place at Woodstock, and that performance is considered to be Santana’s “breakthrough” gig. A year later, in 1970, when he needed to replace headliner Joe Cocker, and then Cocker’s intended replacement, Jimi Hendrix, Graham booked Chicago to perform at Tanglewood which is considered by some to be a “pinnacle” performance.
The track I’m linking to below is the original album version, not the radio edit. So it has the original piano intro that is cut for radio. But, more important to me, is Lee Loughnane’s trumpet solo, which is where the radio version usually starts. This solo, along with Chuck Mangione and Maynard Ferguson, is the reason I picked up the trumpet, to begin with.
The song was not released as a single until two tracks from the band’s second album, “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4“, had become hits. It became the band’s third straight Top 10 single, peaking at No. 7 in the U.S. and No. 2 in Canada. Because the song straddled years in its chart run, it is not ranked on the major U.S. year-end charts. However, in Canada, where it charted higher, it is ranked as both the 59th biggest hit of 1970 and the 37th biggest hit of 1971. The original uncut album version opens with a brief “free form” piano solo performed by Lamm. A spoken verse by Lamm is mixed into the sung final verse of the album version. The single version does not include the “free form” intro, and was originally mixed and issued in mono. A stereo re-edit (beginning from the point where the “free form” intro leaves off) was issued on the group’s Only the Beginning greatest hits CD set. A 2:54 shorter edit (without opening fanfare or piano break, starting at the trumpet solo) was included on the original vinyl version of Chicago’s Greatest Hits, but was not included on the CD version. This shorter edit was included on the CD version of the compilation album If You Leave Me Now. This version was used as a radio edit version. A shorter version at 2:46 (starting midway through the trumpet solo) was issued as a promotional single, which finally appeared on 2007’s The Best of Chicago: 40th Anniversary Edition. A live version on the Chicago at Carnegie Hall box set presents an expanded version of the “free form” intro, which itself is given its own track. Various versions of the song receive airplay; the promotional single edit is the version played on certain ‘Classic Hits’ stations and 1970s radio shows. For example, radio station KKMJ would play the promo edit version on its ‘Super Songs’ of the 70s weekend. Classic Hits KXBT would also play the promo edit, and by contrast the True Oldies Channel would play the 3:20 single version. An AM radio station in Boston (WJIB 740 which also simulcasts in Maine as WJTO 730) plays the original vinyl Chicago IX edit.