Saturday, October 26, 2013

VINTAGE VINYL (Pt. 1) - Chicago "X"

(Pt. 1)

I recently uncovered a
real find. There it was, 
buried beneath a pile
of crap in the back of
my garage — a stack
of forgotten LPs. Caked 
with mildew, most of
them had rightfully been
forgotten. But five were
true gems. I thought that 
I'd launch my all-new 
series by revisiting this 
classic, first.
Arguably the biggest rock act on the planet at the time, Chicago was flying high — having racked up an impressive string of five consecutive #1 albums and a buttload of chart-busting singles when X arrived in stores on June 14, 1976. I was just 13 when my 16-year-old sister first brought the record home that summer. The music sounded fresh to me — funkier and grittier than the band's previous efforts, with a subtle pop bouquet. And I loved it! Chicago X was so hot, in fact, that 37 years after its release, the record still feels physically warm to the touch. And it's filled with superb songs, amazing performances and highlights galore.

Recorded at producer James William Guercio's Colorado Caribou Ranch studio, Chicago X was a full-fledged group effort — one in which all of their creative dots connected.

Side One kicks off with guitarist Terry Kath's down and dirty "Once or Twice." The semi-dysfunctional love / lust song oozes undeniable stankiness. Kath's "look Mom, no hands" lead vocal is a perfect fit and the mighty Chicago horn section simply burns — particularly Walt Parazaider's  sax work.

Composer / trombonist James Pankow makes his vocal debut on "You Are on My Mind" — a smooth groovin', jazzy track that remains one of my all-time Chicago favorites. Another Pankow-penned gem, "Skin Tight," features a compelling lead vocal from bassist Peter Cetera. The R&B-flavored, libido-drenched romp makes for one of the record's funkiest. "Fits me like a glove," indeed!

The stylistic "oddball" of the eleven-song batch, Peter Cetera's "If You Leave Me Now" was the band's first-ever #1 single. The engaging acoustic guitar work of James William Guercio pinned against Cetera's lead vocal is pure magic, and Jimmie Haskell's lush string and French horn orchestration helps make this one a truly timeless and tasty staple.

Trumpteter Lee Loughnane's "Together Again" also serves as a tremendous highlight. Loughnane's lead vocal has an honest and pure quality similar to Kath's. In fact, in later years, Loughnane would recreate Kath's "Colour My World" lead vocals in concert. This one is a straight-up rocker that flows seamlessly into the mellow sections and is enhanced further by Parazaider's blistering flute contribution.

The first of the album's two Top 40 hits, keyboardist Robert Lamm's "Another Rainy Day in New York City" also features Cetera on lead vocals. Othello Molineaux and Leroy Williams' steel drum contribution adds much to the song's happy-sounding "world" vibe. Well, it's at least as happy as a song can sound that's about a rainy day in a place where the guy doesn't even want to be.

Lamm's "Scrapbook" and "You Get it Up" are so dang fun and funky, they could have appeared on an Ohio Players record. Rollacoasta, baby!

Closing out the record is Kath's "Hope for Love." Kath's vocals are warm and bluesy, and the lyrics are unique and personal. A simple acoustic song about the pursuit and reality of love, it shines brightest when merged with the riveting orchestration. In my view, it's one of Kath's all-time best pieces of work.

Additional props are owed to the dynamic duo of drummer Danny Seraphine and percussionist Laudir de Oliveira. Their brilliant contributions throughout Chicago X make these songs sizzle and sing.

From the feel of connecting with a much-loved band to the look of the cover art and liner notes to the rich and beautiful crackle-pop of the needle gliding across the groove, the vinyl record format  represented an organic and personal experience. But fortunately, even in today's sterile, disposable, iUniverse, it's still wonderful to step out in the garage every once in a while and revisit our (nearly) forgotten friends. This is the first installment of a five-part series and I'll be psyched to revisit the other four recently rediscovered vinyl gems in posts over the next few days. Stay tuned!

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)


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"Vintage Vinyl" series:
(Pt. 5) Linda Ronstadt - Linda Ronstadt

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  1. yep…..Chicago is one of my fav'z but I think their "Hot Streets" album is their best !!!!!

    1. Wow, "Hot Streets!" Now there's one that you don't hear much about -- but a great record nonetheless. The band's first following Terry's death and the first with Donnie Dacus. "Alive Again" still gets my blood pumping.

      Thanks for sharing, and feel free to stop by and comment anytime!