The year is 1969. The Vietnam War continues despite campaign promises from President Nixon to end the war. NASA is on target for the first lunar landing in July. And a band named after the public transit system in America’s second largest city debuts with a double album – unheard of in the recording industry, but then this is no ordinary group.
All the years later the first Chicago album is still one of those in my collection that I listen to often.
The band’s original lineup included saxophonist Walter Parazaider, guitarist Terry Kath, drummer Danny Seraphine, trombonist Jame Pankow, trumpeter Lee Laughnane, and keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm. The band’s nucleus met in 1967 at Indiana’s DePaul University. Lamm attended Roosevelt University. Called “The Big Thing”, playing top 40 hits, they realized they needed a tenor to complement baritone Lamm and Kath and bassist Peter Cetera. After moving to LA the band signed with Columbia Records and changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority.
Their first album sold over one million copies (platinum disc) by 1970 and included the hits Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, Beginnings, Questions 67 and 68 and I’m A Man. Threatened with legal action for use of the Transit Authority’s name the band shortened their name to simply Chicago.
The well engineered album featured a number of innovative recording techniques using multiple track recording to capture not only the individual instruments and vocals but also multiple microphones on the drums to allow for a “panoramic” sound as if the listener were sitting on stage with the group. Listen to it with a great pair of headphones to receive the full effect. Although the recording method was not unique to this album it was rare for its time. Most stereo recordings were mastered featured instruments mixed to favor either the left or right channels with the vocal more or less centered if not more prominent over the instrumentation in one or the other channels. Some recording engineers attempted to recreate the experience of listening to a group from an audience perspective. Both methods are still used today to create the stereo image of the music in playback.
Chicago went on to become one of the most successful and prolific recording groups in history producing several hits in the seventies and eighties. Although there have been personnel changes over the years the band is still actively performing.
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