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3 stars A rarity - a "best of" worth owning

Generally I agree with Sheavy that "best of" compilations for progressive rock bands are a joke. They are neither satisfying nor able to represent bands with long discogs of lengthy songs. This could also be the case for Chicago for many fans but not this one. I was a never a fan of Chicago's albums or their more serious work that got them on this site. As a young kid in the 70s Chicago for me were a "hits" band. They were on pop radio and album rock radio constantly and thus their singles became part of the soundtrack of my youth. And they wrote such excellent, memorable pop music. Some people find their singles cheesy but I really don't. I think they had a unique sound and were always high quality. As such I'd been looking for some time for a good collection of their popular songs. This is the best one I've found. Without getting into box sets and big dollars, "Only the Beginning" manages to collect all of the songs I wanted to have on two discs.

Disc one covers the early 70s and features all of their best known songs from the first album through one my favorite obscurities "If you leave me now", which brings me right back to being a little kid with my transistor radio. Disc two begins with two more of my favorite gems "Old Days" and "Baby what a big surprise", which again, are period markers for someone my age. Disc two soon takes a sharp turn into their hugely successful 80s era when the band hit their second boom in popularity. All of those MTV era hits are there such as "Stay the Night", "Hard habit to break", and "Along comes a woman." I stopped paying attention by this point and so the late 80s tracks that finish disc two mean little to me. But for the first disc and one-half of the second, this collection fit the bill perfectly. If you are a "hits" type fan of Chicago as I am, take a look at the track list and see if this doesn't cover it nicely for you. If you're a fan of their longer jams and full albums then obviously you have no need for this.

Comes with a nice and informative booklet, with bio and detailed credits.

Report this review (#1152054)
Posted Friday, March 21, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars I'll bet the distinction between "greatest-hits" and "best-of" albums has been debated endlessly. By title, this is the "very best of Chicago," but in content, marketing, and pricing, Rhino seems to view this as a greatest-hits package.

Between July 1969 and January 1991, Chicago had 35 different singles hit the Billboard top 40 (from what I can tell, this also includes all of their Australian, Canadian, and UK top-40 singles). The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning contains all of these but "Harry Truman," a #13 hit from 1975. It also contains five other songs, two of which charted in the lower reaches of the Hot 100, and two which didn't. So it certainly succeeds as a greatest-hits album. 

So how else can a greatest-hits album be evaluated? Some such albums have one or two new or unusual tracks, but that's not the case here. There's a nice, but not extraordinary, sixteen-page booklet with a brief history of the band and pretty detailed recording information and credits. Also - - the songs are mostly presented chronologically by album, which I appreciate.

Another aspect of greatest-hits packages which can affect their value relates to which versions the compilers choose to include. As seems fitting, ten of the 39 songs appear in their single edits, and two others appear in edits from prior greatest-hits releases. But three of the first six songs are newly edited versions here. "Make Me Smile" still has "Now More Than Ever" as a coda, but adds a minute and a half of the original album version back in. Similarly, the new edit of "I'm a Man" restores more than two minutes of the album version to the original single edit. "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" is a new stereo version which otherwise duplicates the original (mono) single edit. It's also worth noting that the full album version of "Hard to Say I'm Sorry / Get Away" is included, rather than the single edit, which omitted "Get Away."

And then there's the sound. Apparently most or all of the Chicago catalog was remastered in the early 2000s, including everything on The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning. It all songs good to me, although the 2016 Steven Wilson remixes of "Make Me Smile" and "25 or 6 to 4" (from Chicago II) are noticeably better.

Ultimately, though, it all comes down to the songs, doesn't it? Most reviewers on this site probably don't think much of the band's output since "Saturday in the Park," the first single from Chicago V (1972), and many, I would guess, strongly dislike their 1980s material, which accounts for thirteen of the tracks here. Personally, I like a fair amount of Chicago's poppier fare, like "If She Would've Been Faithful," "Along Comes a Woman," and "Hard to Say I'm Sorry / Get Away" from the mid-1980s and "Call on Me," and "No Tell Lover," and "Alive Again" from the second half of the 1970s. So to me, there are plenty of good songs on this album, and a handful of very good ones.

Maybe I'd see things differently if I thought it were possible to rate a greatest-hits package like The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning only as a "progressive" album, but I can't. Three stars for a good collection of pop songs, some more progressive than others. 

Report this review (#2171316)
Posted Friday, April 5, 2019 | Review Permalink

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