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Chicago The Chicago Transit Authority album cover
4.08 | 261 ratings | 21 reviews | 37% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1969

Songs / Tracks Listing

LP 1
1. Introduction (6:35)
2. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (4:35)
3. Beginnings (7:54)
4. Questions 67 and 68 (5:03)
5. Listen (3:22)
6. Poem 58 (8:35)

LP 2
7. Free Form Guitar (6:47)
8. South California Purples (6:11)
9. I'm A Man (7:43)
10. Prologue (August 29, 1968) (0:58)
11. Someday (August 29, 1968) (4:11)
12. Liberation (14:38)

Total Time: 76:36

Line-up / Musicians

- Terry Kath / electric & acoustic guitars, lead (1,9,12) & backing vocals
- Robert Lamm / piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond, Hohner pianet, maracas, lead (2-11) & backing vocals
- Lee Loughnane / trumpet, claves, backing vocals
- James Pankow / trombone, cowbell, brass arrangements
- Walter Parazaider / saxophones, tambourine, backing vocals
- Peter Cetera / bass, lead (4,9,11) & backing vocals, agogo bells
- Daniel Seraphine / drums, percussion

Releases information

ArtWork: Nick Fasciano with John Berg (design)

2xLP Columbia GP 8 (1969, US)
2xLP CBS 66221 (1969, UK)

2xCD CBS/Sony 476615 2 (1984, Netherlands)
CD Chicago Records CRD 3001 (1999, US)
CD Rhino Records 8122-76171-2 (2002, Europe) Remastered by David Donnelly
CD Columbia C2K 00008 (2002, US) Remastered by Joe Gastwirt
CD Rhino Records WPCR 13635 (2009, Japan) SHM-CD Remastered by David Donnelly

Thanks to clarke2001 for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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CHICAGO The Chicago Transit Authority ratings distribution

(261 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(37%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(47%)
Good, but non-essential (13%)
Collectors/fans only (3%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

CHICAGO The Chicago Transit Authority reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Absolutely revolutionary music for the time of release! Almost impossible combination of styles.

From the very beginning you will hear almost cool-jazz composition combined with deep rockish bass line, which will be finished as jazz rock song with heavy brass arrangement. Second song is combination of acoustic classic piano solo with jazzy brass orchestra sound, rock singing and jazzy vocal harmonies ( one of future Chicago classics - "Does Anybody Really Knows What Time It is? "). Third song is more pop-rock song in jazzy arrangement with absolutely jazzy drumming. Its just a three first songs from double LP ( 12 songs in total)! You will found long blues-rock guitar solos, some very heavy sound between all this brass as well!

Listening today, this album sounds a bit dated, but as absolute classics of jazz-rock style! It means, it is more interesting, than excellent music now. Impossible mix of big band, classic, cool jazz, blues rock and pop rock all in one! Almost all album songs became Chicago classics for decades. For sure, the best band's album, and one of jazz rock cornerstones. Strong 4,5.

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars 4.5 stars really!!!!

When one thinks of brass rock, he generally thinks of the group Chicago as they were the mainstay of that genre and are still alive today, although doing very different things. Actually the wide public sort of made a rivalry between the soppy soapy cheesy crooning Blood Sweat & Tears and this great energetic virtuosic septet from the windy city.Directed and produced by local producer Guercio, Chicago is your standard prog quartet (with three singers all able to sing lead) with a three man brass section, but most of the writing comes from keyboardist Robert Lamm (mainly), guitarist Terry Kath (a bit less) and (strangely kept on side 4), trombonist James Pankow. Out of this album, some four (or five) singles were issued, with three of them reaching the top 10, mostly coming from the first disc of this double set.

Already showing great signs of self-confidence is starting on a double Lp debut album Opening on the self-explanatory Introduction, the group goes through a bunch of movements that fits exactly what they set out to do in their early career, a progressive blend of jazz rock, but attacking it a bit the opposite way than Miles Davis. Indeed if Miles was walking towards rock from his jazz, CTA was doing the opposite walking towards jazz from the rock realm. It was nothing all that new of course as BS&T had already done this the previous year, but they had been starting from a white soul and Canadian crooner DC Thomas made most tracks extremely cheesy. Nothing of the sort here, as CTA has a real wild psychedelic side to them and their members are obviously so much better at their respective instruments. A little further down the album, after Intro (and past the uninteresting but chart topping What Time It Is), we have the much better 8-mins Beginnings, again moving all over the place, allowing much interplay between the musicians. The flipside seems obsessed by numbers as Lamm asks us about Questions 67 & 68 about Poem 58 and tells us to Listen, but it is Kath's guitar on the latter that steals the show, although it's clearly the 8-mins+ Poem 58, the centrepiece of the album with some excellent drumming from Seraphine. Excellent stuff, saving an otherwise weaker second side.

The second disc is much more open and experimental than its predecessor, starting on the wild Free Form Guitar, where Kath pulls a Hendrix/Marino/Genrich number that is certainly a tad out of place in a Chicago album. South California Purples (sounds like a LSD tab) is much more in the line, being a straight blues. Saving a weaker third side, the Spencer Davis Group cover of I'm A Man (recorded live by the sound of it) is certainly the album's bravura moment, showing the band in its best light. The flipside opens on recordings from protest march before the group slowly enters via the crowd chants and guitar wails into the Someday song itself before returning crowds shortly.The album closes on the wild Pankow-penned 14-mins+ Liberation where the group really shows off their skill and virtuosity and their free jazz improvs, Terry Kath above everyone, obviously eying Hendrix. Great stuff

What a strange and daring double debut album, and a mighty successful one at that.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars.The first time I remember hearing about CHICAGO was back in 1976, the song "If You Leave me Now" was all over the radio. My cousin Karen had purchased "Chicago X" and was trying to get us all into it. I had the same reaction to CHICAGO back then as I did toward disco which was then very popular. It would take a few years before I would realize that before the sappy ballads CHICAGO used to make great music. This is their debut from 1969 and it's a double album to boot. Lots of variety here as well. Those who know me know that I have allergic reactions to not only double albums but records that are all over the place. Yet this recording does nothing but impress me to no end.

According to James Pankow (trombone) "From it's inception, this was always a Rock 'n' Roll band with a horn section. But unlike other entities, our horn section was approached as a melodic voice with the vocals as another lead voice in and around the lead vocal lines." Robert Lamm (vocals, keyboards) said "We were judged to be a rather Avant-garde band at the time, especially if you saw us in live performance during the first year that we were touring.The nature of our performances was very spontaneous within the confines of each song". In talking about this album Pankow goes on to say "That music was and is to this day something that's hard to put your finger on in terms of a direction, it's just a culmination of the musical history of every guy in the band and what they brought to the dinner table in terms of making this sound. FM stations played whole albums without commercial interruption.This music was to become required listening on college campuses."

"Introduction" opens horns blasting as the bass throbs and drums beat. Vocals and organ join in. I like the drums before 2 minutes. It settles 2 1/2 minutes in. Organ and guitar after 4 minutes as the tempo picks up. Horns are back. Vocals too before 6 minutes. "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is ?" opens with piano before the horns, drums and a full sound kick in before 1 1/2 minutes. Vocals follow in this CHICAGO classic. Reminds me of summer. "Beginnings" opens with strummed guitar as drums, bass then horns come in. Vocals follow in this uplifting track. Everything seems to get more passionate half way through. Nice bass especially after 4 1/2 minutes. Percussion to end it. "Questions 67 And 68" again features prominant horns, bass and drums. The guitar comes in then vocals before a minute. Another well known track. Love when the tempo picks up before 3 minutes. "Listen" sounds amazing early on. So impressive as the guitar, bass and horns standout. Vocals join in before a minute. Cool track. Check out the guitar 2 minutes in. "Poem 58" is the last song on the first LP. I sound like a broken record but the bass, guitar and drums sound incredible here. And how awesome is the guitar ! It settles before 5 1/2 minutes as horns and vocals arrive. Kind of bluesy.

"Free Form Guitar" is like a page out of Jimi Hendrix's handbook. 6 1/2 minutes of guitar feedback and distortion (haha).This is CHICAGO ? Very experimental. "South California Purples" i'm sure is about acid as Sean Trane mentions in his review. I have a story about that in relation to CHICAGO that I might mention when reviewing their second album. Bluesy guitar to open as deep bass, drums, organ then vocals join in. Horns will come and go. Nice guitar 3 1/2 minutes in. A BEATLES reference before 4 1/2 minutes. "I'm A Man" is the cover of a Steve Winwood (SPENCER DAVIS GROUP) composition. How good is this version ?! The organ and guitar are fantastic. Love how heavy this gets at times. "Prologue (August 29,1968)" is basically an announcement and the crowd chanting. No music. "Someday (August 29,1968)" eventually kicks in with music, the chanting crowd can still be heard at times. Vocals, bass and piano lead. Horns come and go. "Liberation" is the almost 15 minute closer. Drums and bass impress as the tempo picks up. The guitar before 2 minutes proceeds to wail. This goes on and on and then it settles before 8 minutes. Check out the drumming a minute later as the guitar rips it up. It settles again and turns experimental including guitar distortion and dissonant horns. Odd metered drumming as well. Settles before 11 1/2 minutes in and builds until the tempo picks up before 13 1/2 minutes. A drum show late.

CHICAGO's finest hour right here. Very close to 5 stars.

Review by Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Quite impressive debut album (a double LP, no less!). Like everybody alse I know I used to think Chicago as that little pop band that had so many soft hits during the mid/late seventies. I had very little idea that they were much more than that and frankly, I didn´t bother to verify it, since I was too busy discovering the wonderful music of other giants of that era. Only recently I had the opportunity to listen to their first release because I saw the band on PA. I knew that, to be listed here, they had to be more than just another commercial band of the 70´s. So far, so good!

Chicago Transit Authority is not really a jazz rock/fusion record, although some elements of jazz are present. The group developed a great mix of rock, soul, R&B, pop, jazz and even some classical music here and there. The musicians are fantastic and the music here was quite groundbreaking for the time: fresh, elaborated, powerful and yet very accessible. Small wonder it was a hit. In a time when so many new things were happening, Chicago was able to come up with something unique and exciting. The competition was incredible strong at the time, so they did deserve their early fame. And, yes, you can call it progressive (in the broad sense of the term. Please don´t look for symphonic prog like ELP or Yes here)

With a very good reperoire, two fine singers (Robert Lamm and Peter Cetera, also more than competent musicians themselves), a strong rhythm section and a unsual horn section, this album is still impressive, even if some parts are a bit dated (the long jam during Liberation is probably the best exemple). Still, it stands well even today. Their version of Specer Davies Group I´m A Man is probably the best around. But the highlight of this record is really Terry Kath´s brilliant guitar playing: with all his skills, he never overplays, knowing exactly when and where to put his tasteful licks and solos. The only exception to this rule is the guitar-only track Free From Guitar (echoes of Hendrix, of course, but still proving how good he was). Very nice use of extra percussion on some tracks are noticed (in the near future brazilian percussionist Laudir De Oliveira would join them as a permanent member).

Even if the CD is not perfect, this is a stonishing debut for any band and if you like good melodic rock with lots of variations and creativity, you should not miss this one (specially the remastering version that has an excellent sound). Yep, Chicago had its prog days, believe it or not. I´m looking forward to hear some of their other early works. Rating: four strong stars.

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Having previously only heard Chicago's hits from the '80s I just couldn't imagine how they have sounded in their early years so the best way to find out was by diving in and experiencing it for myself!

Chicago's debut album from 1969 is one daring piece of music and was probably groundbreaking for its time. It features a whooping 77 minutes of material which must have been difficult for their record company to market to anyone but the bands, at the time, non-existing fan base! The material here is everything from blues-rock to big-band jazz to even soul and R&B material with a little pop here and there. With track lengths ranging from just over 3 minutes to the 15 minute jam session towards the end of the album I just don't see what market the band was going for at the time. Although this was the early days so maybe bands and record companies were taking more liberties. Still this shouldn't take away from the fact that Chicago was a daring band dangling on the tight wire between success and failure, but we all know how that story ended!

The album begins with the big band jazz track entitled Introduction which doesn't really give a hint of the things to come because the next three compositions are in a much more straight forward style. Having said that I actually consider these tracks to be very enjoyable and knowing of the direction that Chicago will undertake in their later years makes tracks like Questions 67 And 68, with Peter Cetera on vocals, good indicators of the things to come.

The next couple of numbers shift quite a bit in style where Free Form Guitar is probably the most extreme of the bunch since it can't really be considered anything but a stab at Jimi Hendrix and his impressive guitar solos. The forth and last side of the album features a live recording from 1968 where the band even goes into a free form improvisation number towards the end of Liberation.

Overall The Chicago Transit Authority is one impressive debut album but having said that the material here isn't polished and I would probably have liked this album more if it took its best bits and placed them on one 40-45 minute record instead.

***** star songs: Questions 67 And 68 (5:03)

**** star songs: Introduction (6:35) Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (4:35) Beginnings (7:54) Listen (3:22) I'm A Man (7:43) Someday (August 29, 1968) (4:11) Liberation (14:38)

*** star songs: Poem 58 (8:35) South California Purples (6:11) Prologue (August 29, 1968) (0:58)

** star songs: Free Form Guitar (6:47)

Review by Tom Ozric
4 stars What a surprise !! For those who thought Chicago were just a commercial, Brass orientated venture, like I was, have to hear this debut double LP release, going under the name of The Chicago Transit Authority - thanks to the excellent reviews of this album posted here I just knew I had to whip this one up. No-one will be hearing syrupy ballads, or the soft, A.O.R. tunes which Chicago churned out a-plenty as the 70's rolled on ; this sounds like an experiment in sound, not of the Avant-Garde kind (SOFT MACHINE), but hearing what can happen when a trio of serious Horn players are added to a rollicking rock group. The resultant music is nothing less than excellent, the quality rarely dips throughout the near 80 minute endeavour. Guitarist Terry Kath can't keep his fingers still, his solos on many of the pieces here are inspired, interesting and inventive. He even gets a near 7 minute segment to himself, entitled 'Free Form Guitar'. The 'voice' behind Chicago's (later) fame and fortune is that of bassist Peter Cetera (Karate Kid, anyone??) - he doesn't get many lead vocals on the album, but he absolutely cooks on the Bass - and has a solid, thick sound that's quite up in the mix and he, too, keeps busy. In fact, all the musicians present are really, really good (man, that Pankow sure blows a mean trombone). Main composer is keyboarder Robert Lamm, mainly sticking to Hammond and Piano, but not much in the way of soloing, more of an ever-present backdrop bridging the gaps left between the brass and rock instruments as they play along. As mentioned earlier, this is a consistent listen all the way through, personal highlights being 'Introduction', 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is ?' and 'Poem' (where the band just jams.....and jams.....and jams....just hear the bass and guitar....), but it's all great. Who'd have thought....... 4 stars.
Review by Sinusoid
4 stars Spine-tingling rock-jazz at its finest. Welcome to Chicago, the home of amazing brass arrangements, a stellar rhythm section, a mastermind guitarist and lots of skyscrapers (oops on the last bullet; wrong Chicago). This debut double from the group is sure to satisfy those with a itch for fusion, rock or both.

The two key components here are the guitar work and brass section. The brass section is a great fixture in the group when used; however, there's not that many times they really shine. ''...Time It Is'' and ''Listen'' are the best showcasings here, but virtually every song utitlises them at least some of the time. It seems that the brass and Terry Kath are in competition for the most attention. Kath can play the guitar at a blistering level, offering many tricks of the trade in the rock realm and sometimes going off on tangents like on ''Liberation'' and ''Poem 58''. He even gets a sound effects bit to himself with ''Free Form Guitar''.

But, if you want song quality, you've got it here on CTA. Chicago wastes no time in making a big impression, and ''Introduction'' is one of the best ways to first immerse yourself in happy Chicago-land. It ebbs and flows in dynamics as smoothly as the brass section plays. Some shorter songs pack a serious punch like the swing feel of ''...Time It Is'' and the smooth rocker ''Listen''. Chicago can jam like the rest of them though, and with the free-for-all centrepiece ''Liberation'' taking the cake with its absolutely magnificent ending, you'll feel like you haven't wasted a minute listening to it. It's hard to top even with the peppy cover of ''I'm a Man'', the softer ''Beginnings'' and the half jam/half rocker ''Poem 58''.

Only a few weak moments keep this from masterpiece status. I feel that ''Questions'', ''South California Purples'' and ''Someday'' are unmemorable and add little to the album's value. Also, I find it rather hard to defend ''Free Form Guitar'', even if Kath is splendid at making the axe sound like a motorcycle. This is a very unique jazz-rock fest that should be checked out by all lovers of jazz, and even the progsters might want to get in on a little of the fun too.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars It all started here ...!

Well, I've just been aware that Chicago is now in our website. I was shocked at first but then I fully understand that it deserves to be here especially with this excellent debut album. The reason I was shocked was knowing that the band has so long turned into pop outfit instead of in its original roots of brass rock music. This album is a perfect example of what brass rock music is all about. There is a great combination of guitar solo delivered by Terry Kath (RIP) that gave the spirit of rock and brass section. I remember vividly when I was a young boy my brother gave me a compilation cassette where one of the songs was "I am a Man" which blew me away the first time I listened to it for a simple reason: I like the interlude section with percussion solo work in the middle of the song. It's really great and this album brings me back to the old days, really.

The album opener "Introduction" (6:35) is a very good introduction of jazz-rock fusion kind of music with uplifting mood. You will find also the beauty of "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" (4:35) which has an excellent falsetto vocal and solid brass section work. "Questions 67 and 68" (5:03) is an excellent example of brass rock music where guitar solo is combined beautifully with brass section and wonderful vocal. This is my favorite track and it always reminds me to the glory days of 70s when rock music dominated the world.

Overall, this is an excellent addition to any prog music collection. If you are confused why this "You Are The Inspiration Band" is positioned here at this site, please listen to this album and you will find the answer. Keep on proggin' ...!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Review by friso
4 stars The Chicago Transit Authority - st (1969)

Amazing recording! Just.. amazing...

The Chicago Transit Authority, which would soon after this album be called just 'Chicago', is a highly original band. Not only were they a great heavy-soul-rock band, they had found a winning formula combining it with a four-men wind-section! Imagine; Deep Purple with a wind-section, a bit of Colosseum perhaps, some progressive influences (occasional it reminds me a bit of the debut of Magma), some very catchy song-writing, a powerful sounds with Wagnerian impact at times, amazing soul vocals and the best of guitar solo's! This is Chicago. The debut is double album with a lot of high quality material and some nice experiments. Technically I would say this album is prog-related, for Jazz is not the prominent style here. There are some great jazz-elements and solo's though.

The band plays either songs with often longer instrumental/melodic parts or plays a big jam with extended guitar solo's. One exception is the seven minute guitar-rape Free Form Guitar, which is a bit too long but very experimental indeed.

Oke, let's face it. This is one of the best studio-recordings of '69. This album sounds simply amazing! All instruments are recorded very good and I had a hard time believing this was recorded in '69. Revolutionary rock moment from that perspective!

Conclusion. If this review got you interested, I would recommend to listen to Beginnings on youtube and then buy if you like this amazing track. I liked this albums at first spin because of it's innovative approach on rock and it's amazing sound. All musicians are great and the guitarist is simply amazing! Recommended to fans of sixties/seventies rock music, jazz- rock and bands like Colosseum & early Soft Machine. This albums makes me want to dance at times! Four stars, and a very big recommendation for this accessible masterpiece.

p.s I already found a vinyl copy of the second album, so there's more to come!

Review by Chicapah
3 stars My first exposure to the seven-headed behemoth known as Chicago came in April of 1969, just a few days before the release of this, their debut. I and my buddy Frank Lee had corralled two tickets to see Jimi Hendrix perform at Memorial Auditorium and these guys were the opening act. They looked like a raggedy bar band that had somehow gotten incredibly lucky and been recruited to tour with a living legend on very short notice because Peter Cetera's aqua blue metal-flake Kustom bass amplifier and matching speaker cabinet stuck out like a swollen toe, Robert Lamm's Hammond B-3 appeared to have picked up quite a few nasty scars, bumps and bruises from being hauled up and down narrow stairwells and the poor horn section was squeezed into the edge of the stage area like an afterthought. But once they started to perform none of that mattered. These boys were not some Blood, Sweat & Tears clone trying to finesse us into awe-struck acceptance of them via their individual virtuosity. They were a rough gang that was going to jackhammer the house into rubble or die trying. They presented a forceful, honest blend of rock & roll and big band jazz and everyone in the arena was impressed when they finished their set (and that's no easy feat when the antsy crowd is itchin' for their "experience.") Chicago wowed us and earned our respect that night in Dallas.

Within days several cuts from this LP were spinning in heavy rotation on the local FM stations and a career that would last well into the next millennium was underway. It was a very bold move to ask the record-buying public to spring for a two-disc set right out of the gate (they had to accept a smaller royalty percentage to get Columbia to do it) but that risky gamble paid off large. They sold over a million copies in half a year. Of course, having two or three hit singles crossing over into the Top 40 didn't hurt. The bottom line is that this collection of musicians possessed the right attitude at the right time in the right place and they owned the creative talent to back it all up. Add to all that the chutzpah to put a healthy dose of prog rock sensibilities and an unorthodox array of sounds into "Chicago Transit Authority" and it's no wonder they made such an immediate impact on the populace. No one else was doing what they were doing the way they were doing it.

Guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath's "Introduction" kicks things off with a bang. While these sorts of how-de-do's can be cringe-inducing corny (as in "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees"), when they work (aka Nazz's exhilarating "Forget All About It") they can disarm even the most skeptical of listener right off the bat and make them more pliable. It's an upbeat yet hard- driving piece of music with proggy changes and stimulating dynamics to boot. The horns are brash and in-your-face. The mellower section allows James Pankow on trombone and Lee Loughnane on trumpet to step out from the shadows and into the spotlight. They then jump-start it back up into rock mode and the whole ensemble collectively shines. I'm pretty sure you've heard "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" but what you may not have heard is Lamm's exquisite solo piano intro that sets it up. The tune's initial salvo is clever and then they wisely present (in terms of commercial viability) some very tight, Laura Nyro- ish pop intended to bathe the AM airwaves. The inclusion of brief snippets of Pink Floyd- like background conversations into the mix keeps it from being overly predictable.

Robert's "Beginnings" is a simple love song that's upgraded to exceptional by the expressive horn arrangement that allows it to develop peaks and valleys. I liked it the first time I heard it in concert and still do. The repeating 3-chord refrain that dominates the second half of the track is kept fresh and robust by energetic trombone and trumpet bursts peppered throughout and the joyous, free-spirited hand-held percussion exposition that carries on into the fadeout is ingenious. Conservative Republicans they were not. Lamm's "Questions 67 and 68" is two steps backward in that it's exactly what the typical big band/rock copycat groups of that era were putting out there. It's not a bad tune but quite middle-of-the-road and unremarkable in contrast to their other material. Also, it didn't age particularly well and is embarrassingly dated. "Listen" follows and the onset built around Kath's single feedback note is still cool today. It's more of a true rocker in that they emphasize the guitar, bass and drums and the horns are only there to embellish.

"Poem 58" is a guitar-driven, power trio jam in which Terry comes off as a capable axe-man but somewhat limited in his technical prowess. The second half of the song is more interesting with ascending background vocals and punchy brass but Kath's incessant riffing is annoying. Letting one of the horns take a turn would've been a better option for this odd little number. Speaking of Terry, his uninhibited work on the next eclectic cut screamed to their audience that ordinary would not be an adjective casually applied to this group. In order to shake up the status quo the band stepped out for lunch and let Kath get psychedelic with his gear and make rude noises at will. I've had bouts of indigestion that were more enjoyable to listen to. If their intent was to shock then mission accomplished but I'll bet I've sat through this exercise in abstraction called "Free Form Guitar" only once on purpose. I got my fill the first time.

The bluesy "South California Purples" is my favorite cut on the album simply because it rawks! Lamm's Hammond lead won't elicit comparisons with Brian Auger but the hot, snappy horns make it a moot point. Terry's gutsy guitar ride is edgier than normal, as well. Some tunes just beg to be elaborated upon and Steve Winwood's classic "I'm a Man" is one of them. Chicago covers it excellently even though they relegate the horn section to whaling away on percussion instruments. That threesome's infectious enthusiasm goes a far distance in keeping Daniel Seraphine's lengthy drum solo from getting stale, though. "Prologue, August 29, 1968" is a one-minute sound bite taped on the streets during the previous year's dramatic Democratic Party Convention held in their hometown and I find it strange that producer James William Guercio claimed a writing credit for it. Is that egotistical or is it just me? Anyway, they follow it with "Someday (August 29, 1968)" in which the splashy horns are prominent and propel this politically-charged ditty from start to finish. It's not a great song but there's a good collaboration of different ideas to be found in the arrangement.

They go to elaborate measures in the liner notes to highlight the fact that James Pankow's "Liberation" was recorded entirely live in the studio "complete and uncut" and to that I exhort a hearty "so what?" It's really little more than a glorified jam session that leaves a lot to be desired. Its frat party anthem leads to another long (and I mean LONG), frantic Kath guitar extravaganza that eventually collapses into another wild melee of cacophony that everyone feels compelled to dog pile onto. A more peaceful movement ensues and then the group evolves steadily into a big band build up to the concert-worthy grand finale.

While I can't help but admire the bullish orbs it took for an unknown group to take so many chances on their adventurous four-sided debut, I'm convinced they could've achieved similar results with a disc's worth of guitar rides and sundry indulgences edited out. Having said that, this release charted at #17 in the USA and #9 in the UK so what do I know? (Not very prog-minded in this instance, am I?) There was a calculated shock value at play in this presentation of excess that disappeared by the time they got down to the business of recording their sophomore album and it's a good thing, too. "Chicago II" is one of their very best efforts mainly because of its conciseness and lack of filler. Yet that fine LP would probably have never been the success it was had it not been for the brazen, fearless statement they made with this one that made the entire planet sit up and take notice. The whole world was watching, indeed. 3.2 stars.

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars An "L" of an album

It took Chicago a while to finally settle on the name they have traded under for the last 40 years or so. After a number of amusingly quaint titles, they settled on Chicago Transit Authority, releasing this their eponymous début in 1969. The real Chicago Transit Authority (i.e. the public transport body of the windy city) would however soon voice their objection to the name, and the "Transit Authority" part was dropped before the band's second album was recorded.

Chicago Transit Authority (the album) was a brave move for both the band and the record label (although the latter did reportedly impose a cut in the royalties payable to the band). The group boasted a seven piece line up, including a three piece brass section, at a time when trios and quartets were still considered to be the norm for contemporary music. The album itself would be a double LP release, a luxury usually reserved for bands with a proven track record well into the 1970's. (It should of course be borne in mind that an LP ran for around 20 minutes per side; this album now fits comfortably onto a single CD). Such bravery was however handsomely rewarded, the album achieving top 20 success on both sides of the Atlantic. This is perhaps all the more surprising when we remember that the singles that we now know so well, which were taken from the album, appeared gradually over the following two years or so.

Those familiar with Chicago only via their later Peter Cetera led schmooze will undoubtedly be surprised to hear just how dynamic and inventive the band was in their early years. This album is a superb mix of commercially orientated jazz rock and jazz fusion/big band improvisation. The opening "Introduction" sets the scene perfectly. This is no brief overture, but a wonderfully progressive mix of styles which sees the band laying out their stall with a confidence bands of much greater maturity could only aspire to.

The first of the two LPs generally contains the more commercial songs. "Does anybody really know what time it is" and "Listen" (later combined as two sides of a single, in the UK at least) represent the pinnacle of the chart orientated jazz rock which bands such as Blood Sweat & Tears and Chase would also perfect. Without their big band brass and superb vocal arrangements, songs such as these would still be appealing, but the way they are presented here makes them irresistible. My personal favourite is the strangely named "Questions 67 and 68". The title evidently refers to a relationship songwriter Robert Lamm had in 1967/68, where his partner asked many questions. In any event, it is the song's arrangement and majestic melody which set it apart as a classic of its type. Here, Lamm and Cetera combine vocally, the pair offering a contrast similar to that of Lesley West and Felix Pappalardi in Mountain or Davies and Hodgson in Supertramp. As far as these more accessible tracks are concerned, while the dominant brass naturally suggests a jazz rock orientation, they are first and foremost rock numbers.

"I'm a man", which was probably the best known of the band's early singles, is unusual in that it is the only cover version on the album (OK, "South California Purples" does contain a brief clip from "I am the walrus"), the song being written by a young Steve Winwood (then of the Spencer Davis group) and producer Jimmy Miller. It is also unusual in that it is devoid of brass, the brass players apparently adding further percussion instead. The song is a fine vehicle for the three main vocalists in the band to combine on, but I do have to warn that it also contains one of those tedious drum solos.

The 8 minute "Poem 58" which closes the first LP really fits better with the tracks on the second album, indeed had it been swapped with "I'm a man", the difference between the two LPs would have been even more defined. The track is essentially a lead guitar improvisation with dominant drums (in some ways reminiscent of Uriah Heep's title track to "The Magician's birthday", which it may even have inspired).

"Free form guitar", which opens the second album, is indeed just that. Whether it is an improvisational masterpiece, or simply an unashamed exercise in self indulgence is for the listener to decide, but Neil Young must surely have heard it prior to his "Arc Weld" deviances. For me, it is the only track on the album which demands the use of the "skip" button.

The closing three part suite of "Prologue" (a chant of "The whole world's watching"), the fine "Someday" and the instrumental "Liberation" combine to form a captivating side long (LP) closing statement. Admittedly, the 14 minute third section ("Liberation") is an over-long live improvisation of the type euphemistically referred to as filler, but it does showcase the instrumental talent within the band.

It really is essential to check the year of release of this album. As a first statement from a band which was recorded over 40 years ago, this is truly a milestone in the history of rock. It is not perfect by any means, but there is so much here which was new, exciting and ground- breaking that it is an absolutely essential Listen for those who seek the formative albums of our genre.

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Chicago's 1969 debut has enough dynamic power to blow the sugar off all their hits of the 80s.

Chicago Transit Authority is a tremendous energetic, daring debut from a group that would soon be known around the world as Chicago. I had been brain washed or ear washed into believing that Chicago were only capable of saccharine sweet love power ballads, as the radio waves were soaked by the inundation of 80s slush such as 'If You Leave Me Now'. Everytime the song comes on women everywhere sing it with affection, oh, the romantic lyrics and schmaltzy vocals, it was enough to cause me to steer well clear of this band. So to hear this album is a wakeup call like no other; it may well be the revelation of the year for me personally.

The jazz fusion and avante approach on this incredible debut is astounding. The jazzy brass and odd time sig on 'Introduction' is a prime example. Kath's bluesy vocals are always a delight, but the brass section with sporadic percussion are truly mesmirising. There are touches of Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra scattered in the music, and some of the most bizarre guitar playing I have heard. Most of this is sheer creativity embellished by brass, keyboards and fuelled by the power of improvisation; just listen to 'Does Anyone Know What Time it Really Is' as an example, a great melody backed with jazz time swings and bluesy vocals. Of course this was 1969, the birth of prog in a sense, so creativity is the name of the game, people were searching for a new sound. The drums remind me of Santana, there are influences of Canned Heat and Grateful Dead, and Davis among others. I am certain this double album would have had a dramatic impact on other bands and musicians. This is ground breaking masterful playing. 'Liberation' is notable for the jazz fusion style and a blazing guitar solo. There are some experimental moments especially in the guitar solo of 'Free Form Guitar' which explains the free form feel. It is as inaccessible as the band can get, rather disturbing, and would send all those women running who love to sing along to 'I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love'. Of course this is a different beast, and it wasn't until the 80s that the band would succumb to the money churning pop ballads that would skyrocket them to worldwide acclaim.

In the meantime the prog addict can revel in this early Chicago, including extended wah wah guitar solos on 'Liberation' or some truly weird rants on 'Someday' and 'Prologue', the protest era is evident in the crowd chants. 'Questions 67 and 68' is a powerful track with a ton of heavy brass and fast guitars, and the vocals sing a fairly catchy melody, a majestic feel is generated, almost anthemic, and the famous Chicago harmonies are here.

The constant time sig switches are key features, but there is a sound structure on each track. 'South California Purples' has great Hammond and very cool bluesy guitar riffs with strong Zeppelin like lyrics, "Since I lost my baby I been losing my mind". This was quite typical of the era, songs about break up and make up, over a bluesy riff with extended solos. When they throw caution to the wind the creativity is astounding; they even throw in a verse from The Beatles 'Come Together' on this track. Kath is a powerhouse on vocals and guitars on this album; Chicago are a force to be reckoned with when they go into full flight.

The riffs are great on this debut, the bluesy guitars and striking Hammond on 'Listen', enhanced by the ever present brass; it is excellent musicianship. 'Poem 58' has a cool riff and Kath's guitars with Peter Cetera's bass are a driving force. There are psych prog nuances in the guitars improvised over a strong riff, and at times there is a break and the time sig takes off in another direction, as was the case in a lot of 1969 music. 'I'm A Man' is one I had heard on some 60s documentary but I was startled that it was a Chicago song. The cool riff and fast percussion are a feature along with Kath's indelible vocals.

The extended solos drag the album out to a wonderful 76 minutes, perfect for a CD, you might say. There is not a dull moment, even though the guitar solos can be cumbersome, there is always a compelling edge to this early incarnation of Chicago. So forget everything you know about this band if you are new to them. Like me, I am certain this music will take you by surprise.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
5 stars This album had/has such a different feel than any/all other Chicago albums (even the half-jazzy "VII"); it is a true collection of experimental/progressive songs. From start to finish each song is testing boundaries, pushing composers' and performer's limits. The fact that radio play was achieved by any of these songs is miraculous cuz they're all long songs (much longer than the proscribed 2-3 minute AM pop standard), yet I heard over half of these songs on the FM radio in my home town of Detroit. (Thank you WABX!)

***** 5 star songs: "Introduction," "Beginnings," "Questions 67 & 68," "South California Purples," "I'm a Man"

**** 4 star songs: "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" "Poem 58," "Free Form Guitar," "Liberation"

*** 3 star songs: "Listen," "Prologue/Someday"

4.5 stars rated up for creativity and sheer guts.

Review by Isa
4 stars |B| Chicago = big band jazz + proto-prog. Oh yeah.

Here, by "progressive" we mean in the literal sense of the word, but also some of the conventional sense. One of the embryos of prog itself, in fact.

I first found out about Chicago rummaging through my parents' old vinyl collection, though I think I've heard some of their "hits" on 70s radio before. My theory professor at my college also suggested them to me after he heard the Zappa tune on the prog compilation I gave him. Needless to say, I got a hold of their debut (1969), expecting to hear some sort of half- hearted "embryonic" sounding album.

Instead, I heard a full blown experimental big-band-jazz-meets-late-60s-rock combination, and one that's very true to both genres, producing a very unique sounding group, and a very positive one at that. On top of that we have moments of complexity ranging to those of mainstream accessibility, such as the clever odd-meter inclusive piano intro in Does Anybody Know What Time It Is, moving straight into the catchy dance-able theme that garnished much radio play. Yet all the while, the band retains an incredible sense of artistic integrity and creativity, especially in the way the horns are arranged in each song. From what I gather so far it's their most artistic work as well, as they toned down the experimental side in only a few albums. It's also "Tales from Topographic Oceans long", with most songs clocking in over 5 or 6 minutes. So be sure to play through it on an evening with a lot of time on your hands.

On the tracks, the Introduction with Hammond organ and jazzy horns catches the ear instantly as something that's accessible and creative, as is the rest of the whole album (save Free Form Guitar...). I love how the horns' main lick changes from starting on the off- beat and the down-beat, almost throws you off a bit. Anybody Really Know What Time It Is I've mentioned, and I absolutely love the singer, and really just about anything about it. It puts me in a very carefree mood. Only the Beginning is an interesting piece, I especially like the hints at mariachi with the trumpets and latin percussion, give the piece a... spicy flavor. Questions 67 & 68 has an amusing intro for us music people, over and over changing key through suspension chords resolving to what keeps sounding the dominant, constantly delaying the main theme and key of the song. Then we have beautiful jazz-piano chords surrounded by a great vocal melody, aggressive horns on the down-beat, and appropriately subtle bass and percussion parts. Even the "outro" with the fading piano ringing out what sound like perfect intervals has strong hints at prog, or where prog would end up going anyway. This artsy-ness is continued with the intro of Listen, a single ringing guitar note leading into very seventies prog sounding material. The main theme or "climax" of the song is actually given to just the bass for two measures, very catchy and interesting choice. There are a couple horn sections that basically sounds like something out of Tarkus, with some dissonance supplied by the horns, so awesome! Poem 58 starts off with that typically fun electric guitar strumming. The lead electric guitar is all out distortion-heaviness, really fantastic solo by a skilled guitarist. Reminds of of Deep Purple a lot, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Chicago had a strong influence on their sound. Then the guitar plays a really almost avant-garde sounding lick with the horns, very strange and proggy.... again it reminds me of Tarkus. This is definitely the most prog-rock work on this album. Free Form Guitar is exactly what it sounds like: the guitarist fiddling around with super-distorted guitar sounds, sounding like a car engine and what not. It's in the vain of the "abstact" style that had some attention in that period. Unless you're patient enough for 7 minutes of such adventures, this tracks more for the skip button I think. South California Purples is more repetitive, almost more of a jam over a guitar lick that changes to the IV chord and has a cadential sort of section with a triple-hemiola every so often. Fantastic electric guitar solo though, as usual though. I love that part with the horns playing quartal/ quintal chords, nice and fat too. This is probably one of the less impressive of the tracks though. I'm a Man is basically the heavy metal of its time, the intro anyway. Again it reminds me of Deep Purple a lot, so much bluesy-ness combined with so much heaviness. Along with the use of latin percussion, this is a really unique and fun tune. Prologue August 29 1968, leading into Someday, starts off with a recording of a protesting crowd, soon yelling "The Whole World Is Watching." The best information I can get on the date is that it had to do with the Democratic Convention, but what exactly the band is trying to say completely escapes me. Someday is a good track, much like the rest of the previous album, though maybe a little less cheerful. Liberation is essentially one giant jam session, reminding me a lot of the Gumbo Variations on Zappa's Hot Rats, though a bit more thick. A brilliant demonstration of musicianship from the performers, but on the side of being long winded for my taste. It even has an abstract "atonal" section, leading into pretty clean-guitar based calmer section. This picks up speed with the fast-strumming guitar, blasting horns, to an awesome drum solo, ending on an energetic, positive chord. What a great way to end the album. Music as art? You bet.

In conclusion: this is a really great, innovative record, and being that it sold as many millions as it did (especially in America, oddly enough), I think it was also greatly influential on the bluesier bands of early progressive rock, and I'm sure a lot of the big names owned a copy of this album and utilized some of the musical ideas. And excellent addition for any collection, and essential if you're a fan of blues or jazz-rock, especially on the more accessible side of prog.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The sound of falling in love

Chicago Transit Authority is a hit or miss affair that marked the debut of a prolific and successful American band. It's an album with enough critical reviews, I'm simply going 100% personal on this one. There are two Chicagos present here which divide the album roughly in half. Beginning the album is the Chicago of the magnificent airy brass-rock, the Chicago of singles radio, and the Chicago harmonies and images I adore. Feelings of youth, of spring, of beginnings. Put simply, these great pop songs for me represent the sound of falling in love, literally. That was my experience. The beautiful girl I fell in love in love with was house-sitting when we were about 20, and I remember cranking Chicago hits (among others) in this huge 19th century city house with enough rooms to house a hockey team. We were going to Chicago's outdoor gig that summer and "getting ready for it" by playing their stuff, and I was crashing at this house with her (don't tell Mom.) We were cooking meals together and laughing hysterically, getting baked, having friends stop, strumming guitars, trying to keep the homeowner's pets alive, watching French films late into the night, and sleeping past noon. Forever those songs will represent that magical moment for me. Not that any of that helps you with this album, but like I said, this is a break from a typical review. Getting back to Chicago, the second two-thirds of the album falls apart, or at the least changes to something that fails to excite me. The breezy, dynamic pop/rock songs are traded for half-baked Rare Earth-ish jams and wannabe Hendrix guitar-gasms. It's *alright*, and I suppose if one were going to have some beers in the garage with the guys, you could do worse. But time just crawls as we hippie groove through stuff like "I'm a Man" and those extended pure-torture guitar noodlings. And then some excerpted protest clips thrown in there, ouch. It's kinda like the Dead. I so love their better originals, but when they start into the 15 minute bluesy/bar tune covers, I have to bail. So, a mixed bag for me, a fantastic beginning that fades mightily after the first third. Forgive me the diversion down memory lane. 2 ˝ stars.

Review by stefro
5 stars So, this is where it all began. Issued under the unwieldy 'Chicago Transit Authority' moniker, Chicago's original release proved to be one of the first rock 'n' roll double-album debuts, marking a brave leap of faith both for the group and their label. It would, however, be a gamble that soon paid off. Although today the group are mainly known for issuing string of hit singles that includes such radio staples as 'If You Leave Me Now' and 'Feelin' Stronger Every Day', Chicago actually started out as a very different beast. Blending elements of jazz, blues and psychedelia and featuring a powerful brass section, the original seven-strong outfit's 1969 debut is in fact a surprisingly experimental album that covers a whole spectrum of sound and styles, an album that is as much a product of the 1960's as the likes of either Jefferson Airplane or Frank Zappa. Later albums would find Chicago softening their sound as their success grew, entering the realms of MOR pop as the decade neared its conclusion, yet during their initial burst of activity this was a group who constantly pushed and probed the musical envelope, creating music that was both accessible yet highly progressive. Both 'Chicago Transit Authority' and follow-up 'Chicago II' would be double-albums, showcasing the group's phenomenal song-writing and compositional abilities, whilst a trip to Carnegie Hall would see Chicago become one of the very first rock groups to take the stage at the hallowed venue, the results subsequently issued on the impressive quadruple live album 'Chicago At Carnegie Hall'. In the first five years of activity Chicago managed to produce an enormous volume of work, though of all their early albums it is their debut which finds them at their most inquisitive, 'Chicago Transit Authority' hosting an exuberant journey through four sides of what can be best described as electric brass-rock. The album features such group classics as the ballroom-spiced jazz-rock number 'Introduction', the joyous jazz-pop single 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is' and the lysergic psych-rock of both 'Freeform Guitar' and 'Southern California Purples', yet also finds time for jazzy instrumental numbers('Prologue'), fast-paced acid rock('Poem 58') and epic prog fusion workouts('Liberation'). A genuine melting-pot of ideas and styles, 'Chicago Transit Authority' ranks as Chicago's most individual release, laying the foundations of a fabulously-successful career. Whilst the 1980's would find a very different sounding Chicago in operation, virtually all the group's 1970's albums are worth exploring. However, this is Chicago at the rawest and toughest, blending the swagger of Led Zeppelin with the refined fusion pallette of Miles Davis and the funk-strut of Isaac Hayes. Its a fine album, a genuine classic and an example of just how good Chicago were in their heyday. STEFAN TURNER, ANGEL, 2012
Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars Jimi Hendrix once told Chicago saxophonist Walter Parazaider as they were starting out as a band called "The Big Six" that "your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me." With a compliment like that, you would think your confidence would be so bit that you would release a double album for your debut release. So they did. Not only that, but they named themselves after the mass transit system in Chicago, IL also known as Chicago Transit Authority. That's the name they were known by on their first double album. And what a debut album it is.

Hard to believe that this is the same band that would churn out hit after hit almost a decade later. They would become an assembly line of pop later, but in the early years, here was a band that was influential and would make their mark in rock/jazz fusion and inspire many bands and artists to follow. This album would be a huge hit. With songs like "Beginnings", "South California Purples," "Listen", and "Free Form Guitar", Chicago would establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the music world. The playing is tight, the production is on par, the musicianship is awesome, everything is in it's right place and a regular horn section would be placed into a major superband and remain there as part of their signature sound for all time.

This album is probably a little more consistently rocking than their other albums where the band would expand into other styles, usually with believability and finesse. You get blues, rock, jazz, psychedelia all in a debut album, and it is all well done. Even though this one is great, the follow up to this album, yet another double album, would be even better. So many reviewers have already talked about the songs here, just suffice it to say that this is a debut album that is essential to prog collections because of the excellent use of rock/jazz fusion in a way that would be appealing to those who would never touch jazz music with a 50 foot pole.

After getting in trouble with the real Chicago Transit Authority, the band's name was shortened to Chicago and a logo was made with inspiration taken from the Coca-Cola trademark. Speaking of trademark, this is the first band that I can think of that had their name and logo trademarked.

Anyway, if you only know Chicago from their top 40 MOR hits, you need to listen to this. Absolutely essential. 5 stars.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Apart from the questionable "Free Form Guitar" and "Prologue, August 29, 1968" and an average cover "I'm a man", this is a first-rate jazz-rock album that together with "Blood, Sweat and Tears", created the prototype for this kind of music. The band has not problem to rock hard and convincing ... (read more)

Report this review (#2480273) | Posted by sgtpepper | Thursday, November 26, 2020 | Review Permanlink

4 stars First released in 1969, Chicago Transit Authority was just about the perfect rock storm imaginable. Boasting a solid four piece combo of keys, drums, bass and guitar, the band also featured a three piece horn section; within this seven piece line-up were three excellent lead vocalists, each wit ... (read more)

Report this review (#510498) | Posted by Progosopher | Saturday, August 27, 2011 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This album is pretty crazy. It is very experimental and diverse. The guitar is allowed to develope itself on this in the person of the songs, "Free form Guitar," and "Liberation." Terry Kath is stunning. He is a great singer as well. The band do some really good prog in the first song, called ... (read more)

Report this review (#281139) | Posted by Keetian | Sunday, May 9, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Chicago Transit Authority - Chicago Transit Authority (3.43 stars) Original Release: April 28, 1969 Songs: Introduction (4 stars) Chicago introduces themselves lyrically and musically with a stately groove. Switching tempo and melody and with trumpet and guitar solos this song is a wonder ... (read more)

Report this review (#254003) | Posted by sealchan | Wednesday, December 2, 2009 | Review Permanlink

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