The name represents a renowned rock brand. The logo is equally legendary. And the tunes remain timeless — in some instances, even after a half-century (or more).
Arguably the biggest act on the planet, Chicago was flying a mile high — racking up an impressive string of five consecutive #1 albums and a slew of countdown-crashing singles. I was just 13 when the band’s eighth studio set, Chicago X, arrived in stores via Columbia Records, 45 years ago this week.
Resembling a partially unwrapped chocolate bar, the eye-catching album cover image could have made for a legit inclusion in my vast collection of Wacky Packages trading cards. It was the sizzlin’ summer of ’76, and X wasn’t the first Chicago record my (then) 16-year-old sister had brought home. Being a bonafide R&B freak, I noticed how the album sounded particularly funky and gritty. As a result, it spoke to me more loudly than their previous LPs.
Produced by James William Guercio at his famed (and now defunct) Colorado Caribou Ranch studio, Chicago X was a full-fledged group effort — one in which all creative dots connected. Oozing superb songs and brimming with passionate performances, the 11-track collection hosted highlights galore.
Guitarist Terry Kath got down and dirty posthaste on the record-opening “Once or Twice.” The semi-dysfunctional “love” song dripped undeniable stankiness. Kath’s soulful, unassuming lead vocal was a perfect partner for the mighty Chicago horn section — particularly when propped next to the sexy sax solo of Walt Parazaider.
Composer/trombonist James Pankow dropped his vocal debut on “You Are on My Mind” — a smooth-groovin’, jazzy number that remains one of my all-time Chicago favorites — keep the fire burnin’ on, James! Another Pankow-penned gem, “Skin Tight,” featured a supah lead vocal from bassist Peter Cetera. The libido-drenched, R&B-fueled romp made for one of the record’s funkiest — fits me like a glove, indeed.
The stylistic “oddball” of the batch, Cetera’s romantic ballad, “If You Leave Me Now,” became the band’s first-ever #1 single. Guercio’s engaging acoustic guitar work pinned to Cetera’s reassuring lead vocal was pure magic. Kudos to Jimmie Haskell for his lush string arrangements and French horn contribution.
Trumpeter Lee Loughnane stepped up to the vocal mic on “Together Again.” Honest and pure, Loughnane’s lead vocal owned a quality similar to Kath’s. In fact, in later years, following the guitarist’s death, Loughnane would recreate Kath’s “Colour My World” vocals in concert. A straight-up rocker, it was secure enough to get cosmic and wasn’t afraid of Parazaider’s flute.
Penned by keyboardist Robert Lamm, “Another Rainy Day in New York City” was the first of the album’s two Top 40 hits. Embracing a “world” vibe, the happy-sounding single featured Cetera on lead vocals and steel drum performances from Othello Molineaux and Leroy Williams — a “happy-sounding” song, for sure, or at least as happy as a song can sound that’s about spending a rainy day in an over-priced hotel.
Lamm’s “Scrapbook” was so dang fun and funky, it could likely have appeared on an Ohio Players record, while Kath’s warm and bluesy “Hope for Love” thoughtfully closed the record. A simple acoustic song reflecting on the pursuit and reality of love, it arguably was one of Kath’s most heartfelt works.
I’ve said it a million times before, but (especially here) it’s a point worth repeating — if your drum tracks suck, then your record probably sucks. Conversely, if your drum tracks are spectacular, your record has the foundation from which to launch into the stratosphere. Hence, piles of praise should be poured upon the record’s dynamic duo of co-founding drummer Danny Seraphine and percussionist Laudir de Oliveira. While nabbing MVP honors is tough on an all-star team, Seraphine and de Oliveira each popped a nut in that pursuit. Their magnificent performances throughout Chicago X made the songs snap, sizzle and sing from start to finish.
For music lovers who are fortunate enough to be old enough to have lived through the romantic, organic era of the tie-dyed ’60s and the shag-covered ’70s, Chicago was one of those bands whose music touched us in beautiful, uniquely personal ways. Despite all of the more convenient music format options available in today’s super-sophisticated iUniverse, the vinyl format remains the most authentic. Pristine digital just can’t compare to cozy analog — especially in this case. I heisted that original Chicago X album from my sister decades ago. Although I do own an iTunes version, to this day, that (now) crackly LP copy is my go-to source — and I still “go to” it frequently. In sum, after 45 years, Chicago X continues to be as sweet as a chocolate bar.
Chicago X Track Listing:
1. Once or Twice (3:01)
2. You Are on My Mind (3:24)
3. Skin Tight (3:20)
4. If You Leave Me Now (3:58)
5. Together Again (3:53)
6. Another Rainy Day in New York City (3:03)
1. Mama Mama (3:31)
2. Scrapbook (3:28)
3. Gently I’ll Wake You (3:36)
4. You Get it Up (3:34)
5. Hope for Love (3:04)
Run Time: 38:12
Record Label: Columbia
Release Date: June 14, 1976