Here’s a toot of the horn for Chicago Transit Authority
March 17, 2004
BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2004 is one of the strongest in history: the late George Harrison, Prince, Bob Seger, ZZ Top, Jackson Browne, Traffic — and the pride of south suburban Harvey, the Dells, who have been recording since Eisenhower was president.
If you put all the great songs from that bunch on your iPod, it would be weeks before you’d hear the same song twice. These prolific and gifted artists created uniquely beautiful sounds, insightful lyrics and memorable hooks that have stood the test of time and the vagarious nature of the business. (You’re not eligible for the Hall of Fame until you’ve logged 25 years. That’s why Flock of Seagulls, Men Without Hats and Taco have yet to appear on the ballot.)
But just as the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony generates debates every year about glaring omissions and dubious honorees, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has had its own share of controversies. Why are certain artists in, while some legends continue to get shut out?
Once again this year, Chicago was shut out.
Not the city. The band.
Only the Beginning
In March of 1967, a group calling itself the Big Thing played its first gig, at the Gigi A-Go-Go in suburban Lyons. Influenced by the sounds of the studio musicians who backed up James Brown and Wilson Pickett, the band combined a rock sensibility with a horn section. Playing gigs in joints like Shula’s in Niles, Mich., and Barnaby’s in Chicago, the band attracted the interest of producer James Guercio. It was Guercio who renamed the band the Chicago Transit Authority, and it was Guercio who took the band to Los Angeles in 1968 to play at the Whiskey, and then to New York to record their first album, which included “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Questions 67 and 68.” (This information and much more is available on the band’s site, chicagotheband.com).
“Chicago Transit Authority” was a double album bursting with an exciting fusion of jazz, pop, funk and rock, with strong vocals from Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera and Terry Kath, pounding drums from Danny Seraphine and bold horns and sharp woodwinds from Lee Loughnane, James Pankow and Walter Parazaider. You had everything from made-for-radio hits like “Beginnings” to trippy jam sessions such as “South California Purples” and “Liberation,” which ran for a whopping 14:39. There were even sound bites from the protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention.
By the time of the group’s second album, they were known simply as “Chicago,” and the famous logo was accompanied by a Roman numeral for nearly all of their subsequent releases. “Chicago II” featured “ColourMy World,” one of the all-time prom (homecoming, wedding, etc.) songs — but the album was dedicated to “the people of the revolution and the revolution in all its forms.” Albums such as Chicago V would also feature songs designed to raise social consciousness, including “Dialogue,” with its exchange between a concerned citizen and a blissfully ignorant college student. (“Well I hope the president knows what he’s into I don’t know, ooh I just don’t know . . . “)
In later years the band would morph and mellow. Guitarist Terry Kath accidentally shot himself. Peter Cetera left for a career as a lite-rock balladeer.
But Chicago is still around at 37 years and counting — and the back of their “baseball card” is filled with stats that should easily earn the band a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Questions 67 and 68
They’ve racked up worldwide sales of 120 million albums. In the United States, they’ve had 18 gold albums, 13 platinum. They’ve had 20 Top 10 singles and five No. 1 hits. That blows away the performance record of a number of talented but shorter-lived inductees already in the Hall, e.g. Buffalo Springfield, Parliament-Funkadelic, the Yardbirds, the Rascals, Dusty Springfield, the Mamas and the Papas. The musicians in the Yardbirds and Buffalo Springfield were All-Stars, but those two groups barely stuck around long enough to make any music together. Buffalo Springfield had one Top 40 single.
(Other artists worthy of Hall consideration: the Moody Blues, the Doobie Brothers, Neil Diamond, War, the Hollies, Black Sabbath and Cat Stevens.)
Yes, it takes more than record sales to gain entrance. According to the Hall of Fame, “[Selection] criteria include the influence and significance of the artist’s contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.”
Fair enough. Jimi Hendrix was a fan of Terry Kath’s guitar work. No band ever merged a horn section with a pop sound with such success over such a sustained run. And many of Chicago’s hits continue to be heard. Certainly they’ve been more “significant” than such inductees as the Lovin’ Spoonful and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
Chicago belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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