Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Four At Random

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

Here are four for a Thursday. We’re going to let the computer do the work, drawing from the 2,900-some tracks I keep in iTunes for the iPod.

First up is the Bee Gee’s string-laden “To Love Somebody.” Released in June 1967, it was the second hit for the group to reach the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 17. (“New York Mining Disaster 1941,” released a couple months earlier, had reached No. 14.) What got to me when I first heard it a few years later was the harp in the intro, the feather-light vocals, and the light touch of the horns in a few places, all leading to the forceful “You don’t know what it’s like!”

And when the track plays, I still see the yellow cover of Best of Bee Gees, as that’s pretty much always been the source of the song for me. It actually came out on Bee Gees’ 1st, which was really the group’s third album but the first to be released internationally.

And that first time I heard the record – across the street at Rick’s, where a borrowed copy was residing for a few days – I thought the “No, no, no, no!” and the lush orchestration and the near wailing leading to the end of the record was all a bit overdone. But then I thought back to the previous school year and a certain violinist of my acquaintance and thought, “That’s about right.”

Then pop up the insistent horns announcing Chicago’s “Free,” a 1971 single from Chicago III. I recall it coming out of my radio in the early months of 1971 and not being overly impressed. (“Make Me Smile” was – and still is – my Chicago fave.) And then much later that year – after high school ended and college life began – I heard the track as part of the long “Travel Suite” from the album. And I liked it better in that setting.

But there was still something about the record that never quite felt right to me. It went to No. 20 in the Hot 100 – a disappointment, as three of the group’s four previous charting singles (“Make Me Smile,” “25 or 6 to 4,” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”) hit the Top Ten.

I wrote long ago about my love for Chicago’s early work at the time it came out and my perception that the group soon ran out of ideas and energy, becoming stale and not much fun to listen to. That happened during the mid-1970s by my reckoning, but as I think of “Free” and Chicago III this morning, I think the signs were beginning to show. Or maybe my admiration for the silver album – whether you call it Chicago or Chicago II – still overpowers anything else the band did.

Don’t get me wrong: I like “Free” and Chicago III, but as I ponder them this morning, they seem to be just on the wrong side of the divide from the group’s earlier work.

And we drop back to 1964 and an early version of a tune the Youngbloods would make famous five years later: “Get Together” as recorded by Hamilton Camp. With an austere guitar backing and a harmonica solo, Camp’s October 1964 performance, included on his Paths Of Victory album, fits into a folky aesthetic that was already being overtaken and would not emerge again until the rise of the singer-songwriter in the early 1970s.

Even as I write that, though, I think to myself that the arrangement would have fit very nicely on Bob Dylan’s 1967 album John  Wesley Harding. But then Dylan always creates a problem when one tries to categorize styles and slide those styles into any kind of chronological pattern.

Camp’s performance is nice enough, pleasant as background, but his thin voice and the subdued arrangement aren’t enough for the song. Maybe if Jesse Colin Young had never found the song, I’d find Camp’s version more compelling. But I wouldn’t want to make that trade.

Last up for the day – having skipped a couple, the first because it’s too new and I haven’t really listened much to it yet and the second because it was “25 or 6 to 4” – is Lefty Frizzell’s “She’s Gone Gone Gone” from 1965. One of Frizzell’s last hits, it went to No. 12 on the Billboard country chart. I don’t know when I first heard it, but it was decades later, and all I really need to say about it is that it’s classic country.

‘As Time Goes On . . .’

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020

Every year, as the middle of February comes by, we musicians at our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship put together a Sunday program to celebrate Valentine’s Day, about forty-five minutes filled with love songs, poems and readings.

As we plan, the four of us run through our memories and songbooks, looking for tunes that would fit the day. And when I packed up some of my songbooks in preparation for a planning session the other week, I noticed the book for Chicago’s second album, the silver one called just Chicago when it came out and now called Chicago II. And I thought, “Why not?”

So during the meeting, I offered the idea of including the brief and beautiful “Colour My World” for the program. Two of the three others in the group are about my age, and even though they were (and still are) more attuned to folk music than to pop/rock, they both knew the song and rapidly agreed.

Our fourth member, the owner of an astounding soprano voice, is twenty-seven, and she’d never heard the song. The other three of us gave it a quick run-through, and the other two folks decided that she’d handle the vocals on her own, with me on the piano. The next day, I emailed her a lyric sheet and an mp3 of the original version of the tune.

We got together last evening to practice, and after struggling a bit with the start of the vocals after the long piano introduction – we adjusted the vocal entry place from where the transcription showed it (and I have a suspicion that the transcription might have been wrong, which I may or may not check out) – we worked through it enough to feel comfortable performing it this coming Sunday. Sadly, we know no one who plays the flute, or we’d have the flute solo following the vocal, as the original recording does.

As we took a brief break, I told my young colleague that in 1970, “Colour My World” was pretty much inescapable. “It’s the sound of probably a million weddings during the early Seventies,” I said. And then I told her of my connection to the song from back then.

I got the album – with the song tucked into the middle of the long suite “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon” – in 1970, and a year later, as my piano-playing ambitions grew, I bought the songbook for the album and learned to play most of that long suite pretty well. “Colour My World,” I could nail.

Then, in the autumn of 1971, during my freshman year at St. Cloud State, the guys I knew who lived in Stearns Hall – a men’s dorm – would on occasion walk over to nearby Holes Hall and hang out in the first floor lounge, hoping of course to connect with some of the young women who lived there. There was a piano in the lounge, and on those occasions when I was with the guys and the piano bench was open, I’d sit down and play.

And, I said last night to my young friend’s chuckles, of all the pieces I played during that long-ago autumn, “There was no better chick magnet than ‘Colour My World’.”

Saturday Single No. 468

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Having touched on the autumn of 1972 in yesterday’s post about being awakened at 6:42 each school morning, I thought I should look today at the music of that same autumn.

I know what I was listening to: In the car, Top 40 from KDWB; in the basement, my nearly complete collection of the Beatles along with bits of Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, Mountain, the Moody Blues, and Stephen Stills on his own as well as with his partners Crosby, Nash & Young; and in my room as I fell asleep, either the progressive album rock sound of St. Cloud State’s KVSC-FM or the Top 40 of WLS in distant Chicago.

(My late evening radio listening had dwindled in the year since I’d bought a used TV from my janitor friend Mike. I now watched The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson while I ate my bedtime snack of vanilla ice cream topped with Quik and switched to the radio when I became sleepy.)

We’ve covered a lot of that here already (even my bedtime snack choice, which I noted in a post in early 2008), so how can we make a search for a single tune from that season interesting and different? Well, we can take a look at the Billboard charts for that autumn, check out the records that were at No. 72 for the first six weeks of that season, and go from there. As I check out the charts and sort through that long-ago autumn, I’ll no doubt begin to recall more of what life was like for me in late 1972, so these bits are likely to get longer as we go.

A couple days after autumn began, and not long after St. Cloud State’s fall quarter began, the No. 72 spot on the Hot 100 of September 23 was held down by an artist who’s been mentioned just once in this space: Lyn Collins. Her funky “Think (About It)” fit with both her work as a member of the James Brown Revue and her being tagged with the nickname of “The Female Preacher.” “Think (About It)” would peak at No. 66.

A week later, as what seems to have been an uneventful September closed its books, the No. 72 record was “Money Back Guarantee” by the Five Man Electrical Band, a fun and hooky pop-rock record taking on consumerism and hucksterism and then shifting into a love song two-thirds of the way in. The record, which I doubt I ever heard until today, went no higher than No. 72.

As October started, I settled into my sophomore year. (I recall taking speech communications and music theory that quarter – and doing well in both – but I’d have to work to remember my two other courses, in which I was likely not as successful.) During that month’s first week, the No. 72 spot in the Hot 100 was still occupied by the Five Man Electrical Band.

Another week passed, and I was no doubt distressing over the Minnesota Vikings, who were 1-3 en route to a 7-7 season. On October 14, the No. 72 record in the Billboard Hot 100 was “So Long Dixie” by Blood, Sweat & Tears. The record, a mid-tempo paean to a southern nightspot and its lady of the house (if I’m hearing and reading things accurately), just missed the Top 40, peaking a few weeks later at No. 44.

By the time the third Saturday in October rolled around in 1972, I’d probably begun to realize – as I wrote here at least once – that the kids I hung around with during my freshman year had gone various directions, none of which was mine. I began to bounce between groups of folks, and as that bouncing began in earnest, the No. 72 record was one that seems to have left a lemon in my mouth: “Something’s Wrong With Me” by Austin Roberts. Maybe that taste was because I had no one, not even a departed love, about whom to obsess at the time. Anyway, the record went to No. 12.

October’s end in 1972 was probably about the time when I began what would be a slow-motion (and eventually unsuccessful) courtship of a young lady who tended the main entrance to the library portion of St. Cloud State’s Centennial Hall during the same hours I was assigned to the nearby equipment distribution office. Sitting at No. 72 during the last week of that month was “Dialogue (Part I and II)” by Chicago, a five-minute edit of the seven-minute pair of similarly named titles on the group’s Chicago V album. I know the album pieces, but I don’t recall hearing the single on the radio at all, although it went to No. 24.

So we have five records to consider from this brief jaunt through a six-week slice of 1972. The only one of them I recall hearing on the radio is “Something’s Wrong With Me,” and although it’s not as unpleasant this morning as it seemed forty-three years ago, I’m still not fond of it. Although I’m tempted by the Blood, Sweat & Tears single, the idealist in me (who was actually hopeful as he sat down to watch the election returns that autumn after casting his first presidential vote for George McGovern) insists on “Dialogue (Part I and II),” which is, sadly, still pertinent:

We can make it happen.
We can change the world now.
We can save the children.
We can make it better.
We can make it happen.
We can save the children.
We can make it happen.

So here, from 1972, is Chicago’s “Dialogue (Part I and II),” and it’s today’s Saturday Single:

Long Form No. 1

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

A couple of threads have been coming together in the past week or so, and as a result I’ve been digging into both the library and my memory for what I call long-form pieces of music.

It started, actually, the other week when I wrote about late 1972 and my quiet evenings in the basement rec room with a new batch of records. I wrote that one of the more arresting pieces I listened to during that time was the long, live version of “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain.

And then one of my music-loving friends at Facebook posted a call for friends to offer – one a day – their five favorite songs/records/tracks. Now, I’m always game to play along with one of those challenges, but I’ve done my top five singles there at least once and I didn’t see any point in doing that again.* So I agreed to play, but noted that I’d be offering five of my favorite long-form tracks or suites of tracks.

That was something I considered here as a successor project to Ultimate Jukebox series I offered here five years ago. In the last installment of that thirty-eight week project, I wrote:

One constraint I might ignore on a second go-round is length. I set a limit of 7:30 for a record, knowing that a 45 could handle that much, and I hit that limit with Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” (I came close, relatively, with Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” and Buddy Miles “Down by the River” and maybe a few others that don’t come to mind right now.) If I were to do the project over, I’d ignore that limit and include longer pieces.

Some of the worthy longer pieces that come immediately to mind are the Side One suite on Shawn Phillips’ Second Contribution, the Allman Brothers Band’s performance of “Whipping Post” from At Fillmore East, Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” from Blood on the Tracks, “Beginnings” by Chicago from Chicago Transit Authority, Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Leon Russell’s take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” from The Concert for Bangla Desh and Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” from his self-titled album.

But when I posted the first of my five selections earlier this week, I for some reason ignored that long-ago limit of 7:30 as a guide and offered instead a limit of 7:11, noting erroneously that I chose that running time because that was the length of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” (As it happens, the track on the 1970 Hey Jude collection runs 7:06, and the track on the “Mono Master” CD of the Beatles in Mono box set runs 7:19. But never mind, 7:11 it was.)

But where to start? That actually was the easiest decision. In the blog post about late 1972, I’d noted that the live version of “Nantucket Sleighride” was the first long jam I’d gotten into. So I went back from there to the first long-form suite that had grabbed hold of my ears (sifting the difference between the two by defining a jam as an improvised extension of a song while a suite is a planned chain of multiple songs).

And the first long-form suite I dug into deeply came from one of the first two albums I bought when I became deeply interested in pop and rock music in 1970. In February or so of that year, a friend passed on to me an hour of taped music from the Twin Cities’ FM station KQRS, and among the tunes in that hour was most of Chicago’s “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon,” the original setting for “Make Me Smile,” which I soon heard coming out of my AM speakers in a single edit.

I grabbed the album – called simply Chicago at the time and now generally called Chicago II – in May of 1970, and then I bought the piano book for the album and a piano transcription of the long-form introduction. And I spent a good portion of my music time for the next year digging into the album and the long suite, which came from the pen of trombonist James Pankow. (During my freshman year of college, a lot of the guys I hung around with were impressed with my piano version of “Make Me Smile.,” The gals, however, went for “Colour My World.”)

So what was it that grabbed me? The horns, especially when they came in on the off-beat during “Make Me Smile,” the shifts in tempo and style, the romance in the lyrics of “Make Me Smile” and the triumphant return to “Make Me Smile” near the end of the suite. Even back then, the lyrics of “Colour My World” were a bit over-sweet for me, but that was a minor complaint.

And even though I don’t listen to it nearly as often as I once did, any exploration of the long-form music that moves me has to start at the beginning. And for me, that was Chicago’s “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.”

*While my list of my five favorite singles might vary slightly from time to time, it will always include “Cherish” by the Association, “We” by Shawn Phillips, “Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt and “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers. The fifth spot is often open for discussion, often with the comment – made here before, I know – that if the Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.” had been released as a single, there would be no discussion of No. 5.

Saturday Single No. 312

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

It’s a gloomy day here under the oaks: Gray sky and damp air, with the possibility of rain lingering. We had two young fellows working here last week – sons of one of the Texas Gal’s co-workers – and they raked up twenty bags of leaves, but we still have more leaves than one can count lying brown on the lawn. We’ll likely have to call on the young folk again or hope that the landlord comes over with his lawn sweeper.

There are, however, plenty of autumnal tasks the two of us accomplish on our own. As soon as I get done here in the Echoes In The Wind studios, I’ll pull a ladder and two storm windows from the garage and exchange the storm windows for the screen windows that allow us summer breezes in the dining room and the kitchen.

I’ve thought for almost four years now about adding a living room window to those two as a way to increase the evening breezes through the house, but then I look at the out-of-control spirea bush sitting in front of the house on the east side. I’ve tangled with spirea before, over on Kilian Boulevard, and it’s never been pleasant. So this last spring, I left the storm window in place behind the spirea, and we coped – as we have since we moved here – with two windows for fresh air.

It takes no more than twenty minutes to change out the two windows. That’s the benefit of having central air. During the 1960s on Kilian Boulevard, the semi-annual changing of the windows took most of the day. There were, if memory serves me, fourteen windows that needed to be swapped out twice a year: screens down and storms up in autumn and the reverse in spring. And about half of those were for second-story windows, which meant Dad spent a lot of time high on the ladder on those Saturdays, a thought that still scares me.

I don’t go nearly so high on the ladder for my window work. (Cleaning the gutters, which is an every-two-year proposition not scheduled for this autumn, is another story altogether.) There is, nevertheless, a tension in handling the storm windows, knowing that hauling large sheets of glass up a ladder carries some risk no matter how far up one is going.

So even though changing out our two windows is neither a difficult nor time-consuming task, it does carry with it some stress. And I will be pleased when the task is done and I can settle into a normal autumn Saturday of grocery shopping, reading and keeping an eye on a few college football games. May your Saturday be just as pleasant.

And to mark the only major task of the day, here’s “Window Dreamin’” by Chicago. It comes from the album Chicago 13, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

An Abbreviated Chart Dig: Late June 1971

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Take a sinus infection and then add a strained muscle along the right rib cage. Add six ribs broken long ago that tend to ache in damp weather. Add three days of rain. Ache.

Add one muscle relaxant, diminishing both pain and mental acuity. Grope fuzzily through the early portion of the next morning. Trim the planned blog post from a full examination of the Billboard Hot 100 of the fourth week of June 1971 to highlighting three records selected pretty much blindly. Serve:

At No. 40, we find Paul Humphrey and His Cool Aid Chemists. Their funky instrumental “Cool Aid” peaked at No. 29 and is now making its way back down the chart. Paul Humphrey, says Joel Whitburn in his Top Pop Singles, was a jazz sessions drummer and was also a member of Afrique, the group whose “Soul Makossa” would go to No. 47 in the summer of 1973. Humphrey and his Chemists would have one more record come near the Hot 100. In August 1971, “Funky L.A.” would bubble under at No. 109.

A little further down the chart we find a jaunty bit of pop by Davey Jones that owes a sonic debt, as I hear it, to “Daydream Believer.” As it happens, Jones’ “Rainy Jane” will be the best-performing single by a member of the Monkees who wasn’t named Mike Nesmith. The single sits at No. 69 during the fourth week of June 1971, heading toward its eventual peak at No. 52. (In 1970, Nesmith had two singles that went higher: “Joanne” went to No. 21 and “Silver Moon” went to No. 42. His 1971 release, “Nevada Fighter,” went to No. 71. The third member of the Monkees to have a Hot 100 hit was Mickey Dolenz, whose “Don’t Do It” went to No. 75 in early 1967. Peter Tork never had a Hot 100 single.) “Rainy Jane” turns out to be the last Hot 100 hit for any of the group’s members; later in 1971, Jones’ “I Really Love You” bubbles under at No. 107, and that’s the last chart action for any of the four.

Closer to the bottom of the chart, we find what I think is a treat: The single edit of “Beginnings,” the nearly eight-minute track from Chicago’s first album, Chicago Transit Authority. It’s a treat because the single version was for years unavailable on LP or CD, finally being released (if I read the history correctly) on a 2007 anthology. Forty years ago this week, back when the single was on the chart and in the stores, the record – actually the A side of a double-sided single with “Colour My World” on the B side – was at No. 83 in its first week on the chart. It would eventually peak at No. 7.

And At No. 33, We Find . . .

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

It’s been one of those weeks: Medical appointments for both of us, a quick trip to Little Falls for me, a research paper for the Texas Gal, an impending visit – routine, we think – by the city rental inspector, and some planning for a weekend trip to see a concert. And we’re both feeling a slight bit frazzled.

So instead of working real hard to find something to write about this morning, I let the calendar do the lifting, as I sometimes do. It’s March 3, or 3/3, so I decided to look at some tunes that were No. 33 on 3/3 over the years.

During this week in 1959, the 33rd spot in the Billboard Hot 100 was occupied by Johnny Cash’s cautionary tale, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.” The tale of Billy Joe’s deadly visit to a cattle town had peaked at No. 32 and was on its way back down the chart, one of fifty-nine Hot 100 singles Cash would notch during his career. On the country chart, the record spent six weeks at No. 1.

During the first week of March in 1963, Marvin Gaye’s first Top 40 hit was encouraging listeners either to dance or to get out on the highway and catch a ride out of town. “Hitch Hike” was at No. 33 forty-eight years ago this week, heading for a peak position of No. 30. The record, the second of an eventual fifty-nine Hot 100 hits for Gaye, went to No. 12 on the R&B chart.

Fifty-nine charting hits, like Cash and Gaye each marked, is a lot. But four years later, in March of 1967, the No. 33 record in the Hot 100 was one from the record holder for the most charted hits ever. Elvis Presley’s “Indescribably Blue,” as melodramatic a record as there is, was the ninety-eighth of an eventual 165 charting hits for Presley. It went no higher than No. 33.

Another performer who racked up an impressive total of chart hits was in the 33rd spot in the Hot 100 when March 3, 1971 rolled around. Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman” was on its way back down the chart after peaking at No. 9 (and its writers – Clay McMurray, Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer – get bonus points for the correct use of the subjunctive with the word “were”). The record was the twenty-first of an eventual forty-eight records in the Hot 100 for Knight, forty-six of those – if I’m reading things correctly – coming with the Pips.

The first week of March in 1975 finds another major chart machine in the thirty-third spot in the Hot 100, as Chicago’s “Harry Truman” was on its way to No. 13. The ode to the thirty-third (there’s that number again!) president of the United States was a nostalgic post-Watergate expression of dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. It was also the nineteenth of an eventual fifty charting hits for Chicago.

And we’ll end today’s exercise in 1979. Sitting at No. 33 during the week of March 3, 1979, was “Shake It,” the fifth of six charting hits for Ian Matthews. The first three of those hits had come with his group Matthews Southern Comfort; he had also been a founding member of the British folk-rock group Fairport Convention. As well as peaking at No. 13 in early 1979, “Shake It” shows up in a couple of different places in pop culture, according to Wikipedia: It was used in the opening moments of the 1980 movie Little Darlings, and it can be heard on a radio during the video game The Warriors.

It Can Still Make Me Smile

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

According to the eighth edition of the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits – which covers the years from 1955 through 2003 – the group Chicago had thirty-five Top 40 hits, with twenty of those reaching the Top Ten. According to that same volume, Chicago was the nineteenth most successful act of those years from 1955 through 2003.

(The top five? Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Elton John, Madonna and Stevie Wonder.)

My shelves are stocked with plenty of the group’s records – thirteen of them, ranging from 1969’s Chicago Transit Authority through 1982’s Chicago 16. A few of those are duplicated on CD and in the mp3 files, and a few other Chicago albums exist here only as mp3s. But I listen purposely to very little of all that music these days. If something pops up on random on the RealPlayer, that’s fine. On the rare occasion that I pop a Chicago CD into the player, it’s almost always Chicago Transit Authority or its two follow-ups, Chicago and Chicago III. And I skip a lot of the tracks on those albums.

But there was a time during the years 1970 to about 1973 when I thought that Chicago’s music was just about the best thing this side of a lobster dinner. I loved Chicago – the silver album often called “Chicago II” – and played all four sides frequently. A little later on, I bought and liked most of Chicago Transit Authority and played that one a little less often than the follow-up but still with some frequency. I did not own Chicago III, but a college pal did, and I taped his copy and enjoyed it, too.

The group performed at St. Cloud State during the spring of 1970; I got there late because of an orchestra concert, but Rick had somehow managed to save me a place. I didn’t recognize everything the guys played; I owned Chicago but I’d heard only portions of Chicago Transit Authority. Even so, it was a great show. Sometime around 10:30 or so, the band started an encore; forty-five minutes later, that encore was still underway when Rick and I had to leave to meet our parental curfews. (I was a high school junior and he was a sophomore; half past eleven was pretty late for a school night in 1970.)

That show still ranks pretty high on my list of concerts I’ve attended, probably in the top five.

And then, my fascination with Chicago went away. It took some time, of course, but I think the first blow was the release in 1971 of Chicago IV: Live at Carnegie Hall, a bloated four-record set of what to my ears were ragged and mediocre performances. (I didn’t buy it until years later; Rick bought it when it came out and we listened to it at his place, and I remember our looking at each other and shaking our heads as the shabby record played.)  Chicago V came out in 1972, and then, once a year, the group dropped another album onto the table, VI, VII and VIII into 1975. And I didn’t buy any of them. (At least not when they came out; as I said above, I have a good number of Chicago LPs, but most of those came home in the 1990s, when I was buying a lot of everything, and for the most part, they’ve stayed on the shelves after being played once.)

I heard the hits, of course: “Saturday In The Park,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” “Just You ’N’ Me,” “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” and on and on. None of them grabbed me at all. I thought as I heard them that the band had lost any sense of direction beyond the goal of another Top 40 hit. The inventive arrangements, the interplay of the horns with the other instruments and with each other, the drive and fire I’d heard in the first three albums – all of that was gone. And I gave up on Chicago. I’ve listened to very little of what the group has done in the years since.

And as the band – in my eyes, anyway – got fat and happy, I occasionally thought about the pledge that the members of Chicago had made in the notes to their second album: “With this album, we dedicate ourselves, our futures and our energies to the people of the revolution . . . and the revolution in all of its forms.” I don’t know if I ever took those words seriously, but I have to assume the band did when they were printed inside the record jacket. Did the members of Chicago keep that promise? I’ve realized over the years that it’s not my place to decide, and I wonder if I would want to be called to account for promises I made when I was in my mid-twenties. But then again, I never put any of those promises on a record jacket almost certain to be seen by millions of people.

All of this may seem a bit disjointed, but I’ve never put my thoughts about Chicago into any kind of order before, and as I’ve been writing, I’ve begun to think that I may revisit the group’s output to see if it was better than I think it was. And I realize as well that my early passion for the group might have kept me from making critical judgments. I think now that those first three albums could have used an editor: Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago and Chicago III would likely have been better as single-record albums than the double albums they were. (Fodder for some posts down the road, perhaps.)

Even with all that, the band in its early years provided some transcendent moments: The first that comes to mind is the nearly side-long “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” from which were pulled the wedding standard “Colour My World” and the group’s first hit single, “Make Me Smile.” Then there’s “Beginnings,” with its glorious horns, great vocals and the long percussion fade out.

And finally, there is that first hit single, an edit of “Make Me Smile” that never fails to do just that, no matter where I am when it comes out of the speakers. When I first heard it as it headed to No. 9 during the spring of 1970, I thought to myself that I’d never heard anything like it. And forty years later, with the record as familiar as the grey in my beard, I still feel the same way.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 23
“Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King, Atco 6185 [1961]
“Make Me Smile” by Chicago, Columbia 45127 [1970]
“Statesboro Blues” by the Allman Brothers Band from Live at Fillmore East [1971]
“Stop Breaking Down” by the Rolling Stones from Exile on Main St [1972]
“In A Daydream” by the Freddy Jones Band from Waiting For The Night [1993]
“Twilight” by Danko/Fjeld/Andersen from Ridin’ On The Blinds [1994]

Looking for a version of “Spanish Harlem” to celebrate, I imagine that lots of folks would choose Aretha Franklin’s imaginative 1971 cover, which went to No. 2. But there’s something I prefer about Ben E. King’s original, which went to No. 10 in early 1961. Maybe it’s the tropical lilt brought out by the marimba during the introduction and throughout the record, maybe it’s the baion bass provided by producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Leiber co-wrote the song with Phil Spector), maybe it’s King’s hushed, almost serene vocal, or maybe it’s the saxophone solo. Maybe it’s all of those or something else entirely. Whatever it is, it makes Spanish Harlem into a place I wish I’d seen through the eyes of all of those involved.

There’s little doubt, I would think, that the Allman Brothers Band album Live at Fillmore East is one of the greatest live albums ever, showing a ground-breaking band at the peak of its existence. (Looking at the list of the 500 greatest albums of all time published in 2003 by Rolling Stone, the only live album placed ahead of Live at Fillmore East is James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, which certainly makes sense.) And the Allmans’ opening number – presented on the album with the laconic introduction intact – was a fiery interpretation of Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.” I won’t say that “Statesboro Blues” was the best performance on the album; I might give that accolade to the long versions of “Whipping Post” or “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” but it still strikes me as ballsy to open a show with a song that you’ve not already released, a song that might not be all that familiar to the audience. And then, in the terms of a jukebox, which is what we’re theoretically discussing here, “Statesboro Blues,” allows the band to put on display all its stellar attributes – a tough and supple rhythm section, superb lead guitar work, great bluesy vocals and more – in the concise running time of just more than four minutes.

Amid all the hoopla about its re-release a few weeks ago, I realized that it took me a long time to appreciate the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. I’d thought the singles, “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy” were murky and indistinct when I heard them during the spring and summer of 1972, and I thought I’d give the album a pass. A year later, a friend of mine was clearing space on his record shelves and handed me his copy of Exile. I was glad to have it, but at the time, I wouldn’t have put it on my list of essential listens. I’m not exactly sure when the album got on to that figurative list, but it was sometime during the mid-1990s when I spent a few weeks listening to Exile on Main St back-to-back-to-back with the Robert Johnson box set and some 1950s recordings by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. And the track that has always jumped up as my favorite – the first of two Rolling Stones recordings in the Ultimate Jukebox – is the cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down.” (A note on the title of the album, which I’ve long offered incorrectly as Exile on Main Street: The LP jacket has it as Exile on Main St, while my CD copy adds a period to make it Exile on Main St. Finally correcting myself this morning, I went with the original presentation from the vinyl.)

I learned about the Freddy Jones Band when the group’s music showed up from time to time during the 1990s on the Minneapolis station Cities 97. In those pre-CD player days, I found on quiet evenings that I could get lost in the band’s “In A Daydream,” which comes from the group’s 1993 album Waiting for the Night. Later on, when I picked up that CD and another by the group, I found a number of other songs that have the same effect. But “In A Daydream” remains my favorite among them and can still pull me away to somewhere else. And there are far worse ways to spend an evening.

The Band recorded at least two versions of “Twilight,” one of Robbie Robertson’s most elegiac songs in a career filled with elegies. There was the sprightly version released on the 1976 anthology Best of The Band with Rick Danko handling the lead vocal. Then there’s a slower version that opens with Levon Helm singing the chorus before Danko handles the verses; that one showed up as a bonus track on the Islands CD and might be the version released as a single on Capitol 4316. (Does anyone out there know which version was the single?) The slower take is better than the version on The Best of The Band. But it’s Danko who recorded the best available version of the song during his work in Norway with Eric Andersen and Norwegian performer Jonas Fjeld. That version, on the trio’s second CD, Ridin’ on the Blinds, is closer in tempo to the faster of the two versions by The Band, but it has a sorrowful, reflective quality that the earlier versions seem to have missed. And along with the Norwegian musicians that back the titular trio, “Twilight” also has keyboard parts supplied by Danko’s former Band-mate Garth Hudson.

(I noticed something odd while researching “Twilight” this morning. Most listings at All-Music Guide credit the piece to Robertson alone, but some links also give writing credit to Wynton Marsalis and Michael Mason. Does anyone out there know the story behind that?)

Amended slightly since first being posted.