TAKIN' IT ON UPTOWN
We must set brand-new goals.
We must not lose control.
"Alma Mater," by Terry Kath
"The last three whole years have flashed by," noted a lyric in Robert Lamm's "Goodbye," released on Chicago V in 1972, and if the pace of the band's career had been frenetic as it built its success from 1969 to 1971, the pace was not about to slow as 1972 began. Chicago was now one of America's most popular rock groups; Jim Guercio was determined that it would also be a worldwide success.
Thus, though the band had made previous visits to Europe and the Far East, it embarked on its first full-scale world tour in February, 1972, a tour that is remembered with mixed feelings. "We played 16 countries in 20 days," recalls Walt Parazaider. "It's a dubious honor at best. It's that old movie: If it's Tuesday, it's Belgium. People said, 'Jeez, you went around the world, you played in all those countries,' I said, 'Yeah, I remember some of the ceilings in some of the nicest hotels in Europe.' But we became an international success, and that was great, because people all over the world really enjoyed our music. And there's nothing more flattering to people that create music than to have somebody singing your song when you're in Germany or Australia or Japan. We marveled at it. We had to pinch ourselves that we were having all the success we were having. Pretty wonderful, I've gotta say."
The high point of the tour may have come in Japan, where Chicago was taped for another live album that was so superior to the Carnegie Hall album, there's really no comparison. "The Japanese had us all wired up for sound, and it was un obvious, there was nothing there," recalls Peter Cetera, in contrast to the very obvious recording equipment at Carnegie Hall. Yet the technology was in fact more extensive. "The Japan hooked up two eight-track machines together to make 16 tracks," notes Parazaider. "The performances were there, and the quality of the sound was really excellent. That's a good live album." The LP was released a few years later, but only in Japan.
Chicago's next studio album marked a change from its first three studio works in a number of respects. For one thing, Chicago V, released in July 1972, was only a single album. For another, the lengthy instrumental excursions of past records had been cut down, leaving nine relatively tightly arranged songs. The album is perhaps best remembered for Lamm's "Saturday In The Park."
"I was rooming with him, and we were in Manhattan on the Fourth July," recalls Parazaider. (If the day was in fact Saturday, then the year would have been 1970, which makes sense since Chicago had played the Fillmore East the previous week, and may have been in town working on its third album.) "He came in from Fourth of July in Central Park, and I wrote down these lyrics, and he says, 'What do you think of these?' he says, 'Man, it was great out there. There were steel players, singer dancers, jugglers.' I said, 'Man, it's time to put music to this.'"
But "Saturday In The Park" is not completely representative of the musical approach of Chicago V, as Lamm points out. "'Saturday In The Park' is definitely a short song, and it's a very poppy song, but I think probably was doing that just to see if I could do it, just like everything else," he says. "On that same album, there is 'While The City Sleeps’ which is hardly a single concept."
In fact, if anything, Lamm was opposed to the tilt Chicago was taking toward the singles market. "Terry Kath and I were in a tither about how the focus of the band in terms of management, maybe Guercio, maybe the record company, was becoming more and more dependent on singles,” he says. "We hated doing that. We didn't put this band together to be a singles band, not that we even knew what a singles band was, and it really got to Terry. It really got to him a lot. I have no idea why the fifth and sixth albums were single albums, other than, we must have been touring so much there wasn't enough time to write more songs."
James Pankow offers an alternate explanation for the change in the band's approach. 'about the time of that release, radio had started changing as well, and that was another factor," he notes. "FM radio became more commercial, and it started to deal with formats, and I think the nature of the industry had as much to do with the nature of Chicago V as anything else. I don't know if it was a conscious effort to be commercial. This band has never gone, 'Let's sit down and write an album of hit singles.' That's just not the way we do things."
Whatever the conscious effort, Chicago V was commercial, by definition: It sold very well, topping the charts for nine weeks, the first of five straight Chicago albums to reach Number 1. "Saturday In The Park" became the group's first gold single, hitting Number 3.
NO TITLE, NO PHOTO, JUST A LOGO AND A NUMBER
From the start, Chicago was a band that took a conceptual approach to the way it was presented to the public, and the approach was the brainchild of manager/producer Jim Guercio. "I invented the logo,” he notes. "The guy that designed it was Nick Fasciano. John Berg was the head of the art department."
The Chicago logo has adorned every album Cover in its catalog.
"Guercio was insistent upon the logo being the dominant factor in the artwork," says James Pankow, "but he was also interested in maintaining a variety approach to the logo on every album." Thus, the logo might appear carved into a rough wooden panel (Chicago V), or tooled into an elaborate leatherwork design (Chicago VII).
And then there were those sequential album titles. "People always asked why we were numbering our albums," says Peter Cetera, "and the reason is, because we always argued about what to call it. All right, III, all right, IV!"
"That's a joke," says Robert Lamm, "because we never attempted to title any album." "Guercio had, and probably still does, a vision," adds Pankow. "He was a very visionary man. Our career speaks for itself. Numbering the albums rather than titling them. Guercio did everything in a grand fashion. He figured, 'If the classical composers can number their works, so can my band.' It's very classy, and that was Guercio's idea as well. 'Let the logo speak for itself. Forget the concept of titles.'"
As Chicago V was streaking up the charts, the band and its manager were taking a break from touring and recording by working on an entirely different project. Guercio has noted that he got into the record business as a stepping stone into the movie business, and by mid-1972 he was ready to put his first film into production. Electra Glide In Blue was shot in Arizona and starred Robert Blake (as well as such Chicago members as Peter Cetera and Terry Kath in prominent roles). Guercio produced and directed the film, as well as writing most of the music on the soundtrack (which was played by a variety of musicians including members of Chicago).
After the filmwork, the band returned to its musical activities. A second single, Lamm's "Dialogue (Part I & II)," with vocals by Kath and Cetera, was released from Chicago V in October, 1972, but its political content (the lyric followed a conversation between an activist and a complacent college student who only wants to "keep a steady high") probably hurt its popularity. It's notable that the single peaked at Number 24 in the Billboard chart, which mixes sales and radio play in its rankings, but got to Number 17 in the sales-only Cash Box chart. Clearly, radio resisted the song more than Chicago's audience did.
Guercio, meanwhile, had bought a ranch in Colorado and built a recording studio there that he dubbed Caribou, seeking to avoid the expense and strictures of the New York studios and what he considered their outdated equipment. Chicago repaired to the ranch in February, 1973, to begin work on its sixth album.
"We got a little tired of recording in New York, with maids beating on your hotel [room door], with the city bustling around," says Parazaider. "That ended an era for the time being, and the sixth, seventh, eighth, tenth and eleventh albums were done up at Caribou Ranch 8,500 feet up in the Rockies, about an hour's drive outside of Boulder."
Although the ranch was intended to facilitate uninterrupted work, things didn't quite work out that way. "It was nice in a way," Parazaider allows, "but after two or three weeks, our productivity waned. You could go up there and snowmobile if it was winter, you could ride a horse and get away from stuff, you could walk in the woods. He had 3,000 acres up there. But after two or three weeks, I had to go over the wall and go down to the city and just see what the heck was going on. It got so quiet the silence was deafening. It bothered me. We never did more than two or three weeks [at a time] after that sixth album."
But from the sound and the overall quality of the work produced, one is hard put to fault the Caribou Ranch, the first fruits of which were released in June, 1973, in the form of the single "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and the album Chicago VI.
"I can remember the exact beginnings of that one," says Cetera, who co-wrote the rock song that returned Chicago to the Top 10 of the Hot 100. "We were at the Akron Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio, an outdoor gig that was delayed a bit because of rain, and so, we got there our normal hour and a half before the gig, and we're sitting around, and we were told we're gonna hold for at least an hour, and I heard Jimmy [Pankow] in the other room playing the actual beginning of that song, and I said, 'Well, that's nice.' I walked over, and I said, 'What is that?' and he went, 'Oh, I don't know, I'm just messing around.' So, I said, 'Well, God, I like that,' and he goes, 'You do?' and I went, 'Yeah.' I went and got my bass, and we sat there and played around with it, and a few weeks later, after we got off the road, I went to his house, and we wrote 'Feelin' Stronger Every Day.'"
The song has a lyric with a curious twist on romantic breakup, the narrator declaring himself on the road to recovery rather than dwelling on the split. To Pankow, it also had an implied message for the band. ", Stronger Every Day' was about a relationship," he says, "but yet, underlying that relationship it's almost like the band is feeling stronger than ever.”
Chicago VI suggests a transition taking place in the group. Lamm, always a present-tense sort of writer, leads it off with his answer to Chicago's negative reviews, plaintively asking, "What do you want,' before lambasting the critics as parasites. "When I wrote 'Critics' Choice’ I was wounded," Lamm says, "because I always felt like we were coming from an honest place and that we certainly didn't feel like what was beginning to be said or written about us. We always felt really good about what we were doing when we recorded and when we performed, and to a large extent, we didn't understand the kind of criticism we were getting. After 'Critics' Choice,' I think everybody in the band got to the point where we felt like if we just try to do great work all the time, that will take care of itself. I'm not sure it ever did."
Pankow's "Just You 'N' Me," which would be released as the album’s second single, and which would go gold and hit Number 1 in Cash Box chart (Number 4 in Billboard) was one of Chicago's most memorable ballads and very much a harbinger of the future. "'Just You ‘N’ Me' was the result of a lovers' quarrel," Pankow recalls. "I was in process of possibly becoming engaged to this lady, who has my been wife for 18 years. We were living together in LA, and we had had a disagreement, and rather than put my fist through the wall or get crazy get nuclear I went out to the piano, and this song just kind of poured out. I didn't have to think about it. We wound up getting married shortly thereafter, and the lead sheet of that song was the announcement for the wedding, with our picture embossed on it."
On a non-musical note, Chicago VI had another unusual cover design one that finally incorporated a small, unsmiling photo of the band, and the design ironically mirrored the state of Chicago's career in 1973. "The sixth album was actually covered with money paper," says Pankow, "U.S. mint paper that they did money on. It was printed on that paper to give it the grainy, almost currency look." The design can only be called appropriate to a record that was second only to Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as the most successful album of 1973.
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