At the moment, everyone is talking about Chicago. Chicago this, Chicago that -- Chicago is everywhere. The situation was the same in 1977. Everyone talked about Chicago. However, at that time no one had heard about a musical called Chicago. In 1977, it was the band Chicago that got everyone's attention. With five number one albums and several hit songs behind them, Chicago was the band with a capitol "B."
Ten years earlier (1967), the band from the windy city was known as a couple of hip youngsters that played a combination of jazz and rock'n'roll. Ten years later, (1987) they were known as the masters of soft pop. In 1977, they were a combination of both. They still had one foot in the jazz-rock genre. The other foot was heading towards the softer areas of music. This excellent mixture can be heard on their 11th album, Chicago XI.
The opener, "Mississippi Delta Blues," sounds as if it could've been taken from Chicago's 1969 release Chicago Transit Authority. A Chicago song without the horn arrangements of James Pankow is not a Chicago song. Luckily, this is a Chicago song and therefore has some great horns on it. The persons who bought XI in belief that it would sound like their 1976 no.1 single, "If You Leave Me Now," must've been quite surprised when they heard Terry Kath's funky guitar intro to this song. However, as track one became track two, they heard Peter Cetera's "Baby What A Big Surprise." At that time they probably expressed that "aha!" of recognition.
The Robert Lamm-written "Policeman" is probably the best song off the entire album. When Mr. Lamm is good, he's very good. The man has given us such classics as "Saturday In The Park" and "25 Or 6 To 4". This song is almost in the same league as those songs. "Policeman" has a bossa nova beat and carries that sophisticated sound that Chicago has delivered so many times. The song tells us a story of a policeman and his daily battles. Trombonist James Pankow does an incredible solo at the end of the song. This is Chicago at their very best.
The grand finale, "Little One," was the very last we ever heard from guitarist/singer Terry Kath. He died within a year after XI's release. He's still greatly missed, but he left us with some great gifts. We'll never forget his great voice and guitar playing on songs such as "Make Me Smile," "Colour My World," "Wishing You Were Here," "Dialogue" etc. "Little One" might not have been a huge hit, but for me it is one of Terry's greatest moments. Lee Loughnane's flugelhorn solo on this song is impressive.
Chicago XI is great all the way through. However, the coming albums -- Hot Streets, XIII and XIV -- were destined to be failures. With the death of Terry Kath and poor-selling albums, the general public (and music critics) expected Chicago to break up very soon. If they only would've known that Chicago would still be playing in 26 years, with many new hits on their setlist.
(Note: Rhino is in the middle of reissuing the entire Chicago catalogue. XI was released on February 23, 2003. Two previously unreleased songs can be heard on the new XI release, of which one is a great Robert Lamm composition entitled "Paris.")