Chicago Transit Authority


Columbia Records, 1969

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


During the course of our current "Dynamic Debuts" retrospective, you are going to see some classic albums. What makes Chicago Transit Authority (hereafter referred to as CTA) different than these other albums is that it is one of those rarities in popular music, a debut album that remains the group's best work.

Chicago fans in general rank CTA pretty high on the list of the band's best albums. However, II and V usually take the top spot. To me, II is a just a tad too long winded, and falls apart on the second half of the album. V comes close, but to me, CTA represents the best Chicago could offer.

From the get-go, it's apparent this incarnation of Chicago had some balls. "Introduction" works on multiple levels: besides being the first song of their career, it allows each band member to shine through with their individual talents. From this point, it's really one killer track after another until the infamous "Free Form Guitar." You've got the brilliant jazz/rock fusion of "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is," and the rollicking love song "Beginnings," featuring one of those patented, Latin flavored Chicago fadeouts.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So, within the first three songs of CTA, you've got two of the band's most popular songs. Not a bad start, but the fun doesn't stop there. "Listen" spotlightss one of Terry Kath's greatest moments; he sustains the opening note of the song for about 40 seconds. Kath's work was greatly underappreciated back in the day, and little touches like this just show how good he truly was. But when we talk about Kath and CTA, "Poem 58" has to be mentioned. This is pure, balls-out rock at it's finest. While Danny Seraphine and Peter Cetera lay down the beat, Kath just tears away for a good five minutes, showcasing a devastating variety of riffs and solos, each more impressive than the next. It's mind-blowing stuff, and gives credence to what Jimi Hendrix said to Walt Parazaider; "Your guitar player is better than me."

As I mentioned earlier, "Free Form Guitar" is derided by Chicago fans of all ages, and I have to agree with them. On some level, the sounds Kath makes with the Stratocaster are inventive, however they just sound annoying and go on for way too long.

Luckily for the listener, things pick right back up with "South California Purples," (see if you can spot the Beatles reference!). Now, the next song brings up an old debate for me. "I'm A Man," apparently was first recorded by Spencer Davis Group, but I had not heard the original upon my first listen of CTA. So to me, the true "cover" of the song would the original, not Chicago's version. Weird, ain't it?

What is left after "I'm A Man," is the underrated "Someday (August 29, 1968)" and "Liberation." The former is probably as close to pure pop as CTA gets; on this track I particularly enjoy the trading off of vocals between Robert Lamm and Cetera. Chicago has always been blessed with great vocalists, and here the group gets to show off that diversity. The latter track, while not the worst jam I've ever heard, goes on for a bit too long. This type of over indulgence would occur over and over again for the band, lasting all the way through the 70's. That being said, the first few minutes are pure gold.

The shortcomings aside, CTA is quite simply the best album Chicago has ever recorded. Though they've come close, the group's brilliant combination of jazz and rock has never been as perfect as it is here. For that, this album gets that sought-after "A."

Rating: A

User Rating: C-



© 2005 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.