I have to say that I'm really digging the look and feel of the site's newest incarnation. They say it's harmful to breathe, but I'm still a sucker for that new car smell the place is giving off.
Permit me, if you will, a brief note of introduction. My real name is Dave. I joined DK as a perhaps predictable bit of fallout from my enthusiasm and support for Howard Dean's 2004 campaign, looking for a virtual landing place in the immediate aftermath of the '04 election.
Somehow, very much in spite of my being a poor source of deep, helpful insight into political matters, not to mention my being a very reluctant and infrequent diarist (which is slated for change, owing to my having been invited to participate in two groups), I'd managed to acquire TU status. I'll also own up to not having been the most engaged member, as evidenced by my failure to translate contacts made here virtually into real-world, meatspace relationships. I hope to remedy that as well.
I'm also re-engaging, as of the last couple months, following a lurker's hiatus that lasted about a year and a half. Though the meta and pie -heavy trajectory of the site following the '08 election was something I noted and bemoaned, I took a break mostly because I ended up having a paid (and fairly demanding) blog gig fall into my lap. For any so inclined to have a peek at what I was up to, I'll invite you to scope out my stuff (largely but not entirely of a science news bent) which, for the time being anyhow, is still up over at Tonic.com .
So my question today, offered up for discussion, arises from one of my very favorite non-political topics of discussion: music.
What was your very first album, the one that represented the humble beginning of your personal music collection?
I'm in my mid-40s, so I'll probably forever associate "album" with vinyl LP. I recognize that for our younger community members, even the compact disc has taken on a certain air of quaintness. And in the era of downloading only those tunes that you want, for musicians and listeners alike, the album itself is a dying construct. Pity, that. I do miss the big cover art and copious liner notes in an eyeball-friendly font size. YMMV.
For me, though, it -- my first album -- was the self-titled Chicago Transit Authority, by the band against whom the threat of legal actions by the actual public transportation agency of the same name prompted them to shorten the name of the band to simply Chicago.
It was a birthday present from my brother, and I believe it was upon the occasion of my turning eight in 1974. I'd by then demonstrated an appreciation for their music courtesy of older cousin who had several of their albums and who would over the years be responsible for introducing me to a wide array of stuff that would end up figuring very prominently in my listening (add, to Chicago, Talking Heads, English Beat, Pat Metheny, The Police, Frank Zappa, Cheap Trick among others). It was a generous extension of cool-ass cousindom for which I'll be perpetually grateful.
The album kicks of with the sensibly-enough track titled "Introduction." The 6:35-long opening cut unfolds and modulates among and through sections that lean hard and driving, funky and fluid, and laid-back, soft grooving. By the end of the song, every one in the band has had the chance to say their piece, to say their hellos of introduction. And Terry Kath (before laying down one of his signature blazing guitar solos) carries the vocal lead with the opening verses:
Hey there everybody
Please don't romp or roam
We're a little nervous
'Cause we're so far from home
So this is what we do
Sit back and let us groove
And let us work on you
We've all spent years preparing
Before this band was born
With heaven's help it mended
And we do thank the Lord
If you know just what we do
Sit back and let us groove
And let us play on you
I loved the use of the horn section in their arrangements, and I was intrigued by the fact that they had not one but three lead vocalists (keyboarder Robert Lamm, bass player Peter Cetera, and guitarist Terry Kath) who would share vocal lead duties pretty evenly. By the time I was in 6th grade four years later, I'd acquired every thing they'd recorded, even the 4-volume box set Live at Carnegie Hall whose ambitions perhaps eclipsed the actual execution of the recording itself.
And then, in January 1978, the seemingly-still-unthinkable happened: founding member, guitarist, and (imho) heart and soul of the band was dead from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot to the head. His last words were reported to have been: "don't worry, it's not loaded." Even to this day, I think about his untimely loss, and it makes me sad, and, perhaps, a little angry even.
There's a wonderful story of Jimi Hendrix having caught an early LA / Whisky-A-Go-Go gig and approaching saxophonist Walter Parazaider and telling him: "Your guitar player is better than me."
I'm less interested, personally, in debating the merits or measurablity of such a statement. I think it tells us most of all of the softness and humility of Hendrix. At a minimum though, if Jimi thought the guy was good --the matter of better, or not, be damned -- it's an assessment that should give one pause.
And personally, Kath was my favorite vocalist of the three primary lead singers. A belt-it-out baritone of gravelly huskiness, more pulpit preach than pretty, although as evidenced in their hit "Color My World," Kath was indeed capable of achieving, even in his own gruff way, vocal beauty.
The general softening of their material, characterized by ever more rather saccharine ballads, was already underway before Kath died. And it really picked up speed after his passing. I bought their first post-Kath (and first non-Roman-numeraled) release "Hot Streets." Meh. And I pretty much stopped listening for nearly three decades.
It was less than a year ago that I got a message through facebook from one of my best childhood friends. Notoriously fussy of musical taste, he sent a statement and request for favor that surprised me a great deal. He intimated an interest in learning a bit more about Chicago -- largely driven by how often he'd heard others in his circle of friends rave about Terry Kath as a guitarist -- and recalling that I used to dig them big time, asked me if i might make some suggested directed listening recommendations.
I embraced without hesitation the chance to get reacquainted with not one but two old friends.
Which takes me back to their debut album, which I will recommend to any who are either unfamiliar with their early work, or who could use the reminder that, at the outset, they were a very, very good band. Further, I was really surprised to realize, after such a long lapse, what a seriously fine bass player Peter Cetera is (or once was).
And, in fact, they were at times a political band at that (although I'd offer up the observation that their political inclinations may most successfully have been demonstrated on their 1972 release Chicago V): forged at the very tail end of the 1960s, CTA -- released in April 1969, and as a double LP, indeed a ballsy move for a debut release -- includes a track titled "Prologue" that kicks off Side 4, which is a live location recording of a bullhorn-wielding protester at the infamous 1968 Democratic Party Convention. The crowd is heard to chant "the whole world's watching, the whole world's watching," a rhythmic bit of humanity that establishes the tempo, picked up and continued by a simple bass line, for "Someday," the track that follows.
CTA produced a small handful of tracks that would go on to enjoy a decent degree of airplay: "Beginnings" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" which follow the aforementioned "Introduction," rounding out a very fine how-do-you-do first side of their debut release.
OK. Your turn. What was your first album? Is it something that you still listen to? A source of bemused embarrassment? Do you still have your original copy?
Go on then. Drop the needle. Crank it.