I still remember the first time I heard you guys play. I was 15, and my father and I were on a mission to avoid my grandmother for as long as possible. When I was growing up, on the day after Christmas, the whole family – Mum and Daddy and I – would drive the two and a half hours from Belhaven to Newport to visit with Mum’s parents. They didn’t like my father, and at the time they didn’t seem to be that keen on me, either, so generally Daddy and I would leave at some point in the visit to go make our rounds of the local thrift stores and pawn shops. We’ve always bonded over bargain shopping opportunities.
At the first pawn shop, I bought two CDs – two compilations of 60’s & 70’s pop hits that get light radio play. We hopped back into Daddy’s truck to drive to the next shop, and I gleefully examined the CDs, imagining what the songs would sound like. I still have both compilations today – songs include Green Tambourine (The Lemon Pipers), Laugh Laugh (The Beau Brummels), Hello Hello (Sopwith Camel), Stoned Soul Picnic (The Fifth Dimension), Do You Believe in Magic (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Brandy (Looking Glass), Mama Told Me Not to Come (Three Dog Night), and a lot more. It was a great day for me, musically.
As I gloated over my excellent purchases, my father popped a cassette into the truck’s tape deck. The first notes hit. I was confused. I’d never heard anything like it before. Rich background vocals, soulful lyrics, great horn section, and a tune that I wanted to immediately sing along to. We stopped in at a few more pawn shops that afternoon, but between each, the tape continued. By the time we got back to my grandparents’ house, I was hooked. My dad never got to keep that tape – I took it home to my stereo, and played it on repeat until I found the vinyl version.
That cassette was Chicago 19, and it opened up a new world to me. Sure, it’s a world that no one my age seems to understand. Yes, I tend to get confused stares when I tell people I really like Chicago, and go on to explain that it’s not an ironic infatuation. I genuinely like music that features a big brass section (even though 19 is notorious for having a much lighter horn section than their other albums), and I love a lot of your lyrics. Most people only know the overplayed radio greats, but there are other great tunes that never get radio play. My favorite off of Chicago 19 is Victorious, and I’ve never heard it on FM. It’s one of my favorite romantic songs; for a long time, I had this silly thought that I’d know my future husband because he’d play me Victorious without ever knowing I liked it. I guess maybe my level of optimism is just about perfect to be a diehard Chicago fan in today’s cynical age.
Not long after discovering the band, I raided my dad’s record collection and found out that he had a few earlier records from the late 60s and early 70s. That’s how I found out that most of your albums are branded, almost like magazine covers. Not that you need to see it, but Album Cover Gallery has a great post that compares images of all of the albums. For instance, Chicago II, which is my favorite (and the first created after you changed your name from Chicago Transit Authority to Chicago), looks like brushed sheet metal, maybe meant to be the close up of a high hat cymbal, I’ve never been completely sure. Other album covers are wood grain, or an unwrapped bar of chocolate. I fell in love with the branding, and started to collect them for the covers, as well.
Chicago II was one of my teenage rebellion albums. When I’d get supremely pissed at my parents, I’d run to my room, throw the record on, and blast it. My parents never told me to turn my music down, but it’s probably because from the other end of the house, they were probably enjoying listening to the same tunes. I wasn’t very good at being rebellious, I guess, but to this day, the album helps me blow off steam when I’m angry. I used to sing along to the horn parts, which in retrospect was probably great preparation for singing a cappella in college.
Anyway, Chicago, I know I’m probably boring you, but I just wanted to let you know that you’re important to me. I’m keeping the love alive. I’ve always wanted to see you in concert, and hopefully one day I’ll get the opportunity. Back in college, you once played in New Orleans on my birthday. It would have been the perfect time to go, but I didn’t have money for the ticket. Last year, you played Gretna Fest, a music festival just 20 minutes down the road, and I didn’t find out that you were in town until the day after the event; I was heartbroken. But one day I’ll be in the crowd, singing along (even when there aren’t lyrics). In the mean time, thanks for nurturing my inner sap, and for rocking the hell out of those horns all these years.