Make It a Double: Chicago Transit Authority, CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY

Monday, June 5, 2017
Make It a Double: Chicago Transit Authority, CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY

In 1969, if you wanted to hear a new band, brimming with confidence, putting their self-assurance to music, all you had to do was drop the needle on the third track of CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY's third side—a nearly eight-minute jam on Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man." From the opening bass notes to the amped-up guitar and organ to the percussion coming from all directions, to the three voices that deliver the lyrics, "I'm a Man" shows a young group of musicians in full control of their considerable powers, capable of doing virtually anything, and they knew it.

"I'm a Man" is just one of many highlights on CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY—one of the rare debut double albums by a band that would (under the truncated name Chicago) churn out three more studio doubles (and one epic four-LP live set) in the next five years. Like many such records, there can be an argument made for editing the album's four sides down to two, but unlike most of those records, such arguments here hold little water.

What would one remove? The singles—"Questions 67 and 68," "Beginnings," the immortal "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" and the aforementioned "I'm a Man"—must stay. Guitarist Terry Kath's "Introduction"—with his bluesy voice out in front of the band's brass section—is the perfect prologue to the record, if not the band's nearly fifty-year career. Robert Lamm's "Listen" and "Poem 58" complete the Side Two statement that "Questions 67 and 68" starts. And the album-closing jam-to-end-all-jams "Liberation" is an ear-blowing keeper.

Right there, you have more music than two sides can hold, and we haven't even discussed Lamm's metal-meets-brass stomp "South California Purples." One could make a convincing argument to excise Kath's noisy feedback fest "Free Form Guitar," but Jimi Hendrix reportedly dug it, so it too has to stay.

Rather than try to figure out what to slice out of CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY, why not just sit back, put on your headphones (or ear buds) and turn up this brassy, ballsy debut? While the band would eventually morph into MOR balladeers, there's little of that on this record. What is there is a remarkable blast of youth and energy by a band not afraid to stretch out and see where its collective muse takes it.