ON THIS DATE (43 YEARS AGO)
April 28, 1969 – The Chicago Transit Authority: The Chicago Transit Authority is released.
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The Chicago Transit Authority is the self-titled debut album by the Chicago-based rock band The Chicago Transit Authority, who would later be known as Chicago. It was released on this date in April, 1969.
The Chicago Transit Authority (sometimes informally referred to simply as “CTA”) proved to be an immediate hit, reaching #17 in the US and #9 in the UK. While critical reaction was also strong, the album initially failed to produce any hit singles, with the group seen as an album-oriented collective. In 1970 and 1971, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (#7), “Beginnings” (#7) and “Questions 67 and 68” (#71/#24 re-release) would all prove to be belated hits. Buoyed by the success of their later albums, the album stayed on the charts for a then-record 171 weeks, and was certified gold (and later platinum and double platinum).
Upon the band’s 1967 inception, they were initially called “The Missing Links”. Then (according to Robert Lamm on an episode of In the Studio with Redbeard devoted to the making of the album) changed its name to “The Big Thing” (occasionally performed in areas outside Chicago and Milwaukee as “The Big Sounds” due to some venues complaining about the double entendre that the name “The Big Thing” also alluded to), before adopting the moniker The Chicago Transit Authority when producer James William Guercio took them on in 1968. Fusing brass and jazz with a soulful rock and roll feel was their trademark and Guercio instinctively felt that their sound would prove successful, lobbying for his label to give them a shot.
The Chicago Transit Authority were signed to Columbia Records late that year and recorded their debut in late January. While Guercio had recently produced Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second album (which proved to be a huge smash), he did so to raise capital for his band. By the end of The Chicago Transit Authority’s sessions, it was clear that the album would have to be a double. Very skeptical, seeing as the band had no track record, Columbia only agreed to the concept if the group would take a royalty cut.
In their original incarnation, keyboardist Robert Lamm, guitarist Terry Kath and bassist Peter Cetera all shared lead vocals, while James Pankow, Lee Loughnane and Walter Parazaider handled all brass and woodwinds and Danny Seraphine played drums. Lamm, Kath and Pankow were the band’s main composers at this juncture. Kath’s prowess as a guitarist was so strong that even Jimi Hendrix became a major fan of Kath’s playing. According to the album’s original liner notes, the solo performance of Kath on “Free Form Guitar” was created without the use of any pedals. In a nod to Hendrix’s guitar expressionism (Hendrix most notably used wah and fuzz pedals), Kath instead plugged directly into his studio amplifier and improvised the entire track in one take for the purpose of pure tone. “Free Form Guitar” is also noted as being another influence on the genre of noise music.
While the band toured the album, legal action was threatened by the actual Chicago Transit Authority, forcing the group to reduce their name to, simply, Chicago.
by Lindsay Planer, allmusic
Few debut albums can boast as consistently solid an effort as the self-titled Chicago Transit Authority (1969). Even fewer can claim to have enough material to fill out a double-disc affair. Although this long- player was ultimately the septet’s first national exposure, the group was far from the proverbial “overnight sensation.” Under the guise of the Big Thing, the group soon to be known as CTA had been honing its eclectic blend of jazz, classical, and straight-ahead rock & roll in and around the Windy City for several years. Their initial non-musical meeting occurred during a mid-February 1967 confab between the original combo at Walter Parazaider’s apartment on the north side of Chi Town. Over a year later, Columbia Records staff producer James Guercio became a key supporter of the group, which he rechristened Chicago Transit Authority. In fairly short order the band relocated to the West Coast and began woodshedding the material that would comprise this title. In April of 1969, the dozen sides of Chicago Transit Authority unleashed a formidable and ultimately American musical experience. This included an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar wailin’ rock & roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements. This approach economized the finest of what the band had to offer — actually two highly stylized units that coexisted with remarkable singularity. On the one hand, listeners were presented with an incendiary rock & roll quartet of Terry Kath (lead guitar/vocals), Robert Lamm (keyboards/vocals), Peter Cetera (bass/vocals), and Danny Seraphine (drums). They were augmented by the equally aggressive power brass trio that included Lee Loughnane (trumpet/vocals), James Pankow (trombone), and the aforementioned Parazaider (woodwind/vocals). This fusion of rock with jazz would also yield some memorable pop sides and enthusiasts’ favorites as well. Most notably, a quarter of the material on the double album — “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Beginnings,” “Questions 67 and 68,” and the only cover on the project, Steve Winwood’s “I’m a Man” — also scored as respective entries on the singles chart. The tight, infectious, and decidedly pop arrangements contrast with the piledriving blues-based rock of “Introduction” and “South California Purples” as well as the 15-plus minute extemporaneous free for all “Liberation.” Even farther left of center are the experimental avant-garde “Free Form Guitar” and the politically intoned and emotive “Prologue, August 29, 1968” and “Someday (August 29, 1968).”
1 Introduction (Kath) 6:35
2 Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (Lamm) 4:35
3 Beginnings (Lamm) 7:54
4 Questions 67 and 68 (Lamm) 5:03
5 Listen (Lamm) 3:22
6 Poem 58 (Lamm) 8:35
7 Free Form Guitar (Kath) 6:47
8 South California Purples (Lamm) 6:11
9 I’m a Man (Winwood/Miller) 7:43
10 Prologue (August 29, 1968) (Guercio) 0:58
11 Someday (August 29, 1968) (Pankow/Lamm) 4:11
12 Liberation (Pankow) 14:38