The Chicago Transit Authority


album cover

These Guys Really Know What Time It Was

You can't tell it from the milquetoast power-ballads they dished out in the 1980s, but Chicago was once among the elite experimental outfits in rock. The band's early recordings—this 1969 debut and the five or six efforts that follow—contain musically astute explorations that just happened to become hits. The later efforts, typified by bonbons like 1984's "You're the Inspiration," are impeccably produced cuddle toys. Compare the two, and what you hear is two fundamentally different bands, with contrasting objectives and philosophies.

In fact, from the very beginning the Chicago Transit Authority—the name was shortened to Chicago after the success of the first album, under threat of legal action from the municipal transit agency—depended on multiple personalities. The anchor was a savage R&B-revue-style rhythm section, which first attracted attention with this album's tightly wound version of the Spencer Davis hit "I'm a Man." There were three main singers, each with a distinct tone and approach, who happily alternated between lead and backing-vocal duties. On top was a horn section, but not the squaresville horns associated with Vegas: These guys wrote elaborate lines with an uptown dazzle that eluded the other brassy rock bands of the day.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1969, Columbia
Key Tracks: "Beginnings," "Questions 67 and 68," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," "I'm a Man"
Catalog Choice: Chicago; Chicago III; Chicago V
Next Stop: Blood, Sweat & Tears: Child Is Father to the Man
After That: Chase: Chase
Book Page: 164

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#1 from David, St. Joseph, MI - 11/15/2008 11:04

This is the first stepping stone of the new rock.  Adding horns but not just adding them.  Working them in so they are the sound.  Terry Kathy was one of the best and on and on with the group.  An amazing sound that just went to the next level.

#2 from Charlie, Lansdale, PA - 01/06/2009 9:53

Please make this a featured recording.  Whether they were playing screaming psychedelic hard rock, jazz, blues, or love songs, everyone in the band proved they were worthy of the huge mass success that followed CTA’s release. The band’s ability to play anything and play it well is the hallmark of their debut album. The stars are Robert Lamm, Terry Kath, and the horns, but even Peter Cetera demonstrates he can be a rock and roll animal when he wants to be. The standout tracks are Lamm’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, “Beginnings,” “Listen,” and Kath’s “Introduction.” A cover version of “I’m A Man” became a standard for the band in concert. It’s true that the inclusion of “Free Form Guitar” is very questionable & for some people “Liberation” may seem over the top, but for those of you who remember this period well neither track seemed out of place at the time. Even Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performed 15-minute live guitar jams back in the day. CTA is the very best example of the band’s original musical goals. Containing four hit singles that each deserved to be a hit this album was on the charts for over a year. In my opinion this is one of the best rock albums of all time and my favorite Chicago album.

#3 from Shane, Nashville, Tn - 01/11/2009 3:04

I was introduced to this album almost 20 years ago by a friend and musical mentor.  When he said the name Chicago, I immediately had visions of the soft rock band from the 80’s.  I questioned my friends recommendation.  He insisted that I listen to it.  Boy I am glad I did that.  One thing hooked me on this band and that was Terry Kath, what an amazing talent.  Before long I had all of the Chicago albums that featured terry and I still listen to all of them to this day.  Excellent music!

#4 from LisaRowe - 03/13/2009 11:05

Working them in so they are the sound.  Terry Kathy was one of the best and on and on with the group.  An amazing sound that just went to the next level.

#5 from T. Doyle, Canada - 07/14/2012 5:22

Brilliant experiment with music! So unique and so inspiring..
As a horn player, I wish to be able to fuse rock and and horns they way CTA did. They deserve much more credit.
Favorite album - Period.

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