Chicago Transit Authority is the self-titled debut album by the Chicago-based rock band Chicago Transit Authority, later known as Chicago. It was recorded and released in 1969.
Chicago were formed in 1966 as “the Missing Links”, then “the Big Thing”, then Chicago Transit Authority when producer James William Guercio took them on in 1968. Their trademark was fusing brass and jazz with a soulful rock and roll feel and Guercio felt that this would prove successful, lobbying for his label to give them a try.
Chicago Transit Authority were signed to Columbia Records late in 1968 and recorded their first album in late January 1969. 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 sessions, the band had decided they wanted it to be a double album. Skeptical, as the band had no track record, Columbia only agreed to the concept if the group would take a royalty cut.
In addition to the material recorded for the album, “Wake Up Sunshine,” “It Better End Soon” (both later released on their second album), “Loneliness is Just a Word” (later released on Chicago III), and an early version of “Mississippi Delta City Blues” (with mostly different music than its eventual versions on Live in Japan and Chicago XI) all date from this era, and were performed as early as 1968. Other early original songs, such as “Dedicated to Girl Number 1” and “Once Upon a Life”, were never released.
In their original incarnation, keyboardist Robert Lamm, guitarist Terry Kath and bassist Peter Cetera shared lead vocals, while James Pankow, Lee Loughnane and Walter Parazaider handled all brass and woodwinds (trombone, trumpet and saxophone, clarinet and flute respectively) and Danny Seraphine played drums and likely doubled on percussion. Lamm, Kath and Pankow were the band’s main composers at this time. Jimi Hendrix was an avowed 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” was an influence on the genre of noise music.
Released in April 1969, Chicago Transit Authority (sometimes informally referred to simply as “CTA”) was 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). It is one of two albums not to have any songwriting contributions from Cetera during his tenure in the band, the other being Chicago V. He started writing songs with the second album, Chicago.
The cover design for the album is called “Painted Shingle” on the group’s official web site. In his review of the album, Paul Morelli says that the jacket of his vinyl LP came with “ringwear” on it, that there is also “ringwear” around the logo in the center, and that, ” It looks like the logo has landed in black water and is sending out ripples.” The inside jacket features individual photos of each band member, and Morelli further notes, “For a band deliberately constructed to be a leaderless democracy, Robert Lamm (far right, standing) sure stands out in the band photos!”
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.
Chicago Transit Authority is the only Chicago album listed in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Chicago Transit Authority was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014. (by wikipedia)
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).” (by Lindsay Planer)
Peter Cetera (bass, vocals)
Terry Kath (guitar, vocals)
Robert Lamm (keyboards, vocals)
Lee Loughnane (trumpet, claves)
James Pankow (trombone, cowbell)
Walter Parazaider (saxophone, tambourine)
Danny Seraphine (drums, percussion)
01. Introduction (Kath) 6.35
02. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (Lamm) 4.35
03. Beginnings (Lamm) 7.54
04. Questions 67 And 68 (Lamm/Cetera) 5.03
05. Listen (Lamm) 3,22
06. Poem 58 (Lamm) 8.35
07. Free Form Guitar (Kath) 6.47
08. South California Purples (Lamm) 6.11
09. 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) Kath 14.38