I ate the most uninspiring asparagus tonight. Or, perhaps the asparagus experience just paled in comparison to the experience of listening to Chicago’s second album for the first time in ages whilst preparing the aforementioned uninspiring side dish.
Let’s clear this up right away–there is no such place as Buchannon, West Virginia. There is, however a Buckhannon, West Virginia. Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice. (John Denver may have passed through.)
Not quite sure how a band from a brassy, classy town like Chicago found themselves seeking inspiration in Buckhannon, but something/someone there tickled trombonist James Pankow enough to get him to write not one, but two hit singles as part of a larger suite of music. Or, maybe he just threw a dart at a map. Yes, we’re talking about the soulful “Make Me Smile” and the junior-high dance anthem “Colo(u)r My World,” which are but movements of a larger piece of music dubbed the “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.”
Chicago has always been looked down upon by rock critics. I get it, their lyrics were fairly simple, they weren’t quite as musically sophisticated as Al Kooper’s Blood Sweat and Tears (Al set the bar impossibly high anyway), and they hung out with the Beach Boys right around when Mike Love was turning them into America’s Favorite Thirtysomething Oldies Act. No matter, I’ve always enjoyed the first two Chicago albums. The first was bold and innovative. The second, in spite of some incredibly muddy production (did James William Guercio record this stuff while suffering from swimmer’s ear?), features some killer tracks like “25 or 6 to 4” and the multi-part political workout “It Better End Soon” After that, I mostly pick and choose a few favorite songs and little much grabs my attention following the untimely demise of guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath.
They got it right on this nearly side-long epic. All that was truly good about Chicago is packaged nicely in these thirteen minutes, especially the soulful singing of Terry Kath, who to me was the star of that band. Whenever I’m at the supermarket during the day (they always have “lighter” music on during the day) and I hear “You’re The Inspiration,” I think back to the first two Chicago albums and I remember the creativity they were capable of. Sadly, it would all get lost years later in a sea of album titles with too many X’s and V’s.