Chicago, “Poem 58” from Chicago Transit Authority (1969): Saturdays in the Park

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The floors are sticky and there’s a faint but omnipresent stench that is equal parts sweat, stale beer, and urine. You’re packed ass to elbow, tighter than a can of sardines in a small but intimate club. And the odd thing is, you’re loving every minute of it. There was a buzz surrounding this band so you decided to check them out with your friends.

Then, this really tight band that your friends were telling you about comes out and plays a handful of covers and a few original tunes. The original tunes are catchy and have a good foundation but they lack polish. That will come later. What you hear first are the opening bars of what you’ll later learn was an original tune, “Poem 58.”

The tight rhythm section—those drums — and, man, that bass. That blonde cat plays some seriously monstrous bass … and it’s all providing a platform for Chicago guitarist Terry Kath to weave a spell and mesmerize the crowd with his incredible skills. Heck, the vocals don’t even start until they are almost 5½ minutes into the song. And the horns … the glorious horns that dance around the vocals and the guitar solos, they set this band apart from their peers. There’s something new, different, and special about this band.

I wasn’t there; I wasn’t even a gleam in anyone’s eye yet. But whenever I hear Chicago’s “Poem 58,” that’s the place I’m taken to in my head. It’s a musical time machine, and it’s a paradox in that it’s also timeless and has aged better than much of the material that Chicago recorded after it.

When people scoff in disbelief after being told that Chicago used to open for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, 1969’s Chicago Transit Authority is the album I pull out, and “Poem 58” is the “go to” song. This is the “penny drop” song that causes people who only think they know Chicago’s music to go, “Oh, I get it now! There’s a lot more to this band than I realized.”

This song is one of the building blocks of the foundation of Chicago’s almost fifty-year Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legacy.

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