Chicago, “Poem for the People” from Chicago II (1970): Saturdays in the Park

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Robert Lamm’s “Poem for the People” will always hold a special place in my heart as it was my father’s favorite Chicago song even though his man and mine, Terry Kath, didn’t do the lead vocal. However, Terry delivers some of his most beautiful, jazz-influenced lead guitar playing here as he plays a musical commentary on the lines Lamm sings. My dad was a pretty hip guy for someone born in 1924!

Bassist Peter Cetera sings the “rarely funny” part well and often. Speaking of Cetera, vocally he’s all over this album, somewhat making up for his few leads on “Chicago Transit Authority.” That his melodic bass playing is world-class is a given at this juncture of the band’s career.

The song begins with some melancholy piano chords played by Mr. Lamm. The horns follow with a beautiful chorale figure. Chicago, or Chicago II as it’s known by most fans, is the band’s second album and its most classically influenced musical statement. Even the previous song, Terry Kath’s “The Road,” has clarinet at its beginning and baroque-sounding horns throughout. Towards the end of the chorale, the meter increases, Lamm reenters on organ and drummer Danny Seraphine charges through with tom rolls that are perfect compliments to the proceedings.

Lyrically and musically, Lamm is in peak form on this selection, continuing the insightful social commentary he will be known for throughout his Chicago and solo career:

“The world’s a funny place you know’
“Most of what goes on is rarely funny”
“Rarely funny at all”

After the second verse/chorus the tempo shifts to a tango rhythm as the horns come charging in with a brilliant unison solo. More tom rolls from Seraphine bring us back to the original rhythm, another verse/chorus and we’re out. I’m sure most Chicagophiles have noted that trombonist James Pankow’s solo at the end is a figure that will be later reprised for “Saturday in the Park,” a rare repeat for him at this glorious point in the band’s career.

Chicago will be excellent throughout the Terry Kath years, but rarely, if ever better than this deep cut. This is the sound of a band that can do anything and do it well.

Bob Helme

Bob Helme

Bob Helme, a contributor to our weekly song-by-song series on Chicago called Saturdays in the Park, is a father of two with an MBA who still plays jazz part-time. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Bob Helme
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