Chicago, “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” from Chicago II (1970): Saturdays in the Park

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Longtime Chicago producer Jimmy Guercio once said that Chicago only accomplished about 10 percent of what he believed they were capable of. “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” (a misspelled reference to Buckhannon, WV) might be the case in point for Guercio’s assessment. At 13 minutes and spawning two of Chicago’s earliest hits – “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World” – this is a grand achievement showing chops well beyond the years and maturity of several other bands of that era.

Thanks largely to a producer that believed in them perhaps more than they believed in themselves, a producer who heard in them the promise of something far greater than what they would ever inevitably accomplish, Chicago recorded what could be argued is a musical masterpiece on what was only their sophomore album – an album that was far from sophomoric. Where a lot of bands experience of sophomore slump, Chicago doubled down on their sophomore effort. And while all of Chicago II is strong, a case could be made that the musical statement of “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” alone spoke volumes about this band.

The song bursts out of the gate with James Pankow’s in-your-face horn chart, with Chicago’s tight rhythm section joining in shortly after eventually leading into Terry Kath’s soulful vocals. Where their debut and arguably the first few songs of Chicago II “introduced” them, “Make Me Smile” is one of the first signs of Chicago becoming more comfortable in their skin and exerting their personality. Gone is the tentativeness of a band that sounded like they were still pinching themselves because they couldn’t believe THIS was actually happening to THEM. It’s not so much a cocky swagger as it is a knowing self-assurance.

Sadly, most casual listeners are only familiar with “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World” portions of this brilliant 13-minute song cycle. As such, they’re missing out on the truly delightful instrumental interludes of “Anxiety’s Moment” and “West Virginia Fantasies,” and the equally strong “So Much to Give, So Much to Say.” It’s kind of like going to Thanksgiving dinner and missing out on the stuffing, candied yams and cranberries because you fill up on the turkey and the mashed potatoes with gravy. While those two songs are and were strong enough to stand on their own, to focus on them at the expense of the entire musical statement of the “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” is an aural crime. On their own, those singles should be seen as an introduction to, not a substitution for, “Ballet” as a whole.

While there were other grand musical movements to come on Chicago II and others down the road, for better or worse Chicago had set the bar extremely high with “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.” As good as some of their other more ambitious musical endeavors may have been, it could be argued that none of them matched the musical brilliance and scope of this track.

Perplexio

Perplexio

Perplexio also maintains a stand-alone blog called The Review Revue, where he explores music, movies and books. He spearheaded 'Saturdays in the Park,' our weekly multi-writer, song-by-song series focused on the music of Chicago. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Perplexio
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