Chicago, “Memories of Love” from Chicago II (1970): Saturdays in the Park

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“Memories of Love” is both an oddity and a perfect fit for Chicago II. It’s odd for reasons I’ll go into shortly, but fits because as I’ve mentioned in an earlier review, the band’s second album is not only one of its very best, but also the most classically influenced. Unfortunately, the suite is also sadly ironic. More on that later, as well.

“Memories” is a total shock, especially when sandwiched on album between the driving hard rock of “25 or 6 to 4” and the follow-up jazz/rock punch of “It Better End Soon,” the other extended suite lead guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath had a hand in writing on Chicago II. Here, he co-writes this suite with Peter Matz, a well-known Hollywood orchestral arranger and band leader. Around the time the album was recorded, Matz was the orchestra leader for The Carol Burnett Show.

The first thing one hears is a flute melody played by, I presume, the band’s woodwind player Walt Parzaider (“Prelude”). No credits are given, so one assumes it’s most likely him. This melody is accompanied by somewhat severe-sounding strings, not unlike the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.” There’s also perhaps a bit of the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed at play here. The members of Chicago were listening to everything and anything in those days, so some influence from across the pond was likely to creep in.

“A.M Mourning” and “P.M. Mourning” are also heavily orchestrated and veer between some beautiful and totally bizarre orchestral touches such as (again an assumption) Walt playing some really weird passages on piccolo. This lends an uneasy feeling to the proceedings, as if something horrible is just around the corner. A snare drum is heard here and there, along with tympani. Again, no album credits are given, but one could imagine this is the band’s drummer Danny Seraphine playing these, as he’s a schooled musician at home reading written drum parts. Jimmy Pankow’s trombone breaks through all of this and really brings chills. He plays with such feeling that it’s really moving. However, the weird chords continue from mallet instruments this time, leaving the listener with a feeling of dread and foreboding.

Plucked violins give way to Terry Kath’s “Memories of Love,” a ballad that is mostly his vocal, strings and Pankow’s trombone. As the piece builds, Walt’s flute returns. The subject matter is a young man praying at either his significant other’s deathbed, wake or at the cemetery following her funeral. It’s been said that Kath could sing the phonebook and make someone cry, and he’s very moving here. One wonders if this is something he personally experienced and perhaps influenced the path he took in his personal life.

As mentioned above, this piece is ironic in that Kath himself died an all-too early death and was mourned by his family, friends and brothers in the band Chicago. Fortunately, that was several years in the future, and lots of great music was forthcoming from the group from the Windy City. “Memories of Love” is just the sort of left turn a great band at the height of its powers isn’t afraid to experiment with. It’s unlike anything else in Chicago’s catalog and for that, we must tip our hat.

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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