Chicago, “Sing a Mean Tune Kid” from Chicago III (1971): Saturdays in the Park

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Did I volunteer to review the kick off track to Chicago III? It must have been one of my weaker moments.

Don’t get me wrong: As a whole, Chicago III is a great album. It holds together from start to finish with strong genre-pushing compositions from the entire band. Chicago III also is the first time they didn’t have material in the can, and had to compose new songs for the album instead on relying on songs from the vault. The record-buying public was pleased with what Chicago came up with, which resulted in III becoming their highest-debuting album to date; it eventually peaked at No. 2.

What’s even more astounding is that Chicago III was distinctly radio unfriendly, with no obvious singles. Chicago was clearly in touch with their muse, and fans rewarded the band’s adventurous spirit.

That said, “Sing a Mean Tune Kid” seems an unlikely opening track at first, but the Robert Lamm-penned tune packs a musical punch. For more than 9 minutes, Chicago delivers searing yet melodic rock and roll, driven by the urgency of Danny Seraphine’s drums and Peter Cetera’s vocals.

The song, like many on an album composed while Chicago was on tour, has a live in studio feel with the count off followed by Terry Kath’s wah-wah lead guitar. Lamm’s Fender Rhodes piano is playfully jazzy, but Peter Cetera delivers one of his finest rock and roll vocals to date.

The James Pankow-arranged horns also favor rock over jazz, supporting a lyric that is thought provoking and clever. Are the words Lamm composed for this song a reflection of his views of stardom, the record industry or even war? They have hints of all three. In Cetera’s hands, they seem urgent and restless.

Of course, Terry Kath’s contributions are equally innovative as they are powerful. His opening solo is a overlooked jewel, and melds perfectly with the horn breakdown. Halfway into the song, the horn section plays an ensemble section which leaves the listener breathless with its power. In fact, the sparring between Terry Kath and the horns is remarkable. Kath’s end solo forgoes the distortion for a bluesy run which dances with Robert Lamm’s Fender Rhodes piano and Danny Seraphine’s ride cymbals.

The only downside on “Sing a Mean Tune Kid” is its abrupt ending. I guess, after more than 9 minutes, I shouldn’t be too greedy. And, in the end, I’m thankful I did take “Sing a Mean Tune Kid.”

‘Saturdays in the Park’ is a multi-writer, song-by-song examination of the music of Chicago. Find it here on Something Else! each Saturday.

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