When Chicago III was released in January of 1971, the band had already cemented its reputation as perhaps the jazz-rock ensemble of the late ’60s and early ’70s. These days, Chicago insists on calling itself “a rock and roll band with horns,” but they once were a cutting-edge jam band that had no problem flexing their considerable improvising chops. “Loneliness Is Just a Word” is proof of the creativity of the original lineup.
Such was the popularity of Chicago that when my high school jazz big band — of which I was a charter member — launched into an arrangement of this composition, the auditorium erupted in applause from the first measure! We also played “Movin’ In,” a deep cut from the second album and the audience again went nuts. Yes, there was a time when Chicago was the hippest band going and “Loneliness Is Just a Word” is a prime example.
Robert Lamm’s little gem of jazzy sophistication begins with the horns blasting the same chord over and over while drummer Danny Seraphine plays some incredible fills. This section ends with a brief improvisation by trumpet player Lee Loughnane. This was when the band, like true jazz-influenced players, never played the same solos twice. Listen to the version on the expanded Carnegie Hall album for a totally different trumpet improvisation.
After the intro, things kick into a jazz waltz heavy on B-3 organ from Lamm and nice choppy/jazz guitar from Terry Kath, who sings the laid-back lead vocal magnificently. Robert Lamm often gave some of his songs to Terry or bassist Peter Cetera to sing: this was truly a group thing in those days, and Lamm was writing 75-85% of the material. Speaking of Peter Cetera: Despite being the man who thinks he’s a lousy bassist, Cetera manages to play some brilliant walking bass in a waltz tempo — not an easy feat.
This time, the middle section solo goes to Robert Lamm himself, where he punches out a very impressive and yes, jazzy B-3 organ solo. On the expanded Carnegie Hall album, his solo quotes a tiny bit of “My Favorite Things” as a tip of the hat to the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. Several decades later, Lamm would again tip his hat to Coltrane on Chicago’s version of “My Favorite Things” with a fly in of Coltrane’s amazing solo at the end of their version.
Lush harmony vocals bring “Loneliness Is Just a Word” to an end. A little bit of magic from a great band at its peak.
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