Chicago, “A Song For Richard and His Friends” from At Carnegie Hall (1971): Saturdays in the Park

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Chicago’s “A Song For Richard and His Friends” was first recorded for Chicago IV – or, as it’s officially known, Chicago at Carnegie Hall. In April of 1971, hot on the heels of the Top 10 release Chicago III, then manager/producer James William Guercio booked the band from the Windy City into the prestigious Carnegie Hall for a week of concerts. The resulting album contains live renditions of most of the material found on the band’s first three studio albums. In the liner notes for the Group Portrait boxed set covering Chicago’s time at Columbia, keyboardist/vocalist/main songwriter (at the time) Robert Lamm noted that Guercio was “always a man with a vision; he probably still has a vision.”

Chicago at Carnegie Hall, a four-record set containing a program with photos and two posters – one of a drawing of Carnegie Hall (!) and the other a gargantuan poster of individual pictures of the band playing at the concerts – was ripe for abuse from so-called leading critics of the time who did not “get” Chicago or any of the other bands with horn sections. If it had a horn section and some horn improvisation, it was garbage to these critics, who often were not musicians and incapable of understanding anything beyond the four-chord blues format much of rock to that time had been built upon.

I received the box in question as my main Christmas present of 1974. We weren’t rolling in money at the time and it was considered rather expensive. Carnegie Hall wasn’t made for rock music and the engineers at Columbia had a hard time getting a decent, balanced sound from Chicago. I never thought the horns sounded like kazoos (as trombonist James Pankow has often complained), but things are as clean as they are probably ever going to get on the expanded 2005 remastered set from Rhino, which featured a bonus disc of unreleased performances. The Rhino version also features mini-replicas of all the goodies in the original package.

The reason I go into such detail about the album is this will be the only article to cover it: my assignment is the only new song on the box. Chicago so hated the tapes of the shows that they begged Guercio not to release the album, but this was his “vision” at the time.

My colleague Celtic Gal gave me a good start: Robert Lamm brilliantly wrote the lyrics so they could apply to anyone or anything: a bully, a teacher, an obnoxious co-worker, a relative, an annoying neighbor, a group or organization, etc. even though the original slam was at then-President Nixon. The tune starts ominously with Jimmy Pankow playing a figure on trombone. The horns kick in with a very dissonant line and Lamm and Peter Cetera sing the lyrics of a very ominous melody in unison.

Terry Kath follows this with a reprise of his “Free Form Guitar” piece from Chicago Transit Authority (or so it sounds) before Lamm’s organ and the horns kick things into a nice funk groove. Think about it: the beginning lines are almost modern classical in their dissonance, Kath takes us into the avant-garde and now we have a funk section sung by Robert. All in the same piece!

Only Chicago’s original lineup could be so bold and pull it off. Kath’s funky blues guitar solo and Lamm’s organ workout really pour on the grease. The band finishes with a reprise of the Lamm and Cetera unison vocal and lyrics and another jarring figure by the horn section.

That’s not the end of the story: Chicago worked on a studio version of the composition that was never finished. This attempt (minus any vocals) is one of the bonus tracks on the flawless Chicago V album. They were wise to leave it alone. It’s worth perhaps one listen, but the energy and power of the Carnegie Hall rendition are missing.

The song is also performed on the 1972 Live in Japan album. Chicago is very proud of this set, often calling it the definitive live album of the original band. In this version, the beginning trombone line is cut and drummer Danny Seraphine lays down the rhythmic pattern the horns will take up. Robert Lamm’s vocal is even more funky. His organ solo has an appealing soul-jazz dirty sound to it. Chicago is tighter and the sound is a lot cleaner. You decide which performance is your favorite. I like both.

The last thing I’ll mention is perhaps the best version of the song is found as a jazz piano trio bonus track from Robert Lamm’s uneven solo debut, Skinny Boy. Lamm gets in a fine Rhodes solo in the middle of this rendition.

Those were indeed the days: Chicago mattered, knew it and delivered the goods.

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

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
Bob Helme
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  • Peter M

    I just want you guys to know how much I look forward to this series of reviews. I never liked “A Song for Richard…” but you have prompted me to give it another listen. Live In Japan is worth its price especially hearing Peter singing Questions 67&68 in Japanese!

  • Paul Gase

    Hey hey! Lester Bang’s review of this record is one of the best of all time. And here it is:

    “I like this album because it’s on Columbia. I trust them, I believe in their product, because Columbia is the General Motors of the record industry. They consistently come up with the best of everything: best logo, best lettering in artists’ names and album titles, best photography, best cardboard. I know some thankless souls are now talking as if the whole wide universe belonged to the Kinney Corporation and Columbia were just a doddering old has-been, but I believe in sticking by my friends. I mean, which has more prestige to you- a box of Kix or Cheerios?

    But being on Columbia isn’t the only thing that makes “Chicago At Carnegie Hall” a classic. If you balk at buying by brand alone, another surefire way of gauging the worth of an album is to take a gander at the grooves themselves. Notice the light and dark patterns. If there are more light patterns than dark ones, it means that the grooves are wider, which means in turn that the record is heavier because there’s more music jammed into each groove. Not only does this album weigh in at 3.23 pounds, but it’s so jampacked with sounds that it’s got grooves wide enough to satisfy even the most picayune of connoisseurs. Anybody that tells me it’s not the heaviest album of the year just doesn’t know his math.

    Loving “Chicago At Carngie Hall” as much as I do, though, I still don’t play it very often. In fact, I’ve only played it once since I got it, and never intend to play any of it again. But then, I don’t really have to, it is sufficient unto itself, an existing entity, and playing it too much would only put smudges and scratches on its pristine surfaces. So who cares if it’s Chicago’s worst album? Does it really matter that the songs sound exactly like they do on the studio albums except for being immeasurably more sodden and stuffed with long directionless solos? Or that the brass arrangements sound like Stan Kenton charts played backwards? Or that as technically competent as Chicago may be, there are just too many times when you can hear all the parts better than the whole?

    Decidedly not. And for those of you who recognize the essential need for an album such as this, and don’t want to defile your own copies even by breaking the shrinkwrap, I will list the highlights of the eight sides.

    – In the “free form” piano intro to “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” Robert Lamm is introduced as “Mr. Chops,” deriving from the fact that his roommates jokingly called him “Chopin” in college, and then goes into a solo equal parts Roger Williams, “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” and “Cast Your Fate Into The Wind.”

    – In “It Better End Soon- Second Movement,” Walter Parazider takes off on a long and wildly eclectic flute solo, starting with “Morning Song” from Greig’s “Peer Gynt” suite, shifting abruptly to “Dixie,” to cheers from the audience, and thence to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” complete with martial drum-rolls.

    – For the “preaching” vocal improvisation in the Fourth Movement of “It Better End Soon”- “We’ve gotta do it right/within this system/gonna take over/but within this system”- the They Got The Guns But We Got The Numbers Award.

    – Listening to “I’m A Man” on the radio, feeling fine, knowing you don’t have to buy or play the whole set to know what’s good on it.

    – Wondering whether “Anxiety’s Moment” is a ripoff of “Moonlight Sonata” or “Unchained Melody.” Wondering whether it matters.

    If there’s one thing Chicago’s got, it’s variety. They also have no trace of originality, but I don’t think that matters very much either. They saw a void, they came and they filled it. With putty and plaster of Paris, but they did fill it. And if you think that’s any small potatoes, just check out the Billboard or Record World or Cash Box charts, where their first album is still riding high after two and a half years. Until very recently none of their albums had ever left the charts. They have conquered this world, and will do it again with this Christmas-timed album, which has exactly the same songs as their others except for the inclusion of a new one about Richard Nixon. It will be the obvious present for people to grab for young kin they don’t know too well, and since it retails for enough that they’re only gonna have to sell about a copy a store to do a million bucks’ worth of biz, it should become a gold record almost on the day it’s released. In fact, at this point there’s only one further pinnacle for Chicago to scale:

    When they get to “Chicago VII,” they can release a seven-record set, with one entire album for each member of the group- a whole record of nothing but Peter Cetera’s bass, another of Lee Loughnane on trumpet, etc.- playing a forty-minute version of “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and then we can get seven record players, and have the greatest concert of all time.”