Chicago, “Alma Mater” from Chicago V (1972): Saturdays in the Park

The magnificent Chicago V album closes with guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath’s “Alma Mater.”

A bit of personal history: When I was graduating from eighth grade in 1974 (!), this deep cut was actually in the running for our graduation song, along with Chicago VII’s “I’ve Been Searchin’ So Long.” This is certainly a testament to the tremendous popularity of the band at the time, even more so in the city of Chicago, where I grew up. The band’s deep cuts were played on the “cool” FM radio stations, along with the their hits. In case you were wondering, “Searchin’ So Long” won by a hair.

Kath’s album closer on Chicago V begins with a gentle unison acoustic guitar (Kath) and piano (Robert Lamm) figure. In that soulful, irreplaceable voice, Terry sings of an ending and a beginning. I’m frankly shocked that this piece didn’t become a commencement standard. Drummer Danny Seraphine’s bells only add to the poignancy of the song. Lamm’s sensitive piano accompaniment throughout is absolutely perfect.

Danny enters on his drum kit about halfway through with a martial snare drum roll, but it works wonderfully. His kit work is the very definition of taste. The horns enter toward the end of the song with some whole notes, which again are the perfect, simple arrangement for this composition.

I remember my late father listening to this song with me and remarking, “Terry Kath could sing the telephone book and make you weep!” True and tragic. One would be remiss to not cite this line:

“We must set brand new goals, we must not lose control
Of the possibility of the finding the discovery
That we were just meant to be”

Chicago V represents the end of the New York albums (Chicago Transit Authority through Chicago V). Chicago says goodbye to its “Alma Mater,” the Big Apple. New musical adventures await the band from the Windy City – but unfortunately, more often than not, Robert Lamm and Terry Kath will no longer be driving the Chicago bus.

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