Chicago, “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” from Chicago VII (1974): Saturdays in the Park

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“(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” from 1974’s Chicago VII employs one of my favorite musical devices, which could be why it’s one of my favorite Chicago songs.

Think about how this track and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” an iconic piece that many people consider to be the ultimate classic rock song, were constructed. Zeppelin fans may hate me for the comparison – and it may even seem odd to Chicago fans. But each starts out placidly, builds slowly in intensity, then roars to the finish line.

Of course, within that framework, the tracks are completely different. While the latter begins with acoustic guitar and an unusually subdued Robert Plant vocal, Chicago’s hit starts with a full string section and Robert Lamm’s electric keyboard work before the rest of the band kicks in. Then, composer James Pankow’s stellar horn arrangement is followed by Peter Cetera’s fine vocal. By the time we reach the end, Terry Kath’s rocking solo blasts away over powerful brass lines. This makes Chicago’s “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” among the finest of power ballads.

As for the strings, instead of softening the arrangement into post-Cetera blandness, they are dark and moody. It all fits. The quiet, introspective beginning symbolizes the protagonist’s search for meaning – and after he finds his answers life begins to rock, just like the song.

If Chicago had to go mainstream, this track was the way to do it. No apologies were necessary for turning away from progressive and alternative music with this No. 9 American hit.

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

Charlie Ricci

Charlie Ricci

Charlie Ricci maintains Bloggerhythms, where he talks about music, concerts, and a wide range of other musical topics. In August 2008, his site placed at No. 87 on a list of the Top 100 music-related blogs according to Alexa, a web ranking service. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Charlie Ricci
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  • ChicagoExpat

    I think you mean “powerful BASS lines,” not “powerful BRASS lines.”

    • perplexio

      In all fairness with Chicago a lot of their songs have BOTH powerful bass AND brass lines. 🙂

  • lnh

    The only part of the song I don’t like is the irritating falcetto by Cetera and, from what I’ve read, Pankow (“somehow something’s changed”; “ooooo a part of me”; etc). Absolutely love horns near the end of the song… especially on the live version.

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