Chicago, “Byblos” from Chicago VII (1974): Saturdays in the Park

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From Chicago VI forward, it was increasingly apparent that Chicago’s guitarist/vocalist/band heart and soul Terry Kath was becoming weary of a diminishing role that saw fewer of his original compositions making the final cut. Band manager/producer Jim Guercio was under pressure from Columbia Records to load up the Chicago albums with a slew of potential hit singles. This concentration on potential hits elevated trombonist Jimmy Pankow to the role of main composer and, for all intents and purposes, the band’s leader – much to the increasing discontent of former co-bandleaders Kath and Robert Lamm, the latter of whom handled vocals and keyboards, and was previously their main composer.

Chicago VII, cherished by many fans as the last gasp of innovation from the group, covers a dazzling variety of styles. Despite the stellar guitar work by Terry Kath on the instrumental jazz cuts, I feel the great musician is withdrawing from the band. From VI through XI, his last album with Chicago, only two of his compositions will include the horn section: “Once Or Twice” from X and “Mississippi Delta City Blues” from XI, an old Terry song from the late 1960s which will be reworked into its best arrangement.

“Byblos,” named for a nightclub in Japan, begins with Kath’s wonderfully jazzy acoustic guitar intro. The rhythm is Latin/semi-bossa nova and Terry’s incredible voice is heard for the first time on the album. There is a slight echo on his voice which makes his tale of unrequited love that much more poignant. The girl he felt a connection to leaves with another guy, which legend has it is his pal – band bassist/lead vocalist Peter Cetera. Even then, Kath says, “I knew she’d do him good, too.” This is a tale of love all in the mind, very sensitive, showing what a deep soul the late guitarist was.

The tempo picks up slightly and keyboard touches are added by non-Chicago members. Terry Kath layers all the background vocals which he sings himself and in addition plays bass. It’s worth noting that drummer Danny Seraphine is the only band member on the track, restricted to high-hat and gentle bass drum. Percussionist Laudir de Olivera is not yet an official band member. Terry says he’s “gonna go back and get her” over and over, in a very jazzy bit of phrasing. I’ve always felt this tune is a masterpiece and a tease at what a Kath solo album would sound like.

Many fans lament they never got that Terry Kath solo album. Sure they did: “Jenny,” “Song of the Evergreens,” (despite trumpeter Lee Loughnane’s vocal), “Byblos,” “Till We Meet Again,” “Oh Thank You Great Spirit,” “Hope For Love,” “Your Love’s An Attitude” (the Chicago X remaster bonus track) and “Uptown.” I’m not counting the few horn songs, as I’m assuming Terry would have ditched the brass to differentiate his solo music from his probably former band. The outside musicians were already in place, providing most of the parts except for Kath’s guitars, vocals (lead and background) and bass.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bonus track from VII, which is a “rehearsal” version of “Byblos” with Chicago minus – you guessed it – the horn section. The tempo is much faster and for once, Danny Seraphine’s drums are far too busy. Terry Kath’s vocal is again flawless and Robert Lamm plays some wonderful electric piano fills, but I’ve got to declare the final album version the winner.

‘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.

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
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