Chicago, “Wishing You Were Here” from Chicago VII (1974): Saturdays in the Park

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Chicago gets an unfair rap for being a ballad band. While “Wishing You Were Here” did, indeed, rise to No. 1 on the adult-contemporary charts, it’s part of an album in 1974’s Chicago VII that once again showcases the band’s avant-garde spirit.

At first, “Wishing You Were Here” – a lovely, Side 4-opening song which has earned its place among the Chicago’s best – seems to have little in common with the jazz-infused tracks of Sides 1 and 2. However, that’s not entirely accurate.

The Peter Cetera-written song is immaculately played, with Cetera handling the guitar, Terry Kath going over on the bass and Robert Lamm providing subtle, yet essential acoustic piano. Chicago-based future Rufus keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski’s Arp synthesizer contributions are a time stamp on “Wishing You Were Here,” yet seem as essential as the additional guitar contributions of producer James Guercio.

Danny Seraphine leads the band through a subtle time signature change on his drums, and also provides conga support with Laudir de Oliveira’s hand drums. Add in James Pankow’s subtle horn arrangements and you have the making of a classic. Perhaps pushing the song over the top is the lead vocal of Terry Kath (a rarity on a Peter Cetera-written song) and the backing vocal contributions of Cetera and Beach Boys members Al Jardine, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson.

All of it combines to lift “Wishing You Were Here” to another level. Is this the best ballad in Chicago’s canon, or just one of many highs?

‘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.

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