Chicago, “Harry Truman” from Chicago VIII (1975): Saturdays in the Park

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Unlike many other superstar acts of the ’70s, Chicago didn’t record a concept album. Not for Chicago were starmen waiting in the sky, bellboys, lambs lying down on Broadway, desperadoes, or fantastic captains.

The closest they ever came was the second side of 1975’s Chicago VIII, in which every song (whether the band intended it or not) has something to do with nostalgia – including “Harry Truman,” one of the more unusual songs Chicago ever recorded.

Truman would have been the first president who Robert Lamm, born in 1944, remembered from his childhood, and like Lamm, Truman played the piano. Always the band’s “smart guy,” Lamm was inspired to write this tribute after reading some of Truman’s own writings and Merle Miller’s 1974 Truman biography Plain Speaking.

Singing in a slowed-down vocal style inspired by Randy Newman Lamm recalls Harry Truman’s straight-forward manner of speaking, contrasting his honesty and integrity with that of current political figures without mentioning anyone directly. He laments that technology is progressing while politics is regressing, and doesn’t forget to mention the piano playing.

Whoever arranged “Harry Truman” added some nostalgic touches. James Pankow plays an old-fashioned solo trombone line under the vocals of the first bridge, and Walter Parazaider double-tracks himself on clarinet on the second bridge. It calls to mind the music of fellow Chicagoan Benny Goodman, who remained popular during the Truman years. And the final verse, which uses band members and Caribou Ranch staff as a chorus, includes a little electronic voice that brings to mind the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.”

“Harry Truman” is a well written and well performed song, but it’s a bit of an oddity. Could you imagine Bruno Mars or Pink recording a tribute to Ronald Reagan? Not just name-checking him in a rhyme, but writing an entire song about jelly beans and horseback riding and Mr. Gorbachev tearing down this wall?

Most people have forgotten “Harry Truman” was a Top 40 hit in the United States, peaking at No. 13 in the spring of 1975. American Top 40 radio host Casey Kasem considered it to be a novelty song, and I agree. Calling it a novelty, though, doesn’t take away any enjoyment from the song.

In remarks he made to music educators in celebration of National Music Week in May 1951, Harry S Truman said: “I have always been very, very fond of music. Since I was 12 or 13 years old, I have heard all the great pianists from that time until now, and I have heard all the great singers from that time until now…I hope I will always have an appreciation of music, and that you will continue what you are doing to educate our people to love good music. I have no objection to the noise they call music these days…but I would like to see you continue to get people interested in good music.”

I think he would have considered “Harry Truman” good music.

‘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.



CelticGal grew up in northern Indiana and now lives on the back cover of the 'Chicago XI' album. A fan of Chicago (the Good Parts Version, e.g. the lineups with Peter Cetera) since 1978, she is the author of 'The Famous Becky's Island Chicago Reviews' and 'Becky's Island Music Trivia Quizzes,' found at Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
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