Chicago, “Ain’t It Blue?” from Chicago VIII (1975): Saturdays in the Park

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My addiction to music continues unabated. Fortunately, I’ve yet to overdose on it – and that is a very good thing because I know rehab would be of no help.

One of the things I’ve learned through this lifelong obsession is that songwriting is almost always the most important part of a great listening experience. How many times have you been transfixed by a song despite a less than stellar performance? It’s true that a weak performance can make a good composition seem less powerful, but nothing can save a truly poor song.

Bob Dylan proves my theory. Is he a great singer? Of course not. Can he play guitar? Yes, but is a Dylan record the direction you head if you want to hear a great axeman? To that question, I’ll respond with the same answer. However, if you want to hear a compelling, often-emotional song, more often than not, he is the man.

Why is this point relevant to a minor Chicago song like Robert Lamm’s “Ain’t It Blue?” It’s because this deep track 1975’s Chicago VIII proves the rule. “Ain’t It Blue” was written in the spirit of the band’s early work and would easily fit on any of their classic, pre-Caribou Ranch records. It has perfect vocals by Peter Cetera and Terry Kath, as well as the latter’s usual hot, electric lead contributions that make the song rock. It also offers us some great horn lines but would any of that matter if it wasn’t a good song.

Did Chicago degenerate into a group of bad musicians as the quality of their albums declined? No, their excellent vocals and musical chops remained in tact. It’s just that they didn’t make the best use of their composing, arranging, and production abilities as often as they did in the past.

So, when you hear something as horribly written as Cetera’s harmonica on “In Terms of Two” from Chicago VI, quickly listen to “Ain’t It Blue” as a reminder of the kind of music this once great septet was still capable of making if they hadn’t let laziness, commercial goals, and the excesses of the Hollywood lifestyle get in the way.

It wasn’t that Peter Cetera couldn’t play the harmonica any better on the earlier track, it’s what he played that mattered.

‘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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