Chicago, “Another Rainy Day in New York City” from Chicago X (1976): Saturdays in the Park

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Another Rainy Day in New York City, a Martin Scorsese Film.

Or, Another Rainy Day in New York City, a Spike Lee Joint.

The camera opens as a young man rides in the back of a limo through the streets of the tough New York neighborhood he grew up in. He’s grown up, moved to another city, and become a success in his chosen field, successful enough to afford a high-priced hotel room overlooking Central Park. This isn’t a pleasure trip, though. He’s come back, maybe for the first time in years, for some kind of obligation — wedding, funeral, family reunion — and he doesn’t really want to see any “old friends and family.”

All right, it’s not a movie, it’s a Chicago X song written by Brooklyn-born Robert Lamm. But wouldn’t it make a great film? Set it in the ’40s, and you have Michael Corleone returning from the war for his sister Connie’s wedding. Set it in the ’70s, and the character could be a grown-up Riff the Jet coming back to a much-changed West Side, and hoping not to run into Maria or Anita or Chino. Set it today, and it’s Jay-Z back in the Brooklyn projects where he grew up.

The music accompanying this “scene” is in a bright major key with shimmering horn lines, but it doesn’t match the upsetting and ominous tone of the lyrics. The beat, heavy on the one, is awkward – kind of a reverse reggae – and underscores the lead character’s feeling of being out of place. And then we hear those steel pans, played expertly by guest musician Othello Molineaux.

Steel pans almost always signify fun in the Caribbean sun. But we’re in New York. And it’s raining. Something is definitely wrong here.

As the limo stops in front of our lead character’s old home, and he gets out, what do you think happens next? Unfortunately, what happens next is Peter Cetera turning in his worst Chicago vocal performance to date. He ruins “Another Rainy Day in New York City” by singing in a fake Latino accent that sounds like Ricky Ricardo crossed with Speedy Gonzalez.

At best, it’s an embarrassment; at worst, it comes across as him poking fun at Hispanic people. It wasn’t right in 1976, and it’s not right in 2018. Today, some might call it cultural appropriation. I call it another Chicago X bad idea, and again I ask: Why did someone, or some group of ones, allow Cetera to do this, and why did anyone allow the band to release this?

But Robert Lamm gets the final word. While doing research for this review, I came across the above video of Lamm performing “Another Rainy Day in New York City” live in 2016. He admits the band recorded the song “before it was actually finished;” re-arranges it for keyboard, guitar, conga drum and saxophone; and, sings in his normal voice, not in a bad accent.

In addition, he changes the meaning of the song by altering one line. Now, there’s no one here he really wants to see, “no friends, no family.” I guess the original film has been rebooted!

‘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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