Chicago, “Take Me Back to Chicago” from Chicago XI (1977): Saturdays in the Park

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“Take me back to Chicago, lay my soul to rest….”

Robert Lamm’s voice, almost in a whisper, cascades from my speakers and invites me to remember the tortured soul who left home for a dream and would never return: The story of a man who yearned for the simple freedom of life before it became so much harder to understand. “Take Me Back to Chicago, from 1977’s Chicago XI, is an unintentionally prophetic song telling the tale of Fred Page from a little-known band named Illinois Speed Press.

The song was released a few months after Terry Kath’s tragic death, however, and it took on an even deeper meaning when listened to in this new context: “Cause my life was so much simpler then….” “Take Me Back to Chicago” began to seem like more than the story of so many who dream of fame and don’t know how to cope with the pitfalls associated with it; this felt like Kath’s story.

Written by drummer Danny Seraphine and Rufus keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski, “Take Me Back to Chicago” is a standout from a disjointed album. There is some debate as to whether this could have possibly been the last project from the original seven members. Chicago XI, by itself, is seven people going in very different directions. The band was struggling to maintain an identity as the music scene was quickly evolving around them, and this is very evident on the album.

“Take Me Back to Chicago” is an exception. It represents what was still possible from the band. The melody flows effortlessly over their arrangement, and the use of several minor chords gives it a feeling of melancholy and inevitability. The singer has accepted his fate, and wants desperately to go home and rest in the one place he felt truly happy.

We breeze through our childhood and early adult years constantly grabbing for the next rung, without taking a breath and truly appreciating the fleeting moments that we later hold onto so tightly. As the years pass and the layers of life begin to smother our innocence and amazement at the world around us, we increasingly long for the time when spending summer with our friends, sleepovers, amusement parks, and riding bikes were our entire lives. As John Lennon said, life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.

We all have a “Chicago” to go back to. May we all find that place within us.

‘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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