Chicago, “Takin’ It On Uptown” from Chicago XI (1977): Saturdays in the Park

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Chicago’s “Takin’ It On Uptown” is the last Terry Kath composition to be released in his lifetime: What a way for the great lead guitarist/lead vocalist to go out!

The lyrics for this tune are credited to Fred Kagan, about whom little is known; the music, of course, is by Kath. We are in power-trio mode here, not unlike his idol Jimi Hendrix. When I saw the band in 1977, keyboardist/vocalist Robert Lamm introduced the song. (Terry had stopped making stage announcements a few years prior.) “We’re giving the horns a rest on this new Terry Kath tune,” Lamm said. “That’s OK; they don’t like to work too hard anyway!”

The piece starts with a blast of atonal, distorted guitar, not unlike some of the Jimi Hendrix Experience things. This is not to say Terry is stealing anything on “Takin’ It On Uptown,” but your influences will pop out from time to time. A good example would be some jazz saxophonists incorporating John Coltrane’s fondness for arpeggio phrases. Kath settles into a stone-classic riff and we’re off. Percussionist Laudir de Oliveira contributes cowbell and other important little touches here and there; bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera and drummer Danny Seraphine lay down a rhythmic bed for Terry Kath to soar over.

The lyrics are more or less about leaving the blues behind and taking a trip, yes, uptown to revive one’s spirits. Kath’s guitar is a force of nature, shifting into atonal blasts and wah-wah jamming here and there. However, things are never reduced to tuneless noise. Terry makes it all work one last time, giving it his all on the vocal and, of course, guitar.

It’s ironic that on his last album with Chicago, the arrangement is very similar to the first part of Robert Lamm’s “Poem 58” from the band’s 1969 debut album, Chicago Transit Authority. The original liner notes to this tune on 1977’s Chicago XI advised one to “Keep your eyes open.” Terry was to begin recording his debut solo album with his new power trio Cook County, the day after he tragically passed.

I think a lot of us would have followed him and ceased listening to future Chicago albums had he indeed fulfilled his Cook County dream. His passing marks the end of the classic Chicago lineup, but we still have all the great recordings he made with the band. What a legacy it is!


‘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.

Bob Helme

Bob Helme

Bob Helme, a contributor to our weekly song-by-song series on Chicago called Saturdays in the Park, is a father of two with an MBA who still plays jazz part-time. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Bob Helme
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