Chicago, “Inner Struggles of a Man / Prelude / Little One” (1977): Saturdays in the Park

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Those of us who have been participating in this ongoing Chicago series every Saturday may feel a bit nostalgic today because this week we say goodbye to Terry Kath.

“Little One,” Kath’s final lead vocal on a Chicago album, is also the last song on 1977’s Chicago XI. Drummer Danny Seraphine and David “Hawk” Wolinski composed it, and it’s probably about the drummer’s daughter. However, it seems as if it may have been written with Chicago’s great guitarist in mind. What makes it sad is that Kath could have been singing about his own two-year-old daughter, Michelle, who I’m sure has no real memories of him.

Kath’s voice is in full Ray Charles mode here and he’s never sounded smoother or more melancholy. It’s almost as if he knew tragedy would soon befall him, and is telling Michelle how much he loves her while he still has the opportunity.

Kath’s vocal is superbly aided by James Pankow’s uplifting horn arrangement. An excellent trumpet solo by Lee Loughnane is supported by a fine, Latin-tinged backbeat supplied by Seraphine and percussionist Laudir D’Olivera. The strings add fullness to the arrangement, instead of just being the syrupy annoyance they’d soon become on the band’s future work with David Foster.

“Little One” is the final movement of a suite that begins with “Inner Struggles of a Man.” The latter really isn’t a Chicago track at all and was written for a full orchestra by Dominic Frontiere, who was a well known Hollywood composer of soundtracks and TV theme songs. I’m normally not moved by music of this kind but Frontiere’s instrumental piece sounds darker and more intense than ordinary background music, and it fits in well with the rest of the suite.

“Prelude (Little One),” the second movement, is less than a minute long and also features Kath’s singing and Loughnane’s trumpet, along with Frontiere’s score. The lyrics appear to have no relationship to the suite’s final song, unless you assume it’s about how much Seraphine’s daughter reminded him of his ex-wife. However, the suite is so heavily identified with Kath, it’s never thought of as coming from Seraphine. For me and most Chicago fans, “Little One” is the property of Terry Kath.

Even though Chicago had retreated from their original, jazz-rock roots a few albums earlier, there were times when they still managed to connect with their long time fans – and “Little One” is proof. This last work by the original band is not at all like the music that made them famous and it’s one of the few times after Chicago VII that they achieved perfection, but I wonder, would I feel the same way about it if Peter Cetera was the vocalist or if Kath had lived?

‘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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