Old/New Albums: Chicago’s “Chicago VII”

chicago_07Chicago sure had an album-naming issue in the ’70s, didn’t they? But that’s really where the lack of creativity stopped, because the band released an album a year from ’69 all the way to ’80. Pretty impressive, especially considering that two of those albums are bona fide classics, and all of them were insanely popular at their time of release.

What was fun about listening to this album was expanding my Chicago knowledge. I know Chicago V pretty well, Chicago even less well, and Chicago Transit Authority hardly at all. And I like the albums in that order as well. What was great was not having super high expectations for Chicago VII and being really surprised at how much it grew on me.

Chicago VII is a pretty intense mix of genres. During the live shows supporting their previous album, Chicago VI, the band started incorporating jazz into their sets and decided their next album would be heavily jazz influenced.

For whatever reasons, as the recording sessions started, tensions arose among the band members as to how much jazz they actually wanted to incorporate into the record. What resulted was a double LP, with a lot of pop/rock songs coming back to the forefront of the record.

However, the jazz influence can be felt through the entire thing. The entire Side A and half of Side B is entirely instrumental. You don’t even get a real vocal until track six. For my money, on previous albums (especially Chicago V), I might be more inclined towards Chicago’s instrumentals over vocals. On Chicago VII though, I’m digging the vocal tracks.

Except for “Mongonucleosis.” This is a party jam, all the way. Sounds like something you’d hear in mid ‘70s Southern California. It’s incredible reminiscent of War, like “Low Rider” or something. Really fun stuff.

But back to the vocal songs, which are great. I’ve never been in love with the actual vocals of Chicago’s members. They’ve always seemed pretty bland, nothing super distinctive about Cetera or any of the others. But the songs themselves are a lot of fun. You’ve got some good ol’ funky rock stuff like “Woman Don’t Want To Love Me,” some serious Doobie Brothers-sounding stuff in “Song Of The Evergreens” and a straight-up Delaney And Bonnie sound-alike in “Skinny Boy.”

That’s probably what I took away from this album the most. Chicago VII is an album of influences. Even the jazz stuff sounds like Vince Guaraldi’s stuff from the later Charlie Brown specials. And these sound-alikes aren’t at all a bad thing. They make for a memorable listening experience, if not the most original Chicago album ever.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. Mongonucleosis
  2. Wishing You Were Here
  3. Song Of The Evergreens
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