I put together a playlist yesterday of ten songs that had the word “listen” as the title, as part of the title, or as an important part of the lyrics. The first song was one of my early favorites, “Listen” by Chicago, off their first album, The Chicago Transit Authority. I told Lauralynn that it was my favorite song in the playlist. Then I realized that the album side it comes from might be my favorite album side of all time.
I had intended on having this go along with “The Soundtrack of my Life,” a regular feature that several of my “Battle of the Bands” friends do on their blogs, but saw that the rule there is “one song, please.” So maybe some other time.
CTA was a two-record set; this is the second side of the first record. The songs are “Questions 67 and 68,” “Listen,” and “Poem 58.” The total length is about seventeen minutes; I won’t be offended if you listen later.
I was a huge Chicago fan in high school. This was the album side that did it for me. It wasn’t the lyrics, because by this time I wasn’t listening to them. The voice was just another one of the instruments. For me, it was the music, particularly the guitar. I’d listen past the lyrics and the horns and focus on what Terry Kath was doing on guitar. That was always interesting. I would have given anything to play like him. Anything other than practice and learn what he was actually doing and learn to do it myself, that is. I think I just expected to wake up one morning able to do what he could do. Until then, I was content to sit there with mouth agape listening to him and wondering how he managed to get all that out of a beat-up Gibson SG. Of course, the answer is, he worked his backside off learning to play that way. He was a rock guitarist in a band that was half-rock, half-jazz. He could handle the rock part, and did everything he could to learn the jazz side. I think he did all right.
In high school, you were good if you could play like Jimi Hendrix. Chicago? They were a gimmick. Rock didn’t have horns, it had guitars and amplifiers. If you could cop some of Hendrix’s licks and play the solo from “Stairway to Heaven,” you were good. Otherwise, forget it. Years later, I learned that Jimi Hendrix’s favorite guitar player was Terry Kath. The irony of it all…
The week before I got married, Terry managed to put a bullet in his head at a party. Evidently, he carried a gun, and he was goofing around with it after having a few drinks. Someone told him to be careful, and he reportedly said, “Don’t worry, it isn’t loaded. See?” He put the gun to his head, pulled the trigger, and killed himself. They called it an accident, but the more I read up on it, the more it looks like he did it on purpose. Weird thing: they were burying him in California around the same time Mary and I were getting married in Chicago.
Terry was around to play on the first ten Chicago albums, so there’s plenty of his playing available out there, including on YouTube. Hope you take the opportunity to listen to more of it.