Steven Wilson’s Chicago

Chicago II – Spotify

We wanted to get closer to the music.

We grew up in an era where music came out of a small speaker in the dashboard, a tiny speaker on the side of the all-in-one record player in our bedroom, the muffled speaker on the front of the console in the living room. Meanwhile, recording went from mono to twenty four tracks and there were things to hear, things you could hear, if you just got a better system and a pair of headphones, stereo was the computer of its era. You saved your pennies to afford a separates system with big speakers that allowed you to blast your tunes purely, without distortion, to allow the sound to envelop you.

And the people making this music knew this. It was a mutual acceleration into a technical future where sound was everything, which required the players knew how to play and the engineers knew how to record and you knew how to listen.

And listen we did. We didn’t want no Pandora, background music, our tunes were positively foreground. We bought our albums, broke the shrinkwrap, dropped the needle and luxuriated in the sound over and over and over again, we had a limited number of albums and we played them.

And one of the albums I played was by Chicago Transit Authority. A double LP package for only a dollar more, this is the one with “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, the one with the protesters in the Windy City chanting “The whole world is watching…”, there were no hits but there didn’t need to be, music lived in our lairs, with FM radio as our best friend.

And that initial double LP made inroads over time, and what a concept it was, an expansion of Al Kooper’s paradigm for Blood, Sweat & Tears, a big band with even more horns, Chicago was made up of PLAYERS! And suddenly they had hits and none of the albums were singles, as in they were doubles or more, and then they went for radio play and their credibility evaporated. But before that…

The linchpin was guitarist Terry Kath, who died via misadventure, putting a dent in a band that ultimately never recovered. How much of a rock and roll fan am I that I know his replacement was Donnie Dacus, only Kath could never be replaced, he might have been a player, but he was nearly as integral to his band as Jim Morrison was to the Doors. And you can hear that, on Steven Wilson’s remix of “Make Me Smile,” listen at 2:45, it’s like you’re six inches away and Terry is picking and you instantly see the difference between then and now, then you spoke with your instrument and today you vocalize on social media. You realize how damn good he was.

Not that the rest of the band is not stellar.

I’d be lying if I told you I liked “Chicago II” as much as the debut, but I bought it and know it but haven’t played it in forever although I do hear the hits on the radio every once in a while, the aforementioned “Make Me Smile” and “25 Or 6 To 4,” but listening now I’m reminded of that pre-distraction era, when you’d sit alone in your bedroom and play all four sides of the album, be taken away to another place, put in a mood, and when you listen to Steven Wilson’s remix you’ll be reminded too.

Yes, kind of a strange pick in theory, after King Crimson and Jethro Tull, but like the members of those bands, the ones in Chicago could play, and when you strip away the detritus you’re positively wowed at what is revealed.

It’s a one percent difference. But oh what a difference it makes!

Listen to the remix and then listen to the original. There’s just a bit more separation, a bit more clarity, but it’s like getting glasses after years of not knowing you’re nearsighted, you’re stunned at what you can see, what you can hear.

And on one hand I think nobody cares. These are ancient records that have been remastered and oversold since the CD era, but what seems like a rip-off ends up being a revelation, Steven Wilson has made these tracks new again. And what is revealed is MUSIC!

You remember music, don’t you?

When bands like Led Zeppelin wouldn’t deign to play the Grammys, never mind beg wankers like Ken Ehrlich for permission to do so. When bands said no instead of yes, why duet when the original needed nothing in addition. Want to impress me? Resurrect Sandy Denny to sing along with Robert Plant on “Battle Of Evermore,” bring back Maggie Bell to sing vocal abrasives with Rod Stewart on “Every Picture Tells A Story,” how about a little respect for the music that was  the foundation of our lives before everybody got lost in the chatter that this connected world affords us, when the musicians were Gods and we consumed their work like manna from heaven.

Hearing this remix makes me want to lock the door with my iPhone outside, go on a drive with the music pouring out of the speakers, just immerse myself in the sound and reconnect with what once was and now that Steven Wilson has performed his magic forevermore will be.

That’s right, play this stuff for young ‘uns, they’ll get it. Because it’s crystal clear, it shows the power of players as opposed to performers, it’s a religious experience.

It’s the one minute and eleven second “So Much To Say, So Much To Give” that’s my personal favorite, with its sing-songy middle, like being on an amusement park ride, I remember getting up off the couch and dropping the needle again and again, before one could isolate and replay with digital.

Night after night.

Day after day.

We used to listen to our music.

There were no mobile phones, never mind iPods or Walkmen, listening was a spiritual experience, a ritual. So what you need to do is pull up this music and plug in your headphones and marvel in the sound as it washes over you.

You’ll be reminded of what once was and still is.

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