Thursday, July 03, 2008

CHICAGO's "STONE OF SISYPHUS..."
Their "Long Lost Album" has FINALLY been (legitimately) released...

Everything Old Is New Again, I've heard it said. Well, this is a case of 15-year old music becoming something TOTALLY NEW. The group "CHICAGO" has long been one of my favorite bands. I saw them twice in concert, back in 1972 and 1973. Great songwriting, musical breeziness, three main lead vocalists, and absolutely great guitar by the late Terry Kath...this was one of those Big Rock Bands that could really ROLL...their sound was huge. However, for me, I began sensing danger signals for the band in 1976...they released a wimpy ballad, "If You Leave Me Now", which became a number one hit...a year later, Guitarist Kath was dead, killed by 'accidental suicide'...he was playing around with a gun he thot was unloaded...well, you know the rest...

In the late '70s, Chicago entered a dormant period, after their last two albums for Columbia went Absolutely Nowhere. The group's long-term label, Columbia, dropped 'em, even though Chicago had made many Columbia Records Executives Very Rich. The group found another label, Warner Bros., but were forced to tone down their sound and record wimpy ballads by OUTSIDE SONGWRITERS...and while "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" and "Look Away" (and several other '80s songs) were big hits, the group felt it was 'selling out'. In 1993, Chicago wanted to Do Its Own Thing; you know, get back to hard-driving, creative music, so they found another producer, didn't let any record executives into their recording sessions, and recorded an album called "Stone Of Sisyphus", the best, most-inspired album they'd done in YEARS. And, Warner Bros. REJECTED THE ALBUM. A case of corporate closed-mindedness. So with that, Chicago Left Warner Bros. and took the album with them. Later on, Rhino records, the re-issue label, began issuing all of the old Chicago albums (the group had bought the rights from Columbia), and rumors circulated for years that the "Stone Of Sisyphus" album was gonna be released by Rhino.
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And, Rhino Records has FINALLY released "Stone Of Sisyphus", some 15 YEARS after it was recorded. Why did Rhino wait so long? After all, Rhino had released 3 "Sisyphus" songs on a big Chicago Box-Set a few years ago, so it's not like the company couldn't have released the album earlier. So, that's one question I'd like Rhino to answer. The SECOND, more IMPORTANT question I would pose to Rhino's execs is, "Why was one of the best songs on the album, 'GET ON THIS', left OFF the album?" Especially since Rhino's "Sisyphus" CD features 4 bonus tracks, 3 of those DEMO or OUT-TAKE versions of finished songs already on the album! Why not remove one of those bonus tracks and substitute "Get On This"? It's one of the most powerful rockers that Chicago has ever recorded, and its inclusion would only have made the Rhino-issued "Sisyphus" BETTER. I guess Rhino shaved the song off, so they could include it on another Chicago collection and sell lots more CD's. As I've said before, it's always about the money!



Here it is, Rhino Records' 2008 version of Chicago's 1993 "Stone Of Sisyphus" album. With "Get On This" left OFF. Okay, okay, I've griped about that long enough. We as a society are conditioned, after all, to view everything negatively, so I Stand Accused. But there are plenty of High Spots on this disc...The title track, "Stone of Sisyphus", features some aggressive horn charts, in addition to a driving rhythm section. "All The Years", sums up all that's happened since Chicago recorded its first album in 1968. (The song features a brief snippet of Crowds at the 1968 Democratic Convention chanting, "The Whole World's Watching" which they'd used in the song "Someday" on their very first album) as well as impassioned vocals and a booming, doomsday-ish backbeat. The group even pulls off a RAP song, "Sleeping In The Middle Of The Bed", complete with group-rap, blaring horns and funkiness. Remember, this was recorded in 1993...right in the hey-day of early rap. It's different, but it's also intriguing.

There are a couple of nice ballads on 'Sisyphus', just in case Chicago's propensity to rock out on this disc confuses those who never heard the group before 1982..."Let's Take A Lifetime" is a sweet sentimental tune, and "Bigger Than Elvis", also a ballad, is very poignant. The song was written and sung by Jason Scheff, who joined Chicago after lead singer/bassist Peter Cetera left in the early '80s (Cetera has recorded nothing but CRAP since). Jason Scheff's dad was Jerry Scheff, who played bass in ELVIS PRESLEY'S band. Jason saw a tape of one of Elvis' shows, and saw his Dad, and wrote the song for him. I always thot Jason was kind-of a nerd, but he's got talent, although I find his vocals sometimes unnecessarily breathy in nature.

The rest of the songs on "Sisyphus", tunes such as "Mah Jongg", "The Show Must Go On", "The Pull" or "Cry For The Lost" are all played with an energy and conviction that was missing from Chicago's output during the '80s, '90s, and into the '00's. When I first heard this album, IMMEDIATELY, I thought, "gosh, this is pretty doggone good". Horns! Driving Tempos! Energy! Fun! Creativity! Wow...and I guarantee that whatever your musical tastes, you're gonna like this album, should you decide to buy a copy. I've had a bootleg copy in my collection for a couple of years now (pictured below), so I'm really familiar with this album. But, I, ever the collector, I had to buy the 'legitimate' copy, in SPITE of the fact that "Get On This", one of the BEST tunes on this album was left OFF.



This is the bootlegged copy I have of the 'Sisyphus' album. It's been circulating 'round the Net for a good many years. It proudly features "Get On This" in all its driving, rocking, blaring glory. I absolutely LOVED Chicago's music, almost ALL of it, that came out in the years 1968 thru, say, 1977 or thereabouts. They recorded some good songs after that, but it wasn't until I had first heard this 1993 album, a couple of years ago, that I got excited about Chicago's music again. And most of the music on this bootleg disc is available on the 'legit' disc. I don't know if the band will ever create such good music again...in-between this 'boot' CD and the 'legit' CD, they did release a big-band album, a couple of Christmas albums (One of their Christmas albums was "Chicago 25", so I thot that was cool), and another pop-type studio album...but NONE of those matches the energy of 'Sisyphus'. I honestly can't say enough good things about it, although I've tried.
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Sisyphus, of course, was that poor Greek guy who was given the job of rolling a huge stone up the hill; he'd get near the top, lose his grip, the stone would roll back down to the bottom, so he'd dutifully try rolling the stone up the hill again. Legend has it he's doing that still.

P.S. In case there's anyone out there who reads this blog regularly, another new post lurks immediately below this one. I guess I'm a "volume dealer", huh?

2 Comments:

Blogger MarmiteToasty said...

I remember that band Chicago..... was never really a fan, but they still play some of their hits on our local radio station every know and then and I can still sing along to them...... dam Im old lol

x

7:18 AM  
Blogger Idaho Escapee said...

Hi, Marmee...if you liked the sound of the 'old' Chicago, this new album would be right up your alley. I was a rabid fan of Chicago...Good Stuff...as far as age, well...I'm 54, so I'm gettin' up thar as well. It's the old music, tho, that makes me feel young. At least, that is, until I get up out of my chair and try to stand. Then I feel old again. Bah humbug...

6:01 PM  

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