New Blog Post about Robert's songwriting

The Songs and Lyrics of Chicago's Robert Lamm

This post is more personal than my others ones. I wanted to express what these songs meant to me when I was younger, and they still resonate. The fact that Robert has continued to put really great, outside the formula, songs on Chicago's albums is something that has gone over the heads of some of the professional critics, so I wanted to mention some of them.  

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  • Late seeing this...
    I believe the impact might be the same for you musically, but if you had lived in those days and experienced the ambiance, the joy & excitement of the band and the music at an outdoor concert where you could sit on a rail touching the stage on a warm September late afternoon, it was like nothing that's ever been re-created in my life ever again.
    • I need to change that profile statement. ;) I've been reading some of the more heated threads about the movie, and so many people take it so personally, especially what happened with Danny. I find the complaints really annoying. Fans really have no right to criticize Chicago or play Monday morning quarterback about that stuff. I listen more because of musical interest, but it's not really the soundtrack of my life like it is for the baby boomers who wanted to pretend they were their friends. Chicago's music wasn't something I shared with anyone. I just listen in my room alone, no one else I know personally cares.    

    • Tina, I meant to reply to your post where you said "That sounds so lonely and so sad!" but hit "delete" by accident. Yeah, my generation is pretty sad. I'd say Guns and Roses were the most popular band in my high school. It was a sad time. Every time I went out with friends, I couldn't wait to get home and listen to good music. :)  

  • I finally figured out how to post comments on your blog, and I just did on your latest.  I agree that Lamm is a great songwriter.  I think his influence on the band was edgy and experimental, and perhaps he helped open up the others to be more flexible.  Consider a few examples:  "Poem for the People" -- that strange syncopation of the brass near the last third of the song, adding one extra beat each measure then doubling back (perhaps that was Pankow's contribution?).  Then "Hollywood", starting in 7/4, then segueing to 4/4.  "Sing a Mean Tune Kid" may sound like an ordinary rock song, but the solo features an electrical guitar whose notes are in exact synch with Walt's saxophone -- a combination I've never heard before or since.  "Mother" similarly has daring experimentation of the horns (but again, maybe Pankow?).  Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home is an amazing vehicle -- not only for Walt's flute, but also for Danny's drums.  I always wonder how a song like that came to be fleshed out.  The authorship says "R. Lamm" -- but did he script everything out, including Walt's solo and Danny's continually morphing drum accompaniment?  Or did he just create the overall vehicle structure, then told them to just go to town with their own improvisation?

    Also, I confess I hadn't heard any of Lamm's solo work he's done over the past two decades, until a year ago, when I sat down to listen through most of it.  I was blown away by how he's continuing to experiment with sounds, chords, melodies, instrumentation, incorporating in subtle ways the changes in pop music around him, and even his vocal style he will sometimes vary depending on the song's mood.  I recall reading a comment he made to an interviewer perhaps three decades ago, where he said something like "I don't listen to much of today's music" and at the time, I thought that was oddly closed-minded.  But the proof is in the pudding.  He obviously is open to many musical influences.

    • My impression of Happy Cause I'm Going Home is that Robert wrote the chord changes and main melody, which he and Cetera sing in harmony.  Walt's solo is most certainly improvised by Walt, and occurs over a vamp of the song's opening two minor-7th chords. AND, I believe what we hear in the percussion department is Danny on set and James on timbales, which he seems to favor (as he did again on Mongonucleosis) and sometimes live in concert.

      I like the mellow analog sound of his Skinny Boy, but felt most of the songs were a bit "slight" compared to his other fare. Life is Good and In My Head had some great songs but the production sounded homemade and dated at times, probably because as I understand it some of the recordings sat for several years until they were released - and stuff from the 80's and 90's tends to date more quickly because of digital sounding instruments and the lightning pace sampling technology improves. However, Subtlety and Passion was a game changer for me, probably my favorite album of his in both song and sound quality, and he has kept that standard since. I wish he'd do more like that, on his own and in Chicago!

    • I thought that Another Trippy Day was a bit of a throwback to the 90s, and it feels beautifully warm and nostalgic to me! You feel the low end as well as hear it, which is perfect on a hip-hop inspired production. What they do now, through modern digital means, is replicate the sound values of the analog era.   

    • I'll have to re-listen to Sublety and Passion (I know I liked many of the songs, but it's all a blur now...).  As for Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home, I never detected timbales in there at all.  I'll listen again more closely.

    • Check out this soul jazz cover by Charles Earland (on organ) with Hubert Laws on flute and Billy Cobham on drums: 

    • Wow, nice! I haven't heard a cover of an early non-hit Chicago song before!

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