"Chicago may not have been the first rock band to graft on a horn section (Blood, Sweat & Tears comes to mind), but they were certainly the most prolific. Over the past 30 years Chicago has released more than 25 albums and scored 35 Top 40 hits. This 4-CD box set covers the band's heyday on Columbia from its self-titled debut in 1969 (when they were called the Chicago Transit Authority) until the band was dropped from the label in 1981 when their last two albums for Columbia (Chicago XIII and XIV) failed to produce any singles. [Chicago would go on to produce another dozen hits into the 90s on Warner/Reprise, but none of those hits are on this set.]Group Portrait kicks off with all six tracks from the first disc of the band's double-disc debut. Only "I'm a Man" (the Spencer Davis Group classic) is included from the second disc. [It would have been nice to hear "Free Form Guitar" and "South California Purples" as well.] At any rate, these first seven songs show what a tight band Chicago was from the beginning--and these guys could rock. Check out Terry Kath's guitar work on "Questions 67 & 68," "Poem 58" and "I'm a Man"--powerful stuff! Undeniably, Chicago's debut was the strongest of their career and the one to seek out if this box set only whets your appetite for more.Chicago II is nearly as strong as the debut and as such is represented by no fewer than ten tracks. Tracks 8-14 appeared on the original release as "Suite for a Girl in Buchannon." It also yielded their biggest hit to date with "25 or 6 to 4." The first disc of this box set is essential listening.From this point on in the band's career the material gets a little spotty. But where this box set succeeds is that it gives you all 22 of the Columbia hits you know and love, plus key album tracks like "A Hit by Varese," "Alma Mater" (both from Chicago V), "Critics' Choice" (from Chicago VI) "Harry Truman" (from Chicago VIII) and "Another Rainy Day in New York City" and "You Are on My Mind" (from Chicago X). The only real downside to this box set is its lack of information other than a list of songs and running lengths. There is no additional information--NONE! Not even the band members' names, let alone any kind of band history or song information. [The problem is that this box set used to be available through Columbia and it DID include an extensive booklet. Now this box set is only available through Chicago Records and while the music is exactly the same, there is no booklet. If the booklet is important to you, check first to see if you're buying the Columbia or Chicago Records product--I have seen the Columbia set still available in stores during the past year.]Aside from that complaint, this is an extremely comprehensive look at Chicago's best work. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED"
Covers Chicago's Glory Years!
W. Langan | the end of the world to your town! | 08/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I had to dock this box set 1 star because some of the mixing leaves a lot to be desired (particularly on "Intorduction", "I'm a Man", "Dialogue", and "Byblos"). However, this set is pretty generous with tracks from what I consider Chicago's glory years (1969-77)! I like some of the stuff they did on the Full Moon label but you'll have to get Greatest Hits 1981-89 for stuff from that era. Also, the booklet with informative liner notes is no longer available (unless you're buying the original Columbia version, which I was lucky enough to recently get!). It touches not only on each record from CTA to XIV but talks about the formation of the band, how they were busy rehearsing and writing a year before Blood, Sweat, and Tears were cutting their teeth successfully, individual members' influences, the hiring of percussionist Laudir de Oliveira (who guested on VI and VIII and joined fulltime on VIII), the firing of their producer James Guercio, the untimely death of guitarist Terry Kath (by the way, Kath's suicide was indeed an accident), and 2 of his replacements Donnie Dacus and Chris Pinnick. Chicago records needs to take note and include the booklet in the future.That said, on with the review. CD1 features tracks from their 1969 debut Chicago Transit Authority- Kath's autobiographical "Introduction", "Questions", "Beginnings", "I'm a Man" (excellent jamming from Kath and bassist Peter Cetera and I believe this is a different mix since you get a few bars from the brass section), "Does Anybody Really Know..." with Robert Lamm's piano intro in its entirety. This album established Chicago in the brass/rock mold. Chicago II (notice the band's namechange) features James Pankow's entire "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" (with "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World"), as well as "Fancy Colours" (true jazz fusion with an impressive flute solo by Walt Parazaider), "25 or 6 to 4", and Cetera's writing debut "Where Do We Go From Here" (inspired by Walter Cronkite).On CD2, III features a grabbag of styles- folk on "Flight 602", straightahead rock on "Free", jazz on "Mother", and Beatles influence on "What Else Can I Say" (I wish they included "Hour In the Shower" and "Motorboat to Mars"). "Song for Richard..." from Carnegie Hall is a little sloppy and trite. Songs form V include the Jethro Tull-esque "Hit by Varese", "Saturday in the Park" (inspired by a trip Lamm made in Central Park), Lamm's thought-challenging "Dialogue" in which Kath plays the concerned interviewer and Cetera the naive interviewee), and Kath's poignant "Alma Mater". VI features "Feelin' Stronger", Cetera's country-influenced "Terms of 2", Lamm's vitriolic "Critics' Choice" (written to many of the critics who wrote negative reviews about their work), "Just You n'Me", and "Something In This City..." (where Lamm shares lead with Cetera, Kath, and Lee Loughnane). CD3 includes from VII "Life Saver" (which may have influenced Spyro Gyra), one of Cetera's few jazz songs "Happy Man" along with "Wishing You Were Here" (featuring Beach Boys Dennis and Carl Wilson and Al Jardine on harmonies), "Byblos" (a bittersweet account of a love affair which features some rare acoustic guitar work by Kath), Loughnane's songwriting debut "Call on Me", Pankow's powerful "Searchin'...", and Lamm's "Skinny Boy". Only 3 songs on VIII appear- Pankow's sentimental "Old Days" (not Cetera's favorite, though he sang lead), Lamm's Beatlesque "Harry Truman", and the jazzy "Brand New Love Affair" (Kath sings on the melancholy Part 1 and Cetera sings lead on the bouncy Part 2). From X, you get Cetera's pop ballad "If You Leave Me Now", Pankow's fair-sounding singing debut "...On My Mind", the Latin-flavored "Another Rainy Day in NYC", Loughnane's "Together Again", and Kath's bittersweet "Hope for Love".CD4 starts off with XI (Chicago's last album with Kath and Guercio producing) and features 2 songs written by drummer Danny Seraphine "Take Me Back to Chicago" and the poignant (some may say sappy, but I like it) "Prelude/Little One" (Kath's swansong on vocals) as well as Cetera's hit "Baby What a Big Surprise" and Kath's "Mississippi Delta". After this release and Terry Kath's death in 1978, Chicago would never be the same. The remaining tracks feature some mostly passable work (most interesting are "Alive Again" from Hot Streets and "American Dream"). The only rarities are "Closer to You" (written and sung by Kath's replacement Dacus) and "Doin' Business". The boxset comes full circle with 1971's Carnegie Hall rendition of "Beginnings" (a great version with an interesting coda courtesy of Pankow, Loughnane, and Parazaider)."
The only collection from this once-great group you'll need!
Gary Gardner | Ellsworth, ME United States | 02/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When comparing recent "best-of" collections of this once great jazz/rock fusion band to this fabulous 4-CD box set, I can't help but be elated by the fact that I bought this one. Being a true rock/blues fan, naturally I will tend to be drawn toward the band's true creative renaissance (1968-1975). Their schmaltzy, synth-driven drivel in the 1980's ruined it for me. Thankfully, only the classic years are represented in this set.All the stand-outs from their first three (all double albums!) releases are here and totally unexpurgated, which can't be said for the other "best-ofs." For instance, the wonderful piano intro to "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?" is faithfully replicated. And, unlike other "best-ofs", where some of the hits are inexplicably left off, such is thankfully not the case here; every single hit from their classic period has been left on.The "Make Me Smile" tandem, with the five songs that connect them in between, runs complete, and is easily the most enjoyable moment from "Chicago II." There are great bonuses, though: the incredible remake of Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man"; the hard-rockin' "Free"; and the band's "letter of intent", "Introduction", are here on display.You'd be hard pressed to find any track on the first two CD's that aren't at least very good; generally, they are classic. The less indulgent tracks from the very uncommercial "Chicago III" album are rightfully picked as tracks, like the Crosby, Stills & Nash-inflected "Flight 602", "Mother", and "Lowdown." Disc Three gets a little more commercial and a bit quieter, but still has much to sustain it. Bassist Peter Cetera takes over much of the group's lead here. Indeed, more of the hits can be run down on this disc: "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long", "Wishing You Were Here", "Old Days", and "If You Leave Me Now."Disc Four starts to get thin about four cuts in, but there were still many hits included. However, you notice less and less of the great horn-playing that made Chicago such innovators. The true fans of this band will tell you that! However, the last track is a live recording of "Beginnings," recorded at the famous Carnegie Hall show from the early 70's. My biggest gripe with this otherwise top-notch collection is that no lyrics or liner notes (not even a book!) were included. Such an undertaking would have mitigated the bad or unnecessary songs quite a bit. Yes, there are some truly awful tracks included here, the worst being "A Song For Richard and His Friends," an obvious dig at the doomed president, Nixon, the two-part "Little One", and "Must Have Been Crazy"; also, with the death of guitarist Terry Kath, the band had clearly lost its fire, and it shows with the wishy-washy quality of the post-Kath songs.Still, you could do far worse than to experience the unique Chicago sound archived here. It is the best, truly essential collection of classic Chicago anywhere. Forget the others; this one is the one to save up the bucks for!"
The Definitive Compilation
J. A. Crabb | Nashville, TN USA | 05/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was the first Chicago album I purchased, having grown up with all the hits I finally bought the box set a few years after it came out. It is really too bad the new box set leaves out the liner notes. The Columbia version's booklet has so many anecdotes in it, such as personal memories by the band and extensive information from interviews with James William Guercio. Try to find the Columbia version of Group Portrait if you can! If you like the first two cds more than the last two I recommend Chicago II and III. The fourth CD sounds nothing like Chicago in 1969 that's for sure. With the passing of Terry Kath, producer conflicts, and the pull of disco, it is a miracle Chicago survived after XIV. What a comeback in the 80s, but you'll have to get the Greatest Hits 1982-1989 for any post 1981 material because the group switched from Columbia to Warner Bros."