From Chicago to “America”

Fans of brass rock should be interested in this news:

Relentless after 46 years, Chicago releases catchy new anthem, “America” [OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE]

Iconic mega-band Chicago returns to its musical roots with a soaring grass-roots anthem about restoring the American dream

Chicago, Illinois (MMD Newswire) September 24, 2013 – – Multi-platinum, Grammy ® Award winning rock/jazz fusion band Chicago has released a new song, “America,” a stirring challenge to “we the people” to save the American dream before it’s too late.

Set for official release on September 24, “America” is poised to “make waves” in musical, political, and even sports circles (the LA Dodgers are already playing the track during their home games). The new hit-in-the-making takes Chicago back to their roots of impeccable musicianship, blended with the political awareness that was so prevalent during the group’s early days.

Very few rock bands have survived through six consecutive decades, much less remained relevant and productive. Chicago is no “oldies” group resting on faded memories. They have sung and played their way from the era of AM radio straight into the Internet Age, continuing to produce fresh, original music, touring to sold-out houses, and never missing a concert date. Not only have they remained relevant, they have also paved new paths that inspired countless other bands.

Chicago has simply concentrated on producing consistently good music. “America,” a song that some are saying could be an anthem of the new century, is laden with a strong chorus, hooks, and horn riffs throughout.

“America is a song that has been waiting to be written for many years,” according to band co-founder, Lee Loughnane. The core message of “America is you and me”, intuitively resonates with people. Chicago’s grass-roots message, far from being polarizing, is crafted to inspire people of all political perspectives, who, though disagreeing vehemently on many points, still share common fears and hopes for the future of the nation – we are truly all in this together.”

With lyrics and music also written by founding member Lee Loughnane, and impassioned lead vocals by keyboardist Lou Pardini, “America” features the classic horns and rhythms that have captivated listeners for generations. The lyrics are intentionally straight forward and memorable, and the sound is pure Chicago. …

“Perhaps in some way, the message found in ‘America’ will remind people to think about how much more we can all do, especially in what we demand from OUR government,” says Lee Loughnane. “America can and should be an even better place… We must find new ways to work together to preserve this remarkable pursuit of happiness. To preserve a life of freedom for generations to come, we simply cannot — must not — fail.”

And with those signature horns, tight rhythms and iconic vocals egging us on, failure does not seem to be an option.

Before I comment about “America” (not to be confused with Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” or Neil Diamond’s “America“): This news release demonstrates what I despise about public relations, my line of work for seven years — hype. “Relentless after 46 years”? “Iconic mega-band”? “Soaring grass-roots anthem”?

“Inspired countless other bands”? Name them. “… a song that some are saying could be an anthem of the new century”? Who’s saying that? Two people in the office of MMD Newswire? “The core message of “America is you and me”, intuitively resonates with people”? According to whom?

This sort of writing drives me nuts. And I say that as, as you know, a huge fan of Chicago. Fans appreciate their recording new stuff, but go to a concert (and I’ve been to three of them), and that part about being “no ‘oldies’ group resting on faded memories” doesn’t really quite apply. More to the point: The quality of something either speaks for itself, or doesn’t, and our buzz-saturated media landscape needs less hype, not more. MMD’s Newswire has a page called “Writing Help.” Rather than giving writing advice, I’d say MMD needs writing advice.

As for the song itself, you can hear a preview of it here. Click there, and you will hear these words:

… By the people,  for the people, everyone’s equal.
‘Cause this is America, America is free,
America, America, everyone’s free.
America, America is free,
America, America is you and me.
The Declaration tells us we’re all free and equal
No religion, no color, just people,
No one’s better, no one’s worse,
Everyone comes first.

I wouldn’t call it “a soaring grass-roots anthem” because rock anthems are usually higher-tempo and louder (in the sense of peaking all the bars, from earth-moving bass to soaring soprano, on a graphic equalizer display) than this. It does, however, fit into their early- to mid-’70s body of work, including “Saturday in the Park,” which I’d say it resembles the most in music. (Along with a little Santana.) You can hear the horns, which is a huge improvement over most of their work since the early ’80s. Of their most recent brass rock work, I’d say I prefer the sound of “Stone of Sisyphus” (for that matter, I prefer “Chicago Transit Authority” and “Chicago II,” specifically “Ballet for a Girl from Buckhannon“), but this isn’t bad at all, and certainly better than their sappier ballads.

It’s sort of an ironic song if you consider Chicago’s first work, including the entire last side of their first album, Chicago II’s “It Better End Soon,” on an album dedicated to “the revolution in all its forms.” It’s sort of a flashback to the last song on “Chicago II,” “Where Do We Go from Here,” written by former lead singer/bass player Peter Cetera (in his pre-sappy ballad era), or “Dialogue.” Though in the case of the former, I’m not sure if the words fit “America” or not:

Try to find a better place, but soon it’s all the same
What once you thought was a paradise is not just what it seems
The more I look around I find, the more I have to fear …
I know it’s hard for you to
Change your way of life
I know it’s hard for you to do
The world is full of people
Dying to be free
So if you don’t my friend
There’s no life for you, no world for me
Let’s all get together soon, before it is too late
Forget about the past and let your feelings fade away
If you do I’m sure you’ll see the end is not yet near

Arguably “Dialogue Part I,” a dialogue (get it?) between singers Terry Kath and Cetera …

TK: Are you optimistic ’bout the way that things are going?
PC: No, I never ever think of it at all

TK: Don’t you ever worry
When you see what’s going down?
PC: Well, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all

TK: When it’s time to function as a feeling human being
Will your Bachelor of Arts help you get by?
PC: I hope to study further, a few more years or so
I also hope to keep a steady high

TK: Will you try to change things
Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?
PC: What is this power you speak of and this need for things to change?
I always thought that everything was fine, everything is fine

TK: Don’t you feel repression just closing in around?
PC: No, the campus here is very, very free

TK: Don’t it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
PC: Well, I hope the President knows what he’s into, I don’t know

TK: Don’t you ever see the starvation in the city where you live
All the needless hunger, all the needless pain?
PC: I haven’t been there lately, the country is so fine
My neighbors don’t seem hungry ’cause they haven’t got the time, haven’t got the time

TK: Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my mind
I was troubled by the shapes of things to come
PC: Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numb
You’d always think that everything was fine, everything was fine.

… applies less than “Dialogue Part II”:

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better
We can make it happen
We can save the children
We can make it happen

(Some might say “Part I” sounds like a dialogue between the late ’60s or early ’70s (Kath) and the  ’80s (Cetera). The more cynical might say the entire theme from ’60s and ’70s for those of college age, other than avoiding getting drafted, are in the words “I also hope to keep a steady high.”)

Regular readers know I am, to say the least, skeptical of politics in rock music. There is, however, something possibly interesting going on between the “Dialogue” Chicago and the “America” Chicago. It’s hard to say that the ’60s were really about dialogue; they were about getting your own way, whether or not the mainstream agreed with you. No one cared about being divisive.

Loughnane’s comment about “what we demand from OUR government” is interesting given the people who claim that we demand contradictory things from OUR government — namely, more services but less taxes — which could be said to be a direct result of Loughnane’s generation. (Everyone comes first, as they say.) You certainly can’t blame the band for thinking something is seriously wrong with this country, because something (or more one than something) is seriously wrong with this country. The problem is that Americans can’t agree on what is wrong, other (maybe) than the nasty, winner-take-all, destroy-the-opposition attitude of and toward politics, let alone what to do about it. I have an opinion of why that is that is nonpartisan but certainly ideological; others have a different opinion from me. If I were to talk to a diehard Barack Obama lover (based on some of my more odious experiences on Wisconsin Public Radio), I’m not sure we’d agree on the time of day, let alone, say, what “free” should mean.

It’s nice to see some sunny, we-can-make-it-happen optimism of the late ’60s. I’m pretty sure it’s not warranted as we careen toward the mid-2010s as divided as we have been since the Civil War, with no hope in sight. (Remember how united we were after 9/11? That didn’t last long, did it?) But maybe I’m reading too much into a song.



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