Ask anyone, of any age, to name the first album she or he purchased, and you can bet the disc mentioned will be cool: a classic that's truly stood the test of time. And do you know why?
Because people lie.
Okay, maybe some of them are telling the truth; they might have had older siblings who were able to steer them in interesting directions (I was the first-born), or they simply stumbled upon a future benchmark by sheer coincidence (no such luck in my case). But I find it difficult -- no, impossible -- to believe that every single music buyer on the planet aside from me started on a remarkably beautiful note. Otherwise, it makes no sense that the first recording I paid for all by myself, shortly after my 11th birthday, was 1972's Chicago V.
Over the years, I've explained away this personal catastrophe in a variety of ways, most of them centering on my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado, whose sole pop-music station of the era would play Top 40 hits only if they'd been performed by Caucasians. I also point out that the second album I purchased was Stevie Wonder's Fulfillingness' First Finale, a great platter that somehow avoided being blacklisted, and my first cassette was the soundtrack to Superfly, which remains super-cool even today. But not until Rhino began reissuing Chicago's back catalogue did another possibility occur to me. What if, I wondered, Chicago V is actually terrific? An overlooked classic, perhaps. If so, that would make it even cooler than all those obvious classics everyone else boasts about, right?
No such luck -- although my first listen to the album in about three decades did contain some surprises. I remembered that "Saturday in the Park," the album's irritatingly catchy hit, included some really dopey, hippie-era lines such as "Will you help him change the world?/Can you dig it? (Yes, I can!)." But I had completely forgotten that the other tunes were packed even more tightly with revolution-speak -- and none of it has aged well. "While the City Sleeps" laments that "Men are scheming/New ways to kill us/And tell us dirty lies"; likewise, "State of the Union" features a voice "in the darkness" crying "Tear the system down! Tear it down!" to the sound of sludgy jazz-rock that wasn't even radical when it was new. Worst of all is the two-part "Dialogue," in which Peter Cetera and Terry Kath engage in the most banal political debate since the development of human speech. (Terry: "Does it make you angry the way the war is dragging on?" Peter: "Well, I hope the president knows what he's into.") Afterward, the band chimes in with an allegedly rousing call to arms: "We can make it better! We can make it happen!"
For Christ's sake. Where's a nightstick when you need one?
When the disc, which sports three bonus tracks that weren't bonuses to me, finally came to a merciful conclusion, I understood the bitter truth: Chicago V blows even worse than I feared. But at least I don't feel the need to lie about it. Can you say the same?
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