My favorite Chicago song

I was actually singing an Eagles song the other night as I carried laundry up from the basement, but my daughter thought it sounded like a Chicago song.

Really? I couldn’t imagine a Chicago song sounding like “Take It to the Limit” but she hummed the part that reminded her of “that old Chicago song” I apparently used to play a lot when she was little, and I realized that indeed the repeated notes of “coming back, you’re running back, you’re coming back for more” sound a little like notes in the latter part of “Feeling Stronger Every Day.”

So then we had to listen to both songs, which I do really like.

But then I said, “Do you want to hear my favorite Chicago song?” and she was game.

Right before I entered ninth grade, my family moved to a new town. At my previous school system, there were separate tracks for orchestra, concert band, and marching band. Orchestra was perceived as where the best players chose to be, and that was where I had always intended to wind up. However, my new town’s school had no orchestra and only one band. You played in the marching band during football season and switched over to concert band the rest of the year. I was very unhappy about not only the lack of an orchestra but especially the requirement that concert band members participate in marching band.

Yet, as is often the case with disappointments like these, marching band turned out to be the most fun I had in high school.

Because I was new and hadn’t been to summer band camp, I wasn’t able to participate in marching band my first year. My family lived up on a hill above town, and at home every afternoon after school that fall, I could hear faint sounds of the marching band rehearsing on the practice field behind the football stadium.

We had a new band director, freshly graduated from Ohio State and a member of TBDBITL, who was putting together shows with fabulous formations similar to but less high-tech than 21st-century astonishments like the Michael Jackson moonwalk formation (see my post about it HERE) and SO different from the pinwheels that most marching bands relied upon at the time. Even better, the new band director was writing his own arrangements of contemporary rock/pop music for the band to perform instead of the traditional John Philips Sousa type marches that other bands played.

Anyway, I can still remember being at home up on the hill that fall, everything bathed in golden autumn sunlight, while listening to the marching band’s faraway strains of strangely syncopated brass in this song that I’d never heard before. It immediately became, and still remains, my favorite song by the band Chicago, namely “Free,” written by Robert Lamm, one of the group’s founding members (and who I believe still plays with the band).

I love that early ’70s jazzy, progressive rock sound! So did my daughter when I played it for her. She’s very into all types of music, and this song nicely captures that era.

By the way, a few years ago Chicago played Summerfest here in Milwaukee and stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel (now Saint Kate’s) kitty-corner (Milwaukee-speak for “catty-corner” or “cater-cornered,” meaning opposite, on the diagonal) from the Red Arrow Starbucks where I go for coffee on weekdays. The baristas told me that members of Chicago came across the street to Starbucks for coffee and were really nice.

Makes me glad 🙂

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in Life, Music, Popular culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to My favorite Chicago song

  1. MELewis says:

    I suppose the sounds of those great bands of the 70s sound similar looking back. Haven’t heard either played in years but you inspire me to take a musical trip down memory lane! BTW, We also say ‘kitty corner’ in Canada.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. babsje says:

    For a few minutes there I thought you were my sister… But instead of listening to band practice from a home on the top of a hill we listened from our house in a little valley below the school where the band practice echoed. She played the sax not out of any great love for the instrument but because the band director needed a sax. And we were in suburban Pittsburgh which probably wasn’t your town? I really enjoyed reading your post send listening to the Chicago tunes. Thank you for the walk down memory lane tonight. I guess that band experience was a sort of ‘universal’ for our generation. Best, Babsje

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, hello neighbor! I was downriver from you, about halfway along the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to the point at the bottom of the state of Ohio. The Pittsburgh landscape is super similar to my little town, though, so I’d say we had the same basic experience. Yes, I agree the band experience was sort of universal at that time, at least in our Midwestern Appalachian part of the country. So glad to know I’ve found another “sister” out there in the world❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  3. cheriewhite says:

    This takes me back to when I was a small child and my parents used to play their Chicago’s Greatest Hits record! They were huge fans of Chicago and so were my aunts and uncles. Every time I hear those 70’s bluesy, jazzy songs with the horns blaring, I automatically think of my parents (my dad is now deceased). I think of my dad being in his Army greens and driving his silver 1968 Pontiac LeMans. The details may not seem important, but these little details can be so powerful and nostalgic! Thank you so much, Katherine, for posting and taking me back to such simpler times! I miss 19-something!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cherie, thank you for sharing those beautiful details: your dad in his Army greens and driving his 1968 Pontiac LeMans. They certainly are powerful and nostalgic! I can see him through your eyes and memory just as surely as I can recall that late-afternoon autumn sunlight and the faint strains of music wafting up the hill from the marching band down in the practice field.

      Liked by 1 person

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