The average copy of this album is an unmitigated DISASTER. The smeary brass alone is enough to drive anyone from the room. To a list of its faults you can confidently add some or all of the following: 1) blobby, blurry, out of control bass; 2) opaque veiled mids; 3) rolled off highs, or no highs, whichever the case may be, common to virtually every pressing you find 4) plain old distortion; and, last but not least, 5) the kind of compressed, lifeless sound that manages to make this groundbreaking album boring — and that’s not easy to do.
The music ROCKS! It’s the crappy records Columbia pressed that suck.
360 or Red Label
In our most recent shootout we found that both can be good. We tended to prefer sides three and four on Red Labels in general — none of the 360s we played had the same kind of low end weight for I’m A Man.
In-Depth Track Commentary
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy you’ll know it pretty quick. Grit and grain in the vocal on this track will have you running for the nearest exit. Conversely, you still need presence without smear or the brass won’t have the bite of the real thing, and a Chicago album without good brass is pretty pointless.
They really put their best foot forward with this cut — a true sing-along anthem.
THE best Chicago song of all time! Pop music just does not get any better. The one-two punch of that amazing trombone solo followed by the equally amazing trumpet solo still knocks me out.
Part of what makes Chicago’s brass so distinctive is the infrequent use of saxophone in the brass complement. The Chicago brass is darker and heavier than, say, that of Blood Sweat and Tears, and that Heavy Brass Sound was never better than on this, their first album.
Questions 67 and 68
When the chorus comes in the bass had better be tight or the whole thing will turn to mud. The best copies have tons of energy and life on this song. Though not a hit, it still stands as one of the best tracks on the album and a real highpoint for early-period Chicago.
Free Form Guitar
South California Purples
I’m a Man
Not the typical audiophile’s first choice in a Demonstration Quality track, but if you have the right kind of stereo (a big one, natch) and a top quality pressing (for side three anyway), watch out.
This track has the power to knock you right out of your socks. The bass part that Cetera opens the song with has an unbelievably solid tone. At the same time it’s harmonically rich and has subterranean power that must be heard to be believed. Holy Smokes does it ever sound good!
We have a large number of entries in our new Listening in Depth series.
We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.
You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.
And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.
Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.