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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saturday In The Park

The summer is already in full swing, and by my last count, we still have plenty of summer days left on our calendar. There's still plenty of time to kick back with a nice cool beverage by the pool side, applying suntan lotion all over yourself (perhaps the nice coconut scented Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen with 60 SPF that I usually use on the hottest days of the year), and enjoy such summer activities like swimming, volleyball on the beach, barbecuing, and frisbee throwing...

...or, you could be like me and not have any vacation time until September and spend the entire summer working for a living.

But no...I'm not bitter about that. Much. I just have to keep telling myself that September is technically a month that is more summer than fall and that it will still be lovely weather the week I do go on vacation, and that I'll still manage to enjoy having some time off even though it's at the tail end of the summer months...

...yeah, I'm not convincing you, am I? I'm not even convincing MYSELF here!

Oh least there's one thing that I can have going for me. I have downloaded onto my iPod what I believe to be some of the most quintessential songs necessary for anybody's summer soundtrack. And, for the rest of the summer, I plan on sharing some of these songs with all of you in this and every Sunday Jukebox until the official end of summer 2013, which this year will be on a Sunday (September 22).

I figure that if I do this, then at least I'll be able to partially enjoy some of the summer through music. And, hey, it may give all of you reading this some ideas of songs to play at your own summer celebrations.

So, let's get right into it with today's summer favourite.

First, I'll give you a little bit of a personal story in regards to this song. It happens to be a song that I heard a lot in my childhood. Back in the days of the 1980s, my mom would always have our local radio station turned on whether she was listening to it in the kitchen while she was baking cookies, or in the car radio driving all over town. The radio station at that time was an AM radio station (it switched over to FM radio in either the late 1990s or early 2000s), and as far back as I could remember, kids my age used to make fun of it.

Let's face it. AM radio had its place in history, but by the 1980s, it was becoming incredibly old-fashioned and inconvenient. The sound quality of AM radio was poor compared to the crisp, stereo sound of FM radio. You practically had to strain your ears to be able to listen to some songs. It just couldn't compare to the radio station that my peers and I preferred to listen to (which at the time was Ogdensburg's PAC 93).

And this brings me to my next point. The reason that my classmates and I tuned into PAC 93 during our formative years was because it was the one radio station that played music from the Top 40 charts. I don't even think that the radio station played anything that was recorded before 1979. It had the biggest hits, it had the coolest disc jockeys, it even had Casey Kasem on weekends!

Our local AM radio station seemed to only have twenty-five albums at its disposal. And more often than not, they played music that predated even myself. Lots of 1970s soft rock, 1980s adult contemporary and even some...shudder...disco. It was fine for people like my parents and elder siblings who grew up listening to that type of music, but as a nine year old kid, I was more content listening to MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, R.E.M., Paula Abdul, Madonna, and Duran Duran.

(Quite the eclectic mix, huh?)

However, once in a while the local radio station would pull out a few gems from their limited record collection. Songs that I would actually like listening to. Granted, the sound quality was still terrible, but again, it was AM radio.

This particular song happens to be forty-one years old this month, and it was recorded by a band that has gone through some major changes in members and style over its forty-six year history.

Can you believe it? The band's been together forty-six years! The only band I know that has lasted longer is “The Rolling Stones”, and half the time, I find myself finding it hard to believe that Mick Jagger turned seventy years old two days ago!

Anyway, this particular song was recorded on America's 195th birthday – July 4, 1971. This band was set to record their latest album in New York City right around that time, and to pass the time in New York, one of the band members took a tour around Central Park, which at the time was filled with people celebrating America's birthday. And according to him, the park had it all. From buskers to steel drum players to singers to dancers, it inspired this man to jot down a few lyrics based on what he had seen. When he returned to the hotel where the rest of the band were staying, he talked the other members into putting the lyrics to music.

That song became the band's highest charting single at that time, and helped the band's album reach the top spot on the Billboard 200 album list.

So, given that Robert Lamm came up with the inspiration behind the song that peaked at #3 on the charts in the summer of 1972, it was only appropriate that Lamm be the lead vocalist for the following single.

ARTIST: Chicago
SONG: Saturday In The Park
ALBUM: Chicago V
DATE RELEASED: July 10, 1972

So, at the time that this single was released, the album “Chicago V” was actually the band's fourth studio album. Confused? Don't be. The live album that the band released in 1971 “Chicago at Carnegie Hall” could also be considered “Chicago IV”. You see, that was the thing with Chicago. Almost all of their albums had the same name...Chicago. The only way to tell which album was which was by the Roman numeral that followed afterward. In total, Chicago has released a total of thirty-four albums...

...or I guess that should be XXXIV albums.

Now, over those thirty-four albums, the line-up of Chicago changed more often than most people changed their underpants, so it could be very hard to determine which band member played on which album. Fortunately, I have the list of all seven band members who were a part of the Chicago V album, and by association, “Saturday In The Park”.

You already know that Robert Lamm sang the vocals and played keyboards on the single. Now meet the other members of the band during 1972. They were...

Terry Kath – guitar, vocals
Peter Cetera – bass, vocals
Lee Loughnane – trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, vocals
James Pankow – trombone, percussion
Walter Parazaider – woodwinds, percussion
Danny Seraphine – drums, congas, antique bells

You know, that's quite an assortment of musical instruments and talent. And, speaking of talent, there's a couple of pieces of trivia that I want to share in regards to this song.

First, Peter Cetera's voice can be heard in the background of “Saturday In The Park”. And secondly, the real all-star of Chicago V was Robert Lamm. Not only did he provide lead vocals and write “Saturday In The Park”, but he wrote eight of the ten tracks listed on the Chicago V album!

To Chicago's credit, the whole Chicago V album was absolutely amazing. I think it's probably one of their most successful albums, and it happens to be one that has some of the band's best works. And, it was recorded at a time in which the band was gelling well together both professionally and personally. Who knew that just five and a half years after this single was released that Terry Kath would accidentally kill himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound just days before he turned thirty-two?

Saturday In The Park” was, I think, one of the songs that helped showcase the band at its very best. And, how could you not be in a great mood after hearing this song? One of the reasons I loved listening to the song as a child was because it sounded so happy and carefree...the way that some of our most memorable summers should be. And, it was a very positive song with a very positive message which some might not get until the very last verse.

The first third of the song talks about a man walking through the park on what he thought was the fourth of July.

TRIVIA: It wasn't. The fourth of July fell on a Sunday in 1971, which was the day that Robert Lamm strolled through Central Park which inspired the song. However, the following Saturday was July 10...which was exactly one year before the single was released onto radio!

But the sights that he saw while he was waiting for Saturday to come were very pleasant. Who doesn't love the sounds of people talking and laughing? And who didn't love going up to the man selling ice cream, wanting to purchase a popsicle or a fudgsicle? It takes me back to the days in which my grandmother and grandfather were still alive and the ice cream wagon used to drive by their house. I don't know how much ice cream I bought from that man, but I estimate that I probably helped him put a down payment on a house.

Heh...just kidding.

TRIVIA: You know in the first verse where Robert Lamm sings about that man selling ice cream singing Italian songs? Well, in the actual lyrics for the song, that lyric is represented by a question mark! You see, the Italian lyrics were completely improvised on the spot. The first part of the Italian lyric is “Eh Cumpari”, and then a bunch of nonsensical Italian words following suit. I would imagine that if someone from Italy were hearing this song for the first time, they'd be a hundred shades of confused!

It's not until we get to hear the second and third verses that the bigger picture opens up.

The song itself is filled with fantastic images, and every time I hear this song I can picture all of it as if I were walking through the park and gazing at all the people having fun. I could picture the man singing in the park with his guitar with his desire to change the world through music. I could see everyone laughing in the park. I could see the people coming together to celebrate the love and the freedom and the happiness that they felt in that park on that fourth of July. And, it comes down to this rhetorical question.

Why can't every day be like that?

Why can't we all come together and celebrate love instead of tearing each other apart to feed the hate? Why can't we all just celebrate life and all the day-to-day joys that can come from simply living?

Well, according to Chicago, they've been waiting for a long time for that day. In fact, I think a lot of us have been waiting for a long time for a day in which we can all just let loose and have fun enjoying what life has to offer without worry or fear.

I think almost all of us are waiting for that day to come.

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