Figuring out the styles of music that Chicago has ventured into over their 36-year history is easy; the difficult thing would be to find a musical road they have not taken. The Box is a definitive collection spanning their illustrious, and for the most part, underrated career. Regardless of the fact that they may have been taken for granted and were not always the critics darlings they have been one of the most successful bands in the world.
Covering a career spanning 36 years is no easy task yet Rhino does a superb job of choosing the key songs that feature Chicago’s development from the beginning to present day of their eclectic blend of rock, jazz, fusion and pop. Before the premature death of founding member Terry Kath, this band not only had one of the most innovative guitar players and distinctive voices in music, they had two other vocalists/instrumentalist that carried quite a presence in the studio and onstage, Robert Lamm (keyboards) and Peter Cetera (bass).
Reflecting upon the first decade of the band’s existence boggles the mind at how much talent was at their disposal. It is beyond my comprehension how they were not considered as one of the best bands in the world right out of the gate. At first, they had to travel to Europe to find an audience appreciative of their sophisticated sound and eventually U.S. audiences realized what they offered music lovers of all kinds. Crossing over the lines of jazz and fusion made them unique and hard to categorize. Adding horns to the mix of rock music was enticing to many groups but nobody could duplicate what Chicago did.
Personally, some of the very first vinyl LPs I ever purchased with my hard-earned paper route money was when they had just changed their name from Chicago Transit Authority to Chicago (they were forced to do so). I remained interested all the way through to volume V, and then somehow I got lost into a hard rock abyss and did not pull out those albums for many years. All of this music reminded me why I liked them so much to begin with, with one exception; I, like many others, never realized how complex and interesting their music was. I especially recognized this watching them go off into a free form jazz run on the archived live footage on the bonus DVD. Their music is still as breathtaking and fresh today as it was when they first created it.
The accompanying book is a fascinating compilation of photos of the band over the years with a detailed history of the music available on each disc. Keep in mind that this band has gone through several changes without missing a beat and their popularity has never waned. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to listen to all this music again. Of course, now I want to pick up the remastered albums I-III offered by Rhino.
You would think after listening to five CDs and watching a DVD that I would want to give it a rest but I want to start from disc one and do it all over again. Like the Beatles and Beach Boys, this music is timeless and will have the same appeal to listeners today and many years beyond the band’s lifetime, giving significance to the thought- "People live and die and music is immortal."