Talk From The Rock Room: Take One: Chicago - 'It Better End Soon' - Chicago II -'Can't Stand It No More'

Monday, October 26, 2020

Take One: Chicago - 'It Better End Soon' - Chicago II -'Can't Stand It No More'

The focus of today’s ‘Talk from the Rock Room’ Take One, is the song, ‘It Better End Soon’ found on side four of the 1970 LP ‘Chicago II’. Written by keyboardist and singer Robert Lamm the song is broke into four distinct movements. Politically motivated, like much of Chicago’s stellar early catalog, the song is pounded into the consciousness with a steely mantra of horns and guitar. Written in response to the Vietnam War and the mid-1960's civil rights movement; like all good art the song is still increasingly relevant. The ‘rock room’s focus for today's rant will be on the ten plus minute studio version, but I will also allude to the absolutely insane live versions performed by the group during the 1969-1971 time frame.

The opening lyrics of the song are a straight forward pleading for a better world:

Can't stand it no more
People dying
Crying for help for so many years
But nobody hears
Better end soon, my friend
It better end soon, my friend 

As stated, the song has a stunningly appropriate content for today’s current world climate. It just goes to show times never really change and human nature is human nature. 'Chicago' was a band that truly believed that music could change the world. But, I digress, the alchemy of the song really starts to develop as the horn trio honks out a repetitive five note cluster with the band coalescing around the groove. An earthy funk rolls over on itself as Cetera climbs the neck with a deliciously funky R and B bass line that lands into verse one.

The song’s introduction and the first movement is supported with Terry Kath’s gritty electric washboard scrubbing, setting the churning tempo. One of Kath’s musical gifts is that of having a drummer’s rhythm and his strumming patterns in the studio and especially the live versions are stunning. See this version from Tanglewood 1970 for a excellent example. As previously stated, Cetera then enters with a rotund and highly melodic bass line. In the 'rock room's opinion this is some of the finest playing Cetera has committed to tape. The trio of horns and drummer Danny Seraphine punctuate the groove. The groove is driving and constant. A drenching and dizzying wah wah lead line pours itself from Kath’s instrument. The horns blast out a conjoining melody line as the lyrics enter with the big bright Chicago vocal melodies. A second heaping dollop of wah wah brings up to Kath singing out verse two.

Following Kath’s disposal of the lyrics the second movement enters with Walter Parazaider’s spotlight and his stoically groovy flute solo. Dynamically reaching a peak, Kath and Lamm keep things together allowing Parazaider to explore the entirety of his instrument. Live version from this era include Walt quoting from a number of familiar melodies including ‘Dixie’. Kath lends well timed growls and asides vocally but Parazaider’s playing here is some of the best of his storied career. The rest of the band propels the groove with added handclaps, yells and percussive punctuations. During the extended live versions, with special attention paid to the aforementioned Tanglewood version from July 21, 1970 and the Isle of Wight version from August 28, 1970 later in the year, a full band improv would develop during these interludes.

The third movement that follows on the studio version is a Terry Kath rap. Helplessly groovy, Kath vamps on the famed Hendrix chord, the horn players again grab some percussion and a groove begins to develop. Flashes of thick Lamm B3 butter the bread as Kath lets it go. Pleading, begging, singing with a power reminiscent of Richard Manuel of the Band. The intensity is slowly wrenched up with Kath audibly wringing the emotion out of each and every word.  The live versions feature the same free flowing segment but with a bit more ‘in the moment’ guitar by Kath. Similarly to Kath’s idol Jimi Hendrix, Kath has mastered the art of dual singing with both guitar and vocals. I’ve mentioned the Tanglewood version a number of times now for the fact it is some of the best ‘Chicago’ footage of the founding members that exists. Someday, if we are lucky, someday this footage will see an official release (and I can do the liner notes). Like the previous movement the band joins hands around Kath’s pleading, the horns elongate their accentuation with extended breaths while Cetera and Seraphine lock things down. The band lands with a huge splash while a soaked to the bone with soul Terry Kath emerges victoriously from the swirling musical pool.

The fourth movement is a return to the song proper and the opening verse melody; both creating and closing an amazing musical suite. The original lineup of ‘Chicago’ is a stunning multifarious musical monster with each element a divine expert at their parts. The first ten years of Chicago featured the band becoming revolutionary with their musical approaches, lyrical content and fresh improvisational ideas. While 'It Better End Soon' would eventually fall from the Chicago set lists as the decade of the 70's turned to ash, in the years 1969-1971 is was a centerpiece that encapsulated everything important and vital about the group. 

'It Better End Soon' -Chicago II

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