Children play in the park, they don’t know I’m alone in the dark, even though…Time and time again I see Music Monday smiling inside…
I’m so happy, despite the fact that it is Monday. Because Music Monday told me it will stay, and make us all smile!
I have been talking about music – full albums, singles, isolation performances that helped make the pandemic and a time without concerts slightly more bearable – since June 2017, maintaining a weekly feature that I thought I’d keep going through the end of the summer of 2017.
Almost four years later, this weekly tradition is still going strong, but recently, I was thinking about taking a bit of the structure out of Allison’s Written Words, and retiring Music Monday as a weekly article. However, I figured before I did that, I had one more musical story to tell, which harkens back to the very first Music Monday article on June 5, 2017. It has been a fun ride – stories, lyrics, variations on lyrics, and the songs themselves. I’ve loved writing about songs I love, songs I grew up with, and telling those stories though meticulous research. Music will never fully go away from Allison’s Written Words, but I wanted to make sure the weekly feature went out on a high note (no pun intended), by throwing it back to the beginning.
On a blog that loves looking back, it only makes perfect sense.
And as it ushered in on a song by Those Guys From the Windy City, it will find its way to retirement by those same guys.
The year is 1970, the circumstance is an attempt to win back an ex-fiancee, and the whole thing is a nearly thirteen-minute “movement” of music.
“Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon,” simply called “The Ballet” by fans, is a 1970 mini-rock opera/song cycle/suite performed by Chicago, from their second album, Chicago (now referred to as Chicago II). At 12 minutes and 55 seconds, the “movement” was Chicago’s first attempt at a long-format multi-part work. Written and composed by founding member/trombonist James Pankow, “The Ballet” was, in his words, an attempt to win back his ex-fiancee Terrie Heisler, who was attending West Virginia Wesleyan College on Buckhannon, West Virginia. It was the first time – and not the last – that Pankow would write something inspired by a relationship. Lee Loughnane would attempt the same while going through a divorce a few years later, and spoiler alert – it didn’t work out well for him either.
“The Ballet” consists of seven tracks, taking up three-quarters of side two of the album. Two singles came from the movement – “Make Me Smile/Now More Than Ever” (A combination of the first and last parts of the movement) and “Colour My World”. Both singles charted successfully at #9 in 1970 and #7 in 1971, respectively. The vocal parts, which also includes “So Much to Say, So Much To Give” – paint the picture of a young man searching for his long lost love, and attempt to rekindle that love. “West Virginia Fantasies” incorporates a musical counterpoint between the horns, keyboard, and guitar, displaying the group’s ability to perform complex pieces.
A pivotal part of every Chicago concert, “The Ballet” has served as both the top of the first half of the setlist, but these days, finds itself closing out the first half. In live performances, the instrumental parts play much like a jam session, and have a choreographed feel with how the band moves around the stage. “Make Me Smile” was originally performed by Terry Kath, succeeded after his death in 1978 by Bill Champlin and currently Lou Pardini. “So Much to Say, So Much To Give” has always been performed by Robert Lamm, with “Colour My World” performed by Terry Kath until 1978, retired briefly, and brought back into rotation by Bill Champlin from 1984 until 1991, Robert Lamm from 1991 until 2008, and currently, Lee Loughnane.
For me, there is no other way to watch/listen to any performance of “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” other than the live versions. I’ve been lucky enough to see it performed live twice (2015 and 2019), and own several copies of “The Ballet” – the 1999 live version on Chicago XXI, my Blu-Ray copy of Chicago in Chicago (from 2009), and the 2017 version of Soundstage. And for all those versions, this version from the October 9, 2014 episode of On Tour, performed live at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware, and airing on Philadelphia, PA/Wilmington, DE’s PBS station, WHYY, is my absolute favorite. The lineup at that time was a very consistent group with a few changes over twenty years. I just love the rapport among the members, and all the little moments you notice when you see them perform live.
I love Lee Loughnane’s big trumpet moment, Walt Parazaider’s excitement over his trademark flute solo, James Pankow playing to both Keith Howland and Jason Scheff, and that moment where Keith Howland and Robert Lamm look like they are collaborating…love all of it. Total goosebumps, all of it!
Like “Call On Me” a few years later, “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” (and Pankow’s “Just You ‘n Me”) are all important parts of Chicago’s setlist, despite their meaning. Songs tell stories, good and bad, and they become popular because they resonate with audiences. The feelings are raw and on the surface, and are moments in song that we can all relate to in some form.
I say it often – music can do that.
Music is an important part of my life, as it is for many. If you’ve read these articles over the course of the last almost four years, you know this to be true. Music Monday may be finding its retirement, but music on Allison’s Written Words will never truly go away. That you can rest assured.
That, my friends, should make you smile.
Have a great Monday, and always enjoy the music!