Going Solo: Peter Cetera

Hi Everybody! Here is the latest entry of the “Going Solo” series, presented by Robert. The first entry was Phil Collins. Now, we have Peter Cetera of Chicago fame. While Chicago had been around for a while, and I’m sure I heard their music in the ’70s and early ’80s, my formal introduction to Peter Cetera and Chicago was seeing Cetera clinging on the hood of a red convertable, trying to get the girl in the music video for “Stay the Night“. Chicago would go on to be one of my all time favorite groups. They were actually my first rock concert. But, that was long after Peter Cetera was gone from the band. Well, that’s all I have to say for now, but I’m sure Robert has at least “One More Story” on the subject. Take it away, Robert!

The Voice of Chicago Flies Solo

One advantage of growing up in Germany and attending Frankfurt American Junior High School and Frankfurt American High school was that our field trip was to Strasbourg, France. On the 1984 trip I actually ended up with some extra money before the train was to bring us home. Not wanting to bring my parents change, I quickly ducked into a music store and purchased two albums that would go on to be two of my favorites. One of those albums was Chicago 17. I owned a few albums by Chicago and was excited to listen to their latest. This album was Chicago’s most successful release and I was absolutely drawn to the lead singer’s voice. At the ripe old age of 14, I was very into reading liner notes – I wanted to know who wrote the songs, who sang, who played, and who produced. I especially loved the albums that included lyrics. I developed the habit of reading the liner notes for a few days before I even listened to the music. In my opinion, this is the major piece missing from downloading digital music. I discovered that the singer’s name was Peter Cetera and he also played bass – that sets up the focus for the second installment of ‘80s solo artists who started with a band, but broke away to create their own music.

When I bought Chicago 17, I had no idea that Peter Cetera was about to re-launch his solo career. In 1981 Peter Cetera released a self titled solo album. There were many complications with the record company so the album received no promotion, and subsequently failed. In 1986 Cetera gave a song to the soundtrack of The Karate Kid, Part II – now he had a solo career! This excellent song, “The Glory of Love”, reached #1 on the Billboard charts. This huge hit was included on Cetera’s first solo album Solitude/Solitaire. This album clearly marked Cetera’s break from Chicago. He wanted to continue with the band in addition to recording his solo music (much like Phil Collins and Genesis), but the band refused the offer, and Cetera was now a true solo artist.

All told, Cetera released seven solo albums in addition to that first effort. These albums spawned only four Top 40 hits – clearly the early success of his solo work could not be sustained, but that first album- wow, what an album.

What a perfect time to take a look at this great album,  Solitude/Solitaire.

Big Mistake

The album opens with a somewhat surprising track. As the vocalist for Chicago, Cetera was best known as the voice of some great ballads (You’re the Inspiration, for example). Despite this, the opening song for this album is an upbeat, catchy tune that, honestly, rocks a little bit. The song is about the desirable for Mr. Right who, in the morning, turns out to be Mr. Wrong. The song does not come off as a warning, though, rather, it has a clear tone of being of pleading – ‘Hey, he is the wrong guy for you – I’m the right one, if you could only realize this.’ Listen closely for the bridge because a guitar solo follows it – wait, there is a second solo at the end of the song, too. I think Cetera is trying to make a clear distinction between his solo work and his work with Chicago. This song is a great way to start the album.

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

The second track takes on the difficult task of using cars as an analogy to women. Many say that older cars were built better and were more dependable – not the same with modern women. Cetera turns this into an homage to the modern woman who can think for herself and has more depth than just the obvious physical attributes. He sums this up best with, “I’m so tired of hearing some people say / Everything is moving much too fast / Things were better in the good old days / Let them have their opinions, never gonna change their mind / They lived a long time ago when times were tough / And a real good woman was hard to find.” This is a bold statement; better yet, this is a great song.

Glory of Love

This is the single that got most people to notice Peter Cetera and buy this album; I, honestly, cannot blame them – what a perfect ballad! I can only imagine how many times this song was played at high school dances, proms, or put on a mixtape (I will happily admit to putting this song first on a mixtape I made for my girlfriend). Karate Kid II may have been the vehicle for this song, buy it definitely holds it’s own. There are so many great ballads from the ‘80s, but there are only a few that I would put in the category of being flawless. In fact, three come to mind right away: Journey’s “Faithfully“, REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling“, and Cetera’s #1 hit here. Besides, what girl would not want to hear, “I am a man who will fight for your honor / I’ll be the hero you’ve been dreaming of.”?

Queen of the Masquerade Ball

This song strikes me as a sort of part 2 of of the second song. Yes, modern women are tough and strive for what they want, “Cracking that whip / Making her own decisions / Taking no lip / Living with no conditions.” The strength is clear, but it may come with a price: “She cries when she’s alone.” This is a solid song that adds to what is shaping up to be a great solo album that is a clear departure from Chicago (notice, you have not heard a horn yet).

Daddy’s Girl

This next song was also on a soundtrack to a film that was released in 1987. The movie was the very successful Three Men and a Baby and, despite not being written specifically for the film, the song fits perfectly. I liked this song when I was in high school and, now that I have two daughters myself, this song pacts an incredibly emotional punch. I am sure this song has been played at countless weddings. My younger daughter discovered it herself one day as she was going through my albums – I think she played it for three days straight! It does an excellent job of capturing the special bond between a father and a daughter; unfortunately, it ends with the daughter leaving with her husband, replacing the father – cycle of life.

Next Time I Fall

This is the second #1 hit from this album. It is a duet with Amy Grant
(before her huge pop crossover). It is a simple song about recognizing past mistakes while holding out hope for the future. This is a really good ballad that, while it doesn’t have the punch of “Glory of Love”, still holds a place on this album.

Wake up to Love

This next track is a good upbeat song driven by keyboards and Cetera’s bass. Lyrically, the song is about a man who is making a hard charge in wooing a woman. There is even the requisite disparaging of the competition, “I don’t understand why you want to be with that man.”

Solitude/Solitaire

In the title track, Cetera captures a feeling that we all have at times: the need to get away from it all. This may be the most personal song on this album. Musically, it builds well and has a simple, yet effective drum beat that holds the listener’s interest.

Only Love Knows Why

The album ends with a heartfelt ballad that represents what Cetera is best known for – powerful love songs. This one is a sad one where the singer is reflecting on a strong relationship that has ended and has no real hope for being rekindled. The singer’s pain and uncertainty can be seen with, “It’s gonna be a long, hard road without you / And there’s one thing you should know / Tell me who will I turn to / When I get in trouble / I really don’t want you to go.” Acceptance and sadness all rolled into one.

Cetera followed the success of Solitude/Solitaire with another album in 1988 – One More Story. The single “One Good Woman” reached #4 on the pop charts. In 1989, Cetera teamed up with Cher to record “After All” for the film Chances Are. This song, like “Glory of Love”, was nominated for an Academy Award for best song from a film.

The voice is unforgettable. Peter Cetera has provided the vocals for so many great songs – most remember the ballads, and that is fine, but do not forget the high quality of the other, more upbeat tunes. Cetera differs from Phil Collins in that his most famous work is with the band Chicago, and not his solo recordings. Do not let this take away from his body of solo work.

Cetera’s 1986 album deserves a spot alongside other classics from this decade. If you have not given Solitude/Solitaire a listen, do yourself a favor and get a hold of it right now – you will not be sorry.

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