Robert Lamm

Skinny Boy

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At the time of the release of Robert Lamm's debut solo album, Skinny Boy, in 1974, it was easy to think that the singer/songwriter/pianist intended to launch a solo career, even though no announcement was ever made that he was leaving Chicago. The group was at the peak of its popularity at the time, having recently released the third of five consecutive number one albums, Chicago VII. But Lamm, who had written most of its early hits -- "25 or 6 to 4," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," "Beginnings," "Saturday in the Park" -- was facing increasing competition from other writers in the band. And Skinny Boy, though its title song (also the album's single) had appeared on Chicago VII, was a departure from the group's sound, especially in that it entirely eschewed the use of a horn section (though Chicago guitarist Terry Kath was all over it). The music was identifiably Lamm's in its mixture of Beatles-style pop/rock with elements of Latin, funk, and gospel, all cued to his percussive piano playing. The lyrics were full of distress: the word "crazy" appeared in four songs, including two titles, "Crazy Way to Spend a Year" and "Crazy Brother John," and "insane" appeared in one. Lamm's voice often sounded strained, which contributed to the sense of a tormented soul but didn't do much for the album's commercial potential. But there also seems to have been little or no promotion (which is not surprising, since the album originally came out on Chicago's label, Columbia, which had little incentive to foment insurrection in its most successful group), and Skinny Boy quickly disappeared.

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