Ten Great Songs From One Great Year
From early as I can remember, I have always loved the band Chicago. As a kid, all I knew about the city was from watching game shows, where the announcer would always say that whatever prizes the contestants won were from “the Spiegel Catalogue, Chicago Illinois, 60606.”
All that changed in high school, were I had a roommate who was from the windy city. The best part about that was when his folks would send him care packages with Jay’s potato chips, a Chicago standard. Over the ensuing years, I made friends with a few other Chicago natives, but unless I was watching “Good Times” on TV, I thought very little of the town.
But that all changed in 1990, when my company transferred me there. At the time, I only spent one year in the West Rogers Park neighborhood. But I felt welcome and at home. A few years later, as luck would have it, we moved back there and stayed for another 3 years. I guess even I knew eventually I’d make it back and in 2003, my family and I returned for good. I found outstanding doctors, good schools for my kids and some good friends.
Yes, it is a very politically corrupt town. But it has an amazing history. Just like the Band that adopted its name. Here are my ten favorite songs by them, in chronological order.
This song was the band’s second release (following “Questions 67 & 68”), but like its predecessor, did not make much noise. However, after the band began to see some chart success the following couple of years, they re-released this song and it climbed to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 (it also topped the Adult Contemporary chart – the first Chicago song to accomplish that).
This song was not released as a single until two records from their second album ("Make Me Smile" and "25 or 6 to 4") had become hits. It became the band's third straight Top 10 record, peaking at #7 in the U.S. The song deals with the stress of the Vietnam War on young people who were living with the threat of the draft, coping with the deaths of their friends or even the possibility that they would be drafted and killed themselves. Thus the lyrics state that one should not care about such mundane issues as what the current time of day was.
Continuing a string of hit records, this song, released in February of 1974, was the first hit of the album Chicago VII, and it became their 10th top 20 hit (finally peaking at #9). It also continued a trend of the bands to spread the glory around; as four different lead singers and 5 different writers all had top 10 hits by this point.
Wishing You Were Here (1974)
Chicago was considered (at the time) a jazz-rock fusion band that relied heavily on its brass section. In its early days, they were in the same league as Blood, Sweat and Tears. By the time Chicago VII was released, they were in a league of their own, making up their own sound. This ballad cemented Peter Cetera as the main voice of the band, although Robert Lamm and James Pankow were also well recognized.
Old Days (1975)
Following up the huge success of Chicago VII was no easy task. To make things sound fresh, the band returned with a more streamlined sound for Chicago VIII. Preceded by Lamm's nostalgic "Harry Truman" (#13) as lead single, Chicago VIII was held over for release until March 1975 as Chicago VII was still riding high in the charts. While it easily reached #1 in the US, the album had a lukewarm critical reception - still commonly considered, by some as one of their weakest albums, resulting in the briefest chart stay of any Chicago album thus far. However, the Pankow-penned nostalgic tune “Old Days” still reached #5 on Billboard.
If You Leave Me Now (1976)
In order to take a break from their whirlwind recording and touring, the band decided to release a greatest hits compilation next (Chicago IX). Even though their previous album took a slide on the charts, Chicago IX turned out to be a huge success (it went to #1 on Billboard) and reignited passion in the band once again. The single topped the US charts on October 23, 1976 and stayed there for two weeks, making it the first number one hit for the group. It also reached the number one spot in the UK, maintaining the position for three weeks. It was popular in multiple radio formats, and at one point during its peak listeners could hear it being played simultaneously on four different New York City radio stations.
Take Me Back To Chicago (1978)
The band followed up the success of Chicago X with their 10th studio album (any guesses what it was called?). In September of 1977, the released the Cetera-penned “Baby. What a Big Surprise” and launched a worldwide tour to accompany the album. In concert, one of the most requested songs was “Take Me Back To Chicago” – a sweet homage to their home city. It did not chart very well (only hitting #63), but the album was the final one to feature guitarist Terry Kath, who accidentally and fatally shot himself during a party at a roadie’s house.
Hard To Say I'm Sorry (1982)
Following the death of their lead guitarist, Chicago – after a period of mourning – decided to move on and besides adding new guitarist Donny Dacus and producer Phil Ramone, the band eschewed the number titles and released the album Hot Streets. However, after album failed to make a buzz, they returned to familiarity with Chicago XIII. But that album failed to have a charting single and is considered to be their worst album. To make changes in their success, the band switched labels and hired producer David Foster and using outside writers for the first time, they radically redefined their sound for the 1980’s. Benefiting most was Cetera, whose soft-rock leanings were more in synch with Foster. The result was a return to the top of the charts with “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.”
Hard Habit To Break (1984)
With renewed interest in the band, and the advent of music videos, Chicago was suddenly hot again. With their next release, Chicago 17 (they stopped using Roman numerals after Chicago XV – Greatest Hits Vol. 2), they again turned to Foster to continue the AC sound that brought life back to the band. Chicago 17 was a slow burner, finally reaching #4 in early 1985. However, along the way, they accumulated four top 20 hits on the LP. Chicago 17 was also the final one for Peter Cetera, who had become the primary voice of the band. He left to pursue a solo career, which led to his #1 hit “Glory of Love” in 1986..
Chicago 18 was the beginning of yet another new era for the band – the post-Cetera years. Chicago hired Jason Scheff, son of Jerry Scheff (who had backed up Elvis Presley for years), to replace Cetera's high register vocals and bass duties. Although founding member Robert Lamm still took an active part in the band, the most used voices in Chicago now belonged to their two newest recruits: Scheff and Bill Champlin, who had joined the band in 1981. "If She Would Have Been Faithful..." was written by Steve Kipner and Randy Goodrum (who is best known for composing Ann Murray’s “You Needed Me” and Steve Perry’s “Oh, Sherrie.” Chicago 18, while still going gold, saw a noticeable drop-off in album sales following Cetera's departure (17 went platinum six times). The album did not fare well on the charts either, peaking at #35. Thus, Chicago emerged as a singles band having major hits, but with merely competent album sales from this point on.