11 April 2009
I couldn't mention Chicago in the last post because it was too important. This is MY BAND. There is no band on earth that compares. Speaking of nostalgia: When I was a baby I couldn't fall asleep unless they were playing. I have seen them in concert every year since I was six years old and if anything, they just continue to get better. I wrote Robert Lamm love letter for probably a quarter of my life and couldn't survive without the song "Beginnings". If you have not heard this band, LISTEN! You will be doing yourself a tremendous service. I have yet to understand why they are not as popular today as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, etc. - they are just as good. Here's a little Wikipedia-style background on them and some youtube fun too.
The band's popularity exploded with the release of their second album, another double-LP set, which included several top-40 hits. This second album, titled Chicago (also known as Chicago II), was the group's breakthrough album. The centerpiece track was a thirteen-minute suite composed by James Pankow called "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" (the structure of this suite was inspired by Pankow's love for classical music). The suite yielded two top ten hits, the crescendo-filled "Make Me Smile" and prom-ready ballad "Colour My World", both sung by Terry Kath. Among the other popular tracks on the album: Terry Kath's dynamic but cryptic wah-wah-buttressed "25 or 6 to 4" (a reference to a songwriter trying to write at 25 or 26 minutes to 4 in the morning, sung by Cetera), and the lengthy war protest song "It Better End Soon." The band recorded and released music at a rate of at least one disc per year from their third album in 1971 on through the 1970s. During this period, the group's album titles invariably consisted of the band's name followed by a Roman numeral indicating the album's sequence in the group's canon, a naming pattern that lent an encyclopedic aura to the band's work. (The two exceptions to this scheme were the band's fourth album, a live boxed set entitled Chicago at Carnegie Hall and their twelfth album Hot Streets. While the live album itself did not bear a number, each of the four discs within the set was numbered Volumes I through IV.) The distinctive Chicago logo was designed by Nick Fasciano (bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Coca-Cola logo) and has graced every album cover in one form or another; as an American flag on III, a piece of wood on V, a dollar (or U.S. currency) bill on VI, a Cardinal on VIII, a Hershey bar on X, a computer silicon chip on 16, and mosaic on 18 being among the examples.
In 1971, Chicago released the ambitious quadruple-album live set, Chicago at Carnegie Hall Volumes I, II, III, and IV, consisting of live performances, mostly of music from their first three albums, from a week-long run at the famous venue (along with the James Gang and Led Zeppelin in 1969, one of the few rock bands to play the historic concert hall since the Beatles performed there on February 12, 1964). The performances and sound quality were judged sub-par; in fact, trombonist James Pankow went on record to say that "the horn section sounded like kazoos." The packaging of the album also contained some rather strident political messaging about how "We [youth] can change The System," including massive wall posters and voter registration information. Nevertheless, Chicago at Carnegie Hall went on to become the best-selling box set by a rock act, and held that distinction for 15 years.
The group bounced back in 1972 with their first single-disc release, Chicago V, a diverse set that reached number one on both the Billboard pop and jazz albums charts and yielded the Robert Lamm-composed-and-sung radio hit and perennial fan favorite "Saturday in the Park", which mixed everyday life and political yearning in a more subtle way. Chicago would long open their concerts with the hit song.
In 1973, the group's manager, Guercio, produced and directed Electra Glide in Blue, a movie about an Arizona motorcycle policeman. The movie starred Robert Blake, and featured Cetera, Kath, Loughnane, and Parazaider in supporting roles. The group also appeared prominently on the movie's soundtrack.
Other successful albums and singles followed in each of the succeeding years. 1973's Chicago VI topped the charts buoyed by the hits "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and "Just You 'N' Me" and it was also the first of several albums to include Brazilian jazz percussionist Laudir de Oliveira. Chicago VII, the band's double-disc 1974 release, featured the Cetera-composed "Wishing You Were Here", sung by Terry Kath and Cetera with background vocals by Cetera and The Beach Boys and some fusion jazz. Chicago VII also provided one of the group's enduring signature tunes, the anthemic "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long," which started with as a soft ballad and culminated in a hard-rock conclusion featuring Terry Kath's electric guitar soloing against the Chicago horn section and a soaring string arrangement by Jimmie Haskell. "Happy Man," another song from Chicago VII, was also a popular favorite on FM radio, was a big hit in South America and subsequently covered by Tony Orlando and Dawn on their album To Be With You. Their 1975 release, Chicago VIII, featured the political allegory "Harry Truman" and the nostalgic Pankow-composed "Old Days". That summer also saw a very successful joint tour across America with The Beach Boys, with both acts performing separately, then coming together for a rousing finale. The tour was considered one of the highest grossing in rock music up to that time.
Chicago gave a concert in Mèxico City in 1975 at the Auditorio Nacional which was highly appreciated by the attendants in spite of the fact that the Mexican press later reviewed it not as one of the band’s better performances, presumably for the band not being 'in the best of shape'. The tickets for the concert sold so fast that thousands of people were not able to get in, so Terry Kath asked those inside to applaud for those standing outside. Carmen Romano de Lòpez Portillo, the wife of Mèxico's then-President Josè Lòpez Portillo, is said to have been among the attendants in the first row.
But for all their effort, none of their singles went to number one until Chicago X in 1976, when Cetera's slow, exquisite ballad "If You Leave Me Now" climbed to the top of the charts. The song also won Chicago their only Grammy award, for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group in 1977. Ironically, the tune almost did not make the cut for the album; "If You Leave Me Now" was recorded at the very last minute. The huge success of the song would foreshadow a later reliance on ballads that would typecast the group on radio, despite the presence of mellower songs on all the previous albums. The group's 1977 release, Chicago XI, was another big success for the band; it included Cetera's hit ballad "Baby, What a Big Surprise" which became one of the group's last big hits of the decade.
Despite the personnel changes over the years, the group still keeps active four decades after its founding. They are one of the few major rock groups that has never broken up or even taken an extended hiatus. And four of the six surviving founding members (major songwriters Lamm and Pankow, plus Loughnane and Parazaider) remain to this day providing continuity, while Bill Champlin has put in over 25 years with the band, Jason Scheff over 20, Tris Imboden over 15 and Keith Howland has logged over 13.
As a new century turned, the band licensed their entire recorded output to Rhino Records (after years with Columbia Records and Warner Brothers as well as their own short-lived label). In 2002, Rhino released a two-disc compilation, The Very Best of Chicago: Only The Beginning, which spans the band's entire career. The compilation made the Top 40 and sold over 2 million copies in the US. Rhino has also begun releasing remastered versions of all of the band's Columbia albums, each including several bonus tracks; and in 2005 they released a compilation entitled Love Songs.
Chicago continues to appear in big and small venues worldwide. In 2004–2005 they toured jointly with the band Earth, Wind & Fire; a DVD recorded during that tour, Chicago/Earth, Wind & Fire - Live at the Greek Theatre, was certified platinum just two months after its release.
In 2006 the group released their first all-new studio album since Twenty 1, entitled Chicago XXX, on March 21, 2006. Two songs from this album, "Feel" and "Caroline" were performed live during Chicago's Fall 2005 tour; the studio recording of "Feel" debuted on WPLJ radio in New York in November 2005. "Feel" was the first single released from the new album. Curiously, the album contains two versions of the song; one with horns and an orchestral tag that echoes "Love Me Tomorrow," and another non-brass version. This could be seen rather strange for a band whose legacy is tied to their horn section. "Love Will Come Back" was the second single released from XXX. The album was produced by Rascal Flatts bassist Jay Demarcus, who is a friend of Chicago bassist Jason Scheff. Seven of the 12 tracks on XXX were co-written by Scheff, and the album included a large roster of guest musicians, supplanting band members in many cases.
While Chicago XXX did manage to debut at No. 41 on the US album chart besting some other weaker entries including Chicago XIV (July 1980) which hit US #71 and Twenty 1 (January 1991) which topped out at only US #66, it only remained in the top 200 for two weeks before limping off the chart.
During March 2006, Chicago made a multi-week appearance at the MGM Grand Las Vegas, which was repeated in May of the same year. In July 2006, the band made a series of US appearances with Huey Lewis and the News. Highlights of that tour included Chicago's Bill Champlin performing with Huey Lewis and the News on a couple of songs, members of Huey Lewis and the News contributing to Chicago's percussion-laden song, "I'm a Man," and Huey Lewis singing the lead vocal on Chicago's "Colour My World."
In early 2006, original drummer Danny Seraphine formed California Transit Authority, who play many of the older Chicago songs.
At the end of 2006, the band played at CD USA's New Year's Eve party on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. Chicago toured the summer of 2007 with the band America. On October 2, 2007, Rhino Records released the two-disc The Best of Chicago: 40th Anniversary Edition, a new greatest hits compilation spanning their entire forty years, similar to The Very Best of: Only the Beginning, released four years earlier.
June 17, 2008, saw the official release of the dynamic Stone of Sisyphus album by Rhino Records, recorded in 1993 and which had been originally slated for a March 1994 release until being shelved by Warner Records. The album contains eleven of the original twelve tracks (the raucous "Get on This" was left off), plus four demo recordings. Its official title is "Chicago XXXII: Stone of Sisyphus" (it was originally slated to be album #22). Summer of 2008 also included multiple European tour dates (with members of the horn section missing at various times), something the band had avoided for many years. This trend of fill-in players has continued into 2009, with Lamm sometimes the only original member on stage. As Chicago has existed as a "faceless" band for years, the lack of original members may not concern the audience like it would with another long-lived band such as the Rolling Stones and high-profile members like Mick Jagger.
In 2009 they will reunite with Earth, Wind and Fire for yet another joint tour.