Pop/Art Song/Folk / Jazz Related Rock / Big Band • United States
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Chicago is an American rock band formed in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois. The self-described "rock and roll band with horns" began as a politically charged, sometimes experimental, rock band and later moved to a predominantly softer sound, becoming famous for producing a number of hit ballads. They had a steady stream of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Second only to The Beach Boys in terms of Billboard singles and albums chart success among American bands, Chicago is one of the longest running and most successful pop/rock and roll groups. Chicago re-teamed with producer Phil Ramone in October 2010 to begin work on a new album. According to Billboard, Chicago was the leading US singles charting group during the 1970s. They have sold over 38 million units in the US, with 22 gold, 18 platinum, and 8 multi-platinum albums. Over the course of their career they have charted five No. 1 read more...
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CHICAGO Discography

CHICAGO albums / top albums

CHICAGO Transit Authority album cover 3.61 | 10 ratings
Transit Authority
Jazz Related Rock 1969
CHICAGO Chicago Transit Authority Volume 1 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Chicago Transit Authority Volume 1
Jazz Related Rock 1969
CHICAGO Chicago Transit Authority Volume 2 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Chicago Transit Authority Volume 2
Jazz Related Rock 1969
CHICAGO Chicago album cover 3.25 | 2 ratings
Jazz Related Rock 1970
CHICAGO Chicago III album cover 3.64 | 9 ratings
Chicago III
Jazz Related Rock 1971
CHICAGO Chicago V album cover 3.01 | 7 ratings
Chicago V
Jazz Related Rock 1972
CHICAGO Chicago VI album cover 2.89 | 8 ratings
Chicago VI
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1973
CHICAGO Chicago VII album cover 4.14 | 7 ratings
Chicago VII
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1974
CHICAGO Chicago VIII album cover 1.36 | 4 ratings
Chicago VIII
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1975
CHICAGO Chicago X album cover 1.91 | 4 ratings
Chicago X
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1976
CHICAGO Chicago XI album cover 2.00 | 4 ratings
Chicago XI
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1977
CHICAGO Hot Streets album cover 0.58 | 5 ratings
Hot Streets
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1978
CHICAGO Chicago 13 album cover 1.07 | 4 ratings
Chicago 13
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1979
CHICAGO Chicago XIV album cover 0.57 | 2 ratings
Chicago XIV
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1980
CHICAGO Chicago 16 album cover 2.00 | 1 ratings
Chicago 16
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1982
CHICAGO Chicago 17 album cover 2.50 | 1 ratings
Chicago 17
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1984
CHICAGO Chicago 18 album cover 2.48 | 3 ratings
Chicago 18
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1986
CHICAGO Chicago 19 album cover 1.52 | 2 ratings
Chicago 19
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1988
CHICAGO Twenty 1 album cover 0.60 | 5 ratings
Twenty 1
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1991
CHICAGO Night and Day: Big-Band album cover 3.50 | 2 ratings
Night and Day: Big-Band
Big Band 1995
CHICAGO Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album (aka What's It Gonna Be Santa?) album cover 2.00 | 2 ratings
Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album (aka What's It Gonna Be Santa?)
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1998
CHICAGO Chicago XXX album cover 2.17 | 3 ratings
Chicago XXX
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2006
CHICAGO Stone of Sisyphus album cover 2.17 | 3 ratings
Stone of Sisyphus
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2008
CHICAGO O Christmas Three album cover 1.75 | 2 ratings
O Christmas Three
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2011
CHICAGO The Nashville Sessions album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Nashville Sessions
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2013
CHICAGO Chicago XXXVI: Now album cover 2.00 | 1 ratings
Chicago XXXVI: Now
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2014
CHICAGO Christmas album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2019

CHICAGO EPs & splits

CHICAGO live albums

CHICAGO Chicago at Carnegie Hall: Volumes I, II, III, & IV album cover 4.31 | 4 ratings
Chicago at Carnegie Hall: Volumes I, II, III, & IV
Jazz Related Rock 1971
CHICAGO Live in Japan album cover 3.50 | 3 ratings
Live in Japan
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1972
CHICAGO Chicago XXVI: Live in Concert album cover 2.00 | 1 ratings
Chicago XXVI: Live in Concert
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1999
CHICAGO Live in '75 album cover 2.00 | 1 ratings
Live in '75
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2011
CHICAGO The Kentucky Derby - Louisville 1974 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Kentucky Derby - Louisville 1974
Jazz Related Rock 2015
CHICAGO Chicago @ Symphony Hall album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Chicago @ Symphony Hall
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2016
CHICAGO Chicago II : Live on Soundstage album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Chicago II : Live on Soundstage
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2018
CHICAGO Live VI Decades Live (This Is What We Do) album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Live VI Decades Live (This Is What We Do)
Jazz Related Rock 2018

CHICAGO demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

CHICAGO re-issues & compilations

CHICAGO Chicago IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
Chicago IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1975
CHICAGO Greatest Hits, Volume 2 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1981
CHICAGO If You Leave Me Now album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
If You Leave Me Now
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1982
CHICAGO Take Me Back to Chicago album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Take Me Back to Chicago
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1985
CHICAGO The Ultimate Collection album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Ultimate Collection
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1987
CHICAGO The Heart of Chicago album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Heart of Chicago
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1989
CHICAGO Greatest Hits 1982-1989 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Greatest Hits 1982-1989
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1989
CHICAGO Group Portrait Vol.1 & 2 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Group Portrait Vol.1 & 2
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1991
CHICAGO Overtime album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1995
CHICAGO Chicago: 25 Years of Gold album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Chicago: 25 Years of Gold
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1995
CHICAGO The Very Best of Chicago album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Very Best of Chicago
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1996
CHICAGO The Heart of Chicago 1967-1997 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Heart of Chicago 1967-1997
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1997
CHICAGO The Heart of Chicago 1967-1998, Volume 2 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Heart of Chicago 1967-1998, Volume 2
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1998
CHICAGO Chicago album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Pop/Art Song/Folk 1998
CHICAGO Chicago Story: The Complete Greatest Hits 1967-2002 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Chicago Story: The Complete Greatest Hits 1967-2002
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2002
CHICAGO The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2002
CHICAGO The Chicago Story: The Complete Greatest Hits album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Chicago Story: The Complete Greatest Hits
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2002
CHICAGO The Box Set album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
The Box Set
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2003
CHICAGO Love Songs album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Love Songs
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2005
CHICAGO The Best of Chicago: 40th Anniversary Edition album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Best of Chicago: 40th Anniversary Edition
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2007
CHICAGO Quadio (1969-1976) album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Quadio (1969-1976)
Pop/Art Song/Folk 2016

CHICAGO singles (0)

CHICAGO movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)



Album · 1980 · Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
The fateful tale of Chicago’s trek through the glorious 70s was a classic riches to rags story. They’d come bursting in as one of the most promising, adventurous American bands of the era by bravely melding rock & roll with a big band jazz mentality better than any ensemble ever had before and their music appealed to an amazingly wide spectrum of the population of the world. After a few years of a lot of blood, sweat and tears (wry irony intended) they arrived at the top of the heap. Slowly but surely, however, their escalating addiction to hit singles and the steady cash flow they brought with them eroded their rebellious, risk-taking attitude to the point where they no longer challenged themselves or their audiences. With the exception of their brilliant VII LP released in ‘74 they consistently played it so safe it got to the point where, by the end of the decade, they’d lost their fan base, their reputation as innovators and their reason to exist. Losing the fiery Terry Kath along the way was a tragedy but rather than honoring his legacy by using his death as a spark to reignite their original flame of creativity they responded by becoming even more conservative. As the 80s began some (but not all) of the aging 70s groups facing the end of their viability and the onslaught of the New Wave and Punk movements simply called it quits and wisely left the “biz” for good. Considering what a waste of time XIV turned out to be, perhaps Chicago should’ve done the same.

Their opening the record with the only decent tune they had at their disposal, Robert Lamm’s “Manipulation,” is the only thing positive I have to say about this album. It owns an energetic track that’s built upon a forceful guitar riff played by session cat Chris Pinnick (the blasé Donnie Dacus had been jettisoned) and the number was decent enough to inspire a ray of hope in me that a reinvigorated Chicago might emerge. The horn section and Danny Seraphine’s drums punch the accents with gusto and Pinnick shreds his fretboard with passion. Alas, the fun bus runs out of gas as soon as the song ends and is promptly looted and set ablaze before being abandoned on the side of the highway. The vague sense of optimism that first cut cultivated dies the second “Upon Arrival” reaches your ear drums. Lamm and bassist Peter Cetera penned this sappy-as-a-grove-of-Maple-trees ballad that’s utterly devoid of anything even approaching passable status. They follow that odorous turd with Cetera’s ridiculously mushy “Song for You,” a 12-string acoustic guitar-dominated, gather-by-the-campfire love song that sours your stomach and demonstrates beyond a doubt that these guys had been neutered and were now as inert as elderly bulldogs. They’d brought in renowned producer Tom Dowd to oversee this album but he must’ve had second thoughts as soon as he heard the tunes they’d brought to him because they had so little potential. Peter’s vapid “Where Did the Lovin’ Go” lopes along like a high school orchestra’s first rehearsal with absolutely no feel or emotion to be found. My reaction to Seraphine’s “Birthday Boy” was one of disbelief that they’d string four slow, laborious numbers in a row. Holy moley, they’d flushed every semblance of their once-mighty mojo down the toilet! This song is a dirge-like turkey that shines a glaring light on the group’s dearth of basic common sense and self-respect. They repeat the line “Good days are coming” but Chicago desperately needed them in the present tense at this juncture, not in the future.

One of the many problems with XIV stems from glamour boy Cetera having become the predominant songwriter. He was talented in many areas but not in the role of composer. His “Hold On” is an anemic “rocker” (I employ that term loosely here) that frankly made me embarrassed for the band. It makes them appear about as cool as middle-aged geezers wearing “hip” threads to attract the ladies but not having a clue as to how foolish they look. Next is Peter’s “Overnight Café.” I knew it was bound to happen and here it is. Chicago tried to be trendy by incorporating a New Wave vibe into their sound and it’s a shameful disaster. It’s yet another hefty file in the dossier of evidence proving that their well of creativity had run bone dry and they were accepting any material available from the members without discretion in order to fill up two sides of vinyl. Robert, Peter and Danny teamed up to concoct “Thunder and Lightning” and, this far into the swamp, I was at least grateful for an upbeat groove and a few jazzy inflections interspersed in the arrangement but the tune is still too weak to make a lasting impression or make much difference. Lamm’s “I’d Rather Be Rich” is so lousy that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’d tossed scraps of paper in a jar with chords written on them and put the piece together by pulling them out at random. It has no backbone or focus; it just lays there like a lump of dead notes. Trombonist James Pankow, formerly a river of interesting ideas and concepts, contributes the closer, “The American Dream.” This political protest ditty lacks conviction or purpose and comes off as a bunch of high-rollers sitting around, complaining about how unfair life is. It’s pathetic and demeaning.

I find the cover to be highly appropriate. Sometimes at a crime scene the victim’s face is so disfigured or mutilated that the corpse can only be identified through fingerprint analysis. That’s the case here. XIV is so dismal that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to being a product from the vibrant group that shook up the music scene when they broke out of the Midwest in ’69. Whereas their earlier LPs had shot up into the upper regions of the charts like rockets this one struggled to reach #71 and then disappeared into oblivion. It was not only their last record with their long-time label but the story goes that Columbia actually paid them to leave! Ouch! While I still consider the pretentious “Hot Streets” to be the nadir of their career, this one seriously rivals it. The only good news I can convey about Chicago’s state of the union in the summer of 1980 is that they were soon to do something smart and beneficial by hiring the multi-talented Bill Champlin to finally fill the gaping hole left by Terry Kath’s passing. They’d never again be the influential force in progressive jazz/rock they once were but at least they’d start making R&B-flavored pop music that was listenable. XIV isn’t.

CHICAGO Chicago 13

Album · 1979 · Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
As regards the history of this group, it’s time now to share a shred of good news. Chicago XIII is better than Chicago XII (otherwise known as “Hot Streets”). I must issue a note of caution, however. In this case the word “better” must be buffeted with an enormous amount of perspective being applied. It’s the equivalent of announcing in April 1912 that, unfortunately, the Titanic is still nestled at the bottom of the Atlantic but they did manage to recover some bodies. For those of us who’d hoped that the ocean liner Chicago, contrary to rumor, had merely sprung a serious leak on their long journey this was hardly consolation but at this juncture we’d gladly take any positive information we could get. Their once-glorious ship had been taking on water ever since album VII but the untimely death of guitarist Terry Kath had proved to be their dark iceberg. They’d been given the opportunity to make crucial repairs and shock the world by emerging from that tragedy with a renewed jazz/rock fusion-fed spirit of adventure yet they’d failed to do so. All they did was save themselves by hopping into the convenient boats of commerciality and watch from afar as what was left of their legacy sank below the waves.

The miniscule improvement I speak of is in the overall fidelity of the recordings. The band had brought in experienced producer Phil Ramone (replacing the out-of-touch James Guercio) for the previous album but he must’ve been handcuffed by certain elements in the membership because it sounded completely flat and lifeless. For XIII he was able to give the tracks a slick, inviting sheen that at least makes listening to the material less of a chore and for that I’m thankful because the tunes, for the most part, are low grade. In an attempt to inspire everybody to get fully involved in the endeavor they allowed each man to contribute a minimum of one number but that ploy rarely results in a cohesive collection of songs and it didn’t in this case, either. The album has all the earmarks of a group of individuals that have no clue as to what they’re supposed to do next.

Chicago’s final LP of the 70s opens with drummer Danny Seraphine’s “Street Player,” a nine-minute foray into the land of a thousand dances. It’s glossy west coast R&B from the word go but, in its favor, it does have some redeeming qualities. Their heralded horn section is crisp and punchy and the tune projects a friendly Boz Scaggs atmosphere insofar that it flirts with stepping over into disco territory but never completely surrenders its soul to its mind-numbing lure. Bringing in Maynard Ferguson to deliver a hot trumpet solo was a very good idea as well as having the gifted Airto Moreira assist in the percussion department. The breakdown section in the second half, punctuated by a spirited flurry of horns, is entertaining yet the number’s blatant attempt to draw in the Saturday Night Fever crowd is nonetheless unnerving. The rolling pop rock motif of bassist Peter Cetera’s “Mama Take” isn’t degrading in itself but the song is just too weak to be memorable and nothing occurs dynamically to distinguish the presentation. Once again they’re guilty of playing it way too safe. Kath’s replacement, Donnie Dacus, wrote “Must Have Been Crazy” and it, more than any other cut, highlights the identity crisis the group was caught up in. It’s a cookie-cutter copy of what a host of other boring rock groups of that era were putting out and it most definitely doesn’t sound like Chicago at all (which could be a good or bad characteristic when you think about it). Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane cooked up “Window Dreamin’,” a mild rocker with a highly predictable arrangement. The white boy funkster approach never worked too well for them in the past but evidently they were determined to keep trying even if it evoked nausea in the listener. This is poor with a capital P.

Keyboardist Robert Lamm’s role as principal songwriter had dwindled to next to nada over the years but, to his credit, he delivers one of the few bright spots on XIII in the form of his “Paradise Alley.” While it does have a questionable Caucasian funk foundation he included enough of a jazzy edge to make it worthwhile. The tight horns add spice and, by playing around a bit with the time signature, they manage to create something relatively decent. Seraphine’s “Aloha Mama” owns a New Orleans flavor that is slightly refreshing yet one can’t help but feel that they had a golden opportunity here to spring loose with some stimulating jazz excursions. Sadly they didn’t, seemingly content to tread complacently in their tepid comfort zone. A discouraging disco throb resonates throughout Lamm’s contemporary rocker, “Reruns,” dating it horribly. Once again the anemic composing dooms the track as the tune goes nowhere and does nothing on the way. Cetera’s “Loser With a Broken Heart” is a dreadful ballad delivered without a trace of the horn section to be found (perhaps they were smart enough to call in sick that day and steer clear of this turkey). It comes off like an unfinished demo and Ramone should’ve had the balls to step in and stop this turd from ever going public. Conga man Laudir De Oliveira at least offers a breath of oxygen at this point via the jazzy feel his “Life is What it Is” has but it’s extremely lightweight and hasn’t a chance in hell of saving the album from itself and its trying-too-hard-to-be-trendy vibe. James Pankow’s “Run Away” sports an aggressive beginning but soon the number takes a familiar path and all that potential excitement goes swirling down the drain. It’s mediocre pop that’s so lacking in anything interesting as to render itself woefully irrelevant. It brings to mind the motto of the crusaders in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Run away, indeed.

To say Chicago was drifting aimlessly at sea without a rudder as the 70s came to a close is a gross understatement. The record fell short of breaking into the top 20 on the album charts and spawned nary a hit single so within the ranks panic was on the verge of erupting. AM radio fare had become their bread and butter during the decade and now even that profitable aspect of their art was fading fast. Like many groups, they started to point fingers at everyone except themselves and hirings and firings were soon to be in store. I find the pretentious cover art significant. The band had all the outward appearances of being a sturdy skyscraper but the building was almost vacant, built on shifting sand and could topple at any moment. Chicago XIII isn’t as putrid as XII but, in retrospect, what does it matter?

CHICAGO Hot Streets

Album · 1978 · Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
With “Hot Streets” Chicago didn’t just drop the ball. Again. This time they lost it. Talk about an opportunity missed, the group had a chance to either reinvent itself or return to being the bold, innovative entity they’d started out as. They did neither. First, they’d jettisoned their overlord producer who’d gradually steered them away from their jazz/rock fusion foundation and, secondly, they’d tragically suffered a death in the immediate family that shook them to their core. In January of ’78 guitarist Terry Kath accidentally shot himself and left a huge gap for the band to try to fill. What they did do was make a pop record. My thinking is that a more respectful tribute to Terry would’ve been to make their next album a wildly eclectic affair with lots of unconventional forays into uncharted fusion territories and perhaps bring a host of guest guitarists in to celebrate Kath’s influence on modern guitar trends. They were a well-established group so they could’ve done this and their legion of fans would’ve understood the sentiment. Instead, they acted more like cautious high-schoolers who’d decided to now emulate the popular jocks and male cheerleaders, shunning their role of being dangerous rebels when their ringleader was suddenly transferred out of the district.

They replaced Terry with a journeyman axe-wielder who’d been working with the likes of Stephen Stills and Boz Scaggs, Donnie Dacus. It’s hard to criticize them for that move because he was versatile enough to perform their catalogue of material passably, was able to sing on key and didn’t pose a threat to the status quo. I’m fine with them hiring Donnie but the other things they did to try to be “hip” and look like dudes John Travolta would hang out with were a disgrace to their signature faceless legacy that had always let their music do all the talking. The cover shot of them cavorting around in loud shirts and gaudy britches is as goofy and laughable as watching Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd doing their “wild and crazy guys” bit on SNL. Change for the sake of change is rarely a good idea in any situation. Yet I would’ve been able to dismiss that crass trespass if the music had been so splendid as to make that discretion a moot point. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. What Chicago did was to unashamedly woo the reigning Miss Commerciality with their intent being to wed her and co-parent a houseful of chart-topping offspring that would take care of them in their golden years. And, as we all know, those kinds of wide-eyed, rushed-into marriages rarely survive in the long run.

They showcase the “New and Improved” Chicago by opening with a moronic disco groove for “Alive Again,” an action that doesn’t bode well. You’d surmise that with the experienced Phil Ramone helping to produce the record it would at least sound pretty good but the overall fidelity is surprisingly thin, another bad omen. On one hand this song written by trombonist James Pankow wisely abandons the disco aura early on, smartly avoiding that lethal viper pit, but, on the other hand, it then falls into the equally-constricting rut of contemporary “light rock” mediocrity. It contains nary a hint of dynamics in the mix as all of the music blends into the bland background for the sole purpose of supporting bassist Peter Cetera’s “solid gold” voice. It’s a mystery to me how a tune so unremarkable could climb into the Top 20 on the singles chart but it did. (Payola, perhaps?) Drummer Danny Seraphine had penned some half-decent songs for the group in its recent past but “The Greatest Love on Earth” ain’t one of them. It’s as if the band had decided to compete with The Carpenters! Scary title aside, this tune has no redeeming qualities whatsoever (believe me, I looked hard) and is an odorous pile of mush to be skipped. Peter Cetera contributed the next cut, “Little Miss Lovin’,” a guitar riff-based rocker that only goes to show how much they were missing Terry’s grit. Kath may have been insanely over-the-top and extremely noisy at times but at least he was rarely boring. The presence of the Brothers Gibb in the harmonies and the trendy “New Wave” vibe they inject into the tune both fail to convince the listener that they were revealing anything resembling a fresh angle to their sound.

Keyboard man Robert Lamm tries to concoct a Doobie Brothers style of west coast R&B for the song “Hot Streets” but it’s not their forte and it’s not nearly strong enough to prop up the tune’s weak melody. Still, for what it’s worth, it marks an improvement over the first 3 tracks. Walter Parazaider’s flute solo and the ever-reliable horn section are the best assets the number possesses while Dacus’ guitar ride, aggressive as it may be, is a bit sloppy. Trumpeter Lee Loughnane’s sappy “Take a Chance” is next. Something about this pseudo samba brings to mind pastel leisure suits and gaudy gold chains and it’s not a welcome sight. I can’t imagine anyone deeming this to be quality music under any circumstances. It’s as cheesy as ballpark nachos. Donnie does his best to doctor it up but I sense that they were letting him give it a shot simply because he was a change of pace from Terry, not an upgrade by any means. Cetera’s “Gone Long Gone” is an acoustic guitar-strummed rocker with thickly-layered vocals typical of that era. It’s not awful but it sounds as if they were attempting to manufacture a hit single instead of expressing anything profound. Therefore it comes off as contrived and terribly average.

The low-altitude apex of the record comes via the Dacus/Seraphine composition, “Ain’t It Time.” It’s yet another riff-heavy rocker but this one actually has some genuine punch and an engaging structure. It’s far from greatness but at this point I’ll take any ray of light, however dim, I can find. The cheap thrill doesn’t linger, though, as Lamm’s “Love Was New” follows. It’s a glossy little number with some light jazz overtones but the progression is so predictable and conservative as to be indistinguishable from shopping mall muzak. Peter, Lee and Danny joined forces to pen the #14 hit “No Tell Lover” but this schlocky ballad sounds like a deliberate copy of many of their mid-70s chart toppers and has about the same effect on me. It’s too formulaic, too safe and utterly demeaning to their proud history. Seraphine’s “Show Me the Way” is the closer. This plodding song, despite its weird crowd-chant ending, confirms that they were, until further notice, to be quarantined in the “easy listening” section of the record store. A pity.

In wake of Kath’s untimely and sad demise, the surviving members decided to act like the invigorating band that created several stimulating albums (II, III and VII in particular) had been interred with Terry’s remains and, therefore, wouldn’t be coming around anymore. They’d effectively squandered their fat chance to challenge and transcend themselves, preferring to venture forward walking carefully, smack dab down the middle of the road. And, by the way, their followers and the public at large weren’t buying into their new slicker image, either. It was the first LP since their debut that didn’t crack the top ten list and their return to the Roman numeral system for XIII proves that they realized they weren’t going to sell any product on account of their good looks. Alas, their commercial attitude and inclination remained intact. I could no more recommend this album than I could one by The Chipmunks.


Album · 1977 · Pop/Art Song/Folk
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
After Chicago peaked with their excellent VII album in ’74 they became satisfied to be a pop group that occasionally drifted near the outskirts of jazz/rock fusion rather than the other way around. Some of their subsequent albums sounded decent but none of them were particularly progressive or adventuresome and XI is no exception. Like many bands who’ve managed to stay intact for a decade or more, they fell into comfortable, safe ruts that guaranteed them a respectable amount of sales and allowed the gravy train to keep on ‘a rollin’ unimpeded. I’m not excusing them from strapping their saddle atop the commercial cash cow but it’s yet another example of human proclivities trumping free creativity and diminishing the impact an entity can have in their chosen field of art once a little success creeps into the picture. In the late 70s my feelings about this outfit, formerly one of my favorites, had evolved from admiration to apathy that stemmed from repeated disappointments in their vinyl offerings. I finally had to accept that the dangerous lions of the Midwest had now become a litter of harmless kittens.

Guitarist Terry Kath’s “Mississippi Delta City Blues” starts things off in a loose but lively way with a funky, Sly & the Family Stone-styled motif. The song shows promise early on mainly because of the tight track they laid down under it with drummer Danny Seraphine playing more distinctively than he has in years. The crisp horn arrangement, as usual, is the icing on the cake but I still can’t give the tune more than a so-so rating. Any hopes for something exhilarating to happen are dashed on the jagged pop rocks about two seconds into bassman/crooner Peter Cetera’s “Baby, What a Big Surprise.” By now they were routinely capitalizing on their carefully-calculated image of being mainstays in the upper regions of the Top 40 charts due to their unending stream of lush ballads so this is hardly a surprise at all. I appreciate that they spent time on the string score and the layered vocal harmonies (with Beach Boy Carl Wilson assisting) but it only made a schmaltzy song even more overly-saccharine and hard to digest. Trombonist James Pankow’s “Till the End of Time” is next and it’s a case of doo-wop nostalgia gone bad. It grows tiresome quickly and is so predictable as to be patronizing. Simply put, they do nothing to put a fresh spin on their venture into the past. Things look up slightly with keyboard player Robert Lamm’s “Policeman” because they present the tune with a light Latin feel that’s very welcome at this point even though the jazz aspect is extremely contemporary in nature. Kudos go out to the horn section for adding some highlights and elevating the track’s class quotient.

One thing that makes this album stick out in their catalogue is the fact that Seraphine, not known for his composing skills up to this juncture, contributes the best numbers on the record, beginning with a song that expresses what many of their fans had been wishing they’d do for a long time, “Take Me Back to Chicago.” The tune has different elements to enjoy and a few nifty detours off the beaten path that remind me of what I loved about them in the first place when they were willing to take risks. Bringing in Chaka Khan to supply some soulful singing doesn’t hurt one bit, either. The growl of Lamm’s Hammond B3 organ is the only interesting thing going on in his “Vote For Me.” It’s a mix of rock, R&B and funk that doesn’t quite gel mainly because the song’s basic structure is too weak to make much of a mark. It comes off more like a handy vehicle to voice a political statement about how candidates lie (what else is new?) than a well-thought-out idea. Kath’s “Takin’ It on Uptown” is a riff-based funk/rock ditty that doesn’t benefit from its intentional rough character and suffers greatly from a dearth of dynamics. While Terry tears it up pretty good on the guitar I question the wisdom of leaving the horn section out of the proceedings.

Trumpeter Lee Loughlane’s “This Time” has a Motown-ish groove that’s inviting but it takes a lot to impress me when someone dips into that particular genre and they come up short, as do most. It’s no embarrassment but it does pass right on by like everyday traffic. As intimated before, Danny outdoes himself on this album. The last three cuts are splendidly intertwined and he had a lot to do with their creation. “The Inner Struggle of a Man” is a short symphonic piece by Dominic Frontiere with ominous overtones ala Aaron Copland and then Seraphine’s “Prelude” serves as a segue to “Little One.” The number’s jazzy but floral atmosphere might be a bit too romantic for some but in light of what they’d been putting out on the last few LPs it at least has some intricate parts to ponder. Loughlane’s trumpet solo is excellent and the cohesive triad of tunes in general makes me wonder why they’d become so hell bent on doggedly downplaying their jazz side when it was what put them on the map back in ‘69.

Released in September 1977, the album went up to #6 but very few of the original followers they’d captivated and cultivated in the early years were still paying much attention. The abandonment of their jazz/rock fusion roots was no temporary phase and the likelihood of them doing an about face was, therefore, growing slimmer by the record. Of course no one knew that one of their strongest assets was soon to depart this mortal coil and change the complexion of the group forevermore. Terry Kath took his own life in a tragic gun accident and a huge part of what was left of their rebelliousness went with him. He represented the rock half of their initial jazz/rock fusion persona and his gruff voice added a unique dimension to their sound that couldn’t be replaced. This was also the last album to be produced by the overbearing James William Guercio and, by not having to answer to him any longer, the door was wide open for them to do something innovative and exciting. Whether they’d be brave enough to do that was yet to be determined.


Album · 1976 · Pop/Art Song/Folk
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Being a fan of Chicago has been at times an extremely rewarding attraction and at other times an incredibly frustrating one. After hearing them initially in ’69 when they opened up a Jimi Hendrix concert I attended they quickly became one of my favorite bands and I almost wore the grooves out of their first three double LPs because they were so progressive-minded and innovative. I developed a real sense of kinship with them. But, like all extended family members can, they began to test my patience. My Chicago cousins started to delve into realms they were unsuited for, moves I found perplexing and, on occasion, downright idiotic. Instead of continuing to develop their unique ability to fuse rock with jazz they foolishly wandered into other genres because they liked them, not because they were talented at working in them. It happens. I get it. But it’s one thing to admire, say, The Rolling Stones, quite another to incorporate their sound into yours without coming off as a cheap imitation. I attribute the uneven nature of albums V and VI to that tendency. The courageous return they made to their fusion foundations on VII was cause for exuberant celebration but just one year later they plunged to rock bottom with the dull, lifeless VIII, leaving me scratching my head in confusion. So in 1976 they were at a crucial fork in the road and I wondered which path they’d take. Finally, after 15 months of waiting (and not being appeased by a greatest hits package in the interim), I got my answer in the form of number X. Unfortunately it didn’t bode well as to where their future endeavors would be headed.

They begin with guitarist Terry Kath’s “Once or Twice,” a tune that can’t be categorized as being anything other than full-frontal rock & roll with no apologies offered. While not all that memorable the enthusiasm they exude at least makes it appear that all eight members were on the same page once again after looking like F-Troop rejects on the mess that was VIII. Trombonist James Pankow’s “You Are On My Mind” fosters hope for better things. It’s a jazzy little number with a subtle Latin feel and a funky middle section that provides a healthy amount of contrast. Both Pankow’s vocal debut on the track and his ever-reliable trombone make a good impression. His “Skin Tight” is next, a slice of contemporary funk with a big band attitude where the bright horns and Kath’s spunky guitar really stand out. At this point I felt pretty optimistic about the direction they were going in but that bubble of anticipation burst as soon as Peter Cetera’s schmaltzy “If You Leave Me Now” commenced to play. I realize this wasn’t the first time they’d waded into the pop ballad pool but it was the first time they’d so blatantly bathed in it. What I’m saying is that inside songs like “Wishing You Were Here” and “Color My World” there were still ingredients that identified it as being a product of Chicago but this tepid tune could’ve been done by Barry Manilow and no one would’ve known the difference. I’ve read that they had serious misgivings about it and that it was their overbearing producer James Guercio who insisted they include this saccharine cup cake on the record but, in the end, they have to take responsibility for giving in to his demands. Despite the fact that the song became their first #1 hit single the damage it did to their already fading reputation as rebels was devastating. From that moment on they ceased to be viewed as serious jazz/rock fusion explorers.

Trumpeter Lee Loughnane’s “Together Again” follows, a lukewarm specimen of “lite rock” that drifts in and out of flowerland without ever finding a place to stake its claim. Lee tries his hand at singing lead but his voice is unremarkably pedestrian and the tune’s drawn-out ending is uneventful. Dipping their toes into Caribbean waves on keyboard man Robert Lamm’s “Another Rainy Day in New York” is a welcome change of pace but the results are mundane at best because they generate zilch in the excitement department. Cetera contributes “Mama Mama,” a song propelled by a halfhearted R&B groove blended with pop sensibilities that water down a tune that had the potential to transcend the norm if they’d taken a more aggressive tact. A hard funk/rock beat generates a spark under Lamm’s “Scrapbook,” providing a brief respite from the mediocre. The track’s rowdy horns and Terry’s playful guitar solo give the number character while the nostalgic lyrics of “Jimi was so kind to us/had us on the tour/we got some education/like we never got before” strike a chord. Robert’s “Gently I’ll Wake You” is hard to label. It starts out as a low-key, piano bar sing-along kinda deal but then it escalates into something bigger. It does show they were trying to push themselves a bit yet the composition isn’t strong enough to make a lasting impression. The apex of the album is Lamm’s “You Get it Up,” a sexy, motivating, mostly instrumental piece that features a group-sung chorus and contains more oomph than anything else on the record. It sounds like they were giving their egos a night off and letting themselves have fun recording it. Kath’s heartbreak song, “Hope for Love,” is the closer, a simple tune they unwisely over-produce and, in the process, drain it of any emotional impact it might’ve had before it evaporates into nothing, just like my hopes did for the band to reinvigorate themselves.

In some circles X was viewed as a success. It went to #3 on the album charts, won three Grammys and gave them the elusive Top 40 topper their record company had dreamed of them delivering to them for seven years. Guercio was proven right but his commercial tactic only serves to remind me of the scripture that warns of gaining the whole world at the expense of losing one’s very soul. Chicago would go on to become one of the most enduring and affable acts on the planet but in June of ‘76 with the release of this, their eighth studio project; they officially forfeited their “coolness.” The signs were there on VIII but this confirmed their willful decision to never rock the boat again and just go with the popular flow. They had become, sadly, satisfied with being average musically but profitable financially. The establishment they once railed against had devoured them.

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