Chicago are an American band formed in 1967; noted as one of the first rock acts with an integrated three-piece brass section. Between 1969 and 1980, they released twelve studio albums on Columbia, followed by five albums on Warner. For eleven years, they maintained the same seven members: keyboardist–singer Robert Lamm, guitarist–singer Terry Kath, bassist–singer Peter Cetera, drummer Danny Seraphine, trombonist James Pankow, trumpeter Lee Loughnane, and saxophonist–flutist Walter Parazaider.

They debuted with the 1969 double-album Chicago Transit Authority, a collection of brassy harmony pop and blues-based rock jams with extended solos. They continued this format on the 1970–71 double-albums Chicago and Chicago III. Their early material was primarily written by Lamm (“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Beginnings,” “25 or 6 to 4”), Pankow (“Make Me Smile,” “Colour My World”), and Kath, whose soulful deep vocals contrast the high tenor of Cetera on recordings of this period.

In 1972, they issued Chicago V, their first single album with the hit “Saturday In the Park” and the edgy deep-cuts “A Hit by Varèse,” “Now That You’ve Gone,” “While the City Sleeps,” and “State of the Union.” This became their first of five consecutive No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, followed by Chicago VI and the hits “Just You ‘n’ Me” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.” Their fourth studio double-album, Chicago VII, contains a mix of jazz instrumentals and vocal pop, including the misty ballads “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” and “Wishing You Were Here.” Brazilian percussionist Laudir de Oliveira joined as an eighth member on their 1975 album Chicago VIII.

Chicago scored their first No. 1 single with Cetera’s “If You Leave Me Now,” an orchestral ballad off their 1976 release Chicago X. By now, they embraced R&B, funk, and Caribbean styles. They scored another hit with “Baby What a Big Surprise” on their 1977 album Chicago XI, their last with Kath, who died accidentally four months after its release.

In 1978, Chicago rebounded with Hot Streets, an album of slick soft pop recorded with Donnie Dacus, their first in a sequence of post-Kath guitarists. After the 1979–80 titles 13 and XIV, Chicago parted with Oliveira and Columbia.

Chicago hired keyboardist–singer Bill Champlin and enlisted producer David Foster for their 1982 album Chicago 16, a polished set that renewed their fortunes with the Billboard No. 1 “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” The 1984 followup, Chicago 17, introduced them to the video age and became their biggest-selling album with the hits “Stay the Night,” “Hard Habit to Break,” “You’re the Inspiration,” and “Along Comes a Woman.”

In 1985, Cetera left Chicago for a solo career. His replacement, bassist–singer Jason Scheff, debuted on the 1986 album Chicago 18, their last with Foster. They scored multiple hits from their hi-tech 1988 release Chicago 19, including the Billboard No. 1 “Look Away.”

Members: Robert Lamm (vocals, keyboards, piano, percussion), James Pankow (trombone, percussion), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, percussion), Walter Parazaider (woodwinds, percussion), Danny Seraphine (drums, percussion, 1967-90), Peter Cetera (vocals, bass, 1967-85), Terry Kath (vocals, guitar, percussion, 1967-78), Laudir de Oliveira (percussion, congas, 1973-80), Donnie Dacus (vocals, guitar, 1978-80), Chris Pinnick (guitar, 1980-84), Bill Champlin (vocals, keyboards, guitar, 1981-2009), Jason Scheff (vocals, bass, 1985-2016), Dawayne Bailey (guitar, vocals, 1986-94), Tris Imboden (drums, percussion, harmonica, 1990-present), Keith Howland (guitar, vocals, 1995-present), Lou Pardini (keyboards, vocals, 2009-present)


Chicago stemmed from The Big Thing, formed on February 15, 1967, when six musicians — trombonist James Pankow (b. 194?, St. Louis, Missouri), trumpeter Lee Loughnane (b. October 21, 1946, Elmwood Park, Ill.), reedist Walter Parazaider (b. March 14, 1945, Maywood, Ill.), guitarist Terry Kath (b. January 31, 1946, Chicago — d. January 23, 1978), drummer Danny Seraphine (b. August 28, 1948, Chicago), and keyboardist Robert Lamm (b. October 13, 1944, Brooklyn, NY) — made a gentleman’s pact to a life of collective music-making.

Kath, Parazaider, and Seraphine hailed from a sequence of Chicago-area cover bands (Jimmy Ford and the Executives, The Missing Links). Parazaider met Pankow and Loughnane when the three attended DePaul University. They summoned Lamm from local garage rockers The Wanderers, which issued two 1965 singles (one with Robert under the pseudonym Bobby Charles).

The Big Thing gigged for much of 1967 as a cover act with Lamm handling bass notes on organ pedals. Needing an actual bassist and a tenor vocalist to complement the baritones of Lamm and Kath, they recruited bassist–singer Peter Cetera (b. September 13, 1944, Chicago) from local popsters The Exceptions (which then mutated into Aorta).

By early 1968, they amassed a setlist of numbers by their three in-house songwriters: Kath, Lamm, and Pankow. At the insistence of producer–manager James William Guercio, they relocated to Los Angeles under a new name: Chicago Transit Authority. Guercio (b. 1945) wrote the 1966 Chad & Jeremy ballad “Distant Shores” and produced Windy City popsters The Buckinghams, known for the brassy 1967–68 hits “Kind of a Drag,” “Don’t You Care,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song).”

That fall, Chicago Transit Authority played multi-night West Coast engagements supporting Big Brother & the Holding Company and Santana (9/12–14: Fillmore West, San Francisco), Blues Image (9/22: Elysian Park, Los Angeles), Steve Miller Band (10/2–6: Whisky a Go Go, West Hollywood), Velvet Underground (10/23–27: Whisky), Love and Procol Harum (11/8: Shrine Auditorium, LA), Spirit and The Collectors (11/9: California State College), The Moody Blues (11/21–24: Fillmore West), Jeff Beck Group (11/27: Eagles Auditorium, Seattle), and Lee Michaels (12/26–29: Whisky).

1969: Chicago Transit Authority

In April 1969, the double-album Chicago Transit Authority appeared on Columbia. A two-note riff heralds the opening horns of “Introduction,” Kath’s band showcase where each member takes a solo. The remaining five songs on the first record are Lamm compositions.

“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” starts with a piano etude, then takes shape as a jolly 2/4 singalong in G major-seven, akin to “Got to Get You Into My Life.” The shift to B on the bridge — “A pretty lady looked at me and said her diamond watch had stopped cold dead” — lends a key melodic twist.

“Beginnings” sports an acoustic strum (in A) with vocalized hooks and Latin percussion. “Questions 67 and 68” — about love spats during the years in question — is the first example of Cetera’s falsetto, as heard on the melodic vocal arch of the opening line “Can this feeling that we have together.”

“Poem 58” begins with a scratchy, proto-funk guitar riff that gives way to fuzzy scales over a pulsating bassline. Despite being a Lamm composition, “Poem 58” (8:35) is a Kath showcase that trims CTA to a power trio of him, Cetera, and Seraphine.

Kath, in turn, is solely responsible for “Free Form Guitar,” the collage of distortion and feedback that opens side three. Lamm’s final piece, “South California Purples,” is a slow, dirgy blues-rocker with gruff organ on a fuzzy 12-bar riff (in A minor with a tightened, alternating third).

Side three closes with an extended (7:43) cover of the Spencer Davis Group classic “I’m a Man,” featuring all three vocalists. (Guercio’s other client, Blood Sweat & Tears, also cover a Steve Winwood song on their 1969 album: “Smiling Phases” by Traffic.)

Pankow composed all of side four, which starts with a sample of a chanted phrase by protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention: “The whole world is watching.” The politically charged piano/brass rocker “Someday (August 29, 1968)” precedes “Liberation,” a galloping 14-minute extravaganza of brass; slowed at the middle by Kath’s crying, scaling leads.

Sessions took place at CBS 30th Street Studios in New York City, where Guercio produced Chicago Transit Authority with engineer Fred Catero, who also worked on 1969–70 albums by the Chamber Brothers, Cold Blood, Lovecraft, and Santana. Artist Nick Fasciano designed the gatefold cover, which shows the name in bubbled cursive on painted board. The image is small (front) and full scale (back). Fasciano would design Chicago’s covers up through X (barring III). Like all Chicago studio albums through 1978 (barring VIII), CTA is housed in a gatefold with a monochrome inner-gate picture grid with each member barring Lamm, who’s pictured to the right of the credits with a lyric sheet in hand.

Chicago Transit Authority peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Album Chart during its 171-week chart stay. The lead-off single, “Questions 67 and 68,” peaked at No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 100. The two main hits, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Beginnings,” charted after the release of the second album. Columbia issued CTA concurrently with Aorta and albums by The Flock and another Guercio client, the Illinois Speed Press — collectively billed in trade papers as “the Chicago sound.”

’69 Live Shows

CTA toured from late February to December 1969, starting with a two-night engagement with the Mothers of Invention and Buddy Miles Express (2/21–22: Fillmore East, NYC). On March 31, they supported Jethro Tull and Captain Beefheart at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood. In April, they embarked on a seven-date US tour with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In mid-May, they played five straight nights at the Whisky a Go Go with Hugh Masekela.

CTA’s summer roster included shows with Alice Cooper (6/27–28: Boston Tea Party), Spooky Tooth (9/5–6: Electric Factory, Philadelphia), and English brass-rockers Colosseum (August 15–17: Fillmore West, San Francisco). On August 1, CTA played the Atlantic City Pop Festival with Iron Butterfly and Joni Mitchell.

In November, CTA headlined East Coast bills with Blodwyn Pig (11/14–15: Fillmore East) and Humble Pie (11/26: Electric Factory, Philadelphia). On Nov. 28–29, they did a two-nighter at Grand Riviera Theatre, Detroit, with Fat Mattress and Jethro Tull (then plugging their second album Stand Up).

CTA headed overseas for a UK show with Eclection (12/4: Royal Albert Hall, London) and Continental dates with Cressida (12/13: Handelsbeurs, Antwerp, Belgium) and Man (12/16: Circus Krone, Munich). On December 14, 1969, they performed “I’m a Man” for the Radio Bremen TV music program Beat-Club (aired 12/31).

Chicago cut “Transit Authority” from their name to avoid confusion with the city’s namesake mass-transit company.

1970: Chicago

Chicago released their second album, Chicago, on January 26, 1970, on Columbia. Chicago is their second of three consecutive studio double-albums. Each side adheres to a format: songs (side one), a multi-movement suite (side two), songs and a string suite (side three), and a four-part jam (side four).

The opening track, “Movin’ In,” is a Pankow-penned jazz-pop number sung by Kath, who wrote “The Road” and “In the Country,” bluesy rockers respectively sung by (and harmonized with) Cetera. Lamm contributes “Poem for the People,” a piano-driven Cetera duet in the Tin Pan Alley mold with lyrics that elude to mass apathy and the untapped public conscience (“Could the people understand? In only whisper and screams; and colorless dreams”).

Side two opens with the jaunty “Wake Up Sunshine,” another GtGYiML pastiche with Cetera harmonies. Pankow composed the seven-part suite “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon,” which contains four vocal passages, including the Kath-sung hits “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World.”

Side three contains two Cetera-sung Lamm originals: the carnival psych “Fancy Colors” and the hard-rocking “25 or 6 to 4,” which has a descending riff (in A minor) lifted from Led Zeppelin‘s arrangement of Ann Bredon’s “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You” and lyrics about struggling to stay awake in the wee hours (25 or 26 minutes to 4:00 am) to finish a song. Kath closes side three with “Memories of Love,” an orchestral ballad with a three-part string prelude conducted by Peter Matz.

Side four contains “It Better End Soon,” a four-part, brassy blues rock jam (10:24) that Lamm partially co-wrote with Parazaider (2nd Movement) and singer Kath (3rd Movement). Cetera makes his writing debut with the short, simple closing track “Where Do We Go from Here?” — inspired by footage of the Apollo Moon landing, which he watched from a hospital bed while recovering from a gang attack at a football game.

Sessions took place at CBS 30th St with Flock engineer Don Puluse, a soundman on 1968–70 albums by Al Kooper, The Freeborne, Moby Grape, and Sly & the Family Stone. Additional sessions occurred at CBS Hollywood with engineer Brian Ross-Myring, who worked on recent titles by A. B. Skhy, Colours, Essra Mohawk, It’s a Beautiful Day, Kaleidoscope, and the 1970 Elektra release Fun House, the second album by Detroit rockers The Stooges.

Chicago introduces the classic band logo, which Fasciano modified from the CTA cover to accommodate the shortened band name. He designed this cover with John Berg, a visual artist for The Electric Flag, BS&T, and A Rainbow In Curved Air by Terry Riley. Chicago presents the logo as a medium-relief metal engraving. The same logo appears on most subsequent Chicago albums in the same proportion (center large) with different themes and colors. This particular cover inspired the design by Ed Thrasher on the 1972 Warner comp Burbank, which has a similar metal-engraved Coca-Cola-style logo.

The inner-gates (cream text on brown) present the titles and credits (in cursive) and the lyrics to “It Better End Soon.” Original copies contain an eight-fold poster with sepia pics of each member seated in a wooden chair. The photographer, Herb Greene, also earned visual credits on albums by Cold Blood, Joe Cocker, Dakila, and Malo.

Chicago reached No. 6 in the UK, No. 5 in Australia, and No. 4 on the US Billboard 200. Columbia lifted “Make Me Smile” from the “Buchannon” suite as a single (2:58) with the intro cut but the recap (“Now More than Ever”) appended to give the song a third verse. This became their breakthrough single in the US, where it reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Its b-side, the similarly extracted “Colour My World,” charted separately at No. 7. “25 or 6 to 4” followed in June as a second single (b/w “Where Do We Go from Here”) and peaked at No. 4. With Chicago’s newfound profile, “Beginnings” re-climbed the chart to a new peak of No. 7.

’70 Live Shows

Chicago toured nonstop from January through late November 1970. In mid-January, they played five straight nights at the Whisky a Go Go with Gypsy. The following week, they toured Texas with The Youngbloods. In February, Chicago headlined bills with Mountain (2/15/70: Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis), The Pharaohs (2/18: Mount Pleasant Senior High School, Wilmington, DE), and Rotary Connection (2/19: Rochester Institute of Technology Gymnasium).

In March, Chicago hit the West Coast for shows with the Illinois Speed Press (3/13–14: Eagles Auditorium, Seattle) and four Bay Area dates with Family and the James Cotton Blues Band (3/26–29: Winterland and Fillmore West). Their April leg covered the Northeast with double-bills with the James Gang (4/19: University of Toledo) and the Allman Brothers Band (4/28: State University of New York, Stonybrook). After a string of Midwest dates with the ISP, Chicago played a May 24 multi-act bill with Faces at Michigan State University.

On July 18, Chicago played Chicago’s Soldier Stadium for the Big Ten Summer Bash, an event hosted by the local radio station WCFL with sets by ISP, Bloomsbury People, Dreams, Funkadelic, Iggy & The Stooges, The Illusion, Mason Proffitt, MC5, and Pig Iron.

On August 5, Chicago played Gaelic Park, Bronx, with Canadian rockers The Guess Who, who recently topped the Billboard Hot 100 with their strident “American Woman.” The following week, Chicago played a multi-act bill at Cleveland’s Public Hall with Savoy Brown, Glass Harp, and Blues Image, then in the charts with “Ride Captain Ride.”

Chicago landed off mainland England for the third Isle of Wight Festival, which drew 600,000 attendees at the scenic Afton Down chalk down. The five-day event featured more than fifty acts, including Black Widow, Donovan, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Free, Gary Farr, Gracious, Groundhogs, Hawkwind, Heaven, Joni Mitchell, Mighty Baby, Miles Davis, The Moody Blues, Pentangle, Pink Fairies, Shawn Phillips, Sly & the Family Stone, Supertramp, Ten Years After, Terry Reid, T2, and The Who. Chicago appeared on Day 3 (Friday the 28th) along with Cactus, Family, Fairfield Parlour, Procol Harum, Taste, Voices of East Harlem, and Canadian brass-rockers Lighthouse, who played a second set on Saturday.

In October–November, Chicago played multiple Northeast dates with Seals & Croft.

1971: Chicago III

Chicago released their third album, Chicago III, on January 11, 1971, on Columbia. This is their third of three consecutive studio double albums (and last barring Chicago VII). Each side is formatted similar to its counterpart on Chicago with a sequence of four songs (side one), a suite (side two), two songs and a mini-suite (side three), and an instrumental suite (side four).

Lamm wrote the Cetera-sung opener “Sing a Mean Tune Kid,” a lengthy funk-rock jam (9:13) with extended solos. Kath sings Lamm’s “Loneliness Is Just a Word,” a heady jazz-pop number in 3/4. The two co-wrote “I Don’t Want Your Money,” a Hendrix-like blues rocker sung by Lamm. Cetera makes his second songwriting contribution with “What Else Can I Say,” a laidback number with twangy refrains.

Side two consists of “Travel Suite” (22:30), a six-part song cycle that laments the touring life. It opens with “Flight 602,” a harmonized country-pop song inspired by Crosby Stills & Nash. It cuts to “Motorboat to Mars,” a 90-second showcase of Seraphine’s drum prowess, which leads into “Free,” a Kath-sung funk rocker with a shouted Cetera chorus. “Free Country” is a quiet 20th century classical etude with flute, glockenspiel, and crisp piano. On the ballad “At the Sunrise,” a road-worn Lamm sings of home-sickness. “Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home” concludes the suite as a lengthy Latin jam (7:28) with harmonized vocables. Lamm wrote the entire side apart from the drum solo and “Free Country” (Lamm–Kath–Parazaider).

Lamm opens side three with “Mother,” a jazz-pop number (in F) with speedy verses and swaying refrains anchored by staccato keyboards. One minute in, a fluttering brass chart yields to a 90-second duel of trombone and plunger-muted trumpet — oft-cited as Chicago’s finest interlocking horn break. After a recap of the song proper, the final minute slows for a soft, fluid trumpet solo over cymbal mist and light, wah-wah guitar notes.

Seraphine penned the words to Cetera’s “Lowdown,” an organ-rippling rustic rocker that laments missed opportunities and lost friendship amid Danny’s recurrent drum rolls. Kath’s “An Hour in the Shower” is a medium-length suite (5:30) that recounts a day in five parts:

“A Hard Risin’ Morning Without Breakfast” — a soulful acoustic strummalong
“Off to Work” — electrified brassy raveup
“Fallin’ Out” — “Hard Risin'” recap
“Dreamin’ Home” — lucid harmonized sequence
“Morning Blues Again” — “Hard Risin'” conclusion

Side four opens with Lamm’s reading of “When All the Laughter Dies in Sorrow,” a poem about mankind’s resignation to warfare and global extinction by South African bard Kendrew Lascelles, who first placed it on the b-side of his 1970 spoken-word single “The Box” (an anti-war poem that he recited on the Smothers Brothers Summer Show). This begins Pankow’s “Elegy” suite (15:27), divided into five instrumental sections:

“Canon” — a brass-only fanfare
“Once Upon a Time…” — a Satie-esque passage of piano and flute, joined by brass, bass, and drums
“Progress?” — avant-garde confluence of layered brass with gradually overlaid traffic noise and machine sounds
“The Approaching Storm” (6:26) — a funky brass-rock instrumental (in F minor) with solos by Pankow (1:20), Lamm (organ, 2:11), Parazaider (sax, 3:02), Kath (3:54), and a flowing jazz sequence with running bass
“Man vs. Man: The End” — a martialized “Storm” wrap-up.

Sessions took place between June and December 1970 at CBS 30th St, where Puluse engineered Chicago III immediately prior to The Inner Mounting Flame, the debut album by Mahavishnu Orchestra. Guercio produced Chicago III in succession with the debut album by Madura, a jam-rock spin-off of Bangor Flying Circus with drummer David “Hawk” Wolinski.

Chicago III sports a quilted variation of the logo, sewn by one Natalie Williams, who incorporated elements of the American flag (stars, red–white–blue scheme) into the piece. Once again, the inner-gates present cursive credits and the words to Lascelles’ poem. The letterer, Melanie Marder Parks, later earned credits with Mike D’Abo and Ram Jam. Original copies of Chicago III contained a six-fold poster of Chicago knelled in period military garb at the Normandy American Cemetery. This is their first of eight albums titled with Roman numerals (though Chicago is often referred to as Chicago II and select reissues bear that title).

Chicago III reached No. 6 in Australia and Finland, No. 9 in the UK, and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 during a 63-week US chart run.

Live at Carnegie

On October 25, 1971, Chicago released Live at Carnegie, a quadruple-LP set recorded during their six-night (April 5–10, 1971) sold-out engagement at Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall. It features elongated renditions of “In the Country” (10:35), “South California Purples” (15:35), and “Mother” (8:21). “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” is split in two parts with a free-form intro (total time: 10:07).

Side four consists of a lengthier “It Better End Soon” (15:55) with five parts, including a five-minute flute section (2nd Movement). Side six contains the first three parts of the “Flight” suite. Part six (“Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home”) appears on side seven before an elongated “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” (15:25).

Side eight contains the non-album exclusive “A Song for Richard and His Friends,” which Lamm introduces as a “wishful thought about wishing President Nixon would quit.” It starts with lurching trombone, overlaid with dissonant guitar. After Kath’s feedback stretch, a frenetic upward pattern takes hold in 7/8 with the jumbled lines “If you will think now, then you will see, how you can change things,” harmonized by Lamm and Cetera. After another feedback stretch, they launch into an organ boogie where Lamm sings about the consequences of the current administration and its ongoing trajectory. Kath, who lays atonal sustain throughout, injects a scaly solo between Robert’s verses. A recap of the 7/8 passage ends the piece.

Live at Carnegie is housed in a box with the logo depicted as a medium-relief marble carving. The box includes a 20-page booklet, two fold-out posters, and four cardboard inner-sleeves. The large poster (24-fold) is a blurred collage of tinted live pics on a black background. The small poster (six-fold) shows Chicago posed in a cul-de-sac in casual attire.

Despite its mammoth size as a four-record box set, Live at Carnegie, reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Though it bears no numeral, Carnegie is part of their canonical sequence and thus counts as “IV.”

1972: Chicago V

Chicago released their fourth studio album, Chicago V, on July 10, 1972, on Columbia. This was their first single studio album after three double-albums and a four-record live box. Lamm wrote eight of the album’s ten songs and sings on four, including the raunchy side-openers “A Hit by Varèse” and “While the City Sleeps.” He trades vocals on “Saturday In the Park” with Cetera, who sings call-and-response with Kath on “Dialogue” (Parts I and II).”

“A Hit by Varèse” opens V with wind-up engine noise and commences its 3/4 riff (pensive C minor) over steam and white noise. The title references French avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse (1883–1965) who coined the term “organized sound” on the premise that all music is organized noise. After Lamm sings “Can you play free, or in three or agree to attempt something new,” the tune breaks to an improve of fractious horns, roaming bass, and unrestrained drums.

“All Is Well” is a soft vocal jazz number (in 6/8) with harmonized verses and Lamm’s “free and easy” bridge. It cuts to a syncopated jam (in B) with criss-crossing brass.

Pankow’s “Now That You’ve Gone” opens with a 6/8 drum fill; soon flanked with deep trombone and funky guitar. Kath belts deep vocals over tritone key shifts (F…A…E♭…Gm…C#…). Cetera heads the harmonized “Still I can recall” chorus (in D and G) over a compound 4+2 meter. The stately middle-eight loops a seven-note descent (C to F) with a layered brass riff. Walter solos over the intro recap during the final stretch.

“Dialogue (Part 1)” is a funk song with a scaling riff (rooted in D) evocative of the Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back.” Kath, a concerned citizen with political ideals, debates Cetera, a blase individual who always thought “everything was fine” but appreciates the heads up. On Part 2, they harmonize a litany of “We can” chants (“make it happen… change the world… save the children”) over intensified guitar wailing.

“While the City Sleeps” opens with piping brass and noodling guitar, then cuts to a closed-cadence pattern (in G minor) that heralds the chorus: a harmonized titular chant (in 7/8) over a brisk ascent (G…AA→B♭B♭→CC). The G minor pattern resumes for extended blues soloing.

“Saturday In the Park” is a jovial piano-pop number inspired by Lamm’s observations during an afternoon in Central Park on July 4, 1970. It opens with a falling fifth (E→D-DD over A) and plays the same drop-step over three shifting root chords (A…D…G…) before resolving on C. Peter sings the “People dancing” bridge, which Robert overtakes with “Eh Cumpari, ci vo sunari” (Italian for “Hey buddy, I want you”). The second “waiting such a long time” refrain cuts to a burlesque middle-eight about “slow motion riders” and a storytelling “bronze man,” suffixed with a promise to the children that “all is not lost.”

Aside from CTA, this is the only album of Cetera’s tenure on which he makes no songwriting contributions. However, he sings lead on Lamm’s “State of the Union,” a gruff mid-tempo rocker (in E) that taps Chicago’s inner-powertrio with Leslied riffs, bobbing bass, and snare fills over funky cadences — capped with the soaring line “tear the system down.” The underlying pattern shifts five notes (to A) for a lengthy brass passage. Peter uses a lower register on “Goodbye,” a jazz shuffle that wraps the album’s energetic sequence.

“Alma Mater” closes the album on a quiet, rhythmless note where Kath reflects on Chicago’s brisk rise to stardom (though only the brass players attended the same alma mater).

Sessions took place in September 1971 at Manhattan’s Columbia Studio B on 52nd St. with engineer Wayne Tarnowski, a soundman on recent albums by Compost and Weather Report.

Chicago V is housed in a textured wood-themed gatefold with an etched variation of the band’s logo (front, back, labels) and text-less wood-panel inner-gates. The inner-sleeves present cursive lyrics on wood board.

To compensate for the record that normally appeared in the outer-gate on their double-albums, the Chicago V outer-gate contained two poster inserts: a nine-fold monochrome group photo and a two-sided, horizontal four-fold with color medium shots of each member. The photography team Houghton–Steinbicker also captured images seen on 1972–73 albums by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Lea Roberts, The O’Jays, and later titles by Andy Pratt (Resolution), Blue Magic, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Frannie Golde, John Blair, Luther Vandross, Mass Production, Narada Michael Walden (Garden of Love Light), Shakti, and Stanley Clarke (Journey to Love).

“Saturday in the Park” (b/w “Alma Mater”) reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In October, Columbia lifted “Dialogue” (b/w “Now That You’ve Gone”), which peaked at No. 17 on the Cash Box Top 100. Chicago V was their first of five consecutive albums to top the Billboard 200, where it spent nine weeks at No. 1.

Live In Japan

On November 22, 1972, Chicago released Live In Japan, a two-LP document of their June shows at Osaka Festival Hall, where soundmen recorded the band with two eight-track machines that captured these performances with clearer, fuller sound than the Carnegie recordings.

Side one contains renditions of “A Hit by Varèse,” “Saturday in the Park,” “Dialogue (Part I & II),” and “State of the Union” — unreleased songs at the time of these shows.

Side two contains “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” (14:05) and the unreleased Kath number “Mississippi Delta City Blues,” which Chicago would ultimately record for their 1977 album.

Side three contains another performance of “A Song for Richard and His Friends” and the Carnegie-style two-part version of “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” with the free-form intro. On the rendition of “Questions 67 & 68,” Cetera and Lamm sing the lyrics in phonetically translated Japanese.

Side four features elongated performances of “25 or 6 to 4” (9:14) and “I’m a Man” (10:43). Live In Japan also includes two numbers from III (“Lowdown,” “Free”) and “Beginnings.”

CBS–Sony released Live In Japan in an obi-stripped gatefold that presents the logo as a heat stamp branded on tan human skin. The inner-spread is a fish-eye view of Chicago at the Festival Hall with an American flag as their backdrop. Due to the recent Live at Carnegie, Columbia withheld Live In Japan from the Western market.

Electra Glide In Blue

Guercio entered moviemaking with the 1973 action film Electra Glide in Blue, named after the Electra-Glide motorcycle series by Harley-Davidson. It stars Robert Blake as a motorcycle cop who solves a drug-related murder tied to the Arizona hippie underground. The movie features small parts by Cetera (Bob Zemko), Kath (Killer), Loughnane (Pig Man), and Parazaider (Loose Lips). Wolinski appears as VW Bus Driver. Nick Nolte, in one of his earliest roles, has an uncredited part as a random hippie. Blake’s performance earned him the starring role in Baretta, a detective drama that ran on ABC from 1975 to 1978.

Guercio composed the Electra Glide in Blue soundtrack, which includes the 1971 Madura track “Free From the Devil.” Kath sings on “Tell Me,” the epic soul ballad that closes the album.

Meanwhile, Guercio established Caribou Ranch, a recording studio and musician’s retreat built on 4,000 acres of property in the Rocky Mountains near Nederland, Colorado. The site was first used by Joe Walsh for his late-1972 release Barnstorm. Chicago recorded their fifth album at Caribou, the site of all their recordings for the ensuing four-year period.

1973: Chicago VI

Chicago released their fifth studio album, Chicago VI, on June 25, 1973, on Columbia. It takes a softer approach than prior efforts and emphasizes rural and roots-rock styles.

Lamm contributes five songs, including the opener “Critic’s Choice,” a swipe at indignant music journalists with a slow, quiet, piano-based arrangement indebted to America (specifically their recent hit “I Need You”). He harmonizes with Cetera, Kath, and Loughnane on “Something in This City Changes People,” the airy side-two opener that addresses the artificiality of Los Angeles: a theme continued on the jazzy “Hollywood,” which climaxes on the harmonized refrain “heard it through the grapevine” (about Tinseltown gossip). Lamm’s two additional numbers, “Darlin’ Dear” and “Rediscovery,” appropriate barroom boogie and funk rock ala Little Feat.

Kath contributed “Jenny,” a Leslied ballad about his dog, which holds fort while the band tours. He plays an overall minimized role on Chicago VI, which features none of the prior album’s guitar raunch apart from “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” a two-part Ceter-sung brass rocker co-written by Pankow, who submits the romantic jazz-pop number “Just You ‘n’ Me” and the funky ecological anthem “What’s This World Coming To.” Ceter submits “In Terms of Two,” a laidback country tune later covered by private-press popsters Daddy Warbucks.

Chicago VI is their first of five studio albums recorded at Caribou Studios, where sessions occurred in February 1973 with Tarnowski (credited here as Jarnowski) and James William’s brother, assistant engineer Jeff Guercio. Veteran soundman Phil Ramone mixed Chicago VI in succession with the second Madura album.

Chicago VI features three guest musicians: steel guitarist James G. O’Rafferty, conga player Joe Lala (Blues Image, Gypsy, Pollution), and percussionist Laudir Soares de Oliveira, a member of Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’77 with credits behind Joe Cocker and Ben Sidran.

Chicago VI sports a gatefold produced by the American Bank Note Company with the texture and design elements of the US dollar bill, complete with mirrored floral and Guilloché details. This is Chicago’s first of two studio albums with the band pictured on the cover. They appear in full view on the inner-gates in blue monochrome standing side-to-side on the Caribou field in casual rustic attire. At this point, all seven members (including Lamm) sport facial hair. The photographer, Barry Feinstein, also has credits on 1973–74 albums by the Allman Brothers, The Crusaders, Minnie Riperton (Perfect Angel), and Terry Reid. The rustic theme carries over to the Chicago VI inner-sleeve with a Bank Note Co. engraving of a 19th century steam train and “America,” an 1860s engraving of an Antebellum woman with a shield, sword and eagle.

“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” appeared three weeks before the album as a single (b/w “Jenny”). It reached No. 10 on Billboard and No. 8 on Cash Box. In September, Columbia lifted “Just You ‘n’ Me” (b/w “Critic’s Choice”), which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Cash Box Top 100. Chicago reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Chicago promoted VI with the half-hour TV special Chicago in the Rockies, which aired in July 1973 on ABC. It opens with scenic footage of the band members on horseback to the tune of “Free.” They arrive at the ranch, where they’re greeted by a gang of gatekeepers led by Dick Clark. Outside the saloon, they perform “Saturday In the Park” and “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” before a denim-clad crowd of standing attendees. Inside the studio, they talk about the Caribou facility, which Lamm calls their “creative monastery.” They do live in-studio performances of two new songs: “What’s This World Coming To” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.” Al Green drops by the studio, where Chicago back him on a rendition of his 1971 hit “Tired of Being Alone.” The special ends with an Old West round-up vignette (in sepia) as DARKWTIT plays over the credits.

1974: Chicago VII

Chicago released their sixth studio album, Chicago VII, on March 11, 1974, on Columbia. This is their fourth studio double-album (their first since III) and last in that format. The first record largely consists of jazz instrumentals while the second contains layered ballads and mid-tempo R&B numbers. Each member contributes to the writing on this album.

Seraphine wrote the opener “Prelude to Aire,” a soundscape of percussion and Mellotron that leads to “Aire,” a buoyant brass instrumental with a flowing pattern (in 7/8) that cuts to a funkier sequence with bluesy guitar soloing. Pankow co-wrote the track with Seraphine and Parazaider, who collaborated with Danny on “Devil’s Sweet,” a dark, electrified jazz workout evocative of In a Silent Way-era Miles Davis and early Weather Report.

Lamm composed the bulk of side two, where the bleeping ARP experiment “Italian from New York” cuts to the brisk post-bop interlude “Hanky Panky,” a trumpet showcase that stumbles into “Lifesaver” a medium-uptempo R&B number that (1:24 in) marks the album’s first appearance of vocals, sung by Lamm with a CB radio effect, which he interjects amid the chorus chant on the marching, brassy outro. Side two wraps with “Happy Man,” a simple Cetera vocal ballad with Kath on bass.

Pankow and Kath each wrote two songs on side three, which opens with “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long,” an ethereal Cetera-sung ballad about spiritual awakening with dreamy layers of Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, and ARP. It cuts to “Mongonucleosis,” a chanted Stax-fueled tune with Latin percussive flourishes. Loughnane sings “Song of the Evergreens,” Kath’s ode to winter that builds to a lengthy, whirlwind outro with rapidfire chants of the word “snow.” His “Byblos” is a bossa-tinged acoustic ballad about an encounter in Osaka.

Kath sings the verses on the autumnal Cetera ballad “Wishing You Were Here,” which has a chromatic root-note descent (in D minor) similar to “How-Hi-the-Li” by UK rockers Family, who played four Bay Area triple bills with Chicago in the spring of 1970 and a back-to-back set with Chicago at that year’s Isle of Wight Festival. (“How-Hi-the-Li” appears on Family’s 1969 second album Family Entertainment. The songwriter, Family’s then-bassist Ric Grech, partook in the supergroup Blind Faith with Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton.) Cetera sings lead on “Call on Me,” a slick mid-tempo ballad that marked Loughnane’s songwriting debut.

Lamm composed the album’s closing pair: “Women Don’t Want to Love Me,” a funky track with wah-wah guitar and gritty Cetera vocals; and “Skinny Boy,” a lean R&B number with gospelly backing vocals by the Pointer Sisters. A shorter version of this song appears on Lamm’s 1974 solo debut Skinny Boy, released months earlier on Columbia with backing by Kath (on bass and acoustic guitar) and onetime Aorta frontman (and Cetera’s Exceptions bandmate) James Vincent (electric guitar).

Additional guests on Chicago VII include ex-Madura keyboardist David Wolinski (now of Rufus), who plays ARP (“(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long,” “Wishing You Were Here”), piano (“Song of the Evergreens”), and Mellotron and Fender Rhodes (“Byblos”). Oliveira plays percussion on everything apart from the two closing Lamm numbers. Chicago hired him as an official eighth member shortly after this album’s release. Beach Boys Al Jardine and brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson sing backing vocals on “Wishing You Were Here.”

Chicago recorded VII between August and December 1973 at Caribou Ranch. Their use of the studio came between bookings by Steely Dan (Countdown to Ecstasy) and Elton John, who titled his resulting 1974 album Caribou. Tarnowski co-engineered the album with Jeff Guercio, who also worked on the Caribou sessions for Wish You Were Here, the 1974 album by Welsh popsters Badfinger. Ramone mixed Chicago VII in succession with the self-titled release by Urubamba, the Andean folk band that recently cut an album with their producer and benefactor, Paul Simon. James William Guercio also produced James Vincent’s 1974 debut solo album Culmination.

Berg and Fasciano designed the VII cover, which is embossed and tinted to resembled the look and feel of engraved leather. The engravings depict Chicago’s key cultural landmarks (Union Stock Yards; Great Western Railway) and historical events (the Great Fire of 1871; the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893). The inner-gates show the ranch-bound members assembled by an uphill fence, as pictured by Urve Kuusik, whose photography also appears on 1973–74 albums by Billy Cobham, Billy Paul, and Chairmen of the Board. The two records came in rust-colored sleeves with song info and reproductions of 1890s frontiersman sketches by American illustrator Frederic Remington, including one that depicts fur trapper Hugh Glass (1783–1833). The letterer, Doris Halle, also did insert art for Welcome to the Dance, the 1973 Columbia release by Sons of Champlin.

“(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” appeared three weeks prior to VII as a single (b/w “Byblos”). It reached No. 9 on Billboard (No. 7 on Cash Box) and No. 5 in Canada. “Call On Me” followed in June (b/w “Prelude to Aire”) and reached No. 6 on Billboard and No. 9 in Canada. In October, Columbia lifted “Wishing You Were Here” (b/w “Life Saver”), which reached No. 9 on the Cash Box Top 100 and No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. Chicago VII reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and hit respective peaks of No. 13 and 14 in Australia and Norway.

1975: Chicago VIII

Chicago released their seventh studio album, Chicago VIII, on March 24, 1975, on Columbia. This is their first album with Laudir de Oliveira as a full-fledged member.

Cetera sings his two contributions on side one: the opener “Anyway You Want,” an R&B boogie reminiscent of Fats Domino; and the hard-rocking “Hideaway,” which has a slow, smoldering riff similar to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” He also sings “Never Been in Love Before,” an airy Lamm ballad with a tight piano bridge and harmonized refrain.

Pankow contributes one song per side. “Brand New Love Affair, Part I & II” is a loungy after-dark ballad that awakens to a brassy, soulful second half. Cetera sings Pankow’s “Old Days,” a nostalgic reflection on forties Americana; opened and kick-started with explosive, drum-rolled power chords.

Kath submits two numbers: “Till We Meet Again,” a short, simple finger-picked ballad; and “Oh, Thank You Great Spirit,” a metaphysical epic that builds through ethereal passages to a whirlwind climax.

Lamm wrote the album’s remaining tracks. “Harry Truman” is a piano-driven, Tin Pan Alley-style tribute to the 33rd US President. “Long Time No See” is a stately uptempo number with CB vocals over tight piano bars (in E♭) that cut to a Lalo Schifrin-esque jazz-funk break (in A minor and F). He harmonizes with Cetera on the album’s penultimate track “Ain’t It Blue?”, a funky R&B boogie with brassy refrains.

Sessions took place in August–September 1974 at Caribou, where Tarnowski engineered VIII with Jeff and a third brother, Mark Guercio. The brothers also engineered 1975 Caribou recordings by Dan Folgerberg and Elton John, who released two albums that year, both with rustic titles: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and Rock of the Westies. Mark next engineered 1976 jazz-rock albums by Jeff Beck (Wired), LA Express, and Tony Williams New Lifetime.

VIII is the only pre-1979 Chicago studio album housed in a single sleeve. The Berg–Fasciano cover presents the Chicago logo as a green sew-on patch with a red condor. Berg’s other 1974 credits include covers for Badger, Blue Öyster CultMichal Urbaniak (Fusion), and Stardrive, another Fasciano co-credit.

Chicago VIII came with an iron-on decal insert of the condor logo. VIII also contained a six-fold poster of the group as bandits in a getaway woodie wagon. Kath guns the vehicle with Lamm clutched overhead and the others crammed in back as a motorcycle cop zooms beside them for a pullover. The photographer, Reid Miles, designed the classic color-tinted covers to hundreds of Blue Note titles during the post-bop era. He took further bandit-themed photos of Chicago for their subsequent two inner-gates. The Chicago VIII inner-sleeve contains white cursive on black by typographer Anthony Maggiore, a designer on the upcoming album by Jaco Pastorius.

“Harry Truman” appeared one month ahead of VIII (b/w “Till We Meet Again”) and reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. In April, “Old Days” appeared (b/w “Hideaway”) and climbed to a Billboard peak of No. 5. A third single, “Brand New Love Affair,” charted modestly that summer. Chicago VIII was their fourth consecutive studio album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Chicago IX: Chicago’s Greatest Hits

In November 1975, Columbia issued Chicago IX: Chicago’s Greatest Hits, a collection of eleven popular radio hits: two from CTA (“Beginnings,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”) and Chicago VI (“Just You ‘n’ Me,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”), three apiece from Chicago (“25 or 6 to 4,” “Colour My World,” “Make Me Smile”) and Chicago VII (“Wishing You Were Here,” “Call on Me,” “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long”), and “Saturday In the Park.”

Greatest Hits sports a Reid Miles cover photograph with the band members, posed as building billboard painters, clutched to failing scaffold as an irate cop peaks out a nearby window. On back, the logo appears complete in yellow and red; albeit streaked and splashed. Greatest Hits reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, their fifth of five consecutive chart-topping longplayers.

1976: Chicago X

Chicago released their eighth studio album, Chicago X, on June 14, 1976, on Columbia. The album continues their embrace of R&B (“Skin Tight,” “You Get It Up”) and Latin elements (“You Are on My Mind”) with ballads that range from light (“If You Leave Me Now”) to ethereal (“Gently I’ll Wake You”) and intense (“Hope for Love”).

Kath wrote the album’s bookend numbers: “Once or Twice,” a raunchy, uptempo brass rocker with driving CTA-style riffs; and “Hope for Love,” an earnest minor-key ballad with swelling refrains and windy, spiraling descents.

Pankow contributes songs 2 and 3: “You Are on My Mind,” a fluttering pop-disco number with Latin percussion; and “Skin Tight,” a slice of syncopated hard-funk that shares its title with the 1974 Ohio Players breakout hit (from their Mercury release Skin Tight).

Cetera contributes one song per side. “If You Leave Me Now” is an orchestral ballad in the Bacharach tradition with Beatles lyrical references (“the things we said today”) and string arrangements by Jimmie Haskell. Chicago added this song to the X tracklist just as the album finalized but its urgent refrain (“oo-oo-ooo oh oh, baby please don’t go”) connected instantly with listeners. Cetera opens side two with “Mama Mama,” an airy blend of feminine vocals, wah-wah chords, and slithering Haskell strings (in Cmaj7).

Loughnane makes his second solo writing contribution with “Together Again,” a road-bound love letter comprised of zooming verses and slowed, flute-perforating chorus lines in sweet major-seventh keys.

Lamm wrote the remaining four songs, including the Cetera-sung “Another Rainy Day in New York City,” an autumnal steel-pan number (in A) with sparkling up-slide on the major-seventh chorus pattern (Fmaj7…Cmaj7…). “Scrapbook” is a funk-rocker (ala Wild Cherry) that recounts Chicago’s road life. “Gently I’ll Wake You” is a morning-after half-ballad with cloudy, angelic verses on echoey piano. This cuts to a gritty, brimming chorus of two voices amid tightened guitar and ominous strings. “You Get It Up” is a chanted funk raveup in the vein of the Commodores.

Sessions took place in March–April 1976 at Caribou with Tarnowski and assistant engineer Tom Likes, who also worked on 1976 albums by Return to Forever (Romantic Warrior) and David Sancious & Tone (Transformation (The Speed of Love)).

James William Guercio produced Chicago X in succession with Gerard, an effort headed by singer–keyboardist Gerard McMahon, who used the Chicago horns on his album. Gerard is housed in a Berg-designed gatefold that mimics the Chicago V cover (etched wood) with an inner-gate ranch valley group photo reminiscent of Chicago VII. Gerard was one of three 1976 albums issued on Guercio’s Caribou Records, a Columbia sublet for Caribou Ranch productions that also issued two albums by LA Express (post-Tom Scott) and James Vincent’s Space Traveler, which features backing vocals on two tracks (“Space Traveler,” “How I’m Gonna Miss You”) by Peter Cetera.

Berg conceived the Chicago X cover, which depicts their logo as a stamp on a freshly opened chocolate bar (front) with a semi-crinkled, Hershey-like logo variation on the wrapper (back). This is their first gatefold with image continuity between the front and back, as opposed to a duplicated image on both sides. Reid’s inner-gate photo of the band shows them fleeing on bike and on foot (dog in tow) from a baton-wielding cop. The inner-sleeve shows the stamp on the full-unwrapped chocolate bar. Original copies also have a chocolate-brown insert with white-text lyrics and credits. Berg also designed 1976 album covers for Dan Hartman, The Jacksons, Pavlov’s Dog, and Ramsey Lewis.

Columbia lifted “Another Rainy Day in New York City” as the album’s lead-off single (b/w “Hope for Love”). However, radio stations preferred the deep-cut “If You Leave Me Now,” which Columbia rush-released as a single (b/w “Together Again”) to capitalize on listener response. “If You Leave Me Now” became Chicago’s first No. 1 single on the Cash Box Top 100 and Billboard Hot 100 (and the Easy Listening chart). Abroad, Cetera’s ballad shot to No. 1 in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the UK, and South Africa. It also went Top 3 in Austria, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland. In April 1977, Columbia lifted “You Are On My Mind” as a third single (b/w “Gently I’ll Wake You”).

Chicago X reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and matched that position in Australia and Canada. It also reached the Top 10 in five European territories. At the 19th Annual Grammy Awards, Chicago X won the Grammy for Best Album Package (John Berg) while “If You Leave Me Now” won in the categories of Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist (Jimmie Haskell).

1977: Chicago XI

Chicago released their ninth studio album, Chicago XI, on September 12, 1977, on Columbia. Kath, in his final appearance on record, dominates the album with three vocal leads, including two hearty brass rockers in the early Chicago vein. Cetera, despite his recent breakout hit for the band, only has one lead vocal number. This is the first of four albums with fruits of the songwriting partnership between Seraphine and David “Hawk” Wolinski.

Kath opens XI with “Mississippi Delta City Blues,” a raunchy homage to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section with funky verses (in E) and a sliding, brassy refrain. As part of their live set circa V, it conjures the vibe of that album; as does “Takin’ It on Uptown,” a funkier blues-rock jam co-credited to one Fred Kagan, a purported drug dealer who Kath possibly co-credited as a form of payback.

Cetera’s sole spotlight is “Baby, What a Big Surprise,” a gripping chamber-pop ballad with “Rigby”-esque opening strings and poignant verses (in C) that hint at the singer’s startled predicament. The rising chorus and roundabout middle lay things open to interpretation. His final revelation (“I think about the love I’ve thrown away, but now it doesn’t matter anyway”) possibly refers to past disappointments in light of newfound love or the sudden realization of a ruined shot at true love.

As the album’s banner radio hit, “Baby, What a Big Surprise” contrasts sharply with its immediate surroundings: “Mississippi Delta City Blues” and the third track, “Till the End of Time,” a fifties-style shuffle (3/4 over 4/4) of piano and brass written and sung by Pankow, whose guttural Satchmo-like voice suits the song’s gritty, retro R&B style.

Lamm contributes two numbers: “Policeman,” a Bossa-tinged ballad with sympathetic lyrics about a troubled, broken down police officer; and “Vote for Me,” a sixties Motown–Stax pastiche that satires political hucksterism.

Loughnane sings his sole contribution, “This Time,” a mild mid-tempo number that breaks from conventional key centers (G, C) to far flats (E♭) and cuts to a funky deep break (Fm… C#…) with pinched, oozing leads from Kath — oft-cited as his best passage as a soloist.

The Seraphine–Wolinski numbers closeout both sides. “Take Me Back to Chicago” is a sentimental ode to the band’s city of origin: compared favorably to their adopted base (LA). Wolinski plays the soaring ARP solo on the 6/8 middle-break. His Rufus bandmate, vocalist Chaka Khan, sings backup on the chorus and ad libs on the outro. Their multi-part orchestral composition “Prelude–Little One” serves as Kath’s tribute to his newborn daughter. American composer Dominic Frontiere (1931–2017) supplies “The Inner Struggles of a Man,” a cinematic orchestral prelude that segues into the Kath-sung portions.

Chicago recorded XI between April and June 1977 at Caribou, where the album was engineered by Tarnowski and Likes, who also assisted Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick on the 1977 A&M release Even In the Quietest Moments, the fifth album by Supertramp. Engineer Mike Reese mixed Chicago XI at the Mastering Lab in Los Angeles, where he mixed concurrent titles by Al Jarreau, The Blackbyrds, Boz Scaggs (Down Two Then Left), Driver, Earth Wind & Fire (All n’ All), N.C.C.U., Styx, and Valerie Carter.

For the album cover, Berg uses an orange Chicago logo in the context of a zoomed-in map of Cook County, Illinois. Unlike prior gatefolds, the logo doesn’t appear on the back, which features standard map text for marked cities, including Chicago. The Reid Miles inner-gate photo depicts the band as Prohibition-era Chicago gangsters in a vintage blue Bugatti, pulling guns amid a high-speed chase with law enforcement. Berg also did 1977 cover visuals for Herbie Hancock, Johnnie Taylor, Mark & Clark, and the Caribou Records release Pacific Ocean Blue, the singular solo album by Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson.

“Baby, What a Big Surprise” appeared simultaneously as a single (b/w “Takin’ It On Uptown”). It reached No. 4 on the Cash Box and Billboard charts and climbed to No. 3 in Canada. Chicago XI reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200.

Death of Terry Kath

Chicago promoted XI with a European tour that included two festival appearances in Germany, where they played quadruple bills with Santana, Rory Gallagher, and Thin Lizzy at the Nuremberg Rock Festival (09/03/77: Zeppelinfeld) and the Karlsruhe Rock Festival (09/04: Wildparkstadion). On September 11, they played the Kalvoya Festival in Oslo, Norway, with English funksters Hot Chocolate. In November, they commenced a string of US dates, culminating with shows in Portland, Oregon (11/28: Veterans Memorial Coliseum) and a final date at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (12/01).

Tensions grew between Chicago and Guercio during the sessions for XI. Shortly after the album’s release, the two parties went their separate ways.

On January 23, 1978, Kath attended a party held by Chicago roadie Don Johnson in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. A longtime gun collector, Kath pulled out his semi-automatic 9-mm pistol to clean it, believing the chamber was empty. In a purportedly drunken state, he leaned back in a chair, pointed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, not realizing a bullet was still in the chamber. The shot killed him instantly, eight days short of his 32nd birthday. Kath left behind a new wife, actress Camelia Ortiz, and their 20-month-old daughter, Michelle Kath.

After several weeks of grief and doubts about their future, Chicago decided to carry on at the encouragement of Tonight Show band leader Doc Severenson. They auditioned more than thirty guitarists and chose Donnie Dacus (b. Pasadena, Texas, 1951), a longtime sessionist (Michel Polnareff, Véronique Sanson) and member of the 1972 one-off Odyssey on the Tamla Motown subsidiary MoWest. Most recently, he played in Stephen Stills’ backing band.

Dacus played on the first two post-Kath albums. In 1980, he cleared out for guitarist Chris Pinnick (b. Van Nuys, California, 1953), an emerging sessionist (Hiroshi Sato, Paul Korda) who played on Herb Alpert’s 1979 jazz-funk instrumental hit “Rise.” Pinnick recorded and toured with Chicago for the next five years but never formally joined the band.

1978: Hot Streets

Chicago released their tenth studio album, Hot Streets, on October 2, 1978, on Columbia. This is their first of two albums with guitarist Donnie Dacus, who submits “Ain’t It Time,” a smouldering rocker that he co-wrote with Seraphine and Odyssey-colleague Warner Schwebke. He also sings on “Take a Chance,” a slick crooning showcase with whirlwind breaks, written by Loughnane and off-record partner Lawrence “Stash” Wagner (once of sixties Cali psychsters Fraternity of Man).

Cetera sings lead on five numbers, including Pankow’s “Alive Again,” the sprightly disco-fied opening cut that outlines their renewed vigor. Peter makes one writing contribution per side: “Little Miss Lovin’,” a raunchy mid-tempo rocker about illicit love; and “Gone Long Gone,” a twangy, strummed acoustic tune with laidback harmonies and rustic vibes. He also sings lead on the album’s slowest two ballads: “The Greatest Love on Earth” (Seraphine–Wolinski) and “No Tell Lover” (Cetera–Loughnane–Seraphine), both quiet storm numbers with lush reed and string arrangements indebted to the Philly sound.

Lamm contributes two songs: “Hot Streets,” a synthesized slow jam with an extended jazzy outro; and “Love Was New,” a sunny Bossa-tinged ballad with oily wah-wah licks. He also sings “Show Me the Way,” a slip-sliding organ piece that conjures the quirky traits of 10cc and Klaatu.

Sessions took place in May–June 1978 in Criteria Studios, Miami, where Chicago co-produced the album with Phil Ramone, who also produced 1977–78 albums by Billy Joel (The Stranger), Kenny Loggins, Libby Titus, and Phoebe Snow. The engineer, Jim Boyer, also worked on those projects as well as recent titles by Angela Bofill, Gato Barbieri (Ruby, Ruby), Rupert Holmes (Pursuit of Happiness), and Television (Marquee Moon).

Chicago used Criteria concurrently with the Bee Gees, who booked the studio for their 1979 release Spirits Having Flown. The Gibb brothers sing backing vocals on “Little Miss Lovin'” while their keyboardist, Blue Weaver, plays synthesizer strings on “No Tell Lover” and “Show Me the Way,” which also has Wolinski on Fender Rhodes. The Chicago horn section, in turn, plays on the Spirits tracks “Stop (Think Again)” and the Billboard No. 1 “Too Much Heaven.”

Additional sessions occurred at A&R Recording, Inc. on New York’s 52nd Street, where Ramone also produced Joel’s 1978 release: the suitably titled 52nd Street, which features backing vocals by Cetera and Dacus on “My Life,” a Billboard No. 3 hit.

Artist Jim Evans (Eruption, Sunrise) re-imagined the Chicago logo as a red neon sign, which appears on the black inner-sleeve of Hot Streets. The outer-gates, however, have a photo of the band cavorting against a white background with the red logo tilted and minimized. The photographer, Norman Seeff, also has credits on 1978 albums by Foreigner, George Duke, Janne Schaffer, Kinsman Dazz, Minako Yoshida, Norma Jean, Player, Santana, and Van Morrison.

“Alive Again” appeared as the first single (b/w “Love Was New”), followed by “No Tell Lover” (b/w “Take a Chance”). Both songs reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hot Streets, their twelfth album overall, reached No. 12 on the Billboard 200. Columbia lifted a third single, “Gone Long Gone” (b/w “The Greatest Love On Earth”), in March 1979.

1979: Chicago 13

Chicago released their eleventh studio album, Chicago 13, on August 13, 1979, on Columbia. Though it resumes their numeric sequence, 13 is the first since III to break from the Roman numeral format: a trend maintained from 16 (their actual thirteenth studio album) onward. Cetera sings seven of the album’s ten songs.

Each side starts with Seraphine–Wolinski compositions. “Street Player” is a disco-funk jam that Wolinski cut on the namesake 1978 Rufus album. The Chicago version (9:11) has extended breaks and high-pitched vocal hooks by Cetera (including the later-sampled “Street sounds swirling through my mind”). He also sings their other co-write “Aloha Mama,” a neo-twenties oom-pah number with snaky guitar and Dixieland horns. This and the gritty soul-funk rocker “Window Dreamin'” (a Parazaider–Loughnane composition) credit singer P.C. Moblee, Cetera’s pseudonym for low-register vocal performances.

Dacus submits “Must Have Been Crazy,” a riff-based rocker with Eagles-like slide licks. He also sings sighing leads on Lamm’s “Paradise Alley,” a steamy funk cut with 6/8 verses about red-light jollies. Lamm himself sings “Reruns,” a slick, uptempo number about a toxic soon-to-be ex.

Cetera makes two writing contributions: “Mama Take,” a raunchy rustic rocker with thick guitar layers (electric–acoustic) and locomotive precision; and “Loser with a Broken Heart,” a lament on romantic disillusionment with a slow-resolving vocal melody over shifting chords, which modulate to a swelling chorus. He also sings the album’s final two cuts: “Life Is What It Is,” an airy Bossa nova ballad that Oliveira co-wrote with Brazilian star Marcos Valle; and “Run Away,” a jovial Pankow rocker with a jerky, staccato opening riff and a flowing, harmonized chorus.

Sessions took place in May–June 1979 at Le Studio in Montreal and A&M Studios in Hollywood. Ramone co-produced 13 in succession with the third Heatwave album, another project with Boyer, who also engineered 1979 titles by Holmes (Partners In Crime), Sadao Watanabe, and Tom Browne.

Percussionist Airto Moreira guests on “Street Player,” “Paradise Alley,” “Life Is What It Is,” and “Run Away.”

Chicago 13 is their second studio album (after VIII) housed in a single sleeve. It presents an aerial view of the logo as a 39-story skyscraper with a fully lit 13th floor (a floor omitted in many multi-level buildings due to superstitions associated with the number 13). Designer Tony Lane conceived the image, which credits painter Gary Meyer (Shotgun). Lane also has visual credits on 1978–79 albums by Bobby HutchersonBoston, Lenny White (The Adventures of Astral Pirates), Rodney Franklin, Ronnie FosterTony Williams, Toto, and Valerie Carter (Wild Child).

On the back cover and inner-sleeve of 13, Chicago are pictured inside the “13th floor elevator” by photographer Gary Heery, who also photographed recent sleeves for Denise LaSalle, Heart, Jean-Luc Ponty, Keith Green, Linda Clifford, Patrice Rushen, Robben Ford, and Rory Gallagher.

“Must Have Been Crazy” appeared as the first single, backed with the non-album “Closer to You,” a Dacus—Stills—Schwebke song that first appeared on Still’s 1976 Columbia release Illegal Stills. In October 1979, Columbia lifted “Street Player” as a convential 7″ edit (4:15) and a longer 12″ (8:40) with “Window Dreaming” as the b-side. Chicago 13 peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard 200. 

At the 22nd Annual Grammy Awards, the category for Best Album Package included Lane’s 13 cover in a list of nine nominees, which also included covers to albums by Joe Jackson (Look Sharp!), Talking Heads (Fear of Music), and the ultimate winner: Breakfast in America by Supertramp.

On November 3, 1979, Chicago performed “Street Player” and “I’m a Man” on the Season 5 third episode of the NBC late-night sketch comedy program Saturday Night Live, guest hosted by NBA legend Bill Russell. This was Donnie’s last appearance with the band.

1980: Chicago XIV

Chicago released their twelfth studio album, Chicago XIV, on July 21, 1980, on Columbia. Cetera consolidates his presence with four writing contributions (and a fifth co-write) and eight lead vocals. The album emphasizes their softer side with four straight ballads on side one: a trend interrupted by brief flirtations with punk (“Manipulation”), reggae-pop (“Overnight Cafe”), jazz-pop (“Thunder and Lightning”), and hard rock (“Hold On”). This is their first of three albums with guitarist Chris Pinnick.

Lamm opens XIV with “Manipulation,” which has a guttural Stranglers-like bassline over a pogo beat; soon overlaid with Two-tone brass. Though primarily in C major, each bridge has a chordal plunge with irregular meters: hallmarks of their earlier avant-garde leanings. Pinnick plays rapidfire runs over the hurried fadeout.

Robert co-wrote “Upon Arrival,” a mid-tempo ballad (drop VI in C) in which families crowd a station to greet returning soldiers (a happy scene for some, but not everyone). Cetera, the co-writer, sings this and the sequence of slow ballads: “Song for You,” a rhythmless finger-picked singalong with direct love-letter lyrics and a Spanish guitar solo; and “Where Did the Lovin’ Go,” a heartbreak lament with swelling riffs, staccato guitar patterns, and soft–heavy dynamics akin to recent Genesis (circa Duke) — a parallel evident in the rising, chromatic “something’s coming over me now” passages. “Birthday Boy,” the synthesized ballad that closes side one, is the final contribution of Seraphine–Wolinski (whose partnership continues on the 1981 Rufus albums Party ‘Til You’re Broke and Camoflauge). Like the preceding ballads, it starts out slow and quiet and gradually builds to a grand chorus that overtakes the final stretch.

Cetera wrote the opening pair on side two. “Hold On” is a low-registered, smoldering rocker that anticipates his upcoming solo album. The brass section edges its way into the song, which recalls the early power-trio numbers with Pinnick’s sinewy solo and Seraphine’s splash cymbals. “Overnight Cafe” opens with staccato bass, which underpins this light reggae number about a chance encounter. It briefly rocks up in the middle with high-pitched caterwauling before resuming its main theme: a clipped guitar pattern possibly inspired by The Police (Cetera adopted Sting’s platinum flattop around this time).

Cetera trades lines on “Thunder and Lightning” with Lamm, who co-wrote the song with Seraphine. It’s a buoyant number about duplicity in a breakup with fluttering horns and an angular four-note melody stamped by the era’s soul-funk rhythmic style (echoes of The Emotions‘ “Best of My Love” and Cheryl Lynn‘s “To Be Real”).

Lamm himself sings “I’d Rather Be Rich,” an R&B rocker with an ascending pattern (in 6/8) and lyrics that spurn America’s newfound obsession with cash. The song, which dates from the VIII timeframe, has a mono-chordal bridge (D minor with hammered sevenths) reminiscent of the middle in the 1975 Four Seasons hit “Who Loves You.”

Pankow ends XVI with “The American Dream,” a Cetera-sung rocker that, in simple terms, discourages faith in federal government and the two-party system.

Sessions occurred between March and May 1980 at Criteria and Record Plant, NYC, with veteran producer Tom Dowd, a thirty-year soundman who recently worked with Blackjack, Lesley Duncan, Pablo Cruise, and Rod Stewart. The engineer on XIV, Michael Carnevale, worked on 1981–82 albums by 707 and Dynasty. His assistant, Karat Faye, engineered recent titles by 1994, Devo, and Teddy Pendergrass.

Chicago XIV is housed in a Berg-designed b&w cover with the logo embedded in the furrows of a xeroxed thumbprint. The back cover has another print, minus the logo. The white inner-sleeve contains credits and (in one corner) life-size fingerprints. The LP labels have the logo-embedded thumbprint. Berg’s design was nominated for Best Album Package at the 23rd Annual Grammy Awards.

Chicago XIV spawned two singles: “Thunder and Lightning” (b/w “I’d Rather Be Rich”) and “Song for You” (b/w “The American Dream”).

The album’s sessions produced additional songs, including “Live It Up,” a Cetera funk-rock number. Lamm supplied two missing cuts. “Soldier of Fortune” is a dramatic rocker with funky verses, a flowing chorus, a Spanish guitar break, and lyrics about a mystery adventurer. The outro showcases Pinnick’s virtuosity. “Doin’ Business” is a taut, aggressive cut similar to “Manipulation.” All three songs appear as bonus tracks on the 2003 Chicago XIV reissue on Rhino Records.

Bill Champlin Joins

In 1981, with Chicago one album short of contract-fulfillment, Columbia dropped them and issued Greatest Hits, Volume II (canonically counted as Chicago XV). It features one song apiece from XIII (“Old Days”) and X (“If You Leave Me Now”); two from XI (“Baby What a Big Surprise,” “Take Me Back to Chicago”); and three from Hot Streets (“Alive Again,” “No Tell Lover,” “Gone Long Gone”). The compilation also dips back for earlier hits (“Questions 67 & 68,” “Dialogue (Part II),” “Happy Man”) not included on the first Greatest Hits. The version of “Take Me Back to Chicago” is a 7″ mix without the ARP solo.

The XIV lineup (minus Lamm and Loughnane) appear on the 1981 Som Livre release Vontade de Rever Você, the comeback album of Brazilian singer Marcos Valle — his fourteenth overall and first since his 1974 self-titled album. This was the last Chicago-related project with Oliveira, an underused talent on XIV, who pursued work as a sessionist on 1981–82 albums by Bunny Brunel, Chick Corea, Fagner, Lee Oskar, Leon Ware, Herb Alpert, and Alpert’s wife Lani Hall.

With Chicago in limbo, Cetera recorded his first album with backing by Pinnick and drummer Ricky Fataar, a recent Beach Boys auxiliary player. Peter Cetera appeared in September 1981 on Full Moon, a spinoff of Epic Records launched by Eagles manager Irving Azoff. The album opens with “Livin’ In the Limelight,” a smoldering rocker akin to “Little Miss Lovin’.” Cretones guitarist Mark Goldenberg (a prominent LA sessionist) co-wrote two songs, “Not Afraid to Cry” and “Evil Eye.”

In late 1981, Seraphine successfully lobbied for the addition of a new Chicago member: Bill Champlin, the erstwhile frontman of Sons of Champlin who recently issued his second solo album, Runaway. Champlin and Chicago were longtime fellow travelers. The Sons, like Chicago, were a septet with an integrated brass section. They debuted with a double-album, Loosen Up Naturally, in April 1969, the same month as Chicago Transit Authority. Side four features a fourteen-minute jam (“Freedom”) similar to “Liberation.” In recent years, Champlin worked as a sessionist on albums by Elton John (The Fox), Jakob Magnusson, Jim Photoglo, Seawind, Pleasure guitarist Marlon McClain, and (with Lee Ritenour) the jazz-funk project Session II.

Champlin — a keyboardist and ocassional guitarist with a gritty baritone voice — assumed Kath’s low-register numbers in Chicago’s setlists.

Champlin recommended Runaway producer David Foster for Chicago’s next project. Foster, a onetime member of Canadian soul-popsters Skylark, produced 1979–81 albums by the Average White Band, Hall & Oates (X-Static), Ray Kennedy, and The Tubes (The Completion Backward Principle). He also teamed with musician–producer Jay Graydon for one album as Airplay. Champlin guests on that and other Foster-involved projects, including the 1980 Boz Scaggs album Middle Man. Champlin and Foster co-wrote songs for Earth Wind & Fire (“After the Love Has Gone”) and the recent George Benson hit “Turn Your World Around.”

1982: Chicago 16

Chicago released their thirteenth studio album, Chicago 16, on May 26, 1982, on Full Moon. This was their first of three albums produced by David Foster, who co-wrote seven of the album’s ten songs. Cetera, who co-wrote four songs, sings lead on everything apart from the Champlin-sung “Follow Me,” one of three Pankow co-writes. Most of the tracks are slick uptempo numbers apart from the two radio ballads, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “Love Me Tomorrow,” both Cetera–Foster co-writes.

Side one has three songs by outside writers: “What You’re Missing,” “Waiting for You to Decide,” and “Chains.”

“What You’re Missing” opens Chicago 16 with a shiny riff (in A) and exuberant verses that cut to a contoured chorus (in Cmaj7). MCA recording artist Joseph Williams (son of film composer John Williams) wrote the song with Jay Gruska, the keyboardist–singer in Warner melodic rockers Maxus (whose guitarist, Martin Landau, plays a supplemental role on 16).

The second track, “Waiting for You to Decide,” is a spirited exchange between Cetera and Champlin, whose Lou Rawls-influenced vocals carry the song’s bridge — his first lead on a Chicago album. Structurally, it opens with a closed-cadence keyboard riff (in B with hammered sixes), settles into Peter’s verse (in E) and cuts to Bill’s “I still love you, even though” bridge (in C), which opens the harmonized chorus (in B). Foster wrote the song with two members of Toto: guitarist Steve Lukather and keyboardist David Paich, who both appear as auxiliary musicians along with bandmate and fellow keyboardist Steve Porcaro, credited with synthesizer programming.

“Chains,” an uptempo rocker, opens with a blasting riff and a jagged synthesized melody (3-2-4-3-2-3 over D; modulated to B♭). This cuts to a matted, close-cadence, chromatic descent, where Cetera sings of his resolve to avoid shameful acts:

I put my conscience under a stone
The stone under the ground
Walked from where I had left it
I hoped it couldn’t be found

My conscience persisted
It’s a haunted seed I have sown
Calls me out from the distance
And it just won’t leave me alone

Canadian musician Ian Thomas wrote “Chains,” which first appears on his 1981 Anthem Records release The Runner, the source of hits for Santana (“Hold On”) and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (“The Runner”). On Chicago 16, “Chains” comes after “Bad Advice,” a funky R&B number with gritty Champlin verses and a slick chorus by Cetera, who wrote it with Foster and Pankow.

Side two opens with “Follow Me,” which has a slick nine-chord opening riff (the chorus theme) and exuberant verses where Champlin bellows inspirational lines like:

One more time, toe the line
Nothing in life is impossible
Both of us know
Life is as good as we make it

A fan favorite, “Follow Me” climaxes with an extended brass coda that accelerates in urgency toward the fadeout. This is one of two Pankow–Foster numbers. The other, “What Can I Say,” is a mid-tempo ballad with billowing trumpet and airy Cetera vocals over smooth keyboards. It’s preceded by “Sonny Think Twice,” a smooth soul-pop number co-written by Seraphine and Champlin, who delivers lines of reflection and brotherly advice to a crest-fallen subject before handing the chorus to Cetera. On the penultimate “Rescue You,” Cetera presents himself as a knight in shining armor to a troubled woman in a toxic relationship.

Each side closes with a slow ballad. “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” opens with a grand piano line that yields to quiet verses, where Cetera’s initial couplet summons the harmonized vocal hook “from each other.” The title is sung on the bridge, not the chorus, which instead opens with “After all that we’ve been through,” a line that also appears in the chorus to “I Do Believe in You,” a song by LA smooth-rockers Pages (fronted by Foster-associate Richard Page) on their 1979 second album Future Street. On Chicago 16, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” segues into “Getaway,” a rocking postlude co-credited to Lamm, a marginalized figure during this album’s sessions.

The closing track, “Love Me Tomorrow,” opens with an ascending guitar riff that cuts to quiet, string-laden verses. Cetera’s “she loves me” bridge summons the non-sequitur chorus: a tight guitar-based pattern not anticipated by the verse-bridge sequence. The song folds with an orchestral fadeout conducted by concertmaster Gerard Vinci.

Foster produced Chicago 16 at four South California studios: Davlen Sound Studios (Hollywood), Skyline Recording (Topanga), Record Plant and Bill Schnee Studios (both Los Angeles). Humberto Gatica engineered the album in succession with 1982 titles by David Roberts, Harvey Mason, Lee Ritenour, and Sister Sledge.

Chicago 16 sports a cover co-credited to designers John Kosh and Ron Larson. It breaks from prior Chicago covers with its minimal imagery, white backdrop, and conventional sans-serif title font. It shows a tiny computer chip under a magnifying glass, which partially reveals the logo (worked into the chip). The back cover features titles and a full-scale zoom-in on the chip with the logo, once again, only partially visible. The inner-sleeve, which resembles a traditional Chicago cover, illustrates the entire chip with the logo formed by its center conductors.

“Hard to Say I’m Sorry” appeared in May 1982 as the lead-off single (b/w “Sonny Think Twice”). On the week of September 11, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it ousted “Abracadabra” by the Steve Miller Band and held the top spot for two weeks before Miller reclaimed the position. Later that month, “Love Me Tomorrow” appeared as a second single (b/w “Bad Advice”) and reached No. 2 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart (No. 35 on the Hot 100). Both songs have studio clips that pan over to the now-short-haired band from neon-lit Nagel-esque imagery.

Chicago 16 reached No. 9 on the US Billboard 200. In January 1983, Full Moon lifted “What You’re Missing” as the album’s third and final single. Full Moon soon merged with its distributor, Warner Bros.

1984: Chicago 17

Chicago released their fourteenth studio album, Chicago 17, on May 14, 1984, on Warner Bros. Foster co-wrote four songs, including the lead-off single “Stay the Night.” Musically, 17 encompasses sprightly guitar rock (“Along Comes a Woman,” “Prima Donna”), high-tech dance pop (“We Can Stop the Hurtin,” “Only You”), and ballads in the HtSIS vein (“Remember the Feeling,” “You’re the Inspiration”).

17 opens with “Stay the Night,” an edgy modern rock number in which Cetera pursues an elusive female. He starts with a direct approach (“I just want to say what’s on my mind”) and grows evermore aggressive (“And I won’t take ‘no’ if that’s your answer”) over a pattern of synth bass and gated drums that get overlaid with digital keys and twitching chords as the song careens to its chorus: an exploding salvo where Peter bellows the title with an alarming high-pitched echo.

In the “Stay the Night” video, Cetera plays a car mechanic who tongues down a customer (Ingrid Anderson). When she rebuffs him and speeds off, he clings to her red convertible Oldsmobile 442. A chase ensues as motorcycle cops (Pankow and Loughnane) and friendly truckers (Lamm and Parazaider) pursue the driver throughout Los Angeles. The chase includes two jumps through a Chicago billboard (tended by Champlin) and climaxes with an explosion. A downed and injured Cetera (under pulse-readings by paramedic Seraphine) is carted into an ambulance driven by the elusive lady.

Cetera collaborated with Mark Goldenberg on a pair of uptempo rockers. “Along Comes a Woman” sets clean, funky guitars (in A) to a sequenced rhythm pattern. The song has a strummed, flowing chorus with a jumbled vocal cadence where added words (“Then coming along there comes a woman”) enhance the listening effect. The song’s b&w video is a spoof on Casablanca. Cetera plays an archeologist who emerges from the Brazilian jungles en route to Morocco, where he vists a club frequented by the other band members. Later, after WWII breaks out, he’s the tuxedoed frontman of the house band when he serenades a woman who embraces him under the floor lights but abandons him on a nearby airstrip as occupying officers step in.

“Prima Donna” first appeared on the Foster-produced soundtrack to the late-1983 romantic-comedy Two of a Kind starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The lyrics address a young woman’s dreams of stardom with sympathy and encouragement. Musically, it’s the most energetic 17 track with peppy verses and a floodgate chorus with strummed electric guitar and piping brass.

Lamm sings “We Can Stop the Hurtin’,” a Fairlight-driven track with synth bass and ecological lyrics set to an uptempo dance beat. He co-wrote the song with Champlin and one Deborah Neal. Lamm and Champlin exchange vocals on “Only You,” another high-tech number with vibe-like keys and sampled handclaps over a wiggly synth-bass line.

Pankow, who co-wrote “Only You” with Foster, also submitted “Once in a Lifetime,” the love-struck closing piece where Champlin’s exuberant delivery of each verse cuts to Cetera’s sunny chorus line.

Champlin sings lead on “Please Hold On,” a slick R&B shuffle with angular verses, soulful chorus harmonies, and brassy refrains — all signaled by a gated drum intro. He co-wrote the song with Lionel Richie and Foster, who wrote and produced one track (“The Only One”) on Richie’s 1983 blockbuster release Can’t Slow Down.

Chicago 17 has three Cetera-sung ballads: “Hard Habit to Break,” “Remember the Feeling,” and “You’re the Inspiration.”

“Hard Habit to Break,” the only 17 track by outside writers, was co-written by John Lewis Parker — co-writer with Peter Ivers on the 1981 Phyllis Hyman hit “Can’t We Fall In Love Again” — and ex-Tin Tin singer Steve Kipner, who co-wrote earlier songs for Sheena Easton (“Telephone Lines,” “There When I Needed You”) and Olivia Newton-John (“Physical,” “Heart Attack”). “Hard Habit to Break” starts with a Fairlight–flute pattern (in F#). Cetera shares his romantic regret in the first stanza, followed by Champlin’s cold realizations (“I was acting as if you were lucky to have me”) on the bridge (in A♭). The chorus has a stately pattern (in C) with a simple hookline (“Being without you, takes a lot of getting used to”), suffixed with the gripping refrain “I’m addicted to you baby.” The song undergoes jarring modulations (emotional turbulence) in the “I can’t go on” middle-eight, which recaps at the fadeout. In the video, Chicago mime at dark-lit angles amid clips of stylish young women at various stages of emotional distress.

Cetera and Champlin wrote “Remember the Feeling,” an ivory-laden love song (in E♭) with a power chorus (in A♭) and lyrics that describe a once-in-a-lifetime love (“she had a beauty that comes from within”) who vanishes (“when I awoke, she was gone”).

“You’re the Inspiration,” another Cetera–Foster co-write, is a happier ballad about domestic bliss with a structure reminiscent of “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” The video opens with a decked-out new wave couple (teenage lookalikes of Madonna and Billy Idol) in streetside lover’s embrace. Chicago mime in a furnished loft where Cetera dons jeans and a t-shirt of English goth-rockers Bauhaus, who recently made stateside headway with their club-scene appearance in the 1983 horror film The Hunger starring David Bowie and Susan Sarandon.

Sessions occurred at the Record Plant and two additional Hollywood Studios: The Lighthouse and Sunset Sound. Gatica engineered Chicago 17 in succession with the 1984 MCA release Runaway, the second album by Pennsylvanian melodic rockers Dakota (with appearances by Pinnick and Wolinski). Concurrently, he mixed select tracks by Chaka Khan (“Through the Fire”), Dan Hartman (“I Can Dream About You”), Kenny Loggins (“Footloose,” “I’m Free”), Tina Turner (“Private Dancer,” “Steel Clawl”). Fee Waybill employed the Foster–Gatica team on his debut solo album Read My Lips, recorded with Champlin and the aforementioned Toto personnel.

Guest musicians on Chicago 17 include Landau, Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro (“Stay the Night”), guitarist Paul Jackson, and trumpeter Greg Adams (Tower of Power). Richard Marx, a little-known LA sessionist at the time, harmonizes with Lamm and fellow guest Donny Osmond on “We Can Stop the Hurtin’.” Peter’s younger brother Kenny Cetera sings backing vocals on “Stay the Night,” “Prima Donna,” “You’re the Inspiration,” and “Along Comes a Woman.”

Chicago 17 presents the logo as a packaged good (possibly a stone decor piece) in off-white sheet wrap with “17” stamped in red. Graphic designer Simon Levy (Russia, Yellowjackets) conceived the cover with artist Larry Vigon, whose earlier visual credits include albums by Fleetwood Mac (Rumours), Lindsey Buckingham, and the recent output of Sparks. Photographer Harry Langdon Jr. (son of the silent slapstick legend) took the monochrome group shot on the 17 inner-sleeve, which shows Chicago in fashionable attire with wide-shoulder tops and fresh haircuts. Langdon’s prior credits include cover shots of Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Donna Summer (Bad Girls), and Eloise Laws.

“Stay the Night” appeared in April 1984 (backed with “Only You”) and reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Hard Habit to Break” (b/w “Remember the Feeling”) followed the album’s release and climbed to No. 3: a peak matched by the holiday single “You’re the Inspiration” (b/w “Once In a Lifetime”). In February 1985, Warner lifted “Along Comes a Woman” (b/w “We Can Stop The Hurtin”’), which reached No. 14. The four videos made Chicago a 1984–85 fixture of MTV.

Chicago 17 reached No. 4 on the Canadian RPM chart and the US Billboard 200. Abroad, it reached No. 1 in Sweden, No. 6 in Switzerland, and went Top 20 on the Dutch, German, and Norwegian charts. The album has since been certified six-times Platinum by the RIAA, indicating 6+ million units sold.

An additional track from the 17 session, “Good for Nothing,” appears on the 1985 all-star charitable album We Are the World. Lamm co-wrote the song with Foster and Marx. It’s a poignant bass-driven number with clipped guitars and lyrics that deal with ingratitude. Another song tapped for the album was the Foster–Cetera co-write “Sweet Marie,” a high-speed Champlin-sung rocker that Chicago performed in early 1984 but didn’t commit to tape. Later reissues of Chicago 17 include Lamm’s “Here Is Where We Begin,” a mid-tempo R&B ballad of bass, piano, and harmonies with Ambrosia frontman David Pack.

Peter Cetera Leaves

In light of Chicago’s newfound success and high MTV rotation, Cetera — who sang all the hits and thus starred in the videos — became the group’s focal point. He wanted to make another solo album after the spring 1985 wrap of the 17 tour, but Chicago planned a summer tour and sessions for a followup to 17. When negotiations failed, Cetera left Chicago in July 1985 after eighteen years of membership.

Cetera collaborated with Foster on “The Glory of Love,” a piano-laden power ballad used as the theme song in The Karate Kid Part II. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and appears on his second solo album, Solitude/Solitaire, released in June 1986 on Warner. The album follows the 17 blueprint with hi-tech rockers (“They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To,” “Queen of the Masquerade Ball”), and moderate ballads like “Daddy’s Girl,” dedicated to his newborn daughter. “The Next Time I Fall,” a duet with Christian singer Amy Grant, became Cetera’s second (and last) No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Cetera continued his solo career with the albums One More Story (1988), World Falling Down (1992), and One Clear Voice (1995) and scored further hits on the Adult Contemporary chart with “One Good Woman,” “Restless Heart,” and duets with Cher (“After All”) and Chaka Khan (“Feels Like Heaven”). In 1987, he co-produced the WEA release I Stand Alone, the third English-language album by former ABBA singer Agnetha Fältskog.

Chicago, in their search for a bass-playing tenor, invited Richard Page, the LA sessionist and former Pages frontman. However, Page was in the process of establishing his current band, Mr. Mister, which would soon break big with their second album Welcome to the Real World and the 1985–86 hits “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie.” Chicago ultimately hired bassist–singer Jason Scheff (b. 1962, San Diego), the son of longtime Elvis Presley bassist Jerry Scheff.

1986: Chicago 18

Chicago released their fifteenth studio album, Chicago 18, on September 22, 1986, on Warner Bros. It features six member co-writes and a hi-tech, cadence-altered remake of “25 or 6 to 4.” Pankow submits a brief trumpet interlude (“Free Flight”) on side two.

Lamm submits “Forever,” a lament on rising divorce rates over an abrupt semi-tone (E♭–Dm); and “Over and Over,” a mid-tempo modern rocker with silvery clipped guitar riffs, co-written by Lukather and James Newton Howard.

Champlin contributes two numbers: “It’s Alright,” an R&B rocker that he co-wrote with Foster; and “I Believe,” a slow ballad with a rising chorus and a middle-eight lifted from the “I can’t go on” sequence in “Hard Habit to Break.”

Champlin and Scheff harmonize on everything apart from the Lamm contributions and “Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” Scheff’s co-write with Buzz Feiten (Full Moon, Larsen–Feiten Band). They harmonize with Lamm on the soulful album closer “One More Day,” which Pankow co-wrote with Carmen Grillo, a subsequent ToP member.

Chicago 18 also includes three outside submissions (all issued as singles), including the album-opener “Niagara Falls,” a Fairlight ballad with tense verses and a flowing chorus that uses the waterfall’s perpetuity as a metaphor for undying loyalty. Kipner wrote the song with singer Bobby Caldwell.

Sessions took place in the spring–summer of 1986 at Lion Share Recording Studio (LA) and Chartmaker Studios (Malibu). Foster produced Chicago 18 in succession with his self-titled solo album. He and Gatica also worked on 1986 recordings by Gordon Lightfoot and Lou Rawls. Gatica also mixed one track (“All I Wanted”) on Power, the comeback album by Kansas.

Chicago 18 shows an underwater mosaic by Maria Sarno, a visual stylist on the 1985 Polydor release Black Car by Gino Vannelli. The mosaic photographer, Hugh Brown, did the artwork for the 1978 Clash album Give ‘Em Enough Rope. He partnered with graphic designer Jeri McManus (a-ha, Dio, Gary Myrick, Madonna) on the 18 layout, which fractures the mosaic amid stairway text on the back cover.

On the 18 inner-sleeve, Chicago (with wardrobe styling by one Kali Korn) pose on a desolate stretch outside a long-shuttered ACE Machine Shop. The photographer, Guy Webster, had numerous sixties credits, including titles by The Doors, Holy MackerelThe Incredible String Band, Lee Michaels, Nico, Procol Harum (Shine on Brightly), The Rolling Stones, and Sagittarius.

The Scheff-sung remake of “25 or 6 to 4” (b/w “One More Day”) appeared in August 1986 as the album’s lead-off single. It subsequently appeared as the b-side to the October single “Will You Still Love Me?“, a power ballad co-written by Foster and Tom Keane (of the Kean Brothers). It reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The two Kipner co-writes (“If She Would Have Been Faithful…,” “Niagara Falls”) appeared as subsequent singles. Chicago 18 reached No. 35 on the Billboard 200 and went Gold.

1988: Chicago 19

Chicago released their sixteenth studio album, Chicago 19, on June 21, 1988, on Reprise. This is their first of three recorded studio albums (two properly released) with guitarist Dawayne Bailey, who joined on the 18 tour.

Scheff opens 19 with “Heart In Pieces,” a hopping hi-tech harmony rocker with a soaring, jet-engine guitar break. Scotti Bros recording artist Tim Feehan wrote the song with Wire Train drummer Brian MacLeod.

Lamm delivers gritty vocals on the slick, uptempo number “I Stand Up,” a modern R&B rocker with vintage organ. He co-wrote the song with Atco recording artist Gerard McMann.

“Come in from the Night” is a melodramatic rocker (in D minor) with trebly riffs, striking brass, cybernetic bass, and splashing gated snare. Champlin co-wrote the song with Bruce Gaitsch, a longtime sessionist (Chase, Crystal Winds) who recently wrote songs for Evelyn “Champagne” King and Madonna (“La Isla Bonita”).

Scheff co-wrote two power ballads, “What Kind of Man Would I Be?” (a Caldwell co-write) and “We Can Last Forever,” both slow, tender songs with brimming choruses and earnest lyrics.  Outside writer Diane Warren — an emerging industry figure with a growing chart tally — contributed two radio-geared ballads: “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” (an Albert Hammond co-write) and “Look Away.”

Champlin and Scheff co-wrote “Runaround,” a perky harmony-pop number with stacatto synth bass. The chorus has a straight singalong progressions (1-6-3-4-5 in G) that nearly repeats itself in the following track “You’re Not Alone,” an equally glossy, upbeat pop song written by Englishman Jim Scott, a onetime Decca recording artist.

Lamm sings the album-closing “Victorious,” a slow, glacial epic with glistening electronics, searing guitar tones, cannon-like drums, and subtle fretless bass. Canadian songwriter Marc Jordan (co-writer of “On the Boulevard” by Manhattan Transfer) co-wrote the song with Czech-born musician John Capek.

Work commenced in late 1987 on the 19 sessions, which involved five California studios: Record Plant, Secret Sound, A&M Studios (Hollywood), Gold Mine (Woodland Hills), and Can-Am Recorders (Tarzana). Chicago recorded four tracks (“We Can Last Forever,” “You’re Not Alone,” and the two Warren songs) with Ron Nevison, an engineer on seventies classics by Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin (Physical Graffiti), and The Who (Quadrophenia). His recent production credits included titles by Heart, Ozzy Osbourne, Survivor, and UFO. Nevison co-engineered the four songs with Bob Vogt, a soundman on Sting’s 1987 second solo album …Nothing Like the Sun.

Songwriter Chas Sanford (The Babys, Berlin, Stevie Nicks) co-wrote “What Kind of Man Would I Be?” with Scheff and Bobby Caldwell. He produced and co-engineered the balance of Chicago 19 with Gary McGachan, who worked with Sanford on the 1986 Epic release Heartbeat by Miami Vice co-star Don Johnson.

Chicago 19 presents the logo as a computerized abstract “painting” by visual-effects artist Jim Hillin. Janet Levinson designed the album’s visual package, which pictures each member backed with fragments of Hillin’s imagery (back) and houses the record in a hot-pink sleeve with yellow–teal–blue labels. Levinson also has visual credits on eighties albums by Billy Idol, Blondie, Dazz Band, Icehouse (self-titled), Michael Schenker Group, and Pat Benetar.

“I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” appeared in May 1988 as the lead single. It reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, though its video — a low-budget clip of the band performing on computerized green screen — was pulled from circulation. That fall, “Look Away” became Chicago’s third and final No. 1 on the Hot 100. VH1 briefly rotated the video, in which wildly attired models engage in strange, unpredictable antics. “You’re Not Alone” reached the Top 10 in early 1989. Chicago 19 reached No. 37 on the Billboard 200.

Studio discography


1 thought on “Chicago

  1. From the initial draft (2017) – “Named after the city where six of the original seven members were raised, the band released its first album in 1969 as Chicago Transit Authority. The band are noted as one of the first rock ensembles with a fully integrated brass section.

    On their first four studio albums — the first three of which are double-sets — Chicago fused the era’s blues-based amplification with legato charts befitting to the member’s jazz pedigrees. As the 1970s progressed, the band tightened its approach whilst appropriating exotic flavors and Tin Pan Alley songcraft. During the 1980s, the band evolved into a slick modern-rock act for the video age.”

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