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"In the early 1970s when a band lived and died by radio, Chicago ruled the waves with a brass fist..."
—Liner notes for The Chicago Story
Chicago is a rock band formed in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois. The horn section of Walter Parazaider (woodwinds), Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and James Pankow (trombone) was the first part of the band to come together, followed by Danny Seraphine (drums) and the lead vocalists Peter Cetera (bass guitar), Robert Lamm (keyboards) and Terry Kath (guitar). The band began as a politically charged, sometimes experimental, jazz-rock fusion band and later moved to a predominantly softer sound after the death of Terry Kath in the mid 1970s, becoming famous for producing a number of hit ballads.
They had a steady stream of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Second only to the Beach Boys in terms of singles and albums, Chicago is one of the longest running and most successful U.S. pop/rock and roll groups. According to Billboard, Chicago was the leading U.S. singles charting group during the 1970s.
Tropes that apply to this band include:
- Album Filler: Averted with their early work. In fact, they had so much material their first three albums (and the seventh) were double albums.
- The Artifact: In their early days, Chicago's horn section set them apart from many of their contemporaries, but as time went on the horns became less and less prominent. Where they'd originally been featured as lead instruments, they ended up in a supporting role providing embellishments (that Robert Lamm and Bill Champlin were mostly playing on keyboards anyway).
- Author Tract: Two words - Robert Lamm.
- The Band Minus the Face: Twice over, when Kath died, then when Peter Cetera left.
- Chronological Album Title: Pretty much all of them. The few that didn't include one are Chicago at Carnegie Hall (the 4th album), Hot Streets (the 12th), Night and Day Big Band (the 22nd), and all the compilation albums except for Chicago IX (though the compilations are counted in the album numbering).
- Common Time: Many early songs avert this, like "Colour My World", which uses compound time instead.
- Cover Version: They covered "I'm A Man" by the Spencer Davis Group on their first album and in The Nineties they released Night & Day: Big Band, a covers album featuring their own versions of big band jazz standards.
- Epic Rocking: Their first album was half catchy rock and half this, including a fifteen-minute experimental number..
- Genre Shift: Initially a more experimental jazz-rock band, they changed their sound in the 80s and played more soft rock ballads.
- Some would place that genre shift closer to Chicago V through Chicago VII in the mid-1970s. They were capable of genuine heaviness on earlier albums, on tracks such as "South California Purples" and "Sing a Mean Tune, Kid". That began to be phased out on V, while ballads such as "If You Leave Me Now" became much slicker. At the same time, their singles output came to consist entirely of ballads, while they previously had also charted with faster tunes like "Make Me Smile".
- Greatest Hits Album: About a zillion of 'em.
- Idiosyncratic Cover Art: Nearly all the album covers feature the band's iconic logo in a different setting. The exception is Hot Streets, which features a portrait of the band.
- In the Style Of: A cover of "I'm A Man" by the Spencer Davis Group on their first album reimagines a three minute Soul song as a seven minute version that verges of Heavy Metal.
- Lighter and Softer: Their 80s body of work.
- Loudness War: The Rhino remasters.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Lowdown." Punchy brass and a jubilant melody, coupled with lyrics like "lowdown, feelin' pretty bad, feelin' like I lost the best friend that I ever had."
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Their first album featured a mixture of improvisation-heavy jazz, soulful Blues Rock and Hard Rock guitar riffs. The trend continued until it reached it's pinnacle in Chicago VII.
- Numbered Sequels: They numbered them Roman numerals in the 70s, switched to regular numbers in the 80s and switched back at some point afterwards.
- Saved From Development Hell: Stone of Sisyphus was originally Chicago XXII in 1994. It was eventually released in 2008 as Chicago XXXII, after a label change (the original label was one of the main reasons why it wasn't released in '94) and with one track missing.
- Self-Titled Album: Chicago's original name was The Chicago Transit Authority, under which they released their album of the same name. After legal trouble with the real CTA led to the name change, the band released another self-titled record under the new name (aka Chicago II). Most of the albums released since then have just been Chicago plus a number.
- Signature Song: "25 or 6 to 4" or maybe "Hard to Say I'm Sorry"
- Others still would argue for Saturday in the Park.
- Soprano and Gravel: Cetera's soaring tenor and Kath's gruff baritone. Robert Lamm occupied a space somewhere in between.
- Throw It In: On a lot of the early albums. Many fans got upset when the false start for "Happy Man" got removed from the Rhino remaster of Chicago VII. Also, listen near the end of "Aire" for a more...humorous example.
- Vocal Tag Team: Kath, Lamm, and Cetera started out the tagging trio; Bill Champlin replaced Kath, and Jason Scheff replaced Cetera.