Essential Chicago

Cleveland.com reports on Chicago’s upcoming (and grossly tardy) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction:

Every Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee has a handful of songs (or more) you can play that kill any doubt about their candidacy.

Chicago’s career has spanned more than 40 years, driven by two golden periods – one of experimentation and another of pop/soft rock supremacy.

Within that time were unforgettable songs fans will find themselves revisiting leading up to Chicago’s induction in New York City next week:

‘Beginnings’ (1969)

Robert Lamm’s lyrics are untouchable here. But it’s important to note you’ll come across a few versions of “Beginnings.” The single version is trimmed down and highlights the band’s ability to craft a hit. However, the full-length album version (from Chicago’s debut) will leave you in awe.

’25 or 6 to 4′ (1970)

If there’s a song that proves how talented of a rock band Chicago was at its peak, “25 or 6 to 4” is it. Not surprisingly, the song, which features Chicago’s guitar work at its best, has become a highlight of the band’s live shows.

‘Make Me Smile’ (1970)

The James Pankow-penned “Make Me Smile” began as a section in the seven-part “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” from “Chicago II.”

However, it was an immediate standout. The group wisely recognized “Make Me Smile’s” radio friendly nature. It earned Chicago a top-10 hit. The song is also a worthy tribute to the life of guitarist (and lead singer on the song) Terry Kath.

‘Saturday in the Park’ (1972)

Chicago’s late career soft-rock run would earn the band its fair share of critics. But during the 1970s, Chicago was able to effortless merge is jazz fusion sound with infectious hooks. The best example of that is “Saturday in the Park,” the band’s most inescapable hit thanks to the amazing horn section of Walter Parazaider, Pankow and Lee Loughnane.

‘A Hit By Varese’ (1972)

Some would argue this is Chicago’s big song (maybe beside the massive hits). “A Hit by Varese” is the greatest opening track of Chicago’s career (from its fifth album) and showcased the band’s transition to more simplistic songwriting. The jazz rock is still there, but this is the sound of a band refining its music and recognizing how big it was becoming.

‘If You Leave Me Now’ (1976)

Say what you want about Chicago’s super-soft 1976 chart-topper, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think it’s a key contributor to the band’s fame and, thus, it’s Rock Hall induction. And while we’re being honest, Peter Cetera delivers, hands down, the best vocal performance of any Chicago song. There, I said it.

Hard to Say I’m Sorry’ (1982)

Chicago’s career can be divided into two parts. There was the jazz-fusion and heavy experimentation phase, followed by a soft-rock centric that began with the success of “If You Leave Me Now.” Still, heading into the 1980s, many had written Chicago off as a band that lived and probably died in the 1970s. “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” proved that was not the case. Yes, it highlights an era many early Chicago fans want to forget. But it also showcases Cetera and company’s ability to craft standout pop hits in a decade that had a lot of them.

It’s hard to say the writer is wrong. (If you stop reading this now … oh, never mind.) If you’re looking for an introduction to the group, there’s always, well, “Introduction”:

For musical versatility, it’s hard to top “I’m a Man”:

Want a ballad? Want the Beach Boys?

Need a sports sounder?

Want a non-violent political song?

For live performance, there’s “Free,” which is expanded considerably live from its album version …

… particularly when you can play with another group known for its horns:

This shows what’s impressive about Chicago beyond its nearly five decades of existence. The group perfomed everything from hard rock to, well, radio-friendly ballads, and is still recording and touring today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s