Chicago was finally inducted earlier this month into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, along with Cheap Trick, Steve Miller, Deep Purple and NWA.
Desired by the who’s who of rock and roll, the lifetime achievement award is extremely selective and given in recognition of the artist/band’s entire body of work.
Even the living members of the Beatles showed up when they received their award in 1988, introduced by no less than Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, in this day and age when it seemed almost customary for artists to snub awards nights.
Many artists have had scathing criticisms of the R&R Hall of Fame, the latest being Steve Miller, who after receiving his award, called it an industry with “f*ck*n gangsters and crooks”.
The award for Chicago was, to put it bluntly, too long in coming – 49 years after their founding.
According to their online history and other sources, the band started in 1967, and has been called a “rock and roll band with horns”.
Chicago is one of the world’s most well-known and successful bands, having sold more than one hundred million records.
They have 21 Top Ten singles, five consecutive Number One albums, 11 Number One singles, and five Gold singles.
An incredible 25 of their 34 albums have been certified platinum, and Chicago has a total of 47 gold and platinum awards.
Chicago started in 1967 when saxophonist Walter Parazaider, guitarist Terry Kath, drummer Danny Seraphine, trombonist James Pankow, and trumpet player Lee Loughnane banded together at DePaul University while keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm joined them from Roosevelt University.
They needed a singer to hit the high notes, so they recruited bass player Peter Cetera.
Initially, they called themselves The Big Thing, then shifted to Chicago Transit Authority, then finally shifted it to the present day band name Chicago.
That first album yielded them a few of their famous hits including Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, Beginnings, Questions 67 and 68, and I’m A Man.
During their early years in the Seventies, they churned out songs that often had a mix of political overtones and slices of everyday life, represented by songs like 25 or 6 to 4, and Saturday in the Park.
Later in the decade, they started shifting their emphasis to romantic ballads, most notably If You Leave Me Now (1976), and Baby, What a Big Surprise (1977), their last Top 10 hit during the ’70s.
Ironically, If You Leave Me Now was really a last-minute song addition to the Chicago X album.
Before the close of the Seventies in 1978, guitarist Terry Kath died of an accidental gun shooting and was replaced by guitarist Donnie Dacus.
That year, Phil Ramone produced their 12th album, which was already starting to veer away from their original jazz sound to more of the romantic ballads that seemed to generate more sales and attention for them.
Entering the ’80s, Columbia Records dropped them in 1981 after thinking they were no longer sellable commercially, and in its place Warner Brothers records took over.
Their new producer, David Foster, shifted them from their earlier emphasis on trumpets and horns to more of the love ballads that generated their hits that decade.
Peter Cetera, with his locked jaw singing style (brought upon by an earlier surgical procedure on his jaw from a fist fight with four Marines in Dodger Stadium), came to be the band’s most famous member.
Previously, Chicago’s idea of a band was that no one would stand out, they would perform music together.
They felt that they needed no titles for their albums except Chicago and the album number because they felt the music spoke for itself.
But with the advent of MTV, more focus and attention was brought to bear on Peter Cetera.
Chicago 16 saw the hit Hard to Say I’m Sorry (1982), produced by David Foster, which became number one worldwide.
Their 1984 album, Chicago 17, brought two #3 singles, You’re the Inspiration and Hard Habit to Break. It also became their biggest best-selling album to date.
But Peter Cetera decided to run with success and embark on what would become a successful solo career, with love ballads like Glory of Love, Next Time I Fall, and After All.
The post-Peter Cetera era of Chicago saw his replacement, newcomer Jason Scheff, singing the hits Will You Still Love Me? and If She Would Have Been Faithful.
Later albums would bring hits like Look Away and What Kind of Man Would I Be?
During the subsequent years, many band members moved to and from Chicago, including most notably Danny Seraphine during the early ’90s, replaced by former Kenny Loggins drummer Tris Imboden.
Later years up to the present saw the band release mostly compilations of their greatest hits, Christmas albums, and live recordings of concerts.
New albums they released were moderately successful, especially with diehard fans, and they had also started touring and doing concerts with Earth, Wind & Fire and later on, with the Doobie Brothers.
In 1993, they tried to go back to their horns, clarinets, sax and flute roots with the album Stone of Sisyphus, but Warner Brothers did not buy into it.
From 1967 to 2016, the only original band members with an unbroken tenure were Loughnane, Pankow, Parazaider and Lamm. The rest, like Cetera, Seraphine and Scheff either transitioned in or out of the group.
Chicago, along with such bands as The Eagles, has been a staple of my personal favorite recordings since my college days.
To see them get their long overdue award and be recognized as one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time is a vindication of the enjoyment and emotions that their fans like me have enjoyed with their music.
This was why I was extremely disappointed with Peter Cetera’s decision, although he had his own personal reasons for doing so, to skip the R&R Hall of Fame awards ceremony.
While the members of Chicago are individuals in their own right, their music now belongs to the millions of fans they have touched who have laughed, cried, reminisced and enjoyed each of their hit songs.
For just one night, we were reminded again of the power of Chicago’s great music, and their lasting legacy.
Watch YouTube video of Chicago performing If You Leave Me Now:
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