"In the early 1970s when a band lived and died by radio, Chicago ruled the waves with a brass fist..."
Chicago is a rock band formed in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois initially under the name Chicago Transit Authority (until the eponymous bus and train operator took exception to this example of fandom and the group changed its name to something less likely to get them sued). 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.
- Amazingly enough, one of their biggest hits, "25 or 6 to 4", was originally intended to be Album Filler. The story behind the song is that they needed one more song to finish their second album. The various members of the group were sitting around the studio, knowing they needed one more song, but too tired to be very creative. At which point Robert Lamm turned to James Pankow and asked, "What time is it, anyway?" Pankow replied that it was "25, maybe 26 minutes to 4 o'clock" (in the morning). Lamme was thus inspired to write a song about being up until Oh-God-Thirty in the morning, trying to write one last song to fill an album.
- Anonymous Band: Up until the mid-1980s, Chicago deliberately downplayed the personalities behind the music, as shown by its album cover art. This changed, however, with the advent of MTV.
- 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).
- Artistic License – Gun Safety: Terry Kath's death was due to this. He removed the magazine from a semi-automatic handgun, put the barrel to his head and pulled the trigger. Which in and of itself is not always fatal, but he had forgotten that he'd chambered the first round from the magazine, thereby making the gun loaded.
- Author Tract: Their early albums had a lot of these. If it's penned by Robert Lamm, expect this trope (also, expect a lot of vitriol aimed at the establishment). Exemplified by ''A Song for Richard And His Friends.''
- The Band Minus the Face: Twice over, when Kath died, then when Peter Cetera left.
- Breakup Song: "Hard to Say I'm Sorry".
- Breather Song: It's a bit atonal in places, but the "Memories of Love" suite is still much Lighter and Softer than "Fancy Colours" and "25 or 6 to 4" before it and "It Better End Soon" after it on Chicago II.
- 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.
- Cool Old Guy: Founding members Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Walt Parazaider, and Lee Loughnane may be in their 60s, but show no signs of slowing down.
- 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. Other pieces on their following albums such as "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon", "Elegy" and "A Song for Richard and His Friends" were firm ventures into progressive rock.
- 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: Three official, plus two box sets and several compilation albums.
- 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.
- Chicago VI has a small group photo above the logo.
- In the Style of...: A cover of "I'm A Man" by the Spencer Davis Group on their first album re-imagines 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."
- Meanwhile, Back at the...: Their 1974 TV special Meanwhile Back At The Ranch (taped at Caribou Ranch in Colorado, where the band recorded from 1972-77), intersperses performance footage with a cheesy storyline presented Silent Movie-style; the show's title is used in the transitions.
- 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 its 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.
- 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.
- Soprano and Gravel: Cetera's soaring tenor and Kath's gruff baritone. Robert Lamm occupied a space somewhere in between.
- Vocal Tag Team: Kath, Lamm, and Cetera started out the tagging trio; Bill Champlin replaced Kath, and Jason Scheff replaced Cetera.