Formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1967. Chicago was a rock band that was originally named Chicago Transit Authority. They began performing jazz fusion music with politically charged lyrics but later changed to a softer sound and produced several hit ballads. During the ‘70s and the ‘80s, Chicago enjoyed great success and was even named as one of the top 100 artists of all time. They were also one of the best-selling groups of all time because, throughout their career, Chicago sold about 40 million albums in the US alone and 100 million albums all over the globe. In this article, we are going to find out Chicago’s contribution to the music industry.
Chicago was formed in February 1967 when saxophonist Walter Parazaider, drummer Danny Seraphine, trumpet player Lee Loughnane, trombonist James Pankow, keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm, and guitarist Terry Kat formed a group called The Big Thing. They performed top 40 hit songs in Chicago nightclubs. When the band gained some success as a cover band, they started to make their original songs and in 1968, the band moved in Los Angeles, California together with their manager, James William Guercio. They eventually landed a recording contract with Columbia Records and they changed their name from The Big Thing to Chicago Transit Authority. While they were doing gigs at the famous Whisky a Go Go nightclub in West Hollywood, Chicago Transit Authority gained some exposure to some of the famous musical artists. Along with this, the band was also performing as an opening act for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. And in 1967, Peter Cetera later joined the band as their local tenor and bassist.
In 1969, Chicago Transit Authority released their self-titled debut album which happens to be a double album. It peaked at the seventeenth spot of the Billboard 200 chart, sold over one million copies, and was able to reach platinum by 1970. The album featured the pop-rock songs, Beginnings, I’m a Man, Does Anybody Know What Time It is?, and Questions 67 and 68. This album also earned Chicago Transit Authority their first-ever Grammy Award nomination in the Best New Artist Category in 1969. After the release and success of their first album, they decided to shorten their name to Chicago to avoid any legal action that was being threatened by the mass-transit company that has the same name.
In less than a year after they released their first album, Chicago released their second self-titled studio album, which is usually referred to as Chicago II. The album spawned two top ten hits such as Colour My World, and Make Me Smile. The album became a commercial success, it peaked at the number four spot on the Billboard 200 albums charts and the Recording Industry Association of America or RIAA announced that the album was certified gold in 1970 and platinum in 1991. The album also earned Chicago a nomination for two Grammy Awards in the category Best Contemporary Vocal Performance by Duo, Group, or Chorus and Album of the Year.
In 1971, Chicago released their third studio album entitled Chicago III. The album reached the second spot on the Billboard 200 and it spawned two hit singles such as Free and Lowdown. Just like their second album, it also reached gold status in 1971 and platinum in 1986. Also in 1971, Chicago released their first live album entitled Chicago Live at Carnegie Hall Volumes I, II, III, and IV. It was released as a four-LP vinyl box set that features all of their live performances during their week-long show at Carnegie Hall and the band performed songs from their first three albums. Along with the four vinyl discs, the album package also came with a packaging that contained some persuasive political messaging about how the youth can change the system. The album immediately went gold and eventually recached a multi-platinum status.
The following year, Chicago released their fourth studio album entitled Chicago V which reached the top spot on the Billboard pop charts and the jazz album charts. the album featured the hit single entitled Saturday in the Park which was written by Robert Lamm. In 1973, the band released their fifth studio album entitled Chicago VI which was the first album that featured the Brazillian jazz percussionist Lauder de Oliviera and Peter Cetera as the main lead singer. The album spawned two top ten singles namely Feelin’ Stronger Every Day and Just You n’ Me.
After a year, Chicago released their sixth album entitled Chicago VII which was a double-disc album that spawned three hit singles namely Call on Mee, Wishing You Were Here, and (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long. In 1975, the band released their seventh album called Chicago VIII which featured the political symbol song, Harry Truman and the Pankow-composed song entitled Old Days. On the summer of 1975, Chicago embarked on a joint tour across the United States together with the Beach Boys. The albums Chicago VI, VII, and VIII all reached the top spot on the Billboard 200 charts and became gold in just a few years since their release. On the other hand, Chicago VI became a certified two-times platinum album in 1986. During that same year, Chicago released another album entitled Chicago IX: Chicago’s Greatest Hits and the album became the band’s fifth number one hit album that entered the Billboard 200 charts.
In 1976, the band’s eighth studio album entitled Chicago X, featured the hit ballad song, If You Leave Now which won a Grammy Award in the category Best Pop Vocal Performances by a Duo, Groups or Chorus on 1977. If You Leave Me Now wasn’t supposed to be on the album and it was recorded at the very last minute. The album itself achieved the commercial success that peaked at the third spot of the Billboard 200 charts, it became a two times platinum album and received a nomination at the Grammy Awards for Album of the Year. To celebrate Chicago’s platinum album achievement, Columbia Records awarded them a 25-pound bar which is made from pure platinum by the famous jewelry company, Cartier. In 1977, the band won the 4th Annual American Music Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock/ Band/ Duo/ Group.
In 1977, Chicago released their ninth studio album called Chicago XI which featured the hit single, Baby, What a Big Surprise which peaked at the fourth spot in the United States Charts and became the band’s last top 10 hits of the decade. The album performed well commercially and reached platinum status on the same day it was released.
After releasing five successful studio albums, the band was on the peak of their career. However, in 1978, Chicago’s lead guitarist Terry Kath died of an accidental and self-inflicted gunshot wound because he thought that the gun he was holding was unloaded. After the terrible incident, the band was not discouraged to go on with their career but it was the bandleader for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Doc Severinsen who urged the band to continue their journey in the music industry. According to reports, the band members snapped and decided to carry on after Severinsen talked to them.
After holding a 30 person audition to replace Terry Kath on lead guitars, the band finally settled with singer-songwriter and guitarist Donnie Dacus. In 1978, Chicago released their tenth studio album entitled Hot Streets which featured the hit single Alive Again. However, it was Chicago’s first album that failed to make it into the top ten o the charts.
In 1980, Chicago released their twelfth studio album which only peaked at the 71st spot on the Billboard 200 and failed to achieve a gold certification. It’s two singles also failed to make it into the charts. During this time, their record label, Columbia Records believed that the band was no longer feasible that’s why they decided to drop them in 1981 and released a second Greatest Hits album after that just to fulfill their contractual obligation.
In late 1981, Chicago signed a new recording contract with Warner Bros. Records and had a new producer who happens to be the musical genius, David Foster. The band also added guitarist, keyboardist, and singer Bill Champlin into the group and it was the same time when Marty Gebb and Lauder de Oliviera decided to leave the group.
For their thirteenth studio album entitled Chicago 16, the band decided to work with composers from outside their band. That’s when David Foster brought in studio musicians for some of their songs. That’s why the band managed to return to the top of the charts with their songs Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away. The song became the band’s second single that reached the top spot of the charts and earned them a nomination at the Grammy Awards for Best Pop Performances by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Chicago 16 reached gold and platinum status on the first year it was released.
In 1984, Chicago released their fourteenth album entitled Chicago 17 which was the band’s best-selling album to date. It became six times platinum album in 1997 and spawned two top ten hit singles namely Hard Habit to Break and You’re the Inspiration. Hard Habit to Break earned the band two Grammy Award nominations for Best Pop Performances by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Record of the year. The band also featured other singles such as Along Comes a Woman and Stay The Night.
Simultaneously with Chicago’s successful musical career, Peter Cetera also has begun his solo career. He proposed to the band that they would take hiatuses after their tours to let him focus on his solo music career but the band did not like his proposition. That’s why in 1985, Peter Cetera decided to quit the band and he embarked on his solo career that proved to be a successful one. Cetera managed to create several hit songs such as After All, One Good Woman, and Glory of Love.
In 1986, Chicago released their fifteenth studio album and final Foster-produced album called Chicago 18. The album featured several session guitarists who never became permanent band members. And it featured the hit songs If She Would Have Been Faithful and Will You Still Love Me? After the album was recorded and released, Chicago decided to add guitarist Dwayne Bailey into the group.
After two years, the album Chicago 19 was released and the band replaced David Foster with Ron Nevison who used to work with Rod Steward, Stevie Nicks, and Heart. The album gave Chicago the chance to dominate the charts again it produced three hit singles namely What Kind of Man Would I Be? Look Away, and I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love.
When the 1990s came, Chicago’s original drummer, Danny Seraphine was dismissed from the band and he was replaced by Tris Imboden who used to play with Kenny Loggins. Imboden made his first appearance in Chicago’s seventeenth studio album entitled Twenty 1. The album peaked the 66th spot of the Billboard 200 charts.
In 1993, Chicago recorded their album called Stone of Sisyphus which supposed to mark their return to the traditional composition that they’ve done in the ‘70s. However, the executives of their new record label, Reprise Records, rejected their album that’s why it remained unpublished for over fifteen years. The band was upset by the decisions of the record label which led to Dawayne Bailey to not renew his contract in late 1994. Stone of Sisyphus was eventually released in June 2008 under Rhino Records after some legal battles.
After the band finished their tour in 1994, they signed with Warner Bros. Records. The following year, Chicago released their eighteenth studio album called Night & Day: Big Band which featured cover songs that were originally done by Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, and Glenn Miller. The album also featured several guests artists such as Paul Shaffer from the David Letterman fame and Aerosmith’s guitarist Joe Perry.
In 2002, after he band licensed their entire record output to Rhino Records, they release a two-disc compilation of their hit songs and they called the album The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning. And in 2006, their first all-new studio album since Twenty 1 was released and it was called Chicago XXX. The album featured the songs Feel, Love Will Come Back, and Caroline. It was also the first album where the band’s music went available as a digital download.
In 2011, the band released a Christmas album entitled Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three which featured Dolly Parton as a guest artist. Three years later, they released their twenty-fourth studio album called Chicago XXXVI: Now. In 2016, after some extensive touring and promoting with the band, Jason Scheff announced that he will be leaving Chicago after being with the band for over 31 years.
Over the years, Chicago’s music had been used in different soundtracks of movies such as Shaun the Dean, A Lot Like Love, Three Kings, South Park, Daddy’s Home 2, and Sex and the City. It is pretty evident that Chicago had made their permanent mark in the music industry and became one of the iconic artists that helped shape the industry as we know it today.