Make Me Smile…induct Chicago into Rock’s Hall of Fame

Chicago

The sixth effort by Chicago was the first and one of the few to picture the band on the cover

By Phill Marder

(Seventh in a series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)

Four members of the original Chicago appeared on Chris Isaak’s excellent show, which runs on Sundance. Isaak asked them point blank – and I paraphrase – “Just who did you piss off?”

Isaak’s query revolved around the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s failure to induct (or even nominate) the group that now ranks as the most popular – chartwise – the United States ever has produced. How can this be?

True, the still-active band may have overstayed its welcome, but from 1969 until Peter Cetera departed in 1985, there was nothing less than top quality work from this group, especially before the 1978 death of lead guitarist Terry Kath. With keyboardist Robert Lamm and the horn section of Walt Parazaider, Lee Loughnane and James Pankow carrying on, the group re-surfaced with a string of blockbuster hits in the late ’80s that garnered public approval but, evidently, proved too schmaltzy for critical blessing.

But Chicago’s initial core, which included Danny Seraphine on drums, gave us some of the most innovative works of the Rock era. Where The Buckinghams and Blood, Sweat & Tears introduced the concept of a horn section supplementing a basic rock group, Chicago was the group that avoided self-destruction and carried on, expanding Rock’s boundaries.

With Kath, supposedly Jimi Hendrix’ favorite guitar player, providing a raw edge, Chicago ran off 10 consecutive Top 10 albums from 1970 to 1977, including a string of five straight No. 1 LPs. Five straight No. 1 albums! Any artist who denies he or they would give his best Fender and Roland to get near the top of the album charts is an artist who has never gotten near the top of the album charts. This group topped the charts five times.

Several other offerings just missed the top, seven reaching the top 10, three of which were double albums and one which came 15 years after their debut. That is a truly unbelievable achievement and the original Chicago seven should be acknowledged by the Hall of Fame. Actually, a carryover from my original list 10 years ago, they should have been recognized long ago.

Though clearly an album-oriented group at the outset, with long, progressive pieces being the norm, the group still managed the ridiculous number of 20 singles to reach the top 10, three landing in the No. 1 position. In the United Kingdom, Chicago also was a regular presence on both album and single charts.

William Ruhlmann, writing in the “Allmusic Guide,” hits the nail right on the head, describing the group’s plight as follows “…Chicago has been singularly underrated since the beginning of its long career, both because of its musical ambitions (to the musicians, rock is only one of several styles of music to be used and blended, along with classical, jazz, R&B, and pop) and because of its refusal to emphasize celebrity over the music. The result has been that fundamentalist rock critics have consistently failed to appreciate its music and that its media profile has always been low. At the same time, however, Chicago has succeeded in the ways it intended to. From the beginning of its emergence as a national act, it has been able to fill arenas with satisfied fans. And beyond the impressive sales and chart statistics, its music has endured, played constantly on the radio and instantly familiar to tens of millions.”

Obviously, those in command of nominating artists feel the intelligence and taste of the majority of record buyers can be described using the same phrase that leads us to picture the rear portion of a horse. It would be nice if the Hall of Fame had the guts to reveal just who holds the public in such low esteem.

Or, as Isaak so elegantly stated to the remaining originals, “Just who did you piss off?”


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5 thoughts on “Make Me Smile…induct Chicago into Rock’s Hall of Fame

  1. Jan WENNER is the number one reason why CHICAGO is not in the R & R H O SHAMOLA!

    JANNY HATES CHICAGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And that’s all you need to know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Without Chicago in that place there is ZERO reason to visit it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Say what? Overstayed their welcome? Don’t think so. Alongside the crap that passes for popular music these days, these guys will always have a place on my CD player or any other kind of player.

    Give me Chicago any day – their music overall is not boring compared to the flavor-of-the-month crap out there now. These guys were victimized by commercial radio and the record companies, who continue to this day to put out music that they believe the public will hold still for instead of what they may really want.

    A couple of years ago, Coldplay ruled the airwaves. They could not hold these guys instrument straps.

    What I want, before they finally hang it up, is another highly creative recording, that is pushed to the max by the record companies and commercial radio.

  3. Dear Larry -

    Chicago still has a place in my playlist, too. But I prefer the classic recordings of the original band & and most of the 80s output. Time takes a harsh toll on vocal chords, and today’s incarnation, I feel, doesn’t quite do justice to the original recordings when it comes to the vocals.

  4. MY ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME INDUCTION SPEECH FOR CHICAGO

    The year was 1966, and the place was Chicago’s DePaul University. That was where a saxophone, clarinet, and flute player named Walter Parazaider got together with a drummer named Danny Seraphine, a guitar player and singer named Terry Kath, a trumpet player named Lee Loughnane, and a trombone player named James Pankow. Then In 1967, they met a piano player and a singer named Robert Lamm, from Chicago’s Roosevelt University, who was performing at a local night club, and they asked him to join their band, which he did. The band would be called The Big Thing, and The Big Thing would play on the Midwest club circuit, building a following. An engagement during the second week of December 1967 proved to be an important gig. The Big Thing was an opening act at Barnaby’s in Chicago for a band called the Exceptions, which was the biggest club band in the Midwest, and they stuck around and listened to them. If The Big Thing had stayed late to see the Exceptions, one of the Exceptions had come early to see The Big Thing. That night, singer and bass guitar player Peter Cetera would leave the Exceptions and join The Big Thing as its seventh member, and big things were about to happen.

    James William Guercio, who had been a DePaul University student of music as well, moved the band out to Los Angeles and he would become their manager and producer. The Big Thing would become The Chicago Transit Authority, and then simply, Chicago. The plan from the beginning was to start a horn centered Rock and Roll band. A Rock and Roll band with a horn section. A Rock and Roll band with horns that were an integral part of the music. A Rock and Roll band whose horn section formed the heart of the band. A Rock and Roll band with a horn section that was another lead voice dancing with the vocals. Chicago’s use of brass and woodwinds was like no other band. They took what is called a “melodic” approach to the horns rather than a “harmonic” approach. The horns actually acted as an additional vocal line, not just performing fill rifts. This is what was innovative about Chicago. Chicago was the first rock ‘n’ roll band with horns, and a band way ahead of its time.

    True to the need of the album-oriented rock format that launched them, the first four albums released by Chicago between 1969 and 1972 comprised three double albums and one quadruple album. That’s 10 albums in three years. Chicago’s next five albums: Chicago V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX all hit number one on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Chicago took America and the world by storm without the help of their faces. Total subjugation of individual ego to the collective good of the group was the rule in Chicago, even to the point of using a logo rather than a picture of the band on all of their album covers. Chicago refused to emphasize celebrity over the music. The group turned its anonymous, professional air into a virtue and a marketing strategy. They were the faceless band behind a logo. Chicago’s logo and its facelessness were very much in keeping with the style of the late ’60′s that valued group effort over individual ego. The group would come to be identified by a logo, and that logo, designed by Nick Fasciano, would become the most famous logo in Rock and Roll history. Inspired by classical music, Chicago also chose to number most of their albums instead of giving them full names. As the 70′s became the 80′s and the demands of the music industry started to change, Chicago was dropped by their record label. During Chicago’s search for a new record company, one label said to them, “If you get rid of the horn section we’ll sign you,” to which Chicago responded, “Go fck yourself!” Telling Chicago to get rid of the horn section is like telling Elton John to get rid of the piano, as trombonist James Pankow once said. Chicago would go on to sign with a new record label and the horns stayed and the band played on for forty more years, but their approach to the horns changed from melodic to harmonic for the most part.

    Chicago’s first 11 albums consisted of songs that were just under 10 minutes long, and songs and suites that were over 10 minutes long. These albums all showcased the impeccable musicianship of all the members of the band. At first, Chicago’s sound was a hard sell. Radio stations wouldn’t play their songs. Chicago’s music was not easily identifiable what it was. Chicago could not be pigeonholed. Their sound met with resistance. Record executives turned to Guercio, and Guercio edited a number of Chicago’s songs and suites to make them shorter and more radio friendly. It was a compromise to be on the radio, and it was what it was. You can still listen to all of the band’s songs and suites in their entirety on all the early Chicago albums; it’s the radio versions of the songs that are shorter. The first track that got edited was the 12-minute suite called “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon” which was written and arranged by Chicago’s trombonist James Pankow, from the 1970 Chicago album (A.K.A Chicago II). From “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon” came two hits: “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World.” So, basically, the songs were made shorter because (as Robert Lamm so eloquently put it) Chicago’s music wasn’t for people with Attention Deficit Disorder. You know, because those are the people who listen to radio–people with A.D.D.

    In 1969, Chicago released their first album, and to this day, it is considered to be one of the greatest groundbreaking albums ever produced in the history of Rock and Roll; that album being The Chicago Transit Authority. It was a blend of jazz, classical, and straight-ahead rock and roll. It included an unheralded synthesis of electric guitar rock and roll to more deeply rooted jazz influences and arrangements. It was funky, melodic, emotive, politically intoned and avant-garde. I’m guessing most people in this room have never listened to The Chicago Transit Authority. You can not buy a Chicago greatest hits record and understand what I’m talking about, but there are so many people that I am speaking for tonight who know exactly what I’m talking about. When The Chicago Transit Authority was released in 1969, it seemed to be the perfect synthesis of everything that was diametrically opposed. It had smooth, lush harmonies, it had the distorted feedback-drenched guitar works of Terry Kath, it had the Beatles-meet-Motown bass works of Peter Cetera, it had the Buddy Rich-meets-Mitch Mitchell drums of Danny Seraphine, it had the churning Hammond organ and classical piano works of Robert Lamm, and it had those powerful horns of Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane, and James Pankow weaving in and out of the arrangements, ending up toe-to-toe with everything else. And it all worked. The dynamics were perfect. The Chicago Transit Authority seemed to have everything in the right place. The horn section, the vocalists, and the rhythm section were tight and unified. Individually, the members of Chicago were all outstanding on their respective instruments. Unlike many bands of the era that utilized session musicians for their recordings, Chicago was completely self-contained.

    Question: What do you get when you mix the voice of Ray Charles with the voice and the guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix? The answer is Chicago’s first lead singer and lead guitarist, Terry Kath. During his eleven years with Chicago, Terry Kath wrote 25 songs for the band. He had a soulful quality to his voice, and his guitar playing was considered to be better than the guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix himself asked Chicago to tour with him, which they did, after he heard them playing at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Los Angeles and said, “I’m pretty good man, but this Kath blows me away”, “Your guitar player is way better than me, and the horns are like one set of lungs.” When Jimi Hendrix says, Terry Kath is a better guitar player than Jimi Hendrix, that means, Terry Kath is a better guitar player than Jimi Hendrix. In a group known for its horns, it was Terry Kath’s hard edged guitar and soulful vocals that kept the band rooted in rock and roll. Chicago’s line-up for such a large band was astonishingly stable, broken after eleven years and eleven albums only by the death of Terry Kath. After Terry Kath’s tragic death in 1978, Chicago could have gone on to produce albums under a different name, they could have dissolved their band completely with each member going off to do other musical projects, or they could have just left the music business altogether and done other things with their lives, but they didn’t. Chicago soldiered on for another forty years with the help of other notable lead rock guitarists, from Donnie Dacus and Chris Pinnick, to DaWayne Bailey and Keith Howland.

    Chicago’s second lead singer was Robert Lamm; an ambitious composer/pianist/keyboardist. Robert Lamm wrote 75 songs for Chicago (the most out of all the members in the group) and his songwriting talents made him the default leader of the band in the early years. The Robert Lamm-penned hits included, “Beginnings”, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, “Questions 67 & 68″, “Saturday in the Park” and “25 or 6 to 4″. His clear baritone voice was an asset, as were his stylized keyboarding skills. The International press portrayed Robert Lamm as Chicago’s social conscience, and many of his best songs (“Dialogue”, “Free”, “Harry Truman”, “State of the Union”) all espoused political themes. Some of Robert Lamm’s compositions had a swing feel to them as well. Frank Sinatra could have handled “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” very well. Actually, as the story goes, it was “Colour My World,” a portion from Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon, one of 35 Chicago songs that was written by the band’s trombonist James Pankow, that Frank Sinatra wanted to do a remake of. It never happened though because Frank Sinatra wanted James Pankow to write a few more verses for the song, and James Pankow wouldn’t do it. You don’t mess with a classic, even if the chairman of the board himself asks you to. Other Chicago songs penned by James Pankow included the hits, Old Days, Just You ‘n’ Me, I’ve Been Searchin’ So Long, and Feelin’ Stronger Everyday. That last one, by the way, was written by James Pankow and Chicago’s original bass guitarist and third lead singer, Peter Cetera; the elastic tenor voice who was brought in to hit the high notes and keep up with the horn section, which the baritone voice of Robert Lamm and the gruff voice of Terry Kath couldn’t.

    During his time with Chicago, Peter Cetera wrote 33 songs for the band, but if you were to ask any Chicago fan or Rock music historian to name the first two Chicago songs they think of when they hear someone say the name Peter Cetera, they will all tell you the same thing, what else but the smoochadelic classics, “If You Leave Me Now” from the 1976 Chicago X album, and “Baby, What A Big Surprise” from the 1977 Chicago XI album. The sexiest, the sweetest, the most distinctive tenor voice in all of Rock And Roll history belongs to Peter Cetera mthrfckrs! “High above shimmering, echoing ballads and rock-solid choruses that aim for the bleachers, Cetera’s tenor voice soars like a bird in flight. If it doesn’t strike you deep in your heart, it’ll at least stick deep in your head.” That’s what an unknown source from Rolling Stone magazine’s website once said about Peter Cetera. Well Peter, I would like to tell you tonight on behalf of all your fans that your voice has actually done both for us. Your voice has struck us deep in our hearts and it is stuck deep in our heads and that is where we want it and that is how we like it! The two most covered Chicago songs of all time were Chicago’s first two number one hits, both written by Peter Cetera: The Grammy award winning “If You Leave Me Now” from the 1976 Chicago X album, which I mentioned earlier, and “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” from the 1982 Chicago 16 album, which was co-written and produced by David Foster.

    In May of 1985, after 18 years with the band, Peter Cetera left Chicago for a solo career. Let’s just say that things got really ugly and Peter quit. It was like a divorce, as Peter would say, and that’s all I’m going to say about that because it’s none of my goddamn business. So, out walks Peter Cetera and in walks singer/songwriter and bass guitar player Jason Scheff, the son of Jerry Scheff, who was a bass guitar player for Elvis Presley. Jason Scheff has been with Chicago for over 25 years now and he has written 19 songs for the band’s last 7 studio albums. Now, to tie this whole thing together, I have to take you back to 1981 because that was the year that singer/songwriter, keyboard player and guitarist, Bill Champlin, the lead singer of the late 60s and 70s psychedelic rock band, the Sons of Champlin, joined Chicago. During his 28 years with Chicago, Bill Champlin appeared on 9 of the band’s studio albums and he wrote 21 songs for the band and his husky voice was the perfect complement to both, Peter Cetera, on the top 5 hit “Hard Habit To Break,” from the 1984 Chicago 17 album, and Jason Scheff, on the top 5 hit “Will You Still Love Me” from the 1986 Chicago 18 album. Bill Champlin would go on to sing solo in 1988 on Chicago’s third number one hit, the power-ballad, “Look Away” from the Chicago 19 album.

    Chicago’s original drummer; its backbone, was Danny Seraphine. During his 25 years with Chicago, Danny Seraphine wrote 18 songs for the band and he played drums in a style that, ironically perhaps, can best be described as lyrical. To be a good drummer one must develop his own technique. Good timing and good taste is essential, but it is the technique that sets the truly great drummers apart from the rest, as Danny Seraphine once said. In 1973, Chicago brought in percussionist Laudir De Oliveira from Sergio Mendez. For seven years, Laudir De Oliveira added Latin flare to the band’s music and his percussion work was the perfect compliment to the drum work of Danny Seraphine. After 25 years with the band, let’s just say a little more drama ensued, and Danny Seraphine was replaced by drummer Tris Imboden, who has been with Chicago now for over 25 years.

    And that folks was Chicago. 50 years, 50 albums, 5 number one albums, 130 million albums sold worldwide, 50 hits, and 3 number one songs later, Chicago is being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Now I am going to present you with information that will make your head spin. This must be stated! According to Billboard chart statistics, Chicago is second only to the Beach Boys as the most successful American Rock and Roll band of all time, in terms of both albums and singles. The number one charting Rock and Roll band of the 1970′s on both the Billboard Top 40 Albums Chart and the Billboard 200 Albums Chart was Chicago! But number one overall was none other than (who else) Elton John! Yeah, that’s right, Chicago couldn’t top Elton John. And now, ladies and gentlemen, the list of the Top 4 charting Rock And Roll bands of all-time on both, the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, and the Billboard 100 Singles Chart. They just happen to be the same four bands on both lists, so I’m only going to say this once. Are you ready?! I said, are you ready?! Wait, let me get into my dramatic announcer voice. Number 01. The Beatles! Number 02. The Rolling Stones! Number 03. The Beach Boys! And at Number 04., Chicago! And in case you are wondering who’s at number 05., it’s The Bee-Gees! And that says it all right there folks! And up until tonight, Chicago was the only band on those lists who had not been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame yet. And you know what’s funny? First, a Chicago politician named Barack Obama is elected the first black President of the United States of America in 2008. Then, in 2010, the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks win their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, but their first Stanley Cup since 1961, the year of Barack Obama’s birth. Then, what do you know, Chicago, the band, is finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 20??, during a Barack Obama presidency, but Chicago the band isn’t black, but they did play Rock and Roll, which stems from the blues, which is the music of black people as Jann Wenner said at the 2008 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony in reference to the induction of Little Walter. Well, you know what they say, things always happen in threes, but I sense a conspiracy! All I have left to say is that it’s about fckng time Chicago got inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame because this is Chicago mthrfckrs! This isn’t Boston or Kansas, if you know what I mean! So, without any further ado, ladies and gentlemen, CHICAGO!!!

    THE CHICAGO INDUCTEES

    01. Walter Parazaider (1967-Present: saxophone; clarinet; flute; songwriter)
    02. Lee Loughnane (1967-Present: vocals; trumpet; flugelhorn; songwriter)
    03. James Pankow (1967-Present: vocals; trombone; songwriter)
    04. Robert Lamm (1967-Present: vocals; piano; keyboards; songwriter)
    05. Terry Kath (1967-1978: vocals; guitar; songwriter)
    06. Peter Cetera (1967-1985: vocals; bass guitar; songwriter)
    07. Danny Seraphine (1967-1991: drums; songwriter)
    08. Laudir De Oliveira (1973-1980: percussions)
    09. Bill Champlin (1981-2009: vocals; keyboards; guitar; songwriter)
    10. Jason Scheff (1985-Present: vocals; bass guitar; songwriter)

  5. I completely agree with Roy. Compared to some of the most recent inductees, Chicago has more status, recognition and staying power than any of them. I first saw them in the late 1960′s when they were touring college campuses, and came to Athens, GA. They are still touring the country and selling albums compared to the one hit wonders that many of the recent inductees have had. Chicago & The Doobie Brothers should have been inducted long ago. Even my 2 kids grew up loving both of these groups. How many 12 yr. old boys in 2001 would love to listen to 25 or 6 to 4 when it came on the radio. Why they have not been inducted, has to be a very poor reason. I am 55 years old and can not listen to either of these bands enough. Long live “Chicago & Doobies”

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