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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