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Chicago (band)
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Chicago (band)

Chicago is a rock band that formed in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois. Well known for being one of the first (and, indeed, one of the few) rock bands to make extensive use of horns and for producing a number of hit ballads, Chicago had a steady stream of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

The band was formed when a group of DePaul University music students began playing a series of late-night jams at clubs on and off campus. They added more members, eventually growing to seven players, and went professional as a cover band called The Big Thing. The band featured an unusual and unusually versatile line-up of instrumentalists including saxophonist Walter Parazaider, trombonist James Pankow, and trumpet player Lee Loughnane along with more traditional rock instruments. While gaining some success as a cover band, the group worked on original songs and in 1968 moved to Los Angeles, California under the guidance of their friend and manager James William Guercio, and signed with Columbia Records. Upon release of their first record in early 1969, the band took a new name, Chicago Transit Authority (the name would almost immediately be changed to simply Chicago after the real CTA objected).

The band's first album, the eponymously titled Chicago Transit Authority, was an audacious debut: a sprawling double album (unheard of for a rookie band) that included jazzy instrumentals, extended jams featuring latin percussion, and experimental, feedback-laden guitar abstraction. The album also included a number of pop-rock gems (several of which would later be released as singles and eventually become rock radio staples), and began to receive heavy airplay on the fledgling FM radio band.

The band's popularity exploded with the release of their second album, another double-LP set, which included several top-40 hits. This second album, unofficially titled Chicago II, was the group's breakthrough album. The centerpiece track was a 15-minute suite composed by James Pankow called "Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon" (the structure of this suite was inspired by Pankow's love for classical music). The suite yielded two top ten hits, "Make Me Smile", and "Colour My World". Among the other tracks on the album: keyboardist Robert Lamm's "25 Or 6 To 4" (sung by bass player Peter Cetera), and the lengthy "It Better End Soon". With that, the pattern had been set: the band, ever prolific, recorded and released music at a rate of more than two LP discs per year (always titled with the band name and a roman numeral) from their debut in 1969 through the 1970s.

Some fans say a low point of the group's early career came when they released a quadruple-album live set, At Carnegie Hall, Vols. 1-4 (Chicago IV)(consisting of music from their first three albums). The performances and sound quality were judged sub-par; in fact, one group member went on record to say that "the horn section sounded like kazoos". The group bounced back from this misstep in 1972 with their first single-disc release, Chicago V, a diverse set that reached number one on both the Billboard pop and jazz albums charts and yielded the radio hit "Saturday In the Park".

Other successful albums and singles followed in each of the succeeding years. 1973's Chicago VI also topped the charts bouyed by hits "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and "Just You and Me". Chicago VII, the band's double-disc 1974 release, featured the Cetera-composed "Wishing You Were Here" (sung by lead guitarist Terry Kath, with background vocals by The Beach Boys). The next year's release, Chicago VIII featured the political allegory "Harry Truman" and the nostalgaic "Old Days". But for all their effort, none of their singles went to number one until the group's tenth album (Chicago X) in 1976, when Cetera's slow ballad "If You Leave Me Now" went to the top of the charts.

1978 was a tragic and transitional year for the band. The year began with an acrimonius split with long-time manager Guercio and the death of Terry Kath of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Later in the year the band would release Hot Streets, their first album without Kath and Guercio and their first album with a title rather than a roman numeral (they would return to the old naming scheme immediately afterward, resorting to arabic numbering only when roman titles became unwieldy). The release also marked a move somewhat away from the jazz-rock direction favored by Kath and towards more pop songs and ballads. This second phase of the band's career lasted through the 1980s with a new producer, David Foster, and again topping the charts with "Hard To Say I'm Sorry/Get Away" (from Chicago 16). The following album, Chicago 17, became the biggest selling album of the band's history, with two more Top Ten singles, "You're The Inspiration" and "Hard Habit To Break".

From time to time, other artists contributed to Chicago recordings. For example, Al Green guested on a bonus track on the "Chicago VI" CD, while The Bee Gees guested on a track off of "Hot Streets". Chicago itself guested on a Paul Anka song, "Hold Me 'Til The Morning Comes".

The group also contributed to movie soundtracks, such as "Two Of A Kind" and "Days Of Thunder".

But the conflict between Peter Cetera's style of composing and those of the rest of the group caused Cetera to leave the band in 1985 for a solo career (he topped the charts with the "Karate Kid Part II" theme song "The Glory Of Love" and a duet with Amy Grant, "Next Time I Fall (In Love)").

By the end of the decade, the group planned and recorded a concept album, Stone Of Sisyphus. Their record company at the time, Warner Bros Records, was unhappy with the finished result, and thus the album was never released officially, although in succeeding years bootleg recordings of the album have surfaced worldwide (selected tracks from the unreleased album have since been released on a compilation greatest hits CD box set).

During the 1990s, the band's popularity began to decline, and although lead singers have changed from time to time (ranging from Bill Champlin to Jason Scheff), they continue to record and tour. And as a new century turned, the band sold their entire recorded output to Rhino Records (after years with Columbia Records as well as their own label).

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