Gimme Five: Songs where Chicago, well, sucked

It would be easy enough to fill this list with songs from Chicago’s turn-of-the-1990s slickster years. And just as easy to heap scorn on their post-Terry Kath slump in the late 1970s. Instead, we did both.

WHEN GOOD BANDS DO BAD THINGS
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Presenting the times when Chicago simply didn’t make us smile … the times when their music made us feel sicker every day … the times when we were wishing they weren’t there …

OK, you get the picture: Here are the times when Chicago, well, sucked:

No. 5
“25 OR 6 TO 4,” 18 (1986):

This would be higher on the list except then-newcomer Jason Scheff actually sounds good performing it. The song was rearranged in his key and range. He sounds better singing this version than he’s ever sounded singing the original version live. That being said, the original is a classic. If it ain’t broke … don’t fix it. Especially not if “fixing it” involves MIDI sequencing and drum machines.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Danny Seraphine discusses his solo version of “25 or 6 to 4,” and older Chicago favorites like “Lowdown,” “Hard Habit to Break,” and “Take Me Back to Chicago.”]

No. 4
“YOU COME TO MY SENSES,’ TWENTY-1 (1991)

Chicago claims Twenty-1 was recorded for the suits at WB/Reprise. It’s largely bland and pedestrian but at least the horns are a bit more present than they had been on 17, 18 or 19. (20 was a greatest-hits compilation). Unfortunately, the band recorded a musical abomination known as “You Come to My Senses” and then they lost their own senses when they decided to perform it live on the Arsenio Hall show. It was the one and only time any song from this album was ever performed live. It’s a case of one song “killing” an entire album.

[SOMETHING ELSE INTERVIEW: Bill Champlin makes an impassioned defense for the David Foster-era of Chicago, saying he “really put some life back in that band.”]

No. 3
“FELIZ NAVIDAD,” XXV (1998):

I dig the original version and was actually excited when I heard Chicago would be covering it. Then I heard Chicago’s cover. The original is a fun and catchy Latin-tinged Christmas song. Chicago’s arrangement is a somber, melancholy, funeral dirge. Note to Chicago: Feliz Navidad translates to “Merry Christmas.” Christmas is a holiday celebrating Jesus’s birth or — if one is more of a crass commercialist — a celebration of a mythic over-generous chubby fella in a bright red suit. Did Santa die and the rest of us didn’t get the memo?

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Travel back now to those thrilling days of roman numerals and Terry Kath. Here are five hand-picked sides from Chicago’s pre-guilty pleasure era.]

No. 2
“BIRTHDAY BOY,” XIV (1980):

Danny Seraphine wrote or co-wrote some brilliant gems for Chicago — “Take Me Back to Chicago,” “Little One,” and “Street Player” were all pretty solid. But with this clunker one wonders if his creative tank had run completely dry. He redeemed himself some with “Sonny Think Twice” on XVI, but even as good as that track was it couldn’t completely erase the memory of how bad this song was.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Legendary jazz-rock drummer Danny Seraphine talks about the beginnings of Chicago, and the end, then how he finally emerged with a new band, California Transit Authority.]

No. 1
“WINDOW DREAMIN’,” XIII (1979):

Chicago’s nadir. A classic case of either too much coke going up the nostrils or too many hands in the cookie jar. Or, likely, more than a little of each. I’m pretty sure this was/is Walt Parazaider’s only songwriting credit for Chicago ever. There’s a reason for that. This entire list could have been comprised of songs from this album but I didn’t want to clog the list with Chicago XIII songs: “Window Dreamin,'” in my humble opinion, was the worst of the worst on Chicago’s worst and least salvageable album.

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Perplexio

Perplexio also maintains a stand-alone blog called The Review Revue, where he explores music, movies and books. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Perplexio

    “You Get It Up” and “Skin Tight” were in the running for the list, what kept them off was that the horn charts on both songs are actually kind of fun and catchy and ALMOST make up for some rather atrocious lyrics and in the case of “Skin Tight” some of the worst vocals Peter Cetera has ever recorded (aside from the PC Moblee atrocities on XIII)

  • S. Victor Aaron

    “No Tell Lover” was pretty darn awful, too.

    • Perplexio

      I actually like “No Tell Lover.”

      “The Greatest Love on Earth” on “Hot Streets” however is painful to listen to. I think a kitten dies every time someone listens to that one.

    • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

      “No Tell Lover” = “Feliz Navidad,” without the Spanish lyrics and Yuletide theme. Which, of course, makes “Feliz” so very much worse.

  • Marty

    Can we include “Glory of Love” on the list even though it was a Cetera solo work? I mean, it was so bad that it needs to be included on a list somewhere.

    • Perplexio

      I actually like “Glory of Love.” Peter may sing saccharine love songs but at least he sings them because he wants to be singing them. There’s conviction in his vocals.

      When Chicago did ballads after Peter left they were trying to score a hit. Their post Peter ballads are limp and lifeless and lack any conviction or emotion.

  • Marty

    Wow. I’m not sure I had ever heard the remake of 25 or 6 to 4. That song and video are everything that was bad about the mid- to late 1980’s.

    • Perplexio

      As a child of the 80s, unfortunately, the remake was my first exposure to “25 or 6 to 4.” I heard that before I ever heard the original. I liked it at the time… 1988 or so but after my tastes matured and I heard the original… there was no comparison.

      • Marty

        It sounds like Depeche Mode hooked up with Peter Cetera’s less vocally-talented brother and the producer of Chicago’s mid-1980s stuff, picked up a couple out-of-work trombonists, recycled a guitar riff and some sound effects from pretty much any mid-1980s song, threw it into a mixing program of some sort, and this was the result. I mean, toward the end, you even have a guitar riff that sounds like it is straight out of a 1980s Michael Jackson song.

        • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

          Marty, there’s a reason for that last part: The guest guitarist on the ’86 version, Steve Lukather, was also on ‘Thriller.’

          • Perplexio

            Mike Landau and Buzz Feiten also played on Chicago 18. But I’m pretty sure you’re right and that Lukather did the guitar solo on the “25 or 6 to 4″ remake. Toto was in the same studio right down the hall working on Fahrenheit when Chicago was recording 18. Jason Scheff mentioned in an interview awhile back that Chicago actually invited Toto into the studio to listen to the “25 or 6 to 4″ remake after they recorded it. Apparently Jeff Porcaro’s reaction to it was, “That’s bold!” (and not necessarily in a good way).

    • http://thissitesucks.com joey2go

      Since you are obviously an anti-80s person, your opinions about it are anything but objective. It’s hard to take you seriously.

  • Ben Smith

    I would actually put this list in reverse. Window Dreaming is a guilty pleasure, and hardly the worst on this list. Birthday Boy has some awkward lyrics, but good production to makes it listenable. You Come to My Senses is arguably the worst song Chicago ever recorded, but to remake the classic 25 or 6 to 4 like… that, well, that should guarantee it a #1 spot as the worst Chicago song ever.

    There were some good songs on 18, what were they thinking releasing 25/6-4 as a single with a high production video – especially when it was redone in such a polarizing manner (perhaps if they redid it in an 80s rock or metal style rather than a techno pop style, they could have gotten away with it)?! At most, it should have remained an album track, if not just a B-side to at least give it some rarity value.

  • Don

    I’m so glad that “Free Form Guitar” was left off the list. Terry Kath contributed immeasurably to the band, Chicago, despite the loaded gun fetish.

  • http://www.positivelisteningradio.com Patty Molloy

    There were far worse songs than” Window Dreamin”. “Vote for Me” or “Critic’s Choice” are two that make you want to run for the antacid.

  • Louis

    Anything after their 2nd album!