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:
“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.”]
“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.”]
“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.]
“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.]
“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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