Chicago, “Winter Wonderland” from Chicago Christmas: What’s It Gonna Be Santa? (2003)

In 1998, veteran horn rock band Chicago released their first, very successful Christmas album, “Chicago XXV.” Six new Christmas tracks were recorded in 2003 with veteran producer Phil Ramone (Chicago’s Hot Streets and Chicago 13) and these were added to the original material of XXV.

The new collection was released in 2003 as What’s It Gonna Be Santa?. The album title comes from lead guitarist Keith Howland’s reworking of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas.” I’ll leave that review to one of my colleagues.

The Christmas collections are unique in that they feature lead vocals by everyone in the band on at least one track except drummer Tris Imboden, woodwinds specialist Walt Parazaider and trombonist Jimmy Pankow. Another unusual feature is that for the first time since 1974’s Chicago VII, individual credits are provided for each track (who plays what, who arranged, who sings lead, etc.).

What this proves is the band took no chances with this project and pretty much played ALL the instruments and came up with the song arrangements.

At the time of this album’s recording, keyboardist/vocalist Robert Lamm was the only original main lead vocalist (of three) still with the band, which is true to this day. His version of “Winter Wonderland” leads off this second Christmas CD. Some tasty guitar work from Keith Howland leads into a gentle horn section line.

When Lamm begins to croon the melody, it’s a total surprise as he’s inverted and jazzed up the melodic line and the chord changes into something totally different, but in a good way. The often corny way this song is rendered is completely tossed out the window. Lamm’s mellow baritone croon is a perfect fit for this re-imagining of a holiday classic tune. The horns provide some tasty counterpoint to the lead vocal throughout the track and now ex-bandmember Bill Champlin provides the perfect background vocal arrangement.

All in all, it’s a great way to kick off this seasonal collection.

‘Saturdays in the Park’ is a multi-writer, song-by-song examination of the music of Chicago. Find it here on Something Else! each Saturday.

Bob Helme

Bob Helme

Bob Helme, a contributor to our weekly song-by-song series on Chicago called Saturdays in the Park, is a father of two with an MBA who still plays jazz part-time. Contact Something Else! at
Bob Helme