Chicago, “Take a Chance” from ‘Hot Streets’ (1978): Saturdays in the Park

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In the wake of Terry Kath’s passing, Chicago was reeling. They brought in former Stephen Stills collaborator Donnie Dacus and, in hindsight, that has been derided as a poor fit. Judging this personnel decision through the lens of the present, however, is more than a little unfair to Dacus.

He was, of course, nothing like Terry Kath. If anything, one could even argue that Donnie Dacus was the “anti-Terry Kath.” But, at the time, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. Many have said that Terry was irreplaceable, and in that way adding someone so different in personality and style might have been the right move. Since no one could replace Terry Kath, why even bother trying? Instead, bring in someone completely different, someone who will put his own stamp on the material. Enter Donnie Dacus.

The first time I listened to 1978’s Hot Streets in its entirety from start to finish, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Given the state of Chicago in 1978, this album was far better than it had any business being. For all of the criticisms lodged over the years, I’d argue that Donnie Dacus was actually the right guitarist for Chicago at that moment. He was a breath of fresh air and a change of direction that the band desperately needed. He was also a shot of adrenaline that Chicago needed to get themselves past Terry Kath’s untimely passing.

“Take a Chance” is the first real glimpse the fans get at Donnie’s vocal abilities. He did some background vocals on earlier tracks, and his guitar work on “Alive Again” had him coming out swinging in full force. But “Take a Chance” shows a softer side of Donnie.

Those vocals further set him apart from his predecessor. Where Terry was deep and soulful, Donnie’s vocals had more of a crisp yearning to them. Using gambling metaphors in a love song wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking in the realm of pop music, but it was new to Chicago. The lyrics to “Take a Chance” were considerably different than anything Chicago had recorded before – or have recorded since. That being said, as strong and unique as they were, it was neither the lyrics nor Donnie’s vocals that made the song really stand out in the end.

The last 30-35 seconds act as a duet between the horn section, which is playing as one set of lungs, and Donnie’s exceptional guitar solo. Unfortunately, it quickly fades out to end things, but this section remains the real highlight of “Take a Chance.”

That horn/guitar chemistry makes a strong case for why Donnie Dacus was, in fact, the right guitarist for Chicago – at least at first. Unfortunately, there was a sharp drop in the quality of material from Hot Streets to Chicago 13, but in 1978 the stars aligned just right. For that brief moment in time, the Donnie Dacus/Chicago experiment not only worked, it worked exceptionally well.


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

Perplexio

Perplexio

Perplexio also maintains a stand-alone blog called The Review Revue, where he explores music, movies and books. He spearheaded 'Saturdays in the Park,' our weekly multi-writer, song-by-song series focused on the music of Chicago. Contact Something Else! at [email protected] reviews.com.
Perplexio
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