Me and my pal Adam take a deep dive into Chicago (the band) but not Chicago (the city). We also take a run at Sha Na Na, the Woodstock 1994 PPV broadcast, David Foster, Loose Joints and more.
Adam: “Feeling Stronger Everyday” by Chicago is an awesome song and a current “ear worm”!
Cam: Such a stark transition for that band. The gangly jazz rock to total Top 40 CHFI power ballads sung by a wuss who I bet was actually pretty tough.
A: Listening to Chicago’s Greatest Hits, I am again reflecting on just how different this music is from what I first learned to be Chicago. I wonder what the change was due to? Clearly, there’s a producer’s hand in the way that 1980s music sounds: “Hard Habit to Break”, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry|, etc.” It’s a cleaner, sanitized 1980s sound, I guess: synths and piano, big drums. Cetera’s voice sounds like it’s gone through a mixing panel in some way. The early stuff sounds like people singing into imperfect microphones. This is like Toto’s “Africa”. Going to look up the answers to my questions…
A: Least surprising answer ever: David Foster was the producer to relegate the horn section and crank out the power ballads.Oh course it is now that I listen to it.
A: So let’s say you’re in Chicago, and it seems like your time has past. You’ve been dropped by Columbia and then, this new Canadian producer comes along. You put out this song, your biggest seller of all-time, vastly outselling anything to that point with a sound so different from the band’s sound. This power ballad tripe is the thing you’ll be known for forever, leaving little kids perplexed by who the hell the Chicago guys on the Greatest Hits album were. with that in mind, this song rocks…
C: Chicago had a totally fucked career arch. Admittedly, I don’t know a ton about the band but a great example of a 1960s/early 1970s outfit being totally modified to appeal to the two most lucrative demos of the 1980s: (1) aging baby boomers. (2) little kids. In other words, you and I plus our parents. Their 1980s songs aren’t necessarily bad but are really a weird microcosms of sounds made to not alienate anybody: the fake atmospherics of 10cc, the big ringing choruses of a Def Leppard or Twisted Sister, the inoffensive vocals of a Christopher Cross. All half baked with platitudes as not to spook any listeners since, y’know,, “Saturday in the Park” was a bit too edgy in a ’72 callback. Who the (eff) knows just WHAT the members of Chicago were doing in the park when it felt like it was the goddam 4th of July?!?
C: Is it fair to suggest Lighthouse were the Chicago of Canada???
C: Another theory: If Peter Cetera sung “November Rain” instead of Axl, could that have been an early 1990s Chicago track rather than a Guns N’ Roses track? Think about it. Stylistically and production-wise, “November Rain” and “You’re the Inspiration” aren’t that different.
C: Know the track “Stay the Night”?
C: This sounds like 1980s Chicago trying hard to sound like early 1970s Chicago but they’ve just been totally castrated by the era. A very hollow, half-baked song.
“Street Player”, on the other hand, is awesome! A total “makes sense” disco crossover. This totally works and doesn’t sound forced at all. This isn’t the Stones’ “Miss You” at all. Chicago meant it and they did it. Simple.
C: Personally, I think there’s a ton of disco that is wildly underrated artistically speaking. I’m largely just blowing smoke since I don’t know a ton about the era but a song like Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face?” is just great. I think the Nile Rodgers/Daft Punk tune from a couple of years ago made people revisit a lot of these old dance floor hits, which is cool. It’s glue for a lot of semi-weird stuff that hit the Top 40 and/or got notice pre- and post-. Yes, Chicago included but also Talking Heads, some Blondie, a very specific Stones period, Bowie (at times), New Order (if you think about it), early techno, beat-heavy NYC rap from 1982, 1983, 1984, Public Image Ltd, music from video games, etc. For sphere of influence, overall, I’d like to hear people talk less about Kraftwerk and more about disco.
C: This is another favourite of mine in the same “convo”: “Love is the Message”. This was a pretty massive hit but still a bit of a WTF for the Top 40. Just an absolutely fantastic tune and so expressive for an instrumental. The awesome horn-filled chorus. Speaks volumes with zero words.
A: That [“Stay the Night”] song and video are irredeemable. Awful.
A: I had no idea “Street Player” was that song! The bomb! Amazing. Disco Chicago!
A: I like disco. At least some of it. It’s funk sped up, mixed with classical arrangements. “Get Lucky” was a perfect song. I love that tune! Last year, we welcomed a new guy on-site at work by playing “Get Lucky” as many times as we could before he said something. We got to 12 plays in a row before he said something.
A: Have I told you how much I like the War on Drugs album?
C: Yeah, I know we’ve talked about it a bit. There’s some mid-period Dire Straits and Petty in there, right?
A: I signed up for Apple Must over the holiday. Actually listening to the album, not just under the pressure. Yes. Love Over Gold-era straits! I’ve figured out that I’m a bit of a hypocrite or at least inconsistent about derivative music. The Sheepdogs? Rip-off artists. But when it’s done in the same spirit of the music, it’s more palatable. The Black Crowes are amongst my favorites and are so Zeppelin. On … Money Maker, it’s unmistakable. And yet, it bothers me when it’s lazy.
C: That’s a great topic!! What do you think of Roxy Music? I love their weird 1972-1975 intro (but not in a snobby “Oh, they were more interested in the Brian Eno days” type fashion). I quite like their easy listening “More than This”/”Avalon” era stuff too. Bryan Ferry is the coolest.
A: I loved “More Than This and “Avalon”. “Take a Chance with Me”, too. Ferry did a great Dylan cover album. There’s a GREAT “Positively 4th Street” on there.
A: Have I also told you how much I hate the term dad Rock? Fuck that. How dismissive is that. We called it classic rock. We were reverential. They’re dismissive.
C: Ever seen [Roxy Music’s] cover of “Like a Hurricane”? Strangely effective. Repurposed with hand drums, synth, sax and back-up singers.
A: OK, getting back to Chicago. According to the radio ads, Chicago has sold more than 100 million album. And I was talking to my mom (who loves Chicago and introduced us to it as kids) about the change in Chicago’s sound. She says “you know what, I’ve never noticed the difference before.” What???
C: Oh mom!
A: She also prefers bubble gum Beatles to serious artist Beatles. She was there at the time. Didn’t like their turn as much as we love it now.
C: Did you see some dude from Sha Na Na died recently? That was a weird band. Kind of the Village People crossed with The Stooges? Very strange they were one of the last bands to play at Woodstock. They represent something I’m very interested in in music: the point when revivalists emerge, people start celebrating the past. Sha Na Na: playing Woodstock and playing 1950s “classics”, sorta tongue in cheek but not really. We weren’t alive to verify but can only imagine they were a total WTF for the long hairs at the time. Stoned hippies, I assume, didn’t want to hear what was happening “down at the Hop”.
A: Bowser? And when they played “At the Hop” at Woodstock, they were dressed as 50s greasers and everything!
C: It’s like they were trying to kill the 1960s by bringing back the 1950s. I feel like I need to watch Woodstock again. Saw it as a little kid (didn’t make sense), maybe again in early 20s (liked some of it but just seemed old) and maybe 7-8 years ago when I was exclusively listening to Kinks, Zombies, Van Morrison, Animals, surf, Pet Sounds, etc. Seems like w/o that movie, the entire trajectory of 1960s music would’ve been remembered differently. Gimme Shelter put the dark spin on things but Woodstock had just about everything. The freaky stuff, mud, drugs, violence (the Who pushing Abbie Hoffman around, etc). It will never stop being mythologized. In a class w/ Kurt Cobain, 2pac and Biggie, the “assassination” of John Lennon.. shit that transcends music in the culture.
C: Curious… do you remember the PPV airing of Woodstock 1994? At 16, that seemed really important culturally. A moment. In retrospect, it wasn’t really. Later, got the double cassette from the BMG Record Club.
C: Aside: I listened to the Marc Maron podcast with Richard Thompson recently. RT went silent when Maron asked about Knopfler. I get It’s been suggested a lot over the years that Thompson copped Mark’s style. Even though RT greatly pre-dated him. Quite strange. A good listen if you can carve out the time. Not super familiar with Thompson but seems like somebody I’d dig if I gave it a chance.
A: I was at camp for Woodstock 1994 and I remember seeing stuff about it in the paper. Love Woodstock. Got the four disc box set when it was released. Price Club CDs. Best deals around for good stuff.