Chicago Did Hip Hop?!

Oh hell yeah, Chicago did Hip Hop!

The Stone of Sisyphus Rolls On…

Returning to roots is not always a bad thing. However, if you’re Chicago, and your record label doesn’t like change, then, well…your album gets shelved.

I received the Chicago album Stone of Sisyphus as a birthday present. When I received it, I only knew “The Pull,” and “Bigger Than Elvis.” As you know, that’s because I wrote previous articles for both songs. Needless to say, I was excited about this gift. As a nostalgia archaeologist (or “Digital Indiana Jones“), I was fully prepared to immerse myself in deeper meanings and unreleased 1990s glory in a 2000s world.

What I found was the cooler, better-sounding 1990s answer to 1979’s “Street Player,” “Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed.” And guess what, they tried disco, so why not…Hip Hop.

That’s right, Chicago did Hip Hop!

Chicago Did Hip Hop?!

Much of Stone of Sisyphus feels like an experimentation of formats. The album departs from the power ballad rabbit hole of the late 1980s. While some of that is represented here, Chicago isn’t beating us over the head with it. They’re embracing the ability to stretch their creative muscles, hence, “Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed.”

According to Robert Lamm:

When John McCurry and I were cutting the demo, I had the lyrics written, we had the track, and I never really sang a melody. I was just kind of riffing. The rhythm of the words was there, but the melody wasn’t. I went out into the studio to do a rough vocal, and McCurry pushed the talkback button and said, “Why don’t you rap it?” And we both started laughing: OK, let’s try that.

According to Bill Champlin:

I think the record company heard that [“Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed”] and went, ‘Wait a minute – white guys don’t do this.’ Simple as that. I told Robert I thought it was an awesome piece, but you’re running up against racial lines here. I think that’s the first time Robert’s crossed any of those lines in a good long while.

Of course, in 1993, Bill was experimenting with something far more epic than music…Hair, Party of one!

“Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed” combines the sound of then-contemporary Hip Hop music (commonly referred to as Rap during that time), with the sound of Chicago’s “rock with horns.” I haven’t heard anything quite like this since Tom Jones rapped his heart out. And hey, his career was on a resurgence, so it had to work for Chicago, right?

Having alleged sex appeal probably didn’t hurt either.

Looking for the Big Hit…

It matters if I like it, right?

Because I do!

Unlike the aforementioned Disco Disaster known as “Street Player,” this song actually works! It is fun, funky, and experimental to the hilt! The obvious “we’re having fun” vibe is present throughout. And this grouping of lyrics?

I read somewhere that religion is for people
Who want to stay out of hell
I was praying for a sign or a vision or a message
Till you been there you won’t get well
I was sitting in a room I’d never recognize it
With a picture before my eyes
I’ve been sleeping in the middle of the bed again
I’m not sure this qualifies

I’d say a helluva good drug was available when Robert Lamm wrote this song, but he was clean for quite a few years at this point.

That Chicago Hip Hop Song…

Robert Lamm co-penned “Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed” with songwriter John McCurry, who has also worked with Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, John Waite, Belinda Carlisle, Julian Lennon, Joss Stone, Katy Perry, The Jonas Brothers, and Elliott Yamin. Robert Lamm is responsible for the vocals.

Someone that is quite possibly even more white than Robert Lamm. And Tom Jones.

Walter Parazaider discussed the exploration of this untapped genre:

Robert was just exploring another genre, which we’d been doing since Day One. I hink the only things we haven’t covered are Dixieland and polkas, and give us long enough we’ll probably do that too.

 

Because when you’ve done Disco, Hip Hop, Rock, and Power Ballads, this is naturally the course you must take.

Naturally!

I have to give Lamm kudos – on an album that already was quite the experimental mix, this song definitely stands out. And while “standing out” isn’t always a good thing, this was A Good Thing. I’ll give that it sounds bizarre for someone who had never rapped before (read: a 40-something-year-old white guy who sang in Italian on “Saturday in the Park”) to attempt it, but Tom Jones did it, so why not Lamm? Credit where credit is due, this song was creative in its efforts.

The disco album, on the other hand, was selling out.

“Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed”

And now, the part of the article where I unleash the song on you!

Ladies and gentlemen, Chicago rapping about religion, love storms, and lying dormant in a selected spot on a specified sleeping area.

Upload via Chicago – Topic

So now, you can tell everyone about that time that Chicago did Hip Hop…and prove it to them!

Not that this comes up in those bar/pub quiz nights, but if it does…

Watch The Peanuts Gang Rocking Out To Chicago!

The Peanuts Gang rocking out to Chicago.

Yep, I’m officially seeking out reasons to write about Chicago.

(Insert Chicago Explanation Here)

I’ll state the obivous: I love Chicago, I’ve seen them in concert, and I write about them ALOT.

I love this song, that song, and such and such album. The concert from 1993 is a Hair Party. I have lukewarm feelings toward Bill Champlin and Peter Cetera (love their singing though!), and OMG have you heard that disco song?!

Anyway…

Who Knew The Peanuts Gang Sang…Like This?!

Now, we’ve always known the Peanuts gang (Good Old Chuck and the Group!) to sing Christmas songs. There was also that time in the 1980s where child actors with actual singing talent played the characters. Every special in the 1980s had musical numbers. The characters came a long way from their over-enunciating days in the 1960s.

But they never quite sang like Chicago.

Until now.

A few years ago, my dad shared this video on my Facebook timeline:

I was just getting into Chicago’s music (thanks I Heart Radio!), but I’d been into Peanuts for years.

This video, my friends, is the work of Garren Lazar. It is just one of several Chicago music videos he made, featuring the Peanuts gang.

Oh yes, there’s more!

“The Peanuts Gang…in the Park…”

Garren has done quite the job of matching mouth movments and the music. What results is nothing short of amazing!

Take, for instance, this song I’ve never heard before…

This one EVERYBODY has heard!

Do you know what time it is?

…time to smile?

The flute solo that got stuck in my head for two days…

Seriously.

This lovely day in a certain open air place…I think it was some warm weather holiday…

This one, complete with all the feels…

I remember seeing this special as a teenager, and being sad. This song does not help!

That other song that signals a start…

I just wanna be…

And ANOTHER song I haven’t heard before!

All uploads via Garren Lazar

You laughed, you cried…you probably sang along. Don’t hide it!

But Wait, There’s More!

Turns out Garren Lazar has a huge playlist of singing Peanuts Gang videos, not exclusive to Chicago music!

Seriously, check this out!

Uploads via Garren Lazar

Thank you so much, Garren Lazar, for sharing you talent for making You Tube music videos a true art form! :-)

Have You Heard Chicago’s “The Pull”?

Uh oh, guess who discovered – or rather, got pull-ed in the direction of – another Chicago song?

Gee, let me guess…

The Stone of Sisyphus Keeps on Rolling…

Several months ago, I wrote about an unreleased (until 2008) song penned by Jason Scheff, and performed by Chicago called “Bigger Than Elvis.” The song was a dedication piece to Jason’s father, Jerry Scheff, who was a bassist for Elvis Presley. “Bigger Than Elvis” was set to be released as part of the group’s ill-fated 1994 album Stone of Sisyphus. 

The album was to be a return to Chicago’s personal, cultural, and musical roots, and not a strive for hits. The album was completed in secrecy (even from their label), in order to emphasize Chicago’s creative sovereignty, set for a March 1994 release, but suddenly rejected (it was initially well-received) from Warner Bros. Records. This resulted in the album going unreleased for fifteen years, and Chicago leaving the label altogether.

The 1993 “Greek Theater”Concert

Prior to the album’s ultimate rejection, there was one song that made the set list for Chicago’s 1993 Greek Theater concert. It was a song that I had not actually heard before, nor had I seen any concert footage from the 1990s. But I can tell you this: the concert is a total hair party, 1990s-era Chicago is as awesome as any era Chicago, and those horns…fabulous.

Bill Champlin’s hair. That hair is everything you’d expect in glorious hair.

I had total hair envy watching this concert. Can you see why?

Former Member of the Hair Party, bassist, and lead vocalist Jason Scheff had an arguably strong voice that contributed to the group from the mid-1980s and on through the 1990s, right up until his departure in 2016. It didn’t matter who wrote it or if Peter Cetera was the original voice, he could handle any song with a true performer’s glory.

He was the only one without long hair.

Even the horn section had Mandatory Mullets!

“The Pull” Gets Its Big Push in Concert

The 1993 tour was an obvious attempt to promote the group’s upcoming album, and they deviated from the usual set list to play one of the songs from that album. Perhaps this one had the “marketability” they were going for.

I’m not 100% sure, but I do know this – the song was quite catchy, and very reminiscent of mid-1980s Chicago.

Take a look at this amazing video of Jason Scheff giving his all to “The Pull.”

Uploaded by Mr Joe Lynch

Those horns, that sound, this is revived-in-the-1980s-era Chicago. This is everything this group was amazing for and yet, this (and the album it rode in on) didn’t see the light of day for fourteen years. It took ten albums and fourteen years (and Rhino Records) to release this amazing song and album.

The lyrics in “The Pull” tell listeners that no matter what, no matter how far one goes, one’s roots (and past) are always ready to draw one back.

It is truly a powerful song.

Departures, Arrivals, and Stones Finally Getting Their Push

Unfortunately, with the album’s unreleased status, it was the final album for guitarist Dawayne Bailey, whose contract was not renewed following the not release of Stone of Sisyphus. Bailey had been with Chicago during the ushering in of the “new era” in 1986.

But even with his departure, Chicago lucked out in the end…

You guys know how I feel about Keith Howland.

Past Exhibits:

Old Days, Good Times Some Didn’t Have! – Hear Keith Howland sing the song Peter Cetera hated to sing!

Christmas with Horns – Howland’s version of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” is awesome!

Eventually, Sisyphus did succeed in pushing that stone – Rhino Records released the album as Chicago’s thirty-second album on June 17, 2008. Because when something is good enough, it will eventually get heard.

You can pretty much say someone had “The Pull” to get it released!

Get it, “The Pull…”

Ok, fine.

OMG hair!

Oh, and if you really want to see the full concert, it is AMAZING!

Uploaded by MyyyTunes Concerts

David Foster Is Playing With Fire…And Chicago’s Horn Section!

Because David Foster + Chicago Horn Section = AWESOMENESS!

The Hit Man Hits The Wallet!

Ah, the famous “I got your money!” look.

A few years ago, I gifted my mom with every David Foster CD I could find. From the glory of the Hit Man concert DVD/CD combos (there are two different concerts), to River of Love, and even The Symphony Sessions (an album I wasn’t sure she’d like, but was something I really loved hearing on I Heart Radio), my mom and I would bond over listening to Foster’s piano-playing prowess (so much alliteration!!!!), and the ability to make any song an epic listening experience!

One of the other albums I found during all the searches was actually Foster’s debut album, titled, simply (because only he can!), David Foster. For someone who spent his career up until that point writing songs and producing hits for other artists, Foster had only put out one album of his own work, The Best of Me, in 1983. This album, released in 1986, was a collaboration of Foster and the friends and people he had worked with previously. That was, my friends, a whole lotta people.

Friends and Associations

David Foster’s list of hits and production contributions is numerous and far-reaching. In the 1980s, he was (at least partially) responsible for giving Chicago the big comeback they needed following the disco disaster of 1979. So when Foster was ready to release his self-titled albm, he called on a few friends. Of which he has many.

Three of those friends just happen to be a trio (part of a larger band) hailing from the Windy City, who happen to be quite handy with brass instruments, backup vocals, and two of the three are responsible for the Street Player dance (begins at 3:00)…

Uploaded by saskatchawan

Oh that dance.

The trio Foster called upon to provide their horns are none other than James Pankow, Lee Loughnane, and Walter Parazaider, the horn section that gives Chicago that “rock with horns” thing they’re known for!

The song this triple threat provided their magic for was “Playing with Fire,” an amazing instrumental piece that also features drummer Tris Imboden (pre-Chicago), who is half of this awesome duel…

Uploaded by bratalishus

This song is one of several in a great instrumental lineup that this album offers. I should note that I covered tapDANCE (yes, that is how it is listed on the album) in a previous Retroist article. I’ll have to cover the rest of this album at another time, but for now, please enjoy the music, by clicking play!

Uploaded by David Foster – Topic

Old Days…Good Times Some Didn’t Have!

I’ve written alot of Chicago song-related pieces in my nostalgic days.

I may have a problem. And if that problem is that I appreciate great music, then so be it!

I actually got the idea to write this while I was sick last week, which doesn’t seem like much of an excuse when I’m always penning Chicago articles, but I figured a preface wasn’t such a bad idea.

Anyways…

A Chicago State of Mind…

This particular “dealing with a sinus infection” day involved watching something totally different from my usual sick day viewing (which is usually Mystery Science Theater 3000). And yet, this is not so different at all. I decided I REALLY wanted to watch my Chicago In Chicago Blu-Ray for the second time. Yes, only the second time since I bought it. I blame watching that Chicago documentary again.

Because nothing quite says “taking care of sinus pain” quite like blaring trumpets, don’t you think?

Old Days, Young Voices

While watching it, I spotted a detail that I must have shuffled aside amid clashing thoughts and randomness the first time I watched. Maybe it is because I listen to the studio albums and the original singers are on those albums, so it can be forgiven.

During the portion of the concert where the guys perform “Old Days,” I realized that the vocals are not that of Jason Scheff, who coverd the Peter Cetera vocals for 31 years, but instead are the vocals of this guy.

“That guy” is Keith Howland, the lead guitarist and vocalist for Chicago since joining the group in 1995. He arrived to audition without an invitation, got a chance meeting with (now former) lead bassist and vocalist Jason Scheff, and was offered the job on the same day of his last-minute audition. He’s still with the group today, though in the first few years, he was not a lead vocalist. That chance came when he sang “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” for the group’s second Christmas album in 2003.

One thing I was not aware of (and obviously I paid attention to this at the concert) was that he can cover Peter Cetera vocals like a boss. That’s right – Jason Scheff may have had similar vocals to Cetera, but Howland has an impressive sound as well, kind of a rock sound that adds a sense of “newness.” One of those songs he sings in concert is “Old Days,” and he adds a strong, younger voice to it. Keith Howland, I found out, took turns singing this song with Jason Scheff until Scheff left the group, which means they “job shared” the Cetera vocals. Imagine that decision: “Oh, you can sing it tonight, and I’ll sing it tomorrow!”

Sidebar #1: Color me weird, but I have wondered what conversations about stuff like that sound like. Do they think it is as mundane to figure out who will be covering a song, as it is to make day-to-day work decisions like us regular people do everyday?

Do I think too much, and ask too many questions? Perhaps.

Back on track…

This is the video from the concert Blu-Ray, Chicago in Chicago. I think you’ll find it as impressive as I do.

Uploaded by Music on TV1

Keith, do you even know who Howdy Doody is, bro?

Good Times I Remember…

The song was penned in 1975 by trombonist James Pankow (the one who doesn’t mince words on the Chicago documentary), and first appeared on the group’s 1975 album Chicago VIII. You’re obviously familiar with the original version…

Uploaded by exclusivevids 1000

Sidebar #2: The 1970s were a magical time, weren’t they?

Pankow describes the song as a “nostalgic piece about his childhood,” as said on the original Chicago website:

“It touches on key phrases that, although they date me, are pretty right-on in terms of images of my childhood. ‘The Howdy Doody Show’ on television and collecting baseball cards and comic books.”

I also love how Pankow touches on visuals of the time, describing drive-in movies and a time that is gone away. Considering that he wasn’t even thirty years old in 1975 (he would have been twenty-seven, going on twenty-eight in 1975), James Pankow was obviously an old soul for nostalgia.

Does that sound like someone else you know?

Good Times Someone Else Didn’t Have…

Peter Cetera was the song’s original vocalist, and while he sings it with the same passion he sings everything else with, it turns out he wasn’t fond of singing “Old Days” live. The reason, you ask? He hated Howdy Doody. To that, I say “…and? When someone writes a song, but you’re the lead vocalist and the song’s composer asks YOU to sing it, you sing the song!”

And besides, when it is your job, you do the parts you don’t like. You’re getting paid, after all!

I wonder how Cetera would feel knowing that two much younger guys took over a song they probably don’t have a frame of reference for, yet sing like nostalgic old souls.

I had a really hard time finding a clip of Jason Scheff singing the song that wasn’t a well-mastered live version, but You Tube people are the best kind, especially when they post their concert videos:

Uploaded by Lockbxca

I don’t know about you, but regardless of who sings it, or that I don’t relate to the references made in the song, I feel nostalgic no matter what.

Effective songwriting? You bet!

This is hardly Allison’s first Chicago-themed article. She has so many more!

Chicago Did Disco?!

Chicago Proclaims Someone Else is “Bigger Than Elvis”

Will You Still Love the Changing Face of Chicago?

Hard to Say I’m Sorry (That You May Never Have Heard this Chicago Song Before!)

Christmas With Horns