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…

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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8FcJ6f3xJ4

Uploaded by MyyyTunes Concerts