Wednesday, February 2, 2011

CHICAGO, Circa 1978 (Part 3)

Original Lead Guitarist ... and some would say the heart and soul of the band ... Terry Kath was gone. Producer / Manager / Mentor James William Guercio was gone. The rest of Chicago was not only trying to figure out their next direction ... but also deciding whether they would even stay together at all.

Fortunately, their love of music prevailed ... several of their musical peers ultimately convinced the band that they should go on ... and that this is what Terry Kath would have wanted. (Ironically, Kath was reportedly working on a solo album ... with now-departed Guercio producing ... at the time of his untimely death.)

So the band regrouped ... and new guitarist / vocalist Donnie Dacus was added to the fold as Terry Kath's replacement. (Dacus brought a little bit of a Peter Frampton look with him when he arrived ... as well as some renewed, youthful, jubilant enthusiasm for making music.)

Think about it ... Chicago had released eleven albums over the past ten years ... and most of these were multi-disk sets. They were feeling a little bit stale and road-fatigued, not to mention bummed about the loss of their original guitarist, especially under the rather unusual and unfortunate circumstances surrounding that loss.

The first track they recorded for their twelfth LP would go on to become its lead-off single, "Alive Again". Some would say it was a direct tribute to Terry ... or perhaps to their new (excuse the pun) beginnings ... but there was an excitement to this track not heard on a Chicago single in quite a while. I loved it the first time I heard it and rushed out to buy the LP as soon as it was released. ("Alive Again" ultimately peaked at #13 in Cash Box Magazine and #14 in Billboard.)

The LP was called "Hot Streets", which in an of itself depicted yet ANOTHER departure for the born-again band. This would be the first album NOT assigned a number. (Prior to this release, Chicago's albums ... after their "Chicago Transit Authority" debut ... were officially called albums "II thru XI"!) Also gone was the gigantic logo that adorned the front cover of every other album up through this date. (Some have said that the Chicago logo is about as recognizable worldwide as the logo for Coca-Cola ... as such, the band really had no "visual" identity ... they were, in fact, the epitome of the nameless, faceless band ... constantly on the radio, scoring hit after hit after hit ... but stuck in an "identity crisis" cycle that apparently was one of Terry Kath's haunting demons at the time of his death.) So, for the first time EVER, the members of the band were prominently featured on the front cover of the new LP. (Incredibly, it would also be the LAST time!!!)

After "Alive Again" made its run up and down the charts, a couple more singles from the LP were released: "No Tell Lover" peaked at #14 and "Gone Long Gone" only managed a #73 showing before it was gone long gone from the radio and our memories. Also gone an LP later was the newly added Dacus ... some say he never really fit in with the rest of the guys ... and "Hot Streets" seems to have become "the album that nobody really talks about" ever since.
(It did stay on the charts for seven months ... and sold platinum, ultimately peaking at #12 on Billboard's Album Chart ... but even today you will rarely hear "Alive Again" or "No Tell Lover" played on the radio or as part of the band's repertoire in concert ... although a number of Greatest Hits compilations released over the past 35 years prominently feature both of these Top 20 Tunes in their song line-up ... and rightfully so!)

The band also took a little bit of flack for another track on the LP. Peter Cetera gave one of his best rock vocals to date on a track called "Little Miss Lovin'", a song that I believe COULD have been another Top 20 Hit Single for the group had it been released that way.

The opposition? Singing behind Cetera's gritty vocal was none other than The Bee Gees, probably the hottest group on the planet at the time thanks to their recent disco resurgence. (What on earth were The Bee Gees doing on a Chicago record?!?!?) In hindsight, it's STILL a damn good track that might gain a little more acceptance now that most of The Bee Gees backlash has passed ... so we're featuring THIS one today, too!

Chicago is still performing to sold-out crowds today. With their entire original horn section still intact ... and Robert Lamm still handling keyboard duties ... the band sounds as fresh today as they did way back when. (When one considers that even a few of the so-called "newbies", like vocalist / bassist Jason Scheff, who replaced Peter Cetera in 1985, has already been with the band for 25+ years and drummer Tris Imboden has performed with the group since 1990 ... or 21 years ... this has proven to be a pretty rock-solid line-up for decades now. (Former Drummer Danny Seraphine, a founding member of the band who opened the "Beginnings" nightclub here in Chicago during the band's hey-day, was ultimately fired by the band after what was described as a "severe falling out" in 1990. Seraphine has a brand new autobiography out, which I'll have to pick up one of these days to see if he sheds any new light on anything we've reported this past week!)

Meanwhile, I hope you have enjoyed our little Forgotten Hits Time Capsule, zeroing in on the critical crossroads period of Chicago, circa 1978.

Tomorrow in Forgotten Hits --->
The CHICAGO Hit List ...
An AMAZING list of their 50 charted singles ...
And, on Friday ...
You won't BELIEVE the mail we've been getting this week about last week's
(Somebody needs to dig these landmark radio series out of mothballs and air them again!!!)
Please join us! (kk)