These are the albums of Chicago, ranked in my personal order of preference, with comments:
Studio albums][Compilations][Live Albums][Others of note][Solo albums][The unreleased album
(Many of the images of albums are photographs of copies in my collection)
Although not the band's first album, it yielded their first hit, "Make Me Smile," and two other classics, "Colour My World" and "25 or 6 to 4." Terry Kath played one of the best recorded guitar solos of all time on 25 or 6 to 4, while Colour My World is a perennial romantic favorite and has been played at more weddings than you can imagine. MMS and CMW are part of the "Ballet for a Girl in Buchanan," a suite of songs and instrumental passages by trombonist James Pankow.
The Ballet may be the dominant piece of music on the album, but there are numerous other gems, such as "Wake Up Sunshine", "In the Country," and "Fancy Colours." Almost all of the last side of album (I still think of it as two vinyl records) consists of It Better End Soon, a very political, cutting-edge piece of music. Peter Cetera's "Where Do We Go From Here" closes the album. It was Cetera's first writing credit.
Chicago II defines the classic Chicago sound.
It was hard to choose between this album and Chicago II for my favorite. This album produced several hits after Chicago II first put the band on the charts. Top songs include Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, Beginnings and Questions 67 & 68.
This is a very raw, rocking album. Terry Kath's guitar playing dominates this record, which is a good thing. It is a very live sounding album, possibly because the band had to record the entire double-sided affair in just two weeks with no significant prior studio experience.
Someday on side four includes live recordings of protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention, held in the city of Chicago. Following it is a lengthy jam called Liberation.
I'm a Man, a rare cover song (for the classic era) has become a concert staple for the band. South Carolina Purples lets Kath stretch out on some electric blues, while Listen opens with an incredible sustained guitar note.
Free Form Guitar may be the most controversial song on the album. Kath was fooling around with feedback during a lunch break and the engineer, Fred Catero, decided to open up some microphones and roll the tape. It reminds me of some of Jimi Hendrix' experimental playing.
CTA stayed on the album charts for what was then a record amount of time.
Reportedly, this album was to be a jazz album,and that's how it starts out, with instrumentals such as Aire and Devil's Sweet. But it emerged as yet another gold mine of hit singles, with some of Chicago's finest work included. Happy Man may be the best Chicago single that was never released as a single. Searchin' So Long is a classic, along with other hits Call on Me, (Trumpeter Lee Loughnane's first song), and Wishing You Were Here (featuring the Beach Boys on backing vocals).
Two personal favorites are Terry Kath's Byblos and Song of the Evergreens, the latter featuring Loughnane on vocals. An overall incredible album.
Chicago's first single album, this yielded hits Saturday in the Park and Dialogue Parts I&II. The band stretches out with A Hit by Varese and Now That You're Gone. Alma Mater is Kath's take on the history of the band - to that point.
Other good albums cuts are "All is Well" and "Goodbye," both by Robert Lamm.
While this was Chicago's fifth album, it was their first single album. Listeners weren't short-changed, though. It remains one of Chicago's finest efforts.
This also was the last album of the classic area that was not recorded at Caribou Ranch.
Other fans wouldn't rank this album this high, but its release was a thrill for me, because I had just about written off the band. Many others also had done the same. Columbia had dropped them, so they took a chance and made this record. It features the debut of producer David Foster, who, for better or worse, set the band on the course it would follow for most of the 1980s - power ballads. But there is a misconception that all Chicago did during the Foster era was power ballads. There's a balance of songs on this album, with uptempo tunes such as Chains and harder rockers such as Follow Me and Rescue You. Hard to Say I'm Sorry/Get Away gave the band a major comeback hit. This album also is the debut of Bill Champlin.
This was Chicago's third double album in a span of about two years, but it's still full of good stuff. There are three multi-song suites and the hits Lowdown and Free. Another good song is I Don't Want Your Money. I never will forget the time I played this record at a church coffeehouse gathering and one of the adult supervisors got a strange look on his face when the toilet flushed at the end of Progress. A high school stage band I was in did the Elegy suite, but we skipped the sound effects of the Industrial Revolution.
The hits just kept coming for the band in this, the first album recorded at producer James William Guercio's Caribou Ranch. Just You and Me is one of the band's all-time classics. Feeling Stronger Every Day is a great rocker. I liked Jenny because I had a crush on a girl named Jenny who happened to have this song on her home jukebox. Too bad she didn't know that Kath wrote it about his dog. The first was the first of five consecutive no. 1 albums for Chicago.
This 1995 collection of Chicago-ized big band tunes sounds more like classic Chicago than anything the band has done in a long time. It was not a commercial success, but was outstanding nonetheless. Bruce Fairbairn produced it, with guest appearances from Paul Schaffer, Jade, Gypsy Kings and guitarist Joe Perry of Aerosmith.
Chicago's best-selling album, I listened to this a lot in 1984, the year I got married, got a new job, and moved. It may have helped me survive. The hits are well-known, but I kind of like Robert Lamm's We Can Stop the Hurting. Hard Habit to Break and You're the Inspiration rank among Chicago's best of the 80s ballad period. But it rocks, too. Along Comes a Woman has funky horns and a nice beat.
Not as strong as Chicago VII, this single-album project nonetheless continued Chicago's success. Hits were Old Days and Harry Truman. Personal favorite: Oh Thank You Great Spirit, a Terry Kath guitar extravaganza. The album came with an iron-on transfer of the cover art. I never could get it to go on a T-shirt.
Guitarist Terry Kath's last album before his untimely death also was the last one produced by Guercio. Baby What a Big Surprise was the big hit from this one, but Little One and Take Me Back to Chicago are better songs. It also features Mississippi Delta City Blues, a Kath song which the band did in concert from its earliest days, but which didn't make it onto a studio album until this one. Kath's Uptown also is a sizzling rocker. Other good ones include Lamm's Policeman and Vote for Me, both offering some social commentary.
Robert Lamm says that the monster hit If You Leave Me Now forever stamped the group as a ballad band. Maybe so. This album, known as the Chocolate album for its candy bar design, garnered tons of awards for Chicago. It also features two of my least favorite Chicago songs, Skin Tight and You Get It Up. But those are redeemed by Kath's Once or Twice, Pankow's You Are On Mind (Pankow's only lead vocal ever), Loughnane's Together Again (Loughnane does another lead vocal) and Lamm's band autobiography Scrapbook.
One of the best Chicago albums of the 80s, giving us hits such as Look Away, and You're Not Alone. A remix of What Kind of Man Would I Be became a hit on the Chicago 20 greatest hits release. Personal favorites: You're Not Alone, Heart in Pieces and I Stand Up. In my opinion, this proved that the band could put out a monster album after the departure of Peter Cetera.
This much-maligned live album nonetheless sold two million copies of its four discs. The original vinyl release featured several posters and a picture book. The audio engineering is poor and the performances are inconsistent, at best. But it's a snapshot of Chicago at its early peak. And even if the overall performances and engineering aren't good, at least you can hear Terry Kath's awesome guitar playing loud and clear. Many fans also like the all-out performance of It Better End Soon.
Rhino Record's remastered and repackaged version sounds much better than the original vinyl release and features additional tracks.
Released in 1991, it's not one of the band's better efforts, but even bad Chicago is better than most everything else out there. This was the first album after the departure of Danny Seraphine. John Keane does most of the drumming, with Tris Imboden playing on one song. God Save the Queen rocks and Lamm's One From the Heart has a classic Chicago feel to it. If It Were You is a favorite among many die-hard fans, with its uptempo feel and strong horn arrangement.
The first post-Cetera album was not bad. It scored the obligatory ballad hit and the band experimented with a re-make of 25 or 6 to 4. One More Day is a personal favorite. This was Jason Scheff's debut and one of the album's highlights is his song Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now.
The first post-Kath album has a lot of energy and new guitarist Donnie Dacus' contributions aren't too bad. The guy had talent, even if he wasn't a very good fit with the band. Alive Again is the best cut. This album signaled the fans that Chicago would carry on, and do so with class. Other favorites of mine: Hot Streets, Take a Chance, and Gone Long Gone.
Chicago goes disco? Almost. Street Player was released as a 12-inch disco single and subsequently burned at Disco Demolition at a Chicago major league baseball game. Parts of it were sampled for a 1990s release called The Bomb (not done by Chicago). Chicago performed Street Player a few times on its 1997 tour, but dropped it due to less than enthusiastic fan response. Must Have Been Crazy was the biggest single off of the album. They must have been crazy to record it. This album also features the vocals of the mysterious P.C. Moblee, listed as a member of the Peter Cetera Vocal Vompany. alas, Mr. Moblee perished in a plane crash a few years ago, according to Cetera. Actually, Street Player's isn't that bad a song, and Run Away is another good one off of this album. One of Chicago's best album covers was used on this project.
Donnie Dacus and Laudir de Oliveira were gone from the band by the time this album was recorded. Tom Dowd produced it. It didn't do well commercially and most fans don't consider it one of their stronger efforts. Chris Pinnick, who would go on to become a member of the band, handled most of the guitar work. There's a hard edge to this album, but as one band member later said, the band just wasn't together musically on it. Personal favorite: Birthday Boy (played it on my 39th birthday.)
Chicago makes yet another comeback. The plus two of this compilation yielded Here in My Heart, a no. 1 AC hit in 1997, and The Only One, a top 20 AC hit. The album went gold - the first gold album since the multi-platinum compilation Greatest Hits 1982-89. It also is noteworthy because it combines hits from the Columbia and Warner Brothers releases on one album. Its number is 23.
This compilation came one year after HOC I. It wasn't as successful, but the greatest hits featured have a more rockin' edge than the ones chosen for volume one.
The two singles were "All Roads Lead to You," written by Desmond Child. It had modest success on the AC charts, cracking the top 20.
The other song, James Pankow's "Show Me a Sign," was a bright, uptempo song that I preferred over "All Roads." It didn't do much on the charts, though. Both songs were produced by Roy Bittan.
This album officially is no. 24.
I bought the vinyl version of this for 50 cents at a garage sale and a friend gave me the CD because he had an extra. I never bought it when it came out because I already had everything on it. Die-hard Chicago fans seem to dislike all of the compilations, but this one made too much sense. After nine monster albums and three no. 1 albums in a row, how could you not put out a greatest hits album? It sold like crazy. The cover wasn't bad either.
I know it's not one of the official 26 numbered albums, but I like it anyway! It contains several classic Chicago cuts that were re-mastered exceptionally well. A treat are two cuts from the never-released Stone of Sisyphus project. The cover is eye-catching, although some may be offended by it.
This was not a numbered album, but I'll throw it in here anyway. The original release had a history book about Chicago. The current release does not include the booklet. The four-CD set is still available, but without the book. It featured Columbia releases and two unreleased tracks - Doin' Business and Closer to You. Don't know why Closer to You, recorded at the Hot Streets sessions, didn't make it on an album. It's a great song.
I don't own this, but I have listened to it.Warner Brothers apparently released this to cash in on the band's success on that label. They're not dumb - it went multi-platinum. Its official number is 20.
This was released merely to settle Chicago's split with Columbia. If I ever buy it, it will be merely to have a complete collection. It usually shows up in the bins at my favorite used record shop
There are many other compilations floating around. The If You Leave Me Now compilation actually went gold. There also was a Take Me Back to Chicago collection. The Overtime collection was a Canadian release. It has a nice cover and two Stone of Sisyphus songs and two off of the Live in Japan release. 25 Years of Gold was an Australian release. There no doubt are many others out there.
I once had a fairly rare compilation called 'Historia de la Musica de la Rock - Chicago. (Pictured above) It contains early Columbia singles with Spanish titles as well.
Chicago 26 was released in the 1990s. It did very poorly in sales. The performances are good, but they are augmented by considerable studio overdubbing. There also are three new studio songs, the best of which is is "If I Should Leave You."
The Japanese CD release of Live in Japan is pictured above
The 1972 release Live in Japan. may be the best officially available live recording of Chicago out there. Although not a numbered album, it's better than Carnegie Hall and is a must-have for any fan of the original lineup. Interestingly, my Japanese release of the CD carries the number 15 on the CDs. Chicago Records released it in the U.S. in 1996, pleasing many fans who had not been able to obtain. It originally was released in 1972 in Japan only. It's the definitive live album of the original, classic lineup.
If Live in Japan is the best available live album, then the various Live in Toronto releases are the worst. These releases come from a 1969 rock festival concert in Toronto, Canada. The engineering is horrible. How is the performance? Don't know - one can't hear it that well. Chicago sued to stop its release, but lost. A judge apparently ruled it public domain, so apparently, anyone can release it. Unknowing fans might buy it, thinking it is a true, well-done Chicago release. That's how I ended up with my release on Happy Bird records. This one is strictly for die-hards. It's also been released on CD under many names. I've got a copy named "I've a Man."
One way to tell if a Chicago "live" album is the Toronto tape is to check the set list. It includes 25 or 6 to 4, I'm a Man, South California Purples, Beginnings, Liberation, Questions 67 & 68, and Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?.
The Terry Kath tribute album, entitled Chicago Presents the Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath, was released in 1996. It contains examples of Terry's songwriting, singing, and, of course, guitar playing. Two cuts from Live in Japan are included. The liner notes are excellent. In addition to being the best of Terry Kath, arguably it's the best of Chicago's early, hard-rocking music.Not all of my Kath favorites made it here, but there are only 74 minutes on a CD. More information is available on the Terry Kath page.
Many members of Chicago have released solo albums. Robert Lamm was the first Chicago member to release a solo album with "Skinny Boy" in 1974. He followed that up with "Life is Good in My Neighborhood" in the early 1990s, then with the release of "In My Head" in 1999.
For more info on Lamm's solo albums, click here.
Bill Champlin has had a prolific solo career, which started before he joined Chicago. I own two of his solo CDs: "Mayday" and "Burn Down the Night."
If you would like an introduction to Bill Champlin as a solo album, buy "Mayday." Released in 1998, it is a "live in the studio" project. It was recorded with Bill's touring band, consisting of top-flight musicians. Bill's wife Tamara also performs on the album.
It features many of Bill's great solo songs, plus "After the Love is Gone," a monster hit which he co-wrote. Also featured is "In the Heat of the Night." This was the theme song for the show of the same name. Champlin sang the theme song that was used on the actual show.
Jason Scheff released a solo album "Chauncy" in 1998. It features John Keane on drums and Tim Pierce on guitar. It is a great collection of Jason's songs. The best of the songs are "Fade to Black" and "You Found the One." Jason's version of 'Mah Jongg," which was on the unreleased Stone of Sisyphus album, also is included.
Chicago recorded one album that waited 15 years until its release. It was to have been titled "Stone of Sisyphus" and was recorded in 1993, with Peter Wolf producing.
Several of the songs have been released on import compilations. Bootlegs of the complete album have been widely circulated. The album is considered to be one of Chicago's best efforts.
It was released in 2008. For more information on the album, click here.
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