Chicago’s long journey remains a pleasant one

Published on March 23rd, 2021

By Jim Dail

In 1987, Chicago asked music fans, “Will you still love me?”

Clearly, the answer was yes, and it remains true as the band continues to sell out shows around the world, bringing their mle that we are still doing all this to this day and at this level,” says trumpeter Lee Loughnane.

In addition to selling more than 100 million records, the band has 21 Top 10 singles,  11 Number One hits, as well as numerous awards. Of course there have been numerous ups and downs for the band, which has had hits in five decades. Guitarist Terry Kath died in 1978, noted singer Peter Cetera left in the 80s, and their successes just made the record company want more.

Loughnane attributes the success of the band to the music itself, and there has been a lot of success.

“Everything has been intricate which is the key,” he said. “All the songs are fun to play, whether you are talking about the hits or the album cuts. We do it in all phases, such as changing keys before the lyrics even begin. It prevents other people from copying us,”

There were songs like 1970’s “25 or 6 to 4” and 1972’s “Saturday in the Park.”

“Robert [Lamm] wrote [’25 or …’] and he was writing lyrics and getting bleary eyed,” he said. “The clock was on the other side of the room and he couldn’t make out what it was saying. He thought it was a cool title.”

Loughnane wasn’t necessarily thinking “Saturday in the Park’ would be a big hit.

“Robert brought that one in and it just came together,” he said. “Jimmy [Pankow] added a brass part to it and I thought it was a nice song and hoped it would be a hit, but I wasn’t thinking that this was going to be a massive song.”

It went to Number 3 on the Billboard Top 100.

That also brought a change to the band’s songs.

“We stopped doing elongated songs,” he said. “Back then, bands stretched out ensemble solos but then the record companies changed their pay on copyrights and started to only pay copyrights on 10 songs an album, which killed the double LP. Besides that, radio stations had also changed and they weren’t going to play songs that were longer than 3 or 4 minutes.”

That’s about the time that the band released “If You Leave Me Now.”

“After the success of ‘If You Leave Me Now,’ the record company wanted us to keep churning out another hit,” he said.

“That song was a departure for us, but that’s good because you stay fresh,” he said.

There was also the issue with the song sounding a bit different than previous songs.

“Radio was basically saying that this was the Chicago sound, not even thinking about the other songs,” he said. “We wound up hitting the wall with radio, trying to tell everyone that it was really us.”

They managed to do that with “Baby What a Big Surprise,” written by Cetera.

“You know that song is huge over in Europe,” he said. “I like that song because I got to play the piccolo trumpet on it.”

“Alive Again” holds special meaning for Loughnane.

“That song helped me deal with the loss of Terry,” he said. “Jimmy wrote the song not long after Terry’s death and I’m not sure if he was writing it because of how he felt or as a tribute.”

It was also the first time they worked with famed producer Phil Ramone.

“He just created a wonderful sound and changed the way recording works,” he said,

The shift from successful 70s rock band to pop success happened when David Foster became their producer.

“He was the one behind the power ballad songs,” he said.

That was also the beginning of the MTV era.

“MTV put Peter’s face on video,” he said. “They wanted to know who to put the camera on for the video. Well, we were a band without a leader. But they wanted a leader for the camera and they put it on Peter.”

One of the first successes was “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” a number one song from 1982.

“That one was brought to us when David Foster told us to listen to it,” he said. “We listened to the first 16 bars, and I felt immediately that that song would be a hit.”

Foster and Cetera wrote their next big hits, “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration”

“Those were great songs,” he said. “Those were in the MTV era and when videos started happening, they took away some of the mystique about some songs, like what the writer may or may not have meant. In the videos, suddenly there was a visual kind of pinpoint.”

After Cetera left the band for a solo career, the hits kept coming.

“I don’t know if you could say we were under pressure after that, but the business was always what have you done lately,” he said.

The next hit was “Will You Still Love Me.”

“We were happy that the song did well because we tried to make it the best as we could, just as we always had with every other song,” he said.

However, in 1988, “Look Away” would be a massive song, among the biggest of the band’s career.

“That was a Diane Warren song,” he said. “We asked her if she could come up with some songs and that one turned out to be the top song of the year. But a lot of people didn’t realize it was a Chicago song because of Bill’s [Champlain] voice. I guess if Bill had sung it with Peter then it would have sounded like Chicago. But we were just looking for different directions.”

And speaking of new directions, Chicago has ventured deep into the technology age.

“We are building a site that will allow us to sell memorabilia, show high definition video promos, see what goes on backstage,” he said. “We are able to record studio quality things from anywhere.”

Speaking of recordings, Chicago will be releasing a Christmas album this year.

“We will be able to distribute it all over the world, even to Communist countries that you could never sell to in the past,” he said.

Overall, Loughnane is just happy to be doing what he has always done, perform.

“We are still working every year and still about to play shows for fans of our music,” he said. “What more can you ask for?”


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