This morning, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its latest slate of inductees. The class includes N.W.A., Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Chicago, and Steve Miller, which is almost certainly the first time those artists have all been mentioned in the same sentence. While there’s a solid critical and commercial case for each act’s involvement, there are huge question marks for just about everybody: N.W.A.’s discography is remarkably small, the influence of Cheap Trick seems questionable, Deep Purple’s major contributions seem to stop at “Smoke on the Water,” Steve Miller’s contributions are catchy but remarkably lightweight, and Chicago always seemed like little more than a treacly power ballad machine.
Except we may be entirely wrong about Chicago, and Never Not Funny host Jimmy Pardo is here to explain why we’re wrong. Pardo is a Chicago superfan who has often discussed the group on his podcast and even appeared in a Chicago documentary Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago.
Jimmy Pardo: The first 11 albums, when Terry Kath was still alive, they did their ballads: “If You Leave Me Now” was a number one hit in ’76, and “Just You and Me” and “Color My World.” They had ballads, but they were really known for Robert Lamm’s political songs, like “State of the Union” and “Dialogue.” I don’t want to say they were prog rock, but they were exactly how they describe themselves: they were rock and roll with horns. They were a rock band, and they were experimental, and you could hear Terry Kath doing a guitar solo where he’s just messing around with feedback for nine minutes in concert. That must have been excruciating, but they did it! Danny Seraphine, who was the drummer who was eventually fired but was one of the original members, he felt like they could have been like the Dead or Dave Matthews or Phish. They would jam for so long and be experimental. I don’t know that they would have had that kind of following, and I think they were more melodic than any of those bands, but I get where he was coming from. They opted to be a more radio-friendly band than to be this more cult band.
Their producer Jim Guercio, he steered the ship for the first 11 albums. But in the ’80s, when drugs and other parts of life got in their way, Peter Cetera and David Foster really took the reins, and Cetera was suddenly the front of the band. He was the lead singer, but they always had three singers. They were huge up until ’78, then from ’78 to ’82 they kind of were just a band who were still around, and then in ’82 Cetera took the reins, and they were humongous for the next three years. That Chicago 17 album was humongous, and Peter said, “I’m leaving.” He had two number one hits with “Next Time I Fall” and “Glory of Love,” and Chicago had other hits when Jason Scheff joined in ’86. But I think everybody puts on them that they’re this sappy, ballady adult-contemporary band. But they weren’t that—they were adjusting with the times, and in the mid ’80s, they did what everybody else was doing and they were successful doing it.
In the ’70s, they had five number one albums, they’re selling out venues all over the place, and they’re not known as this schlocky ballad band yet. They’re still just rock and roll with horns. But if you want to say, “Well, they sold out,” well, everybody sold out in the ’80s! Rod Stewart wasn’t the same. The Stones sold out. The Who sold out. You’re telling me “Athena” is the same as “I Can’t Explain”? It’s unfair to say they sold out and became this awful radio ballad band. That’s not fair. Whether you like them or not, those songs are still great pop radio songs.
Everybody’s wondering if Cetera is going to show. It would be a dream if Cetera would join them for this reunion. I don’t even want to dismiss the other guys who should be there. I’d love for Danny to come back, and if Donnie Dacus and Dawayne Bailey and Chris Pinnick came back to play guitar, that would be great. It would be great if it was a huge family reunion. I would sit in the front row, because that’s what I do when I see this band in concert, and I would have an erection and it would be great.