Monday, December 07, 2009

Chicago 16 (1982)

After the firing of their longtime producer, James William Guercio, and the death of guitarist/vocalist, Terry Kath in January 1978 Chicago limped into the eighties. After sagging sales on Chicago XIII and XIV they'd been dropped by Columbia Records. Many in the industry considered them dead on arrival.

At this point drummer, Danny Seraphine, was largely the driving force behind the band as he was one of the only ones in the band to hold himself together following the death of Kath.

While David Foster had been considered as a new producer back in 1978, those circumstances would not come to pass. However, this time around, David Foster and Chicago connected quite fortuitously as it would turn out.

With Robert Lamm battling some personal demons at the time, he was largely absent leaving the band with essentially only Peter Cetera as a vocalist and no keyboardist/pianist. A decision was made to approach grammy winning session vocalist, Bill Champlin, to guest on vocals and keyboards on Chicago 16.

The first song Champlin recorded with Chicago was Sonny Think Twice. From the first moment Peter Cetera and Bill Champlin sang together it was like lightning in a bottle. The vocal chemistry was tangible and was arguably even superior to the vocal chemistry Cetera had shared with Terry Kath. What had initially been a temporary stop-gap measure turned into a permanent one as Champlin was asked to join the band as a full member.

In addition to sharing vocals with Cetera on Sonny Think Twice Champlin also shared lead vocals with Cetera on Waiting For You to Decide and handled all lead vocals on the gritty James Pankow penned Follow Me which is easily the most uptempo and most upbeat song on the album.

With Hard to Say I'm Sorry/Get Away Chicago knocked one out of the park. It marked their second number one hit (their first being If You Leave Me Now in 1976) and would be the template for their quadruple platinum follow-up to 16, Chicago 17.

The similarities between 16 and 17 are unmistakable as Foster and the band had found a winning formula on 16 and took it to the next level on 17. But perhaps the biggest difference between the two albums is a hunger and energy present on 16. They didn't know what would or wouldn't work and took some risks and gambles.

While not their best-selling album, I'd argue that Chicago 16 is Chicago's greatest post-Terry Kath endeavor. Champlin's vocals add just the right grit and energy to the mix and that hunger took the music to a level the band hadn't played at since before Kath's untimely passing.

If you only pick up one Chicago album from the post-Columbia Records era, this one should be close to the top of your list. The tightness and cohesiveness, the overall polish that David Foster gave this album make it a gem in so many different respects.

Related Links and Video
Hard to Say I'm Sorry

Love Me Tomorrow

Chicago 16 (wikipedia)
Chicago (Official Site)
Chicago (wikipedia)
Peter Cetera (Official Site)
Peter Cetera (wikipedia)
Bill Champlin (Official Site)
Bill Champlin (wikipedia)
Danny Seraphine (wikipedia)
California Transit Authority (Danny Seraphine's new band - Official Site)
James Pankow (wikipedia)
Walt Parazaider (wikipedia)
Lee Loughnane (wikipedia)
Robert Lamm (Official Site)
Robert Lamm (wikipedia)
David Foster (wikipedia)
David Foster (wikipedia)
Chris Pinnick (wikipedia)


Charlie said...

The only post-Kath album better than 16 is the Christmas album. XXV. The latter was more horn oriented and that is what I always wanted on a Chicago record. Pankow outdid himself on that album.

Perplexio said...

Charlie: I'd ALMOST agree with you. There are certainly more horns on the Christmas album and it does sound more like the kind of album Chicago SHOULD be putting out. But it is a Christmas album and generally I can only really enjoy Christmas music between Dec. 1st and 25th... or maybe as early as Black Friday if you're stretching it a bit. I give 16 the edge over the Christmas album as a result. Although I think more horns would have been welcome. For example, as much as I love the organ intro on What You're Missing, Chicago being a horn band-- that SHOULD HAVE been a horn intro not an organ intro.

Anonymous said...

Wow, did you guys forget about hot Streets? Great stuff on that. I agree the two subsequent albums are lacking in some ways but are the last of the "old days." I do like 16, and the fact that it does rock a bit more than the subsequent Foster albums, disappointed mainly in the absence of Lamm as a singer, writer and player (though he supposedly co-wrote part of "Get Away"). However, I can think of THREE albums that blow away anything from the 80's: Night and Day (talk about loads of brass!), Stone of Sisyphus, and their latest, XXXVI. I like the Xmas ones too, but these three definitely redeem them after the ultra-lame Twenty-1. Only XXX revisits that era with all of its ballads (reviewers tend to ignore or forget about the much more interesting second half of that album).