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TAYLOR’S LOVER: READING BETWEEN THE LAYERS
It goes deep in places. (8/23a)
THE GRAMMY CHEW:
ALBUM CONTENDERS
These machers have one-track minds. (8/23a)
NEAR TRUTHS:
IT’S TAYLOR’S TIME
Looking at her big week from a different angle. (8/23a)
LOVE FOR LOVER FROM SCOTT AND SCOOTER
An olive branch? (8/23a)
UNDER HIPGNOSIS: MERCK CATALOGS HIS PLAN (PART 1)
From the horse's mouse (8/23a)
TAYLOR SWIFT!
Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift? Taylor Swift; Taylor. Swift. Taylor Swift!
TAYLOR SWIFT.
Taylor Swift...  
TAYLOR SWIFT?
Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift.   
TAYLOR. SWIFT.
Taylor!
Critics' Choice
ROCK HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES: CHICAGO
12/17/15

By Phil Gallo


Jimi Hendrix
was a fan of Chicago. More specifically, Chicago Transit Authority, the eight-piece band that uniquely fused rock 'n' roll with complicated classical and jazz elements, rootsy blues riffs and made a strong case for horn sections in rock bands.

He probably would not have cared for Chicago, the hitmakers who became AC radio staples with their ninth album—the one with the chocolate bar. That started a less adventurous chapter that kept them off Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballots for 20 years. The hall's voting body righted themselves 12/17, inducting Chicago alongside an assortment of other overlooked acts.

From where I sit, they're the most deserving of the class. They did everything the Rock Hall says it wants to honor—innovation and influence—and they did it while becoming one of the biggest bands in the world, marrying the melodicism of The Beatles with ideas from contemporary classical, big band jazz and Fillmore-era blues rockers. If their demise came after their first five or six studio albums, they'd almost be no-brainers, but the Rock Hall, unlike nearly any other Hall of Fame, has a hang-up about longevity. In Cleveland, it's better to burn out than fade away and Chicago has done neither.

Let's go back to 1968 in Los Angeles, not Chicago, where CTA is playing clubs such as the Whisky. They draw the attention of David Geffen, who then alerts Clive Davis to the band and they sign with Columbia. They assign the band to producer James William Guercio, who was working with the label's other horn-driven act, Blood, Sweat & Tears.

But with CTA and Chicago, double albums released nine months apart in 1969 and 1970, Chicago forged a new sound that was as adventurous as anything played on FM radio at the time and as smartly arranged as any lush AM hit. They experimented with suites, the 14-minute “Liberation,” unleashed the fleet guitarist Terry Kath on bluesy and experimental works that dramatically contrasted with the hits “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” “Beginnings,” “Colour My World” and “Make Me Smile.”

Personally, it was Chicago III and V that engaged me, and anyone learning to play an instrument in those years—'69 to 1973—saw Chicago's music as both a challenge and fun to play. They not only made band instruments cool, anyone attempting to learn their songs quickly learned how structurally different their songs were from anything else in the Top 40. Listen to “Saturday in the Park” with that in mind.

As they grew more commercially minded and the horns had a diminished role with other producers, I lost interest in the band save for the occasional track and their partnership with The Beach Boys. Tastes change, obviously, but as the albums piled up like Super Bowls—they went II to 19 with only one LP getting an actual name (Hot Streets)—their soft-rock formula had none of the excitement of those early records.

But as anyone who has seen their tours with Earth, Wind & Fire, The Doobie Brothers and others can attest, Chicago's live act thrives on the power and thrust of those early records, and when I had the good fortune to write liner notes for the band's Rhino box set, I learned first-hand about their unique backgrounds, their system for choosing singers and songs and the incredible grind they went through in their first 12 years together—an album a year, most of them two-record sets, non-stop touring and an ability to stay ahead of trends. Doing research at the time I listened to a lot of Chicago—Chicago VII is a surprisingly musical experience, quite riveting at times—and came to appreciate their late '70s work more than I had.

More importantly, though, they had no musical peers on the charts during the decade Kath was alive. Few acts had a similar revolving door of lead singers and soloists; they made it safe for rock acts to put horns on records; and when established added a disco beat to secure airplay, they crafted a new sound that would serve them well and keep their commercial viability high. Glad the Rock Hall finally recognized this.