When the time is right, a star on your door, and a Music Monday on the blog!
Sometimes it pays to listen to the rest of an album, because beyond the released singles usually lies a gem that didn’t get a proper release. Such was the case with The Doobie Brothers’ Rockin’ Down the Highway and The Eagles’ “Desperado”. Today’s song isn’t of the legendary status either of these songs are, but it is an underappreciated gem from an album with four very appreciated (and rightly so) gems.
It’s a song about a girl who dreams of fame, sung by a guy who aspired for the kind of fame that went beyond being part of a group. He aspired for more. He aspired for a solo career. And it was on its way.
One can say this song’s title was probably about the guy singing it, even if he didn’t know it.
“Prima Donna” is a track from 1984’s Chicago 17, which is yes, the seventeenth studio album by the rock/jack/horns group from the city they’re named for. The unreleased track, from the album’s second side, is from an album you can listen to from start to finish. In a grouping that saw four hit singles in “Stay the Night,” “Hard Habit to Break,” “You’re the Inspiration,” and “Along Comes a Woman,” it had heady competition, but alas, like the other six songs on this album, it got lost in the shuffle.
I mean, it wound up on the soundtrack for a John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John movie called Two of A Kind, that probably says it also got “lost in the shuffle.”
I say “lost in the shuffle,” you say “bombed at the box office.”
As I was saying…
With their newfound second career fame as Adult Contemporary darlings, this song sounds like the rest of their hits at the time, but at least incorporates the horns they were famous for in the 1970s. That was always something lacking in their singles during this time – they took a backseat to Peter Cetera’s vocals.
Chicago 17 was the final album to feature Peter Cetera as their vocalist and bassist. He dreamed of a solo career, and prior to this album, he wanted to have a Phil Collins/Genesis arrangement – he would still record with Chicago, but between tours, he would have a solo career. When that didn’t work out, this album happened, but after that, his second attempt resulted in his departure after eighteen years. He’d had a solo album prior to all of this (during a lull with Chicago in the early 1980s, prior to 1982’s Chicago 16, which was the group’s comeback), but his 1981 self-titled solo album did not fare well (due in part to lack of publicity). The man wanted a solo career, and it was well-known at the time he joined the group in the 1960s that he was a prima donna on the Chicago music scene.
Now, since Cetera wrote this song (ok, co-written with Mark Goldenberg, who helped pen “Along Comes A Woman”), it isn’t about him. But it’s definitely about a girl dreaming of fame. The actual meaning of “prima donna” is “chief female singer in an opera or opera company,” but has an alternate definition of “a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance.” I laugh because this song was written by someone who actually had that own view of himself.
I mean, he wrote it about a girl, right? The lyrics certainly imply it.
Either way, fame and a solo career were calling out to the man with the bass guitar and beautiful vocals, and a year after the album came out (which coincided with the end of the tour to promote this album), Peter Cetera left Chicago in a very public split. That was only one of the personnel changes to happen with Cetera’s departure.
In the middle of that upheaval, Guitarist Chris Pinnick (who joined the group along with Bill Champlin in 1981), left after this album (well, “left” may not be the right word, since they were restructuring). A permanent guitarist wasn’t found until after Chicago’s next album (that honor would go to Dawayne Bailey in ), and even he didn’t last that long (he was sacked in 1994, and Keith Howland came along in 1995 – he’s been in that spot ever since).
As for Cetera’s spot, a 23-year-old musician from San Diego, who was performing Top 40 at Magic Mountain slid into the spot. He played bass, he had vocals…and he sounded alot like Peter Cetera. His name was Jason Scheff, and he stuck around for 31 years. He was also super cute, and I saw him perform with Chicago in 2015.
I have not seen Peter Cetera perform live. Not yet, at least.
But, before all of the upheaval and internal unrest that would become very external, Chicago 17 became the group’s best-selling album of all time, and four singles would ensure that honor. But there were six other tracks that proved to be everything the four released singles were.
This, my friends, is one of those tracks.
Not bad for a song about an over-inflated ego, right?
Have a great Monday, and enjoy the music!