It’s alright, baby, Music Monday’s got the time!
Previously, on Allison’s Written Words…
Chicago proved that their revived success only could go up with the release of 1984’s Chicago 17, which saw the successful release of four singles and was the group’s highest-selling album. Combined with 1982’s Chicago 16, the group had reinvented their sound to the new Adult Contemporary sound of the times. Their gritty, edgy compositions were a thing of the previous decade. This was a new era for Chicago, but the winds of change were about to come again to the boys of the Windy City, as one member was not content to rest on the laurels of being part of this reinvention.
Well, he was looking to continue with this sound, but he was looking to branch out on his own. As 1985 rolled around and progressed, this became more evident, and eventually, it became a reality as founding member, vocalist, and bassist Peter Cetera exited the group in the summer of 1985. Now, this could have been scary for the group, but they still had producer David Foster on their side, and they had the powerhouse vocals of Bill Champlin, who joined the group in 1981. But they needed a tenor and bassist to fill the void left by Cetera.
They didn’t have to look far, when they hired Jason Scheff, the son of legendary Elvis Presley bassist Jerry Scheff. The 23-year-old had the right instrument, and as it turned out, the right voice.
Vocally, he was a dead ringer for Peter Cetera, and despite his young age, he was the perfect fit for the group. It was a job he would keep for 31 years. But in 1985-1986, he had “a thing to prove.” And that came with his debut, and the subject of this week’s Music Monday.
The Winds Of Change Bring on 18
Chicago 18 is the fifteenth studio album by Chicago, released in 1986 as a followup to 1984’s Chicago 17. The album would be a mix of the soft rock sound the group had struck gold with by this time, combined with a little bit of what made the group so glorious in the 1970s, along with a re-imagining that, at the time, left a few scratching their heads.
The album was released on September 29, 1986, and its debut single was the aforementioned re-imaginging, of the group’s 1970 hit “25 or 6 to 4.” Updating to an 80s sound (but with horns intact), this version took away the gritty sound of a songwriter struggling with writer’s block at 3:35 (or 3:34) am and replaced it with a more high-tech sound, featuring a music video of a post-apocalyptic Chicago, 30 years into the future. The group had a heavy presence on MTV at this time, and this was made for an MTV crowd. When Scheff approached David Foster about how to sing the song, he was told to “sing it like Peter Cetera.”
I mean, that wasn’t really a stretch for him. He sorta had that thing going for him already.
As that single didn’t fare as well (it reached #48 on the Billboard Hot 100), it was the two followup singles that would fare much better. “Will You Still Love Me?” and “If She Would Have Been Faithful,” released in October 1986 and March 1987 respectively, were much bigger hits than the re-imagined “25 or 6 to 4” (reaching #3 and #17 on that same chart, respectively). The final single to release from this album was “Niagara Falls,” which was released in June 1987 was pretty, but it didn’t meet with the success that the two previous singles did, reaching #91 on the Billboard Hot 100. That sounds very un-Chicago-like!
Even more interesting was that the band (yes, the band) spelled “Niagara” wrong (spelling it “Niagra”). The mistake was never caught by Warner, and the misspelling was seen in the music video title, but, surprisingly, was not misspelled on the vinyl’s cover.
Chart Performance, and “The New Kid”
Chicago 18 peaked at #35 and went Gold, but was not the commercial nor critical success that 17 was. And honestly, with a new lead singer taking on some pretty big shoes, it isn’t surprising that there was some change. 17 was a great album – eleven (10 plus the bonus track) fantastic singles where none of them need to be skipped is a tough act to follow. Plus, there was this new kid.
Jason Scheff was young and cute, and man did he have the vocals, but again he was young. Scheff had been in bands prior to Chicago, but at the time he joined the group, he had been a Top 40 singer at Magic Mountain in California. Executives at Warner felt Scheff had the right sound for Chicago, and referred him their way. And if there was any doubt at the beginning that he could handle this, Scheff only got better with age (don’t tell the Cetera loyalists – they’ll tell you he is awful). Oh, and he was 23 at the time. He most people his age are just getting out of college and looking for jobs. Over the years, Scheff turned into quite a fun and entertaining performer in concert.
If you’ve ever had any doubts that he was the right fit, watch his live performances, beginning in the 90s. This was a young man who clearly enjoyed every moment, and looked great performing live. Where Cetera had a bit of a reputation for having a bit of an ego, it was said Scheff was the opposite.
And again, he was cute. He had that going for him!
So, this may seem a bit biased, but I really like this album. This isn’t some awful misstep in Chicago’s life – it was their then-current sound, and the first time for a “new guy” in the group to prove his sound. Anyone who had their doubts about Jason Scheff’s abilities should have been proven wrong. He is alot of fun to watch in concert clips – very lively, always dancing, and when he would sing towards the women in the front row…wow.
Chicago 18 was a tough act to follow. That was an incredible album, but this one proves the boys still had something to prove. There is a great single on this album, “It’s Alright,” that never got released as a single, but it is so much fun, and as a live song, it is 100% Chicago.
And then even performed on Solid Gold. I’m serious!
Upload via The Music Of Chicago & Related
The horns in this one are totally on pointe.
I’ve always loved “Will You Still Love Me?” and remember seeing the video on VH1 alot in the 90s (yeah, it started life on MTV, and got moved to MTV Lite soon after), but when I was young, I would never have noticed who was actually singing the song. I was watching this video about seven years ago, when I really started finding an appreciation for Chicago’s music that went beyond a few songs on the radio, and saw this video for the first time in forever, and said “what? Who’s the kid?!”
I love this extended version – it is the one I got for my iPod back then.
Admittedly, I’d never heard “If She Would Have Been Faithful” until a few years ago, but wow, this just oozes personal heartache (or just great songwriting), until the lyrics about finding “the right one.” Who hasn’t felt the pain of this song?
In all, this is a great, if not slightly underappreciated effort from Chicago. The love songs are beautiful, and even this version of “25 or 6 to 4” is worth listening to. Was it a bit weird for the time? Yeah, I mean, they remade a classic – their classic! This isn’t the version they sing live anymore – they stick to the 1970 version, with an extended section for the horn section. In actuality, this album seems to be tucked away in their back catalog of songs not in any setlist. To be honest, they don’t really have time to add more – the last Chicago concert I went to was almost 2 1/2 hours, and it was a packed list of hits. Do I think they should pull “It’s Alright” out for funsies? Yes, absolutely!
Oh, and this was the first time the group employed a choir of kids’ voices for their songs, something that became common on their Christmas albums.
If you’re interested in this particular era of Chicago’s life, this is the entire album – it is worth the listen!
The Winds of Change Keep on Blowing Through…
More changes were coming in the wake of Chicago 18. The group returned to the studio in the fall of 1987, fresh off the release of their final single from 18 mired in the bottom of the Hot 100. After three albums as producer, David Foster would not return for the group’s next effort. With their next effort, it would also be the end of the road for another member of the group, the beginning for another, and the continuation of a sound that dominated this particular era of their life…the era of the power ballad.
It was a good era, even if it wasn’t one the group has ever felt particularly comfortable with. This era, like all their eras, are proof that the group never rests on the laurels of their current success.
You know, I’m enjoying this. How about next week, we move right to the next album?
Well, now you know what to expect next week!
Have a great Monday, and enjoy the music!