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Top 7 Chicago Songs of the '80s

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Focusing on Chicago's '80s song output automatically brings up divisive emotions among fans of its entirely different, late-'60s and '70s signature sound. But there's no denying that the band remained vital in its third decade, even registering as one of the era's top-selling pop acts. Still, there are more than enough shortcomings in the band's music from this time to keep the group's top songs list relatively short so as to avoid substantial negativity. What can I say, I did my best.

1. "Hard to Say I'm Sorry/Get Away"

Chicago, from left to right; Pete Cetera (bass), James Pankow (trombone), Lee Loughnane (trumpet), Terry Kath (guitar), Walter Parazaider (saxophone) and Danny Seraphine.
Ian Showell/Keystone/Getty Images

I tend to doubt the intentionality of this, but this track - Chicago's first hit of its slick '80s pop phase - at least retains a vital link to the band's horn-laden, lively musical legacy. Of course, that connection doesn't become apparent until the song's tacked-on "Get Away" portion (which, not surprisingly, was excluded from most radio cuts of the tune back in the day), but it is consolation that this flash of classic rock flourish is there. Don't get me wrong; I strongly remember hearing this tune as a kid - and enjoying it - but it's nothing but pretty pop balladry. "Get Away" brings a brief but welcome spike of energy, but don't blink and miss it.

2. "Love Me Tomorrow"

Though it features an undeniably lovely soft rock melody and vocal performance from Peter Cetera, this song burst forth in 1982 as frustrating proof that Chicago's eclectic musical past had been stripped away (by producer David Foster) in pursuit of pop success. The song's busy power ballad instrumentation, after all, should have left room for the group's signature horns, but instead Foster and Cetera crowd the track's sound with sappy strings, attempts at power guitars and synthesized keyboards. This is still a fine, nostalgic '80s single, but it could have stood on its own merit without the aggressive, adult contemporary overhaul.

3. "Hard Habit to Break"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Warner Bros.

Apart from being the first Chicago hit to employ outside songwriters exclusively, with nary a contribution from a bandmember, this song stands out proudly as one of the finest karaoke ballads of the '80s. Featuring Cetera and newest member Bill Champlin on well-arranged dual lead vocals, the song is overwrought without being nauseating. Another plus is that Foster somehow allowed significant contributions from the group's neglected horn section, bringing in glimpses of the organic feel Chicago's music used to display in the old days. The first verse alone is exquisitely lovelorn, hand-wringing genius.

4. "Stay the Night"

Cetera and Foster undoubtedly went in a harder rock direction with this tune, injecting more guitars than the band probably had ever featured in its nearly two-decade long career to this point. Still, when Cetera tries to sound tough barking out vocals, he can't help but come off a little false. Similarly, the flashy lead guitar break doesn't seem to fit, either. Despite these gripes, there is some good stuff here, primarily the track's firm and confident melody but also Cetera's singing, which has never been anything but impressively unique and unfailing.

5. "Along Comes a Woman"

Here's another example of Chicago's appeal for a rock audience. Big drums galore, busy guitars and the tempering effect of punchy synthesizer all helped project this track to the widest possible listenership in 1985. The attempt falls flat at times, but I choose this tune in lieu of the sappy, limp but intensely popular "You're the Inspiration" because there seems actually to be a little fire in the former track. In fact, there's something in its sound that's even a bit sleazy; I don't remember the music video, but I imagine there should have been fishnet-clad women prancing around at some point. Oh well, no such luck, as they tried to pull off an Indiana Jones story in the clip.

6. "Look Away"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Warner Bros.
This song makes the list in spite of its songwriter, longtime supplier of pop music cheese Diane Warren, mainly because of its winning concept and soulful lead vocals from Champlin. Or maybe it's because I can't stand the thought of listening to another whiny performance from Jason Scheff, the irritating Cetera clone who joined Chicago when the latter took off for a solo career. In addition, I suppose the track deserves some credit for being the band's only other No. 1 pop hit of the decade (joining "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" with that distinction). Still, fans of the band's horn section also had to look away at this point.

7. "You're Not Alone"

I still find it hard to believe that Chicago managed to chart five singles from 1988's full-on adult contemporary release, Chicago 19. After all, hair metal had cornered the power ballad market pretty thoroughly, but Billboard doesn't lie, I guess. Although this track certainly taps into an incredibly schmaltzy inspirational concept, Champlin carries off the lead vocals with aplomb and some semblance of genuine passion. I'm really feeling like I should apologize to Scheff, but I just can't see how any of the late-'80s Chicago singles featuring him on lead vocals can possibly be included on a best-of list.

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