It was good to see the recent Grammy Awards getting in on the AOR revival with Chicago’s performance of a medley with Robin Thicke. Having battled on gamely since the 1985 departure of the legendary balladeer Peter Cetera, the band recently suffered another setback when Westcoast veteran Bill Champlain decided he’d had enough. But singer, keyboardist and founder member Robert Lamm remains (as does the famous horn section). Lamm is perhaps best loved for his songs such as Saturday In The Park from the early 1970s when they were a ‘credible’ blues and jazz outfit.
As Cetera and Champlain went on to lead the group to AOR glory - peaking with the release of the multi-platinum Chicago 17 album in 1984 with its string of classic singles Hard Habit To Break, Along Came a Woman, Stay The Night and You’re The Inspiration - Lamm became a marginal figure. He did have one key moment to remember on Chicago 17 though: an album track called We Can Stop The Hurtin’ which was the band’s attempt to commentate on the social problems of the day.
It was of course absurd for smooth, multi-millionaire rock superstars to record lyrics like Hadn’t we better reach for more than just a dime / Shouldn’t we try to talk that boy out of his crime. But let’s not quibble - this track evokes a key turning point in the development of American AOR, as does the entire Chicago 17 album. It’s hard to imagine now perhaps but in 1984 the production by David Foster and Humberto Gatica seemed so bold, futuristic and expensive. And it marked a break away from the disco-tinged yacht rock era and created a template for the Miami Vice years which hundreds of other artists and producers would imitate.
Thanks to Northern Rascal for this extended 7 minute edit. His new Westcoast mixtape will be featured in the site next month.