Commentary: Chicago is long overdue for induction into rock Hall of Fame

Commentary: Chicago long overdue for induction into rock Hall of Fame

gkocher1@herald-leader.comSeptember 15, 2013 

If Abba and the Bee Gees can be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, surely there is room for Chicago.

The 46-year-old group known for its signature horns has been eligible for induction since 1994, but it has never been invited to the party.

That's a shame, as those who will see the group play Wednesday at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts probably already know.

The group has sold more than 100 million records and has had five consecutive No. 1 albums from 1972 through 1975. In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked Chicago 13th among the top 100 artists of all time, based on chart positions and length of time on the charts.

Record sales aren't among the criteria for induction, yet the official biographies of inductees found on the rock hall's website always seem to mention sales figures.

Instead, the hall considers "depth of career and the body of work" and "innovation and superiority in style and technique" among the factors for induction, "but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification."

So let's apply those factors to Chicago.

"Depth of career and the body of work" would seem to make the band a shoo-in. It was the first American band to chart Top 40 albums in five decades.

The band remains a staple on the radio, typically on oldies or adult contemporary formats. Saturday in the Park, the 1972 hit single, vies with John Philip Sousa marches and the national anthem as standards for the Fourth of July.

True, the band hasn't been in the Top 10 of the pop charts for a long while. But it continues to record and put out new material through iTunes and a website, Chicagotheband.com.

Chicago regained a patina of cool in August, when its music was featured in Clear History, an HBO movie by Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The band members made cameo appearances in the show and even figured into the plot.

Breadth and depth? Chicago ought to be inducted on the strength of its 1972 hit Dialogue alone. A pop song that rails against apathy, it is as relevant and current now as it was 41 years ago. Written by Robert Lamm and sung by Terry Kath and Peter Cetera, it features a conversation between two college students:

Don't it make you angry the way war is dragging on?

Well, I hope the President knows what he's into, I don't know

Don't you ever see the starvation in the city where you live

All the needless hunger, all the needless pain?

I haven't been there lately, the country is so fine

But my neighbors don't seem hungry 'cause they haven't got the time

Where other protest songs from the period sound dated, Dialogue jumps out of the speakers as if it were recorded minutes ago.

Then, let's look at "innovation and superiority in style and technique."

The story goes that guitar god Jimi Hendrix was complimentary of Chicago guitarist Kath's playing. Reed player Walt Parazaider says Hendrix told him, "Your guitar player is better than me."

Former Chicago producer James William Guercio says Hendrix "idolized" Kath.

Kath's bluesy vocals and fluid playing certainly grounded the band's first 11 albums in searing rock 'n' roll when they sometimes threatened to float away in syrupy ballads. Sadly, Kath died from an accidental gunshot wound in 1978.

Finally, "musical excellence shall be the essential qualification."

Chicago's peers found something to applaud, even if critics didn't. The band's second album, a two-record set released in 1970, was nominated for a Grammy for album of the year but lost to Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water.

In 1977, the band won a Grammy for best pop vocal performance by a duo or group for If You Leave Me Now.

But the true test to this question of musical excellence is that, summer after summer, Chicago puts butts into seats in outdoor amphitheaters. Are these thousands of fans wrong?

And there's this: When Chris Squire, bass guitarist for the progressive-rock group Yes, was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine earlier this year, he was asked whether he was miffed that Rush had been inducted into the rock hall. Squire said no, Rush deserved to be in, and then added: "I still think it's weird that Chicago isn't in. That to me is odd."

For the band that gave us 25 or 6 to 4, Make Me Smile and Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, it's time to induct Chicago into the Hall of Fame.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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