Before embarking on an unusually long career as purveyors of soft-rock ballads, rock's most successful horn-heavy ensemble started out both artistically progressive and politically engaged. Known as the Big Thing when they formed in 1967, the prolific Second City septet released their eponymous debut album as the Chicago Transit Authority two years later. In addition to a sidelong epic devoted to political liberation and Terry Kath's extended guitar freak-out, the record also yielded keyboardist Robert Lamm’s hit single “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” After shortening their moniker at the behest of the real CTA, Chicago stretched out over three subsequent multi-disc albums that paired classic-rock staples like "25 or 6 to 4" with suites blending rock, jazz, classical, R&B, and pop. Branded with a memorable Coca-Cola-inspired logo and sequential numerical titles, the band's first 12 albums went either platinum or multi-platinum. Peter Cetera's "If You Leave Me Now" (from 1976's Chicago X) and "Baby, What a Big Surprise" (from Chicago XI the following year) weren't the band's first ballads, but their mass appeal heralded the conservative pivot that Chicago took following Kath's fatal gun accident in 1978. Bringing singer/songwriter Bill Champlin and producer David Foster into the fold in the early ‘80s launched a steady stream of power ballads (and de-emphasized the horns), culminating in the soft-rock archetype “You’re the Inspiration.” Cetera's 1985 departure left the band with four original members who continued to tour and record, amassing an enormous discography of more than three dozen releases, including a trio of popular Christmas albums.
FORMEDFebruary 15, 1967