As Rob Thomas pointed out during his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech last week, Chicago aren’t exactly the coolest band in the world. “People say a lot of things about Chicago,” he said. “And I know that ‘badass’ generally is not one of them, but just remember that when Jimi Hendrix met them for the first time he told them that their horn section sounded like one set of lungs and their guitar player Terry [Kath] was better than him. That, kids, is badass. If you think Chicago is your mom’s band, then man, I want to party with your mom.”
Chicago ended their three-song Hall of Fame set with their 1970 classic “25 or 6 to 4,” which is a response to their 1969 tune “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (Get it?) The song was originally sung by bassist Peter Cetera and featured stunning guitar work by Terry Kath. Sadly, Kath died in 1978 and Cetera didn’t show, so let’s take a look back at this ferocious rendition of the song from a Lenox, Massachusetts, show in the summer of 1970 when the band had their original lineup. It’s easy to see why Jimi Hendrix was impressed by Kath. His solo here is just insane. He’s definitely one of the most under-appreciated guitarists in rock history.
Peter Cetera hasn’t performed with Chicago since he left the group in 1985, one year before he scored a huge solo hit with “Glory of Love” from the soundtrack to The Karate Kid II. The group was quite willing to reunite with him at the Hall of Fame, but Cetera wanted to do “25 or 6 to 4” in a radically lower key. “It’s not like a half step either way,” Chicago’s Robert Lamm told Rolling Stone. “He wanted to drop it down from A to E. So it’s a big jump. [Drops voice] That’s down here. And normally, if it’s just a four-piece band you can do it, but with horns, you got to transfer those… It’s not something that we wanted to do for a one-off.”
It may be the first time in rock history that a debate over what key in which to perform a song prevented a major reunion, but things can get weird at the Hall of Fame. Cetera wound up not even coming to the ceremony. “We made it clear to him that he was welcome,” said Lamm. “I made it clear, and I perhaps spoke out of turn by giving interviews after it had been announced that we were going to be inducted. I was asked, ‘Are Danny and Peter going to play?’ ‘Well yeah, I think so,’ and he got completely crazy about it. Like I shouldn’t be speaking for him.”
Well, we always have video of Chicago in their glory days. And as Rob Thomas said, with songs like “Saturday in the Park” and “If You Leave Me Now,” it’s very easy to dismiss them as a band for moms. But take a look at this live take of “25 or 6 to 4.” The song is so hot that Green Day borrowed generously from it for “Brain Stew.” Check out this YouTube clip of the two songs side-by-side.