On this day in music history: September 12, 1977 - “Chicago XI”, the ninth studio album (eleventh overall) by Chicago is released. Produced by James William Guercio, it is recorded at the Caribou Ranch in Nederland, CO from April - June 1977. Though riding a huge wave of success through the 70’s which climaxes with their first number one pop single and a Grammy win for the smash “If You Leave Me Now”, all is not well within Chicago’s ranks. Instead of fully enjoying the fruits of that success, it causes ego clashes and a creative power struggle among the seven band members and long time producer James William Guericio. Feeling that Guericio who is also their manager is exerting too much control over them musically and business wise, the band push back and fire him after the recording sessions wrap. Rather than working as they have in the past, the material on “Chicago XI” feel more like individual solo tracks by Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Lee Loughnane and Peter Cetera, instead of a true band effort. In fact, Cetera’s lone vocal and songwriting contribution to the album “Baby, What A Big Surprise” (#4 Pop) (featuring Beach Boy Carl Wilson and Cetera’s brother Tim on background vocals), is the only major hit single from the set. The follow ups “Little One” (#44 Pop) and “Take Me Back To Chicago” (#63 Pop) featuring Terry Kath and Robert Lamm on lead vocals respectively are only minor hits. “Take Me Back”, co-written by drummer Danny Seraphine and Rufus keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski also features Chaka Khan on background vocals. “Chicago XI” is also the last album to feature lead guitarist and founding member Kath, who accidentally shoots himself in the head on January 23, 1978, only eight days shy of his thirty second birthday. Considered to be the heart and soul of Chicago, Kath’s sudden loss is a devastating blow, initially leaving the band’s future uncertain, but they decide to soldier on with guitarist Donnie Dacus as his replacement. Originally released on CD in 1987, it is remastered and reissued in 2003 with two additional bonus tracks. Out of print on vinyl since 1989, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 LP by Friday Music in 2016, replicating the original album package including the gatefold sleeve and custom labels. “Chicago XI” peaks at number six on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 13, 1978 - “52nd Street”, the sixth album by Billy Joel is released. Produced by Phil Ramone, it is recorded at A&R Studios in New York City from July - August 1978. Buoyed by the huge critical and commercial success of his fifth album “The Stranger”, Billy Joel is ambitious to build on his new found success with an even more musically expansive work. The album takes its title from the street in New York City where producer Phil Ramone’s recording studio is located, and near the headquarters of CBS Records, also known as “Black Rock”. “52nd Street” features a number of prominent guest musicians including Peter Cetera and Donnie Dacus from Chicago (background vocals), Freddie Hubbard (flugelhorn and trumpet), Ralph MacDonald (percussion), Eric Gale, Steve Khan, and David Spinozza (guitars). The album is another artistic and commercial tour de force for the prolific singer/songwriter from Hicksville, Long Island, NY, yielding several of Billy Joel’s most popular and loved songs. It spins off three hit singles including “My Life” (#3 Pop), “Honesty” (#24 Pop) and “Big Shot” (#14 Pop), winning Joel two Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year in 1980. “My Life” is also used as the theme song for the sitcom “Bosom Buddies”, starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. The album track “Stiletto” also becomes a favored sample in hip hop, being used by De La Soul (“Plug Tunin’”), Nas (“Disciple”), Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo (“Road To The Riches”) and The Cold Crush Brothers (“Freestylin’”). In 1982, it is the very first album released commercially on Compact Disc by CBS Records. Remastered and reissued on CD (with enhanced content including the promo videos for “My Life”, “Big Shot” and “Honesty”), it is also reissued as a hybrid SACD by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in 2012. It is also released as a limited edition double vinyl LP set by Mobile Fidelity in 2013, mastered at 45 RPM. The classic title is also issued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Music On Vinyl. “52nd Street” spends eight weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 7x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 13, 1979 - “Chicago 13”, the thirteenth album by Chicago is released. Produced by Phil Ramone and Chicago, it is recorded at Le Studio in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and A&M Studios in Hollywood, CA from May - June 1979. Following the platinum selling “Hot Streets” in 1978, Chicago once again work with producer Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand) to make their second album following the death of lead guitarist Terry Kath. It features guest appearances by trumpeter and bandleader Maynard Ferguson, Rufus keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski, and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. It is also the last to feature Kath’s replacement, guitarist Donnie Dacus who is fired from the band shortly after Chicago tours in support of it. The resulting album is not well received by fans and critics alike who are especially disdainful of the disco flavored second single “Street Player” (#91 R&B) (written by Wolinski and drummer Danny Seraphine) released in October of 1979. The backlash it causes against the band at the time is so great, that when Chicago regains the rights to their Columbia Records catalog in the 90’s, “Chicago 13” is one of the last of their original albums to be reissued. After its first CD release in 1991, it is remastered and re-released in 2003. In 1995, the song re-emerges in sampled form when DJ Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez appropriates part of “Street Player” for the huge club and radio hit “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall into My Mind)” under the name The Bucketheads. The song is also sampled on Pitbull’s 2009 hit “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)”. Revived interest in “Street Player” turns Chicago’s original version (at that point long out of print) into a much sought after and high priced collector’s item among DJ’s, especially the remixed 12” single version. The disco mix, which ironically is shorter than the original nine minute plus LP cut, is briefly reissued on vinyl in 1989, as part of CBS Records’ Mixed Masters 12" series. It too goes out of print shortly after its re-release. Demand for the record becomes so great after The Bucketheads record, that it is heavily bootlegged in the wake of its club and chart success. That mix is included as a bonus track on the 2003 CD reissue of the album. “Chicago 13” peaks at number twenty one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.