Rotation: Chicago, The Best of Chicago: 40th Anniversary Edition

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When, exactly, did Chicago jump the shark? Since the good people at Rhino were kind enough to arrange this double-album greatest hits package chronologically, we have the opportunity to arrive at a conclusion more or less scientifically.

Of the fact that Chicago jumped the shark there can be no debate. Few bands have ever done so with such appalling clarity. It still seems hard to believe that even some of the people who were involved with such toe-cringingly vile schmaltz as “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration” were also involved win the creation of “Saturday in the Park,” “Beginnings,” and “25 or 6 to 4,” which is still cool even after you realize that the guitar riff is a blatant rip-off of Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.”

So on what night did old, good Chicago die? It’s tempting to say it was June 14, 1976 – the release date Chicago X, which included Peter Cetera’s cheesy hit ballad “If You Leave Me Now,” the seeds of the destruction of the band’s legacy.

But subsequent investigation reveals the correct answer to be a little after five p.m. on January 23, 1978. At that exact date and time, founding guitarist Terry Kath put a nine MM pistol to his head, drunkenly slurred “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded,” pulled the trigger, and blew his brains all over his roadie’s living room. Kath was thus one of the first celebrities to win a Darwin Award.

Coupled with the parting of ways with manager/producer James William Guercio, this left Peter Cetera more or less in charge of the band. There followed a seven-year reign of terror of pansy ballads and Reagan rock that made Barry Manilow sound like Isaac Hayes. Cetera’s nuts-in-a-vise singing and the band’s plinking keyboards and cannon-shot snare hits totally encapsulated bad ‘80s music.

Eventually the remnants of the original band scraped up the dignity to boot Cetera out of there; his horrific run of hits continued under his name for a few more years.

Maybe Terry Kath wasn’t as dumb as the Darwin Awards people thought. – John Nova Lomax

Chicago, The Best of Chicago: 40th Anniversary Edition, Rhino

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