A List of the Best '80s Songs from Band Chicago

Soft Rock Ballads Dominated for Chicago During This Decade

A look at the band Chicago
The cover of the 'Chicago XXX' album. Pinterest.com

Focusing on the output of fusion rock band Chicago's '80s songs automatically brings up divisive emotions among fans of its entirely different late-'60s and early-'70s signature sound. But there's no denying that the band remained vital in its third decade, even registering as one of the era's top-selling pop acts.

There are more than enough shortcomings in the band's music from this time to keep the group's top songs list relatively short so as to avoid substantial negativity. Here's a chronological look at the very best Chicago songs of the '80s, which don't necessarily coincide with the group's biggest hits of this period.

This track — Chicago's first hit of its slick '80s pop phase — retains a vital link to the band's horn-laden, lively musical legacy. Of course, that connection doesn't become apparent until the song's tacked-on "Get Away" portion (which, not surprisingly, was excluded from most radio cuts of the tune back in the day), but it is consolation that this flash of classic rock flourish is there. "Get Away" brings a brief, but welcome, spike of energy; don't blink and miss it.

Though it features an undeniably lovely soft rock melody and vocal performance from Peter Cetera, this song burst forth in 1982 as frustrating proof that Chicago's eclectic musical past had been stripped away in pursuit of pop success by producer David Foster. The song's busy power ballad instrumentation, after all, should have left room for the group's signature horns. Instead, Foster and Cetera crowd the track's sound with sappy strings, attempts at power guitars and synthesized keyboards. This is still a fine, nostalgic '80s single, but it could have stood on its own merit without the aggressive, adult contemporary overhaul.

Apart from being the first Chicago hit to employ outside songwriters exclusively, with nary a contribution from a band member, this song stands out proudly as one of the finest karaoke ballads of the '80s. Featuring Cetera and newest member Bill Champlin on well-arranged dual lead vocals, the song is overwrought without being nauseating. Another plus is that Foster somehow allowed significant contributions from the group's neglected horn section, bringing in glimpses of the organic feel Chicago's music once held in surplus in the old days. The first verse alone is exquisitely lovelorn, hand-wringing genius.

Cetera and Foster undoubtedly swerved into a harder rock direction with this tune, injecting more guitars than the band probably had ever featured in its nearly two-decade-long career. Still, when Cetera tries to sound tough barking out vocals, he can't help but come off a little false. Similarly, the flashy lead guitar break doesn't seem to fit, either. Despite these gripes, there is some good stuff here, primarily the track's firm and confident melody but also Cetera's singing, which has never been anything but impressively unique and unfailing.

Here's another example of Chicago's appeal for a rock audience. Big drums galore, busy guitars and the tempering effect of a punchy synthesizer all helped project this track to the widest possible listenership in 1985. The attempt falls flat at times, this tune hit the list in lieu of the sappy, limp but intensely popular "You're the Inspiration" because there seems to be a little fire in the former track.

This song makes the list in spite of its songwriter, longtime supplier of pop music cheese Diane Warren, mainly because of its winning concept and soulful lead vocals from Champlin. Or maybe it's because the thought of listening to another whiny performance from Jason Scheff, the irritating Cetera clone who joined Chicago when the latter took off for a solo career, is unbearable. In addition, the track deserves some credit for being the band's only other No. 1 pop hit of the decade (joining "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" with that distinction). Still, fans of the band's horn section also had to look away at this point.

Chicago managed to chart five singles from 1988's full-on adult contemporary release, Chicago 19. After all, hair metal had cornered the power ballad market pretty thoroughly, but Billboard doesn't lie. Although this track certainly taps into an incredibly schmaltzy inspirational concept, Champlin carries off the lead vocals with aplomb and some semblance of genuine passion.