Still going strong over three and a half decades after forming in the city that is its namesake, Chicago's global recognition is based on three factors consistent from the beginning - the band's Coca-Cola styled logo, its simplicity in titling albums by Roman numerals and, later, numbers, and, most importantly, some of the rock era's snazziest horn charts.
Early hits like "Beginnings," "25 or 6 To 4," "Saturday in the Park," combined with the success of later David Foster-produced classics like "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" and "You're The Inspiration" kept them dominant on the pop charts for much of the 70s and 80s. According to Billboard chart statistics, Chicago is second only to The Beach Boys as the most successful American rock band of all time, in terms of both albums and singles; the band is among the Top Ten best selling U.S. groups ever.
Formed in 1966, the band was initially called the Missing Links, next becoming the Big Thing and then, the same year, Chicago Transit Authority or CTA, at the suggestion of manager Jim Guercio. The original line-up was the late Terry Kath, Peter Cetera, Robert Lamm (who shared lead vocal duties), saxophonist Walter Parazaider, drummer Danny Seraphine, trombonist James Pankow and trumpeter Lee Loughnane.
The horn section set the group apart from other mid-60s rock bands, although Chicago Transit Authority was preceded on record by similar-sounding groups such as Blood, Sweat And Tears and the Electric Flag.
During 1967 and 1968 Guercio built the band's reputation, particularly in the Los Angeles area, where they played clubs such as the Whisky. Their jazz-inflected, self-titled 1969 debut failed to make the Top Ten, but stayed on the US charts for 171 weeks. The group also enjoyed singles hits with "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" and "Beginnings." In 1970 the group shortened its name to Chicago and began using the famous logo. Each album cover since has featured a different, interesting treatment of it, and many have won graphic design awards. By the early 70s, Chicago began breaking away from its jazz sound toward more mainstream pop, resulting in such light-rock staples as "Color My World,", 76's #1 hit "If You Leave Me Now" and 1982's #1 "Hard To Say I'm Sorry." Five consecutive Chicago albums topped the charts between 1972 and 1975.
Chicago experienced a sales slump in the late 70s, only to rebound in the early 80s when David Foster came on board for Chicago 16, 17, 18 and beyond. The band won a Best Album Grammy for Chicago X in 1977.
The band has experienced a number of personnel changes over the years, adding Brazilian percussionist Laudir de Oliveira in 1974, losing Kath (who died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound), and adding, in revolving door succession, guitarist Donnie Dacus, guitarist Chris Pinnick and keyboardist Bill Champlin (who has been with the band since 1981). Cetera's solo success led him to leave the band in 1985.
Chicago's commercial popularity waned in the 90s and beyond; the group did a big band experiment called Night and Day in 1995 - but they continue to draw consistent audiences around the globe, and as of 2004 is up to Chicago 26 and counting. In 2002, oldies specialists Rhino Records began releasing remastered special editions of classic Chicago recordings.