October 23, 1976: Chicago Scores First #1 Single

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The band that started out as a progressive jazz-rock outfit with political undercurrents was originally named The Missing Links and then The Big Thing and based in the Windy City. In 1968 they moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority at the suggestion of their manager and producer James William Guercio. Their first album in 1969 bore the same name as the band and, in a rare move for an act’s debut, was a two-disc set.

It yielded a pair of #7 hits with “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Beginnings.” In 1970 the group shortened its name to Chicago.

By 1976, the band had scored 11 Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, among them such signature songs as “25 or 6 to 4” (#4), “Colour My World” (#3) and “Saturday in the Park” (#3). But a #1 single had so far been elusive.

Bassist, singer and songwriter Peter Cetera’s ballad “If You Leave Me Now” almost didn’t make the group’s 1976 LP, Chicago X.

Said Guercio at the time: “After 10 albums and 18 singles, and being one of the most successful American groups of the past eight years, it’s exciting because it looks like it will be the group’s first number one single here and also around the world. We’ve never had a record like this, musically, and I am especially proud because it represents a new direction for the group and hopefully a future of successes.”

On October 23, 1976, it hit #1 for the start of a two-week run atop the pop chart. It also became a three-week #1 pop hit in the U.K. and enjoyed chart success in Australia, New Zealand and a number of European markets.

The song won the band its sole Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus. It eventually sold 1.4 million copies in the U.S. As a ballad, it also signaled a change to a softer sound that helped Chicago become one of the best-selling groups of all-time with total international sales of more than 100 million records.

In the ensuing years, the band also scored #1 hits with “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (1982) and “Look Away” (1988). Their impact and success was finally recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when the band was inducted in 2016.

Related: Chicago jazzes up their Rock Hall induction

Chicago have a busy 2021 planned. Tickets are available here and here.

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