In more than 50 years since Chicago’s debut album, founding member Lee Loughnane has learned that deep cuts, while adored by some fans, and new songs don’t always connect with audiences. Despite having 37 albums — 26 of them studio albums in addition to numerous live albums and greatest hits collections — Chicago doesn’t veer far from what most people want to hear.
“We tried to [play deep cuts] because we want to go back and play that stuff because it was fun to play, fun to write, fun to record,” trumpet player Lee Loughnane tells Billboard’s Behind the Setlist podcast. “But if it doesn’t work live, you end up pulling it anyway. You know, you have fun a few times, but if the only one having fun is the band, that’s problematic. And you go back to what they want to hear: what put you on the map, you know. That’s what people want to hear. In fact, I feel the same way when I go to see a band. I want to hear what put them there.”
So, Chicago focuses on “just about 25 songs that really work all the time, every night,” says Loughnane, who was joined on the podcast by Peter Pardini, director of the new documentary about Chicago weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, The Last Band on Stage, and the 2016 documentary Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago.
Songs that are mainstays include two tracks from the 1969 debut album, Chicago Transit Authority: “Beginnings,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” The early ‘70s are well represented with “25 or 6 to 4” from 1970’s Chicago II, “Saturday in the Park” from 1972’s Chicago V and “Searching,” from 1974’s Chicago VII. For the most part, they’re Chicago’s singles that performed best at radio and MTV— with some exceptions. “Introduction” was never a hit, but “it works because it was the first song on the first album,” says Loughnane. “And it showcases everything that we do within that five-six minutes.”
Showcasing Chicago’s career means including songs from the band’s early- to mid-‘80s hits from the band’s resurgence: “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” from 1982’s Chicago 16 and “Hard Habit to Break” from 1984’s Chicago 17 are concert mainstays. “We do ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, whatever you want,” says Loughnane. “Pick a year. Pick a decade.”
“If This is Goodbye,” from the band’s July 2022 album Born For This Moment, is the lone new song in the band’s recent concerts. Co-written by producer Joe Thomas, Baby FuzZ, CJ Baran and Ben Romans, “If This is Goodbye” peaked at No. 16 on Billboard‘s Adult Contemporary chart for the week of August. 13. “If the next song becomes a hit, we’ll put that in as well. You put too many new songs in [and] you get the old ‘going to the popcorn stand or bathroom’ stuff,” he jokes.