Columbia PC 32810
Released: March 1974
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 69
Certified Platinum: 11/21/86
For Chicago's seventh album, the band returned to Jim Guercio's Caribou Ranch, and returned musically to the jazz roots and multi-disc format that had launched the group's greatest successes. The band also spent its largest stretch ever recording an album, as the sessions ran from August until December of 1973.
"Some of the purest jazz we ever did is on that album," says drummer Danny Seraphine, who wrote or co-wrote the album's first three tracks ("Prelude to Aire," "Aire," "Devil's Sweat"), all of which are instrumentals. "Aside from the first record, I think that may be the best album we ever made. It was the best combination of jazz and pop we recorded."
With multiple songwriters in the band, there was often competition between band members to land their compositions on the albums. "It was like a big family sitting at a dinner table grabbing for food," Seraphine says. "Usually the best songs got on the record." Six of the band's seven members had songwriting credits on the album.
Chicago VII hit the summit of the Billboard Top 200 LP's & Tapes chart in its fifth week on the chart, but only held the spot for one week, the shortest span of any of the group's five Number One albums. Yet Chicago VII did spawn three hit singles. "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" peaked at number nine on May 1, 1974. "Call on Me," the second single from the album, reached number six on August 10, and "Wishin' You Were Here" climbed to number 11 on November 20, 1974.
Al Jardine and Carl and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, who were also managed by Guercio, dropped by the Caribou Ranch during the sessions and sang backing vocals on "Wishin' You Were Here." The use of the Beach Boys was quite appropriate, as the ballad opens with the sounds of an ocean. Says Seraphine, "It turned out great, and it was the start of a relationship that went on for years," as the two groups would often tour together in the following years.
"Skinny Boy," the album's closing track, featured guest vocals by the Pointer Sisters. The song also served as the title track of keyboardist Robert Lamm's solo album, which was released in August 1974 but failed to chart. While Lamm wasn't able to achieve solo success, the hits kept right on coming for Chicago, and a little over a year later "Old Days" from Chicago VIII became Chicago's next Top 10 smash.
- Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Albums, 1996.
A lavish two-disk-set, their latest, will doubtless delight most fans with some exciting changes of pace, despite the occasional gaps that seem unavoidable whenever this act decides on a multi-disk approach. Some earnest jazz instrumentals seem least effective, but more familiar pop anthems, like "Life Saver" and the new single, "Searchin' So Long," will sustain interest. Best moments come with a stunning assist from the Beach Boys on "Wishing You Were Here," with a closer runner-up to "Skinny Boy," featuring the Pointer Sisters. Tooled leather sleeve motif will also be an eye-catcher.
- Billboard, 1974.
All things considered, I think I'd rather spend time with the Chicago Seven that appeared in Judge Hoffman's court than with this album that bears the same name. Chicago doesn't even really make music, much less rock music. Instead, they make a series of hip-sounding excesses that come across more like background "music" for a TV commercial advertising a motor bike, a new yogurt, or some other trendy product for the with-it consumer. Play any band here and you end up with the same mental picture: long hair (carefully tousled), patched jeans, and the smug smile of contentment urging you to BUY.
That the record public continues to buy, and BUY, Chicago's pap is one of those mysteries surely being probed at this moment in places like the Harvard Business School. The production, superb as usual, probably has something to do with it.
- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 8/74.
Originally intended as a jazz-oriented record, Chicago's first double studio album since Chicago III (now on one CD) is an ambitious but ultimately uneven affair, buttressed by the hit singles "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long," "Call On Me," and "Wishing You Were Here." * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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