he Chi-Lites originally called themselves the Hi-Lites but needed to change their name when they discovered that another band had beaten them to it. Since they came from Chicago, the problem was solved by adding a "C" in honor of their hometown.
The group's history dates back to 1960, but it wasn't until their affiliation with Brunswick Records in 1969 that they gained national exposure. Their first few releases for Brunswick were mostly conventional ballads, which became hits on the soul charts with little or no impact on the pop charts. This changed when they decided to tackle social issues, à la the Temptations, with a song called "Give More Power to the People."
With Record squarely at the helm, "Have You Seen Her" is an unflinchingly romantic ballad that combines heart-breaking narration with airy harmonies. It's old-fashioned in form but contains a freshness and innocence that guaranteed its success among practically any audience, including the white-based charts. "Have You Seen Her" wasted no time climbing to #3 while simultaneously topping the R&B market. Rock and roll was losing its sense of direction and heading toward decadence and nihilism while straight pop music was becoming unbearably light and meaningless, but R&B retained its purity of essence. For the first time in pop music history, black artists were beginning to dominate America's pop market. In 1972, the Chi-Lites had become overwhelmingly popular and assumed the charge in reestablishing R&B as the driving force in contemporary pop.
Their next single only proved that this was so. It was another irresistible ballad, but this time it raced all the way to the #1 position on both charts, aided by an impressive appearance on TV's Flip Wilson Show. "Oh Girl" has all the appeal of its predecessor, but it exaggerates the sadness of the lyrics by adding a lonesome harmonica into the mix. Lush strings push the song even further toward the lachrymose, as do the marvelous harmonies of the Chi-Lites, who were fast becoming little more than vocalists for the Eugene Record Show.
As the masters of overwhelmingly melancholy, the Chi-Lites seemed to have staying power. Instead, they faltered. Only two of their 1973 single releases reached the Top 40 ("A Letter to Myself" and "Stoned Out of My Mind"), and a restlessness seemed to overtake the band. By the following year, the band began to disappear altogether. Record grew frustrated and quit the group in 1975, but had very little luck in his pursuit of a solo career. The rest of the group trudged on a while longer (Record rejoined in 1980), but as nobody seemed to take notice, they eventually stopped recording. Interestingly, the Chi-Lites may have ceased to exist as a presence on the charts under their own name, but the pop audience refused to forget the songs that made the band famous. In 1990, both "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl" once again became tremendous hits, but this time for M.C. Hammer and Paul Young, respectively.
On July 22, 2005, Eugene Record succumbed to an extended bout with cancer at the age of 64. He had continued performing with a version of the Chi-Lites up until his death.
- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.
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