16
May 08

CHICAGO – “If You Leave Me Now”

FT + Popular63 comments • 3,543 views

#396, 13th November 1976

As I gradually learned more about music history it became apparent that there were a bunch of American bands who had enjoyed long careers in the 70s but who were close to invisible here. It seems to me that Britain has never really had an equivalent to the rock radio formats on which Chicago, among others, built a fanbase: individual DJs were left to promote adult-oriented and classic rock, which didn’t give dues-paying rock bands the space they had to build large audiences back home. Of course, I didn’t listen to radio in the 70s, so I’m happy to be corrected on this.Anyway the upshot is that the career of Chicago seemed (and seems) bizarre to me: literally dozens of albums, most of them doubles (or more!), reduced as far as I was concerned to a single soppy hit which I knew better from karaoke than from ever actually hearing the band’s version. And apparently “If You Leave Me Now” is hardly typical of the band’s work (to the extent that its success caused serious rifts). In Popular terms, though, it’s the first of a bunch of limpidly sincere records we’ll be meeting as the British public went ballad crazy.

What works in “If You Leave Me Now”? The hook, certainly – instantly memorable and (often what separates hit from flop, this) fun to imitate. As contrition, though, the track would work better if it was sparer: the opulent instrumentation means “If You Leave Me Now” sounds as much seduction as plea – which I’m sure did its sales no harm. The whole thing is glutinously enjoyable on one level, self-regarding piffle on another: that “oooh-ooh-oooh”doesn’t bring to mind a man desperate to stop his lover departing, just Peter Cetera tossing his hair and making doe-eyes at himself in a really gigantic mirror.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    LondonLee on 17 May 2008 #

    American do often tell you the time as “6 of 4″ or “20 of 8″ – I’ve lived here 15 years and it still puzzles me.

  2. 32
    Billy Smart on 17 May 2008 #

    I think that this is a fine example of a very good bit (“If you leave me now/ Ooohooohoooh”/ horns come in) moored in the middle of a rather dreary song. Whenever I hear that bit I get a bit excited and then I lose interest. I remember it working well in the Lemon Jelly track, though.

    What affection I have for this song is taken from the experience of watching 1976 clips on ‘Top of The Pops 2’ on a small black and white portable TV in the room of a Victorian hall of residence where a friend lived, one dark and wet Saturday evening in November 1996.

    This came on. We watched, underawed.

    “My mum likes this” she told me.

    The song became imprinted indelibly in my mind – forever since – as “The song that Nicky’s mum likes”, no more and no less.

  3. 33
    pink champale on 17 May 2008 #

    i always spend the whole record waiting (and it’s a long, if not unpleasant wait) for the bit towards the end when peter cetera unleashes his comical “oohah pretty mamma i jus gotta have yuur luvin” bit.

  4. 34
    DJ Punctum on 18 May 2008 #

    Knights of St Columba hall – eek indeed!

    First “punk” record played at our school disco; “Something Better Change” by the Stranglers, autumn ’77, to which I did the Tiswas dying fly routine of which classmates still speak to this day.

  5. 35
    Waldo on 18 May 2008 #

    I’m scuttling off for a few days of drying out and playing with baby mice and whatever else. My absence will cover Lady Jane Grey’s reign, I see. I fully expect the blogger formally known as Marcello to have completed his detention imposed by Rosie and Doctor Mod by then. Back at my school, a period of detention was never a punishment, merely the most effective way a teacher (“progressive” all) had of preventing a “pupil” from being brutally slain.

  6. 36
    vinylscot on 18 May 2008 #

    I’m pleasantly surprised to see that reactions to this seem to be on the whole rather positive.

    As with Waldo, in comment #16, I too heard this song early, and claimed it for myself, not really thinking it would be a UK no1 – It just didn’t sound like the sort of thing Brits would buy. It was only later that it became apparent it had been just a blueprint for precisely what the Brits would buy from an American (usually) AOR band.

    I think it was the rather plaintive vocal which made it so memorable – the cod-flamenco guitar was a bit different back then (but not too cheezy) and overall the production seemed tastefully restrained, again not a bad thing back in the day…

    I would probably hate it if it was new now, or even just five years later, by which time we’d had all sorts of similar tosh. But at the time, it seemed new, not revolutionary (like p**k), just a wee bit different. Chicago themselves attempted a carbon copy the following year with “Baby What A Big Surprise”, but we weren’t fooled and it only hit #41.

    intothefireuk – it had been released in the US in July, and in these pre-download days, it was of course quite common for a single to be released in the US several months prior to its UK release (if it was released in UK at all), and vice-versa. It was a pretty instant hit on its release over here, but you would probably have heard Gambaccini playing it pretty regularly throughout the summer. Several other DJs around that time kept one ear on the US charts, so it may have got some airplay on other shows too. If you were a chart freak, you would no doubt have been aware of it as it hit the Billboard top 30 in week ending 21st August.

    #2 watch – this prevented Leo Sayer having his first #1 with “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”

  7. 37
    Doctor Mod on 18 May 2008 #

    Waldo #35–

    Oh no, my dear! You truly overestimate my capabilities.

  8. 38
    lonepilgrim on 18 May 2008 #

    i’m surprised this charted so early as whenever i hear it on the radio i think of it as an 80s hit – maybe i get it confused with peter cetera’s later solo efforts

    it has a kind of four seasons feel to it, maybe because of the high, nasal voice – but this has a more blissed out feel that conjures up pictures of men in blouses and medallions with blow dried hair
    while googling some of the acts who followed that trend i discovered a new musical genre – yacht rock: details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yacht_rock

    re: no. 26 and the prog/aor pre-punk thing i seem to remember that among those writers who promoted those genres in the music press there was a lot of stuff which promoted ‘the studio’ as a scene of high-tech wizardry to which lesser mortals could never aspire until they had ‘paid their dues’ – the week after mick farren wrote his ‘titanic sails at dawn’ piece in the nme, max bell wrote a reply in which he sung the praises of steely dan and little feat amongst others

    punk didn’t sweep all that away for me at least – i was happy to listen to the sex pistols as well as steely dan and pink floyd

  9. 39
    DJ Punctum on 19 May 2008 #

    Cue Mark with Dan/Floyd as real punk heheh etc.

  10. 40
    Drucius on 19 May 2008 #

    Sloppy and slushy indeed. Which made it perfect for sloppy and slushy snogging.

  11. 41

    real punk = sutherland brothers and quiver heheh etc

  12. 42
    DJ Punctum on 19 May 2008 #

    He should have played Silver Convention instead.

  13. 43
    Lena on 19 May 2008 #

    And Issac Hayes!

    It could be that saying “six of four” is a bit of UK English that was taken to the US and is surviving in places – as a Californian I’ve never heard it, let alone said it.

    I’m starting to think everything besides Brotherhood of Man is the real punk…

  14. 44
    Billy Smart on 19 May 2008 #

    He could have played ‘Love Hangover’, too…

  15. 45
    DJ Punctum on 19 May 2008 #

    Fair’s fair, though – he did spare us the agony of “No Charge” and “Convoy GB.”

    Even with the thirties/forties nostalgia boom, isn’t Robin Sarstedt’s “My Resistance Is Low” the weirdest of top three hits?

  16. 46
    Ben on 20 May 2008 #

    There’s a truly bizarre version of this song by Brazilian singer Ive Mendes, which sounds like someone’s reprogrammed an automated call centre.

  17. 47
    Caledonianne on 25 May 2008 #

    I love “My resistance is low”, just as I did when I was 17. Fabulous arrangement, and another track that keeps me cosy, dozy company on the train home on the mad nights when the Commons sits ’til nearly midnight.

  18. 48
    Erithian on 27 May 2008 #

    Que? Are you saying there’s an MP hiding behind this alias?! or at least a Commons researcher?

  19. 49
    Brian on 2 Jun 2008 #

    There were several bands built around the same model as Chicago that were qiite big in North America. Maybe the UK has an aversion to horn sections.

    I’m thinking of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Electric Flag , Tower of Power, Cold Blood , Sons of Champlin and , in their own way Sly & The Family Stone.

    All these bands built around big sound and brassy , ballsy punchy , funky horn sections.

    I saw Chicago live ( more than once ) and certainly early on , when they were the Chicago Transit Authourity and Terry Kath was still there they were fabulous. Probably their best piece of music is the suite ” Make Me Smile ” on their second LP, I think.

  20. 50
    mike on 3 Jun 2008 #

    Oh Gawd, the Tony Blackburn on-air meltdown period. (The Jacksons’ “Dreamer”! Patrick Juvet’s “Just Another Lonely Man!”) Even at his most nauseatingly chirpy, you could hear the underlying brittle desperation, which he was barely able (or indeed bothered) to conceal.

    Interesting that TB got behind “If You Leave Me Now”. I remember him playing Chicago’s “I’m A Man” as a “Revived 45”. When the record finished, he commented, almost apologetically: “That was from 1970, when the heavier stuff tended to get into the charts.” (Pause, then more brightly and briskly) “Aren’t you glad it’s not still 1970?!”

    I love this record. A solid 9 from me.

  21. 51
    DJ Punctum on 3 Jun 2008 #

    Surprised R2 haven’t considered Tone for presenting POTP; he would be right at home there.

  22. 52
    Brian on 3 Jun 2008 #

    (and also the best one of the lot from that side of the Atlantic were Toronto’s very own Lighthouse ……)

    Thanks for reminding me Marcello !Toronto had a big live R & B community in the sixties & seventies that may account for the popularity of big bands in these parts.
    Might also explain why Chicago were so popular here. David Clayton Thomas also from Toronto.

    For the record some of the local , blue eyed soul bands were Jon , Lee & The Checkmates, The Rougues ( i think Lighthouse Drummer , Skip Prokop , was original drummer ), Tom & Ian and The Soulset, Mandala, George Oliver . They mostly covered the US Soul Hits but had a big following and have actually become identified with the ” Toronto SOund “. Most played out of L’Cog D’or on YOnge Street and the same place was home to Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks , who later became The Band. Special place, special time.

  23. 53
    Andy Pandy on 25 Aug 2008 #

    Apparently to a lot of Chicago fans and certain members of the band this was the beginning of the end as they went from a “serious/albums orientated” band to one invoved in romantic pop songs. To me this and possibly “Baby What A Big Surprise” and maybe the disco-influenced album that contained “Streetplayer” (sampled and made famous by the Bucketheads “The Bomb”)were the final glimmers of class in a very worthwhile career. This single to me is pretty perfect in every way and the paucity of similar standrard stuff at No1 just goes to show how the quality of No1’s has been on an almost downward trajectory ever since the late70s/80s. And if anyone says they prefer “New Rose” to this I’d have to consider whether they actually really do like music at all.

  24. 54
    DJ Punctum on 26 Aug 2008 #

    (a) I said it.

    (b) I’m right.

    (c) In common with everyone else on this planet, I don’t give a fuck what you consider. Deal with it.

  25. 55
    Mark G on 26 Aug 2008 #

    a) Me too

    b) It’s my opinion, and I also like 25 or 624 better than this

    c) one bracket is better for footnotes

  26. 56
    DJ Punctum on 26 Aug 2008 #

    I mean the guy’s actually two years younger than me and yet he comes across as a dreary old man; it’s depressing and I feel sorry for him. Ah well, DNFTT.

  27. 57
    mike on 26 Aug 2008 #

    a) Thirded. “If You Leave Me Now” is perfectly lovely, but “New Rose” was genuinely life-changing.

    b) I don’t like music; I love it!

  28. 58
    Mark G on 26 Aug 2008 #

    Well, in our 6th form year 6 we all between us had the common room filled with the punk and new wave. When we moved up to year 7, the new 6th year brought in La belle epoch and suchlike. It did seem at the time that the times were changing back…

  29. 59
    DJ Punctum on 26 Aug 2008 #

    In my common room day it was all Canadian hard rock – Rush, Max Webster, April Wine – and I still don’t quite get why they were so popular in my year.

  30. 60
    Mark G on 26 Aug 2008 #

    There were a lot of black armbands when LynSkyn went down, back in the day, there.

  31. 61
    DJ Punctum on 26 Aug 2008 #

    Pity Kid Rock didn’t slash his wrists in sympathy.

  32. 62
    hectorthebat on 19 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Grammy Awards (USA) – Record of the Year Nominee
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year

  33. 63
    Larry on 15 Nov 2014 #

    I actually liked this when listening to it just now, so I conclude from that that the ‘Popular’ comments section is changing my taste.

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