The Food of Love: A Chicago-Inspired Playlist
If our lovely city has ever left you so awestruck you feel like you could write a song, you’re not alone. Musicians from every time period and genre have found inspiration in everything from the street lights along the highway to fireworks across the water to any old Saturday in the park. If you put them all together, you have over a century of musical expression based on Chicago. Consider this list of some favorites your food of love and play on.
1. “Sweet Home Chicago” – Robert Johnson
The Blues is a music form spawned in America that gained much of its popularity in Chicago. Developed out of slavery work songs in the 1800s, the Blues were a celebrated source of expression through hardship. The early 1900s marked the Great Migration in which men and women of the South began moving in hopes of finding a new life after the Civil War. Chicago welcomed 500,000 people during this time, many of whom were talented musicians. This influx of musicians in the city, paired with the beginning of the modern music industry, made Blues music entertainment for the masses. Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” is not only the perfect example of early Chicago Blues music, but it also pinpoints exactly how this large group of people felt about our city. These people were looking for a place they could call home. And they found it in Sweet Chicago.
2. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” – Jim Croce
Jim Croce was a popular folk rock singer in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He had a number of hits during his career including “Operator” and “Time in a Bottle.” His most well known song, however, is “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” which tells the tale of a tough guy from the south side of Chicago. Croce was not from Chicago, nor did he spend any good amount of time here. But his song inspired by a man he met while he was in the Army was his biggest single, hitting #1 on the charts in 1973. The hit is still synonymous with the city and reflects the folk music trend that was happening across the country at the time. It’s still heard on radio stations daily and a song that most will forever equate with our city.
3. “Far, Far Away” – Wilco
Formed in 1994, Wilco is an alternative rock band based in Chicago. They have seen quite a bit of success in their existence with two Grammy wins for their 2005 album “A Ghost is Born,” and the upcoming release of their next album in September 2011. Wilco is a part of the indie rock scene, first gaining popularity in Great Britain and the U.S. in the late 1980’s. This diverse genre compiles influences of all different types of music to form a brand new sound. Wilco fits right into this category with its country and rock roots. Rolling Stone called them “one of the most consistently interesting bands,” as they continue to create unique and quality music. Their song “Far, Far Away” off their second album Being There talks about being in love in the city and wanting to share the night with someone special.
4. “Lake Shore Drive” – Alliota Haynes Jeremiah
A Chicago-based trio, Alliota released a rock album in 1971 entitled “Lake Shore Drive.” Their title song became their biggest hit, especially with Chicago citizens, who claimed it truly captured the feeling of being on the famous highway.
5. “Little Joe From Chicago” – Mary Lou Williams (and Nat King Cole)
Another American music form largely impacted by the Great Migration was jazz. Originally known as Dixieland, Jazz music was also developed out of slavery working songs. Chicago was able to contribute to its growing popularity by recording notable Jazz musicians in their early studios including Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five band. Mary Lou Williams’ “Little Joe From Chicago” has that early Dixieland Jazz feel as it tells us about a young boy living in Chicago like a king. Like so many newcomers to the city, Joe believes he is going to find huge success, and he isn’t taking no for an answer.
6. “City Lights” – Lucky Boys Confusion
Another indie band from the Chicago suburbs, Lucky Boys Confusion creates a mixture of rock, punk and hip-hop in their sound. They have developed quite a cult following since their inception in 1997, releasing nine albums since then. “City Lights” talks about the troubles of leaving the wonderful Midwest metropolis for the opportunities westbound.
7. “Chicago” – The Tossers
The Tossers come from the Irish neighborhoods of the South Side of Chicago. Forming in 1993, this six-piece band combines its Irish roots with punk music, creating a unique sound very popular in the Celtic punk and Folk rock music scenes. Their song “Chicago” has all the qualities of a good Irish drinking song, while poking fun at aspects of the city most would rather not mention.
8. “Chicago” – Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens is a unique musician who has released a diverse discography beginning in 2000. Considered another member of the indie rock culture, Stevens uses a wide array of instruments including a banjo, sitar and xylophone. Beginning with Michigan, Stevens announced his “Fifty State Project” in which he is planning on researching and writing an album based on each of the 50 states. His self proclaimed “civic pop opus” entitled Illinois has brought his project much acclaim thus far. The album has received nothing but glowing reviews and sold over 900,000 in just its first year. “Chicago”, his most popular single both on the Illinois album and his career to this point, is a beautiful song about a life journey, making mistakes and growing up.
9. “Homecoming” – Kanye West
Kanye West is an American rapper who grew up in Chicago. He began rapping at an early age, dropping out of college to pursue his future in music. In 2004, West released his first album “The College Dropout” which received instant acclaim and awarded him a Grammy for Best Rap Album. Not only did this set West’s career off to an amazing start, it also helped the rap industry emerge in Chicago. West incorporated a hip hop sound which influenced other rappers to do the same. These artists were finally creating their own styles outside of mainstream rap, gaining them popularity and success. In the years following, other popular names came out of the Chicago scene and the entire rap industry has never been the same. Kanye’s song “Homecoming” off his album “Graduation” is about coming home to Chicago and, like the girl he used to know when he was a small boy, all the things he still loves about it.
10. “Saturday in the Park” – Chicago
Of course, no Chicago playlist would be complete without of song from the band of the same name. Chicago was formed in 1967 by a group of mainly DePaul students looking to make social and political statements about the country. Although some of their early work accomplished this goal, their most successful pieces were softer sounds. Songs like “Color My World” and “Make Me Smile” (both off of their second album) were top ten hits. Chicago has five #1 albums, 21 #1 singles, and is considered one of the most successful American pop/rock bands of all time. “Saturday in the Park” is the perfect song to relax to on any patch of grass the city. It’s sweet lyrics celebrate the beauty that is a Chicago summer day.