Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chicago Cover Gallery

In its forty-year journey from trailblazing Blood, Sweat and Tears-style horn-led jazz-rock to corn-fed MOR gravy and then on into... well, into perpetuation for its own sake, Chicago have kept alive a remarkably strong brand identity. While their sound has changed a lot, their design aesthetic has remained constant. Both their most defining feature and their curse of anonymity, their lengthy series of albums with numbered titles (like editions of a magazine) and variations on the band logo on the cover are iconic as hell, but kind of make their albums all seem the same ("I think XIV was much better than XII. Almost a throwback to the glory days of VII.") Chicago seems, over the years, to have struggled with this, swerving from embracing the iconic design to deviating from it. On a retrospective like this, though, it's the iconic ones that catch the eye.

The first album is attributed to "Chicago Transit Authority", and as such doesn't follow the 'format'. But after that, this initial series of multi-album sets ('trailblazing' means 'longwinded') is among the most famous. Especially if you scour second-hand record bins. There's the sheet metal, the... er, flag or scarf or something, the one-in-white, and the wooden one. Maybe that's what Chicago fans refer to them as.

The purity of the design is falling apart a bit now. I don't know what the busy #6 is meant to be, and after the back-to-form leather one, you get 'logo plus bird', which is no design at all: perhaps this was an eraly attempt on Chicago's part to overcome the curse ("Hey, did you like the bird album?") The Greatest Hits is a lame idea, but the chocolate album pretty much perfects the concept. I don't know if even a minute of the music is worth hearing, but that is one awesome album. It deserves to be on the wall of some university kid's dorm room.

After a pretty lame 'map of Illinois' cover, Chicago decides they've had enough: for the first time, they give an album a title, "Hot Streets", and a cover so lame it defies description. Shocked back to their senses, they go back to high rise and fingerprint (which is pretty cool) before adopting a non-design of, presumably, signage in Chicago for thier second Greatest Hits album.

The microchip cover balances the main conceit with an attempt to give the album an individual identity, but I guess it bombed. Peter Cetera was in full force for the schlock-fest '17', with its not-bad packaging-packaging. It all goes downhill from here, though. I'm not sure I get what the next one is - stained glass? After that, the Microsoft Paint doodle is an embarrassment. And then a sadly generic Greatest Hits cover.

The album called 'Twenty 1' is about as stupid as it gets: keep the silly numerical title but ditch the cover design. Whose idea was that? Horribly misguided, but the band was in real freefall by now, to the pointt that they gave thier next album a name, "Night and Day", and a messy, boring, faux-retro cover. It's compilation-mania from now on. The next two look the same and evoke nothing. A Christmas album (for God's sake) follows, with a wreath.

A blandly generic live album with a blandly generic cover comes next. The compilation that follows is a bit contrived, but it's a decent attempt to carry on the tradition, with the logo as roadside flower-art. The boxed set that came next has a decent 'old school' pin-impression-toy cover. The 'Love Songs' cash-in has rose petals. Lame. Shockingly, the next one is a proper album. Number thirty, as it turns out, and they avoid the temptation to theme the cover around hard liquor or porn. I don't get the cover, though. Is he shovelling snow?

No surprise - a compilation. The wax seal is kind of a 'how didn't they think of that before?' but it's quite pretty. Then the most recent one, XXXII, is actually about 15 years old or so. Only their third album with a 'name', and it's a pretty cheesy Yes-ish name, "Stone of Sisyphus". It's a big stone on the cover. And Mr. Sisyphus holding it, I guess. Hope he's not too cold.


  1. FWIW, a (very) brief description of each
    album cover design can be found here:


  2. There is a much better "fan" produced cover for "Stone of Sisyphus" available online . I put "fan" in quotes because this is professional quality cover art. As I understand the artist who produced this *is* a professional and his design was reportedly at one time under consideration by Rhino for that album But some rocket scientist chose a piece of dreck instead. I wonder how much money changed hands on that gig.

  3. http://noted.blogs.com/westcoastmusic/2008/01/stone-of-sisyph.html This url got dropped from my first post. Not sure why.

  4. I am looking some attractive and stylish rolling stone cover for my collection. Though I found them on internet but those aren’t of high quality. Does anyone has high resolution covers handy?

  5. I have the rarest first cover of the first lp...it has the name "GUTHOEHRLEIN" in large block under the big side of the cover...\maybe the guy who did the wood cut for the actual cover

    1. Nope. It's just a guy's name. I checked. You found it in a G.W. and it's just another castoff. The only reference to it found anywhere is this post and the Ebay auction you placed. Not rare. Just another (nicely penned) version of "Eat at Joe's".

  6. The gentleman on the XXX cover is using a jackhammer to chisel the three X's into the sidewalk (or at least what I presume to be a sidewalk, as I'd be hard pressed to see the band's logo in the middle of a street). Apart from the obvious like of many an album cover (13 actually reproduces many details of downtown... well, you get the city ;) ), I love the water effect on the band logo for the "Love Songs" album.

  7. Looking for a few album covers (just the covers) to decorate my Chicago room - the city, not the band. This gave me an idea of whats out there and what will look best. Thanks!!

  8. Tremendous lack of factual veracity. On the one hand, you had to be there (and you obviously weren't) and on the other, most of your incorrect assumptions are easily dismissed with a cursory Google or two. VIII is an Embroidered patch, which was standard Blue Jeans issue in 1974 culture. (Even mainstream, by that point. Trickle down from 1969.) X'ers by the thousands actually thought "Chicago 16" was the name of the band, and not the sixteenth studio album. That sounds about right, for where your erudition resides. But everybody gets an opinion.....there are things to criticize about various Band/JWG conceits, but their covers were pretty distinctive. The least legit cover of the bunch was the weird "Hot Streets" cover. Take all the potshots at that one, you wish. I'm right there with you.


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