25 or 6 to 4

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"25 or 6 to 4"
25 or 6 to 4.jpg
Single by Chicago
from the album Chicago
B-side"Where Do We Go from Here"
ReleasedJune 1970
Format7-inch single
RecordedAugust 1969
Genre
  • Hard rock
  • jazz rock
Length
  • 4:50 (album version)
  • 2:52 (single version)
LabelColumbia
Songwriter(s)Robert Lamm
Producer(s)James William Guercio
Chicago singles chronology
"Make Me Smile/Colour My World"
(1970)
"25 or 6 to 4"
(1970)
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"
(1970)
Audio sample

25 or 6 to 4” is a song written by American musician Robert Lamm, one of the founding members of the band Chicago. It was recorded in 1969 for their second album Chicago, with Peter Cetera on lead vocals.[1] The album was released in January 1970 and the song was edited and released as a single in June, climbing to number 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart[2][3] and number 7 on the UK Singles Chart.[4] It was the band's first song to reach the top five in the US.[2] In concurrence with the title, the song moved from number 6 to number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of September 12, 1970. It has been included in numerous Chicago compilation albums. In 2015, Dave Swanson, writing for Ultimate Classic Rock, listed the song as number one on his list of top ten Chicago songs.[5] Classic Rock Review says the song is "one of the most indelible Chicago tunes".[6] In 2019, Bobby Olivier and Andrew Unterberger, music critics for Billboard magazine, ranked the song number one on their list of "The 50 Best Chicago Songs".[7]

An updated version of "25 or 6 to 4" was recorded for the 1986 album Chicago 18 with James Pankow listed as co-writer,[8] and new band member Jason Scheff on lead vocals. The single reached number 48 on the US chart.[9] This version was also used as the B-side for the band's next single in 1986 "Will You Still Love Me?"[10]

Through the 2010s, "25 or 6 to 4" continued to be a staple in Chicago's live concert set list[11][12][13] and in Peter Cetera's solo concert set list.[14][15][16] In 2016, former drummer Danny Seraphine reunited on stage with Chicago to perform "25 or 6 to 4" and two other songs at their induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[17]

Meaning[edit]

According to composer Robert Lamm, the song is about trying to write a song in the middle of the night. The song's title is the time at which the song is set: 25 or 26 minutes before 4 AM.[18][19] Because of the unique phrasing of the song's title, "25 or 6 to 4" has been interpreted to mean everything from a quantity of illicit drugs to the name of a famous person in code.[20]

The 1986 music video for the song references the correct meaning at its beginning.

Bans[edit]

The song was banned in Singapore in 1970 due to "alleged allusions to drugs";[21] the ban extended to entire albums including the song, such as Chicago 18. In 1993, the ban on this song was lifted, along with long-time bans on songs by other artists such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival.[22]

Composition[edit]

In a 2013 interview Robert Lamm said he composed "25 or 6 to 4" on a twelve-string guitar with only ten strings — it was missing the two low E strings — and that he wrote the lyrics in one day. The band first rehearsed the song at the Whisky a Go Go.[23]

The original recording features an electric guitar solo using a wah-wah pedal by Chicago guitarist Terry Kath, and a lead vocal line in Aeolian mode.[24]

The song's opening guitar riff has been compared to chord progressions and riffs in other songs. In the opinion of writer Melissa Locker:

...the opening guitar riff from Green Day’s 'Brain Stew' bears a striking similarity to the opening stanza of Chicago’s '25 or 6 to 4.'[25]

LA Weekly's music editor, Andy Hermann, names it "The Riff" and describes it as follows:

It's a descending five-chord pattern, typically played as power chords over four bars, with the last two chords sharing the last bar. The most common variant of it goes from A minor to G to F sharp to F to E, although it can also be played as Am-G-D-F-E or even Am-G-D9-F#-F-E...[26]

Hermann details the riff's similarity to the chord progression in Led Zeppelin's song, "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", which came out a year before "25 or 6 to 4", and the similarity of that chord progression to one in George Harrison's song, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", which came out even earlier. He labels "Brain Stew", released in 1996, as "derivative" by comparison to "25 or 6 to 4".[26]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the 1986 remake won an American Video Award, in the category "Best Cinematography," for Bobby Byrnes.[27]

Chart performance[edit]

Covers and parodies[edit]

The song has been covered by various artists, including Leonid & Friends,[36] Straitjacket, Local H, Intruder,[37] Bruce Foxton,[38] The Moog Cookbook,[39] Earth, Wind & Fire, Paul Gilbert, Pacifika,[40] former Mötley Crüe lead singer Vince Neil,[41] Umphrey's McGee,[42] Nick Ingman,[43] and as an instrumental on the Dave Koz collaboration album Summer Horns.[44] Constantine Maroulis released his version of the song as a single in 2011.[45]

For the results night performance of the finale of the ninth season of American Idol, Lee DeWyze performed "25 or 6 to 4" with Chicago.[46]

In 2005, Jonathan Coulton made "When I'm 25 or 64", a mashup of "25 or 6 to 4" with "When I'm Sixty-Four" by The Beatles.[47]

In popular culture[edit]

"25 or 6 to 4" has become a popular song for marching bands to play. In 2018 Kevin Coffey of the Omaha World-Herald named it as the number one "marching band song of all time".[48] As performed by the Jackson State University marching band, the HBCU Sports website ranked it number seven of the "Top 20 Cover Songs of 2018 by HBCU Bands".[49] In a nod to its popularity with marching bands, Chicago performed "25 or 6 to 4" and "Saturday in the Park" with the Notre Dame Marching Band on the football field during halftime on October 21, 2017.[50][51]

The song has been used in popular media as well. It appears as an on-disc track in the video game Rock Band 3; [52] has been made available as a download for the game/learning software Rocksmith 2014; [53] has been featured on the animated TV series King of the Hill's season 11 episode, "Luanne Gets Lucky"; [54][55] and was used in the 2017 film I, Tonya, directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan.[56][57]

Influence[edit]

Jason Newsted, former bassist of Metallica, says that this song has the first rock or metal riff he ever learned to play.[58]

Paul Gilbert, former guitarist of Racer X and Mr. Big, says that a "really primitive version" of "25 or 6 to 4" was one of the first songs he taught himself to play on the guitar, using one string.[59]

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chicago Group Portrait (Box Set) (album liner notes archived online) (Media notes). New York City, NY: Columbia Records. 1991. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Chicago - Chart history Hot 100 | Billboard". www.billboard.com. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
  3. ^ "Chicago Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "CHICAGO | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". www.officialcharts.com. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
  5. ^ Swanson, Dave (December 17, 2015). "Top 10 Chicago Songs". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  6. ^ "Chicago II". Classic Rock Review. July 3, 2015. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  7. ^ Olivier, Bobby; Unterberger, Andrew (April 25, 2019). "The 50 Best Chicago Songs: Critics' Picks". Billboard. Retrieved April 25, 2019.
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  9. ^ Trust, Gary (November 13, 2009). "Ask Billboard: Why We Follow The Charts - Second Helping of Seconds". Billboard. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
  10. ^ Popoff, Martin (2010). Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records 1948–1991. Krause Publications. p. 240. ISBN 1-4402-1621-5.
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  18. ^ Lamm, Robert (June 15, 2009). "Chicago Comes to Agganis". BU Today (Interview). Interviewed by Devon Maloney. Boston University. Retrieved February 13, 2017. It's a reference to time. It's a song about writing the song, and I looked at my watch while I was writing and it was 25 minutes to four in the morning, or maybe 26.
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