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"
Released June 1970
Format 7"
Recorded August 1969
Genre Hard rock, jazz rock
Length 4:50 (Album version)
2:53 (Single version)
Label Columbia
Songwriter(s) Robert Lamm
Producer(s) James William Guercio
Chicago singles chronology
"Make Me Smile/Colour My World"
"25 or 6 to 4"
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"
"Make Me Smile/Colour My World"
"25 or 6 to 4"
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"

"Along Comes a Woman"
(1985) Along Comes a Woman1985

"25 or 6 to 4/One More Day"
(1986) String Module Error: Match not found1986

"Will You Still Love Me?"
(1986) Will You Still Love Me?1986
Audio sample

"25 or 6 to 4" is a song written by the 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 of that same year, climbing to No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart[2][3] and number seven on the UK Singles Chart.[4] It was the band's first song to reach the top five in the U.S.[2] It has been included in numerous Chicago compilation albums.

An updated version of "25 or 6 to 4" was recorded for the 1986 album Chicago 18 with James Pankow listed as co-writer.[5] With the new band member Jason Scheff on lead vocals, the single reached No. 48 on the U.S. chart.[6] This version was also used as the B-side for the band's next single in 1986, "Will You Still Love Me?".[7]

Through the 2010s, "25 or 6 to 4" continued to be a staple in Chicago's live concert set list,[8][9][10] and in Peter Cetera's solo concert set list.[11][12][13] 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.[14]


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.[15][16] Because of the unique phrasing of the song's title, "25 or 6 to 4" has been incorrectly speculated to be a veiled reference to drug quantities, or a mystical allusion.[17] The 1986 music video for the song references the correct meaning at its beginning. The song was banned in Singapore in 1970 and again in 1986 because of its "alleged allusions to drugs."[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.[19]

In what may be a coincidence, the song's writer, Robert Lamm, had recently written and sung another Chicago hit, "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?", for which this song's title can be seen to serve as an answer.[17]


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.[20]

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.'[21]

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...[22]

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".[22]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the 1986 remake won an American Video Award, in the category "Best Cinematography," for Bobby Byrnes.[23]

Chart performance[edit]

Covers and parodies[edit]

The song has been covered by various artists, including Leonid & Friends,[30] Straitjacket, Local H, Intruder,[31] Bruce Foxton,[32] The Moog Cookbook,[33] Earth, Wind & Fire, Paul Gilbert, Pacifika,[34] former Mötley Crüe lead singer Vince Neil,[35] Umphrey's McGee,[36] Nick Ingman,[37] and as an instrumental on the Dave Koz collaboration album Summer Horns.[38] Constantine Maroulis released his version of the song as a single in 2011.[39]

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.[40]

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.[41]

Use in popular culture[edit]


Jason Newsted, former bassist of Metallica, says that this song has the first rock or metal riff he ever learned to play.[44]

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.[45]



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  3. ^ "Chicago Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
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  5. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 Singles". Billboard. 98 (41). October 11, 1986. p. 80 (Scroll to page, see No. 48 on Hot 100 Singles chart.). Retrieved February 26, 2017. 
  6. ^ Trust, Gary (2009-11-13). "Ask Billboard: Why We Follow The Charts - Second Helping of Seconds". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-02-13. 
  7. ^ Popoff, Martin (2010). Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records 1948-1991. Krause Publications. p. 240. ISBN 1-4402-1621-5. 
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  10. ^ Price, Robert (August 10, 2017). "Chicago feeling 50 years young". New Jersey Herald. Retrieved October 23, 2017. 
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  12. ^ Varias, Chris (October 4, 2016). "Cetera: All roads lead away from Chicago". Cincinnati.com. Retrieved October 24, 2017. 
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  14. ^ Onesti, Ron (April 15, 2016). "Chicago, Cheap Trick bring rock pride to Illinois". Daily Herald. Arlington Heights, Illinois, USA: Paddock Publications. Retrieved October 23, 2017. 
  15. ^ Lamm, Robert (2009-06-15). "Chicago Comes to Agganis". BU Today (Interview). Interview with Devon Maloney. Boston University. Retrieved 2017-02-13. 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. 
  16. ^ History of Chicago (television documentary). CNN. Retrieved December 30, 2016. '25 or 6 to 4' indicates the time in the morning, 25 minutes to 4 a.m. 
  17. ^ a b "What does the Chicago lyric "25 or 6 to 4" mean?". The Straight Dope. October 18, 2000. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  18. ^ Leo, Christie (1986-12-27). "Singapore Bans Fogerty LP". Billboard. 98 (52). p. 87. Retrieved 2017-02-17. 
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  22. ^ a b Hermann, Andy (June 25, 2016). "You Still Can't Copyright a Riff — and That's a Good Thing". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved October 23, 2017. 
  23. ^ "'Sledgehammer' wins". Fort Lauderdale News. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. February 28, 1987. p. 2A. Retrieved August 1, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. Free to read
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  34. ^ Perusse, Bernard (January 22, 2011). "Pacifika's music hard to label". Regina Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada: Postmedia News. Retrieved October 22, 2017. 
  35. ^ "Vince Neil plays Del Mar birthday bash". Reno Gazette-Journal. Reno,Nevada, USA: Reno Newspapers, Inc. January 18, 1996. p. 15, "Best Bets" section. Retrieved August 1, 2017 – via Newspapers.com. Free to read
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