Chicago (Sufjan Stevens song)

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Song by Sufjan Stevens from the album Illinois
Released July 5, 2005 (2005-07-05)
Genre Indie folk, baroque pop
Length 6:04
Label Asthmatic Kitty
Writer Sufjan Stevens
Composer Sufjan Stevens
Language English
Illinois track listing
"One Last "Whoo-Hoo!" for the Pullman"
"Casimir Pulaski Day"
Three alternate versions, featured on The Avalanche:

"Acoustic" (4:40)
"Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Version" (6:06)
"Multiple Personality Disorder Version" (4:35)

"Chicago" is a track from Sufjan Stevens 2005 concept album Illinois, released on Asthmatic Kitty. The song tells the semi-autobiographical[1] story of a young man on a road trip, and his youthful idealism. The track is Stevens' most popular song, and he usually ends his live shows with a version of this song. The song has been recorded in four different versions by Stevens himself, the versions not on Illinois being included on the collection The Avalanche. The track has also been sampled by Chiddy Bang on their single "All Things Go".


In the process of making the second album in his ambitious Fifty States Project, which involved recording an album for each of the states of America, Stevens had committed a large amount of time to researching the people and history of Illinois.[2] However this track is one of the most autobiographical on the album. Sufjan Stevens states in interviews around the release, that, "I've had quite a few exceptional and traumatic experiences in Illinois, a few times when visiting Chicago at a particularly difficult time in my life or driving cross country and being pulled over by the cops just outside of Peoria,"[1] and that he saw his first rock show there.[2] However, he self-deprecatingly qualifies the story of the song as only being partly true, stating, "The writer is the inventor, the designer, the creative force behind a body of work. The author is the actual man or woman, in reality, in society, in person. I like Woody Allen the director/writer, circa 1975, but I doubt I would like Woody Allen the person, circa 1975."[1] Stevens also cited the poem "Chicago" by Saul Bellow as an influence on the track, and had intended to include a track about Bellow on Illinois, but could not find a way to adequately cover the writer.[3]

Alternate versions[edit]

The year after the track was released on Illinois, three further versions were included on the outtakes album, The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album, these being an acoustic version, the "Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Version", which is a lounge version of the original track, and a "Multiple Personality Disorder Version", of which Stevens stated, "James, my drummer was in town, and we decided it would be kind of fun to deconstruct the song".[2]


The track was well received as the centerpiece of the acclaimed album, Illinois. Allmusic described the track as having "An expansiveness that radiates with the ballast of history and the promise of new beginnings.", and the track was included as one of the Pitchfork 500 most important tracks since punk broke.[4]


For original version:

  • Julianne Carney – violin
  • Tom Eaton – choir
  • Jeniffer Hoover – choir
  • Maria Beller Jeffers – cello
  • Katrina Kerns – choir
  • Beccy Lock – choir
  • James McAlister – drums
  • Tara McDonnell – choir
  • Craig Montoro – trumpet
  • Rob Moose – violin
  • Sufjan Stevens – arrangement, production, banjo, bass guitar, composition, engineering, glockenspiel, guitar, organ, shaker, tambourine, vocals
  • Alan Douches – mastering[5]

In other media[edit]

  • The track was featured in the Oscar-winning film Little Miss Sunshine and its soundtrack album.[6]
  • The vibraphone line from the start of the song and the chorus were sampled in Chiddy Bang's 2009 single "All Things Go".[7]
  • The song is referenced in Snow Patrol's "Hands Open" with the lyrics "Put Sufjan Stevens on/And we'll play your favorite song/"Chicago" bursts to life/And your sweet smile remembers you."
  • American folk band Field Report performed a version of the song in September of 2012 for The A.V. Club‍‍ '​‍s A.V. Undercover series.[8]
  • The song was remixed by Donald Glover under the moniker "mcDJ" and is titled "chitown" as the third track on the album "Illin-Noise! The Sufjan Stevens Remix album" [9]


  1. ^ a b c Matthew L. Peck (July 4, 2005). ""Illinois seems like a dream to me now": An Interview with Sufjan Stevens". Gapers Block. 
  2. ^ a b c Jason Crock (May 15, 2006). "Sufjan Stevens, The Avalanche interview". Pitchfork Media. 
  3. ^ Michael Cramer (2005). "National Anthems". Dusted Magazine. 
  4. ^ "The Pitchfork 500". Pitchfork Media. 
  5. ^ "Illinois Credits on". Allmusic. 
  6. ^ "Little Miss Sunshine Original Soundtrack". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  7. ^ "Chiddy Bang samples". 
  8. ^ "Field Report covers Sufjan Stevens". Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Illin-Noise! The Sufjan Stevens Remix album". 

External links[edit]