Forty Essential Chicago Tracks, Curated by Billboard Power Player Gabe McDonough
Subscribe to the 40 essential Chicago tracks playlist on Spotify. Spanning more than 100 years, the collection was assembled by VP Music Director Gabe McDonough.
This week Leo Burnett Chicago is hosting the Global Product Committee, a gathering of our top creative leaders from around the world. As a gesture of hospitality suggested by Chief Creative Officer Susan Credle, I put together a Chicago-themed music playlist on Spotify to give our guests a true snapshot of the city’s spirit through the years.
I purposely decided to limit myself to 40 songs, knowing that I definitely would never be able to feature every essential cut put to wax here. What I hope the list does, though, is quantify a few things about Chicago music. Everyone knows it’s famous for blues, jazz, house and post rock, but few could name a favorite song or artist from the genres.
Chicago is the birthplace of musical innovations that go on to change culture and the world. Louis Armstrong came from New Orleans, but made some of the most seminal recordings in jazz history here in Chicago. Between the assortment of electric blues and legendary tunes like “Johnny B. Goode” laid to tape at Chess Studios (yes, I know Chuck Berry isn't from the Chi, but the rest of the band on this record was), you have the entire template for rock n' roll.
The city’s name has become synonymous with artists, styles and entire movements: From genres like house to post rock, from alt-rock giants like the Smashing Pumpkins to hip hop luminary Kanye West. And those are just the most famous names. More importantly perhaps, is the fierce boundary pushing and independent spirit that surges through Sun Ra, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Fred Anderson, Tortoise, Califone and Wilco.
As you go through the playlist, I hope you'll hear some old classics with new ears (check out the incredible drumming on "O-O-H Child" again) or get turned on to something for the first time (if you haven’t before, listen closely to the tape-spliced majesty of Tortoise's "Djed").
I'm sure you'll have many "I can't believe he left this off" moments, but if you do one thing, listen to the full eight-minute version of "Move on Up" by Curtis Mayfield. You owe it to yourself.
(Special thanks to Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian at Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs for providing context to some of the city's earliest recordings. Also, thanks to Numero Group for this insane chronology of Chicago music.
*Pictured above: Chicago’s Rainbo Club. Why the image of the Rainbo Club? Members of Naked Raygun, Tortoise, Wilco, Thrill Jockey Records owner Bettina Richards and too many other musicians to list have all worked there. Soma Studios (where bands like Tortoise, Sea and Cake, Wilco, Stereolab and Broken Social Scene have recorded) is in the same building. Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville" was inspired by an era in the 1990s when Urge Overkill were regulars (Rainbo = Guyville), and the album cover’s photo was taken in the bar’s (legendarily flattering) photo booth. I moved to Chicago after being promised a job working the door of the Rainbo, lived above it for a time and reconnected with the woman that would become my wife there on New Years Eve 2001. Long live the Rainbo Club and all the musicians, friendships and true Chicago spirit it continues to foster.