CAPTAIN VIDEO! apologizes for running out on you so quickly during our last session together, but we had a bit of a commotion here on the ship’s bridge. After years of searching, you see, we finally tracked down a prized and most foul relic of the ’80s: Hard video evidence of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4.”
Some explanation might be in order for those of you who are perhaps not completely familiar with the 1980th Dimension, and have therefore gone through life blissfully assuming that “25 or 6 to 4” is a cool, trippy artifact of the late ’60s and nothing more. CAPTAIN VIDEO! is sad to inform you that this is not the case. In point of fact, an atrocious cover of the song was released in 1986, complete with nonsensical video. Who covered it? Why, Chicago, of course!
From a certain point of view, it’s difficult not to forgive the band its efforts to huff the fumes of past glories, no matter how misguided; they’d just lost their original bassist, de facto lead singer, and lately chief songwriter, Peter Cetera, and Cetera’s departure came after a pair of ballad-weighted albums bearing very little relation to their early work. The band was at a crossroads, in other words, and it’s easy to imagine the members of Chicago conceiving this cover as a sort of trial balloon that might float them up, up and away from dreck like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” (Of course, it’s just as easy to imagine producer David Foster getting tired of hearing the horn section banging on the studio door he padlocked shut during Chicago 16, and deciding to throw them a three-minute bone.)
Either way, the key to the whole thing was recording something that did not suck — something Chicago either forgot or willfully ignored, because the 1986 version of “25 or 6 to 4” is a double serving of crappy. Imagine rock music is a city, if you will — and then imagine that city being attacked by a giant robot made of synthesizers. The robot is too clumsy to do any real damage, but it can’t take a step without dropping a Casio turd on a rock & roll memory.
This is “25 or 6 to 4.”
The video, like re-recording the song in the first place, makes little sense; it’s two parts “Max Headroom”-style dystopian future and one part performance video, with a light frosting of cocaine. The plot, such as it is, has something to do with a high school attended by kids who look older than Ian Ziering in the last season of 90210, their authoritarian headmasters, and a glass horse.
CAPTAIN VIDEO! shits you not. In fact, because this video really needs to be taken in as a whole to be fully appreciated, let’s do away with the screenshots this time around, and just watch it front to back:
Of course, a great number of this era’s videos made no sense, so if “25 or 6 to 4” had been a radio hit, the video probably would have gone into heavy rotation. As it turned out, listeners didn’t cotton to new Chicago basist Jason Scheff’s adenoidal wailing of a song they fondly remembered, the remake stalled outside the Top 40, and the band quickly returned to releasing goopy ballads. (Interesting side note: Though the original is credited solely to pianist Robert Lamm, trombone player James Pankow got a co-write on the remake, presumably due to a last-minute effort by a horrified Lamm to distance himself from the recording.)
And with that, dear Videots, we’re off into the 1980th Dimension once more! Meet you here next month for more video