The term ‘soft rock’ is one that makes me squirm. It’s not my favourite genre – I like my rock to, well, rock (*devil horns emoji*) – and soft rock can feel like rock ‘n’ roll with all the fun stripped away. But, as the late seventies loom, it is a genre we may have to get used at the top of the charts.
If You Leave Me Now, by Chicago (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 7th – 28th November 1976
Anyway, I say that soft rock is ‘often’ no fun – dull, earnest and very vanilla – but not ‘always’. For sometimes there are soft rock hits like this one. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is a record that makes you feel as if you are being dipped in a vat of warm, melted chocolate. It is a big hug of a song, possibly the ultimate last-dance-of-the-night disc.
If you leave me now, You’ll take away the biggest part of me… the singer croons, but not in a Bing Crosby way. A creamier, more modern style of crooning. Then, prepare your falsettos: Ooh-ooh-ooh no, Baby please don’t go… There are soft horns, and strings, and a guitar being gently plucked.
The singer is pleading with his lover, not to be rash, or hasty. Not to do what they’ll regret in the morning. A love like ours is love that’s hard to find… How could we let it slip away…? He’s trying to lull his partner into staying, by stupefying her with this impossibly gentle, lush music. It’s a lullaby, really, for want of a better description.
Which means I shouldn’t be enjoying this song, not really. I should find it slow, and dull. But, while it hasn’t made me a fully converted soft-rock, MOR fan; you can’t deny a record this well-made and performed. What makes it even more impressive, is that with this type of music it is so easy to overdo the schmaltz (think Engelbert doing his worst on ‘Release Me’, or even Pussycat laying the cheese on a bit thick in the previous #1). Chicago pitch it just right, and create a classic of the genre.
I’m sure I recall an advert from ten/fifteen years back, in which an animated cherry lip-synced to this song. Or I may have dreamt it, and urgently need said dream analysed by a professional. If the advert does exist, then it’s a sign of how ‘If You Leave Me Now’ has softly slipped ‘tween the sheets of our shared consciousness. I’d bet most people could sing along to the chorus on this one, and I’d also wager it’s still on heavy-rotation on Magic and Smooth FM. It’s been covered by our friends Brotherhood of Man, the Isley Brothers, and Boyz II Men, twice.
Chicago were – are – from Chicago, Illinois. I love the confidence of that: screw it, we’ll just name ourselves after our hometown, which just happens to be the 3rd biggest city in the country. I know very little about them, other than that their albums are almost all titled as numbers (this was off ‘Chicago X’, their tenth album). As of 2018, they are a ten-piece with three original members still hanging on in there, on album XXXVII.
To finish, I’d like to note the fun coincidence of having a song named after a US state knocked off top spot by a band named after a US city. How cool’s that? That’s the sort of analysis you won’t be getting anywhere else. Onwards…