This post on mega-selling arena rock bands from the ’80s led to a discussion of Chicago, which reminded me of this:
My first experience with a “real” producer came when I sat in for a couple of days while David Foster recorded Chicago 17, or actually “Hard Habit to Break” from 17 at Lighthouse Recorders (RIP) in North Hollywood in 1983.
I was the U.S. correspondent for Japan’s biggest pop-music TV show, Superstation, and I led the youthful Japanese hosts on a whirlwind tour of the L.A. pop-rock scene. We interviewed everyone from Sting to Herbie Hancock, from Dokken to Devo. We did conducted something-like 40 interviews in two weeks, and it was a fascinating nightmare. We ran around grabbing everyone with a recognizable face at the first Billboard Video Awards, we ate a lot of sushi, and we did a lot of bowing.
The Chicago recording came at the end of the marathon, and I asked to come back on my own just to watch. With millions of dollars worth of equipment crammed into a very unassuming building, I felt like a spy as I returned, sans-entourage, to the site the next day. Wealth dripped from every member of the band in the form of jewelry, haircuts, clothing and nonchalance. Peter Cetera was the best/worst.
The famous rock-stars and their famous producer were all pleasant, yet intent on the proceedings. As I sat by Foster in the control room, I stated in a conversational voice, “David, your face is on fire and your penis just exploded.” He replied, “Catch me with that later, I gotta get this horn-part down,” as he rearranged some patch cords and exhorted the vaunted Chicago horn-section to “Put more of that Chicago-feel into it.” So they re-puckered and did it again.
It was all so meticulous and piecemeal that it was difficult to get an overall feel for the song. New recruit Bill Champlin, late of the Sons of Champlin, came to sing a brief line. Foster hummed him through it. My time there was both incredibly dramatic – Olivia Newton-John stopped by to chat with her old friend David, I was watching the recording of what was to become a big hit and we all could sense that – and it was incredibly dull – nothing is more tedious than watching several filthy-rich middle-aged men sing the same few lines over-and over and play the same horn part until the cows come home. But I gained a healthy respect for the care and craft that goes into a major league recording, and after the plastic surgery and the prosthetic device, no one could have guessed about David’s flamed physiognomy or detonated digit.