Chicago is famous for its contributions to jazz, blues, and soul, it brought house music to the world and has been hugely influential in the hip-hop, punk and rock scenes.
It’s host to the annual Chicago Blues Festival, which attracts a who’s who of the planet’s most talented artists, and boasts some of the best venues in the world. To celebrate this heritage, we’ve put together a playlist of Chicago’s best tracks. Enjoy.
1937 - present
Sweet Home Chicago, Various
It’d be a crime to exclude this. A blues standard first recorded by Robert Johnson in 1937, there are numerous versions available, from Earl Hooker to The Blues Brothers. Barack Obama even joined Buddy Guy and B.B. King in a verse in 2012, dedicating it to his “hometown”.
The Eel, Bud Freeman
A key player in the emerging Chicago style of jazz, composer and saxophonist Bud Freeman - born in the city in 1906 - was famous for major recordings such as “Tillie’s Downtown Now’”, “The Buzzard” and this standard, composed by fellow Chicago native and jazz pioneer, Benny Goodman.
Rollin’ Stone, Muddy Waters
Often called “the father of modern Chicago blues”, the Mississippi born musician’s influence can still be heard today, in a huge range of genres, from hard rock to hip-hop. Rollin’ Stone, recorded in 1950, is Waters at his best. The Rolling Stones (coming up next) are named after the song.
Hitch Hike, Rolling Stones
“I’m going to Chicago, that’s the last place by baby stayed”, sang Mick Jagger in this 1965 cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1962 R&B track. The recording went on to inspire acts as such as The Velvet Underground and The Smiths, while Paul McCartney performed a live version in 2011.
Curtis and Roots, Curtis Mayfield
Chosen by Dusty Groove Records buyer Doug Arnold, our guide through Chicago: “These are his first couple solo albums after his earlier work with The Impressions, and he's blending soul, funk and political lyricism in a way that was hugely influential on 70s soul to come. True classics.”
Because the Night, Patti Smith
Born in Chicago in 1946, punk pioneer Patti Smith recorded this, her most widely known song, in 1978. Co-written with Bruce Springsteen and produced by Jimmy Iovine, it’s since been performed by numerous acts including R.E.M, U2 and Sonic Youth.
Home of the Brave, Naked Raygun
Chicago-based post-punk four-piece Naked Raygun, initially active from 1980 to 1992, opened their 1985 album All Rise with this two-minute track, laid down at the Chicago Recording Company.
The Whistle Song, Frankie Knuckles
House Music originated in Chicago in the early 80s, and DJ Frankie Knuckles was known as “The Godfather” of the genre. This is his seminal work, and the first of four number ones in the US dance chart.
1979, Smashing Pumpkins
In 2000, Smashing Pumpkins played a farewell concert at The Metro, the same Chicago club where they started their career twelve years earlier. They part-reformed in 2006, but this song from 1996’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness catches them at their peak.
Via Chicago, Wilco
Formed in 1994 from the ashes of country rock group Uncle Tupelo, Chicago-based alt-rock group Wilco released this track in 1999. In 2005 the band recorded a live album at the Vic Theatre, the famous Chicago venue that opened its doors in 1912.
Chicago, Sufjan Stevens
Track nine from his 2005 concept album Illinois, Stevens’ most popular song, which usually ends his live shows, tells the semi-autobiographical story of a young man on a road trip. Epic.
Go Go Gadget Flow, Lupe Fiasco
“I’m from the city in the Midwest, best city in the whole wide-wide world”, spits Chicago hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco on track three of his 2007 album The Cool, which sat as the number one rap album for nine weeks and was later nominated for four awards at the 2009 Grammy Awards.