Albums that changed the music landscape are fascinating. Perhaps Chicago 17 is one them.
…and “You’re the Inspiration,” two big and slick dramatic ballads that each peaked at number three on the charts and helped set the sound for adult contemporary pop for the rest of the decade; the likes of Michael Bolton and Richard Marx are unimaginable without these songs existing as a blueprint (in fact, Marx sang backup vocals on “We Can Stop the Hurtin'” on 17).
Ballads were a big part of 17 — in fact, these hits and album cuts like “Remember the Feeling” are among the first power ballads, ballads that were given arena rock flourishes and dramatic arrangements but never took the focus off the melody, so housewives and preteens alike could sing along with them. Power ballads later became the province of hair metal bands like Bon Jovi and Poison, but Foster’s work with Chicago on 17 really helped set the stage for them, since he not only gave the ballads sweeping rock arrangements, but the harder, punchier tunes here play like ballads. Even when the band turns up the intensity here — “Stay the Night” has a spare, rather ominous beat that suggests they were trying for album-oriented rock; “Along Comes a Woman” has a stiff drum loop and a hiccupping synth bass that suggests dance-pop — the music is still slick, shiny, and soft, music that can appeal to the widest possible audience. 17 did indeed find the widest possible audience, as it ruled radio into late 1985, by which time there were plenty of imitators of Foster’s style. … Certainly, it’s hard to think of another adult contemporary album quite as influential within its style as this — not only did it color the records that followed, but it’s hard not to think of Chicago 17 as the place where soft rock moved away from the warm, lush sounds that defined the style in the late ’70s and early ’80s and moved toward the crisp, meticulous, synthesized sound of adult contemporary pop, for better or worse, depending on your point of view.