Chicago, ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love’ – Hilariously Outdated Videos
The power ballad was king at Top 40 radio in the mid-to-late ’80s, and if you were in a rock band that wanted to make it big during the decade, you pretty much had to record at least one per album. Few groups played the game as successfully as Chicago.
Although they’d had success with ballad singles as far back as ‘Colour My World’ in 1970, the band really reinvented themselves as purveyors of Top 40-style adult contemporary rock in the ’80s, drifting sharply away from the longer, jazz-inflected rock of their early career to score a series of prom-friendly hit singles that included ‘Hard to Say I’m Sorry,’ ‘You’re the Inspiration’ and ‘Hard Habit to Break.’ And although they managed to keep a number of uptempo tunes in the mix (and kept landing more rock-oriented songs on the charts through the mid ’80s), by the time 1988′s ‘Chicago 19′ came around, they were exclusively a ballads act as far as radio programmers were concerned.
The band members had also started leaning heavily on outside material, to the point that half of the 10 tracks on ‘Chicago 19′ were penned completely by people outside of the group, and four more found the band collaborating with professional songwriters such as Bobby Caldwell and Bruce Gaitsch. When it came time to give the album its big power-ballad numbers, they turned to the reigning hitmaker of the day, Diane Warren, who delivered what would turn out to be two of the more successful singles in the Chicago catalog: ‘Look Away’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love.’
Released during the summer of ’88, ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love’ served as the lead single from ‘Chicago 19,’ and it arrived during a stretch when Warren more or less dominated the airwaves; in fact, the previous year, she and her ‘Don’t Wanna Live’ co-writer, Albert Hammond, had been responsible for the No. 1 Starship smash ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.’ While ‘Don’t Wanna Live’ didn’t make it quite that high on the charts (it stalled out at No. 3), it still served as a fairly potent calling card for the new Chicago record — and it managed to build up an impressive amount of airplay in spite of the fact that it didn’t have a video on MTV or VH1.
As it turns out, the lack of a video for ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love’ wasn’t entirely intentional. In fact, the label commissioned a clip for the song, but the results were so bizarre that they were essentially shelved — and if you were around during the ’80s, you understand just how badly a video needed to go awry before it ended up on the cutting-room floor. In the case of ‘Don’t Wanna Live,’ said strangeness involved ball gowns, a snow globe, rudimentary computer-generated effects and the members of Chicago miming the song while outfitted in tuxes. For the band that had managed to have fun with the videos for ‘Stay the Night‘ and ‘Along Comes a Woman‘ just a few years previous, it represented a surprising stumble.
For former Chicago member Bill Champlin, who handled lead vocals on the song, the video shoot represented just another obligation in the middle of a grueling tour schedule. “I just remember that we did the video at the St. Louis Fox Theater, at 6AM after a gig the night before and before a long drive,” he recalls in a recent exclusive interview. “They kept wanting to re-film it as many times as they could, and the band was not having it anymore, so I remember saying after the sixth or seventh take, ‘I’m sorry, but we’re done.’ And we just went to the bus for our long drive to the next gig.”
“We were on the set for nearly 24 hours,” adds former Chicago guitarist Dawayne Bailey. “That means everyone. The women in their ballroom gowns — the tuxes — ugh!”
Looking back, Bailey sees the whole thing as doomed from the start — not just because of the oddball concept behind the video, but because of the song itself. “How could that many people in positions of power make all the decisions that produced such a visual abomination?” he marvels. Calling the video a “heinous, hideous, humorless, horrific, horrendous, horror from hell,” he adds, “To top it all off, it was all created to promote not only the band, but the single written by Diane Warren — one of the creepiest, crappiest songs I’ve ever heard in my life, let alone had to perform in the studio, onstage and frozen in time.”
Asked how much the band understood about the video concept before the shoot, Bailey admits that he wasn’t really in a position to know. “Being the only sideman in a band full of seven bosses, I wasn’t really told anything about what video concepts were gonna take place in any of them — basically told where and when to show up,” he recalls, although he hastens to add that “I was well aware that it was going to look extremely cheesy” due to a number of glaringly obvious signs, which included “the matching tuxes to the several female dancers in their prom gowns, in addition to the cheezoid choreography to the wardrobe / makeup people demanding I not wear my headband with a tux.”
For Bailey, who grew up a fan of original Chicago guitarist Terry Kath and remained eager to explore the boundary-testing sounds of the band’s early heyday, the song was just one in a series of disappointing concessions to the trends of the era. “I still cringe when I watch the entire video,” he sighs. “It’s just so bad, and I’ve never been a fan of the song itself. All those creepy ballads … ugh!”
Champlin agrees, echoing Bailey’s sentiments — to a point. “I think, as does everyone who’s seen it, that it’s a horrible video, but then, I think almost all of the band’s videos are sub-par,” he shrugs. “Hey, it’s just plain bad. Something honorable in that. ‘Bold mistakes.’”