Chicago (We Can Change The World)

Album: Songs For Beginners (1971)
Charted: 35

Songfacts®:

  • This song is about the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which turned violent when police clashed with protesters who were there to speak out against the Vietnam War and support the Civil Rights movement. The mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, basically told the police to use all necessary force to keep order. They did, with a vengeance, arresting many protesters and beating into submission anyone who had the nerve to speak out.

    Amid the violence on the third day of the convention, the crowd broke into the chant of "the whole world is watching," which can be heard on the song "Someday (August 29, 1968)" by the band Chicago. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Andrea - Denton, TX
  • Some of the lyrics refer to the "Chicago 7" trial, where protest leaders at the convention were charged with intent to incite a riot:

    Though your brother's bound and gagged
    And they've chained him to a chair
    Won't you please come to Chicago
    Just to sing


    This refers to Bobby Seale, the only black plaintiff and the eighth member, who was actually gagged and bound to a chair in the courtroom. He was later removed from the trial, leaving seven. The three most famous names from this trial are Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. The trial was dramatized in the 2020 Neflix movie The Trial of the Chicago 7, written by Aaron Sorkin.
  • Graham Nash had recently left The Hollies and formed Crosby, Stills & Nash when he wrote this song. It's the kind of political song he couldn't do with The Hollies - one factor in his departure. He ended up recording it not with his new band (which had added Neil Young to become CSN&Y), but on his own for his first solo album, Songs For Beginners, in 1971. Released as his first single, it reached #35 in the US.
  • Nash wrote this song after counterculture mouthpiece Wavy Gravy asked Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to perform at a benefit for the Chicago 7. They were split: David Crosby and Graham Nash wanted to do it, but Stephen Stills and Neil Young did not, so the group skipped it. "I wrote this song to Neil and Stephen and to everybody that I thought might want to hear about the fact that what was happening to the Chicago 7 wasn't fair," Nash wrote in the CSN boxed set liner notes.
  • Speaking to the UK newspaper The Guardian in a 2015 interview, Graham Nash said that this song contains the only ever line that he wishes he'd never written. Nash said: "We were pretty blitzed. The line, 'Regulations – who needs them?' We need regulations. You're not allowed to drive through a red light. There are certain societal rules that we have to live by. So I sing it differently now. I say: 'Some of those regulations – who needs them?'"
  • This is an example of what Nash called "songs as news," meaning music that also provided social and political commentary on what was going on in the world. "During the mid-to-late '60s it was crazy in America," he told Bruce Pollock. "Society was stretching out. It was having birth pains. People were beginning to realize that they were trod upon in many ways. And, for instance, in 'Chicago,' when I saw them bind and chain Bobby Seale to a chair and put a gag in his mouth and put him in the witness box and try to call that a fair trial, every fiber of my Englishness said, 'Wait a second, that's just not fair.' So, songs as news, and the news is that people have individual feelings."
  • Unlike "Ohio," which was released in 1970 just 10 days after the shootings that inspired it, "Chicago (We Can Change The World)" didn't appear until 1971, three years after the Democratic National Convention.
  • Rita Coolidge is one of the backup singers on this track. She and Nash were dating at this time after straightening out the love triangle that had developed with Stephen Stills. This caused a lot of friction between Stills and Nash, which is one reason Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young didn't put out any albums between 1971 and 1976.

Comments: 18

  • Palmer from OregonI’ve always wanted to know who “Jack” was in the Graham Nash song “Chicago”. Originally I thought it might be JFK until I came out of the ether and realized he was already gone. Who was/is Jack anyway
  • Greg from Washougal WaI was the chief engineer at AFN Stuttgart 1987-1990. They said, our station had the 2nd largest LP collection outside the National Archives. Now the original 78 RPM of Ella Fitzgerald in Berlin was in a glass case, until a tank drove over it when the radio station was closed and no one wanted to work hard enough to save some history. Now Nash, Songs For Beginners was in the vault. Problem is AFRTS back in LA REDACTED two songs on that LP. Nothing but smooth as baby butt vinyl where Chicago and Military Madness should have been... Dang I wish I had committed a federal crime and pocketed those two LPs... AFN never aired either song, because the DJ had to hum it as the needle slipped on smooth un-cut vinyl.
  • Bill from ConnecticutBob in Rahway -
    "Jack" is not a reference to Chicago's mayor - his name was RICHARD Daley.
  • Ken from Philadelphia, PaAs much as I love this song and as much as I admire Graham Nash not only for writing it but for having the courage to publicly call out, among others, his own bandmates for not standing up for the Chicago 7 and, especially, for Bobby Seale, I have to point out a rather substantial piece of irony here. In the summer 1968, when Graham and everybody else REALLY had a chance to change the world and show up in Chicago during the Democratic Convention and make their voices and their opinions heard, nobody did. Although every popular musician of the day was invited to come and perform and stand up for something of great importance (i.e. ending a war!), all of them, not just Stephen Stills or Neil Young, but everybody including Graham Nash avoided Chicago like the plague. Well, actually, not everybody: The great (and greatly under-rated) MC5 had no qualms about following their conscience and were proud show and play. Everybody else, though, conveniently forgot who and what had made them rich and famous once they got wind of what Daley and his thugs planned to do "to the hippies".
  • Ken from Philadelphia, PaIt is certainly sensible that this song was directed to Stephen and Neil. Stephen, in particular is well known to be a conservative, law-and-order guy who was forever irritated that "For What It's Worth" (written while he was still with Buffalo Springfield) became something of a protest anthem (even though it was clearly neutral, at best, toward the counter-culture). Neil's beliefs are a bit harder to parse, especially since he wrote what I personally consider to be one of the rawest and most-powerful protest songs ever performed, "Ohio". However, Neil also seems to have had a bit of a selfish conservative streak. While I doubt he is cut from the exact same political cloth as Stephen, it would appear his beliefs are a lot closer to Stephen's than they are to Graham's and David's, both of whom whole-heartedly embraced (and continue to embrace) the beliefs of the 60's counter-culture.
  • Bob from Rahway, Nj'Jack' was a reference to John Daily who was Mayor of Chicago
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumI prefere the "Prison song" and all the songs Graham Nash did with The Hollies.
  • Jenna from Midland, MiI had to use a protest song for a English project. I heard this from a friend and said it's perfect, she was confused. My teacher loved my project. A+ yeah LOVE this song!!!
  • Gina from Paradise Valley, AzI asked David and Graham who "Jack" is. They said it's just like "anyone, any dude"...
  • Timothy from Oakland, CaSo who is the Jack that they refer to. JFK was dead for years before hand. I don't get the reference.
  • Scott from Palm Desert, CaThis song was not as socially releveant in 1971 as it was when it was wrote in 1968.
  • Marvin from Jackson, AlKanye West sampled this song for Beanie Sigel's song "The Truth."
  • Gina from Paradise Valley, AzSorry Shawn, but it IS true. I have heard Graham say this live, in front of both Stephen and Neil. I love Neil too and I think he does have a tremendous social conscience, but remember this was nearly 40 years ago; he was a young guy. Also, even people who are socially conscious have moments of selfishness. His history of feuding with Stills is legendary. They both have such huge egos! (Not without reason, of course. There are no better musicians and/or songwriters!)
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, SciiIt is sort of like Ohio, isn't it? That's not something that's easily noticealbe though. They sort of have the same beat, and in some ways, are about the same things.
  • Mark from Perth, Australiai love this song i dont get why you never hear it on the radio or why its so unknown??????
  • Shawn from Philadelphia/pittsburgh, PaDefinitely the best CSNY song. I've heard that story about Neil Young -- he's my favorite artist and I sure hope its not true since Neil pretty much is the embodiment of social consciousness as far as I'm concerned.
  • Clarke from Pittsburgh, PaForeshadowings of the later death-dirge "Ohio" in this one, for anyone who can hear it.
  • Gina from Paradise Valley, AzGraham Nash has said he wrote this song in reaction to the fact that Stephen Stills and Neil Young would not come to Chicago to protest the unfair proceedings at the trial of Bobby Seale. Young and Stills were so into the ego battle between themselves that they didn't respond to Nash's pleading "Won't you please come to Chicago just to sing?"....
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