Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: A question came up around here recently about Chicago's song “25 or 6 to 4,” which we hope you can answer.

What is the meaning of this title? I have heard it is about time on the clock, but I have also been told it is a reference to LSD-25 and LSD-624.

LSD-25 was a research number assigned by a scientist experimenting with variations of LSD.
—Jeff Jostad, Greenville, Wisc. (Jeff.Jostad@USCHIFS1)

DEAR JEFF: “Sitting cross-legged on the floor, 25 or 6 to 4.” What is the meaning of this numerical nonsense?

It has been over six years since we discussed this ambiguous title, and while we have yet to confirm any theories, here are some possible explanations — including one quoting the tune's composer.

DEAR JERRY: Regarding Chicago's “25 or 6 to 4,” a few years ago, I heard Robert Lamm — the writer of the song — being interviewed on the radio for about 90 minutes. He responded openly and honestly about many things including the band's past abuse of drugs.

Regarding the title, “25 or 6 to 4,” he said that after finishing the song he looked at his watch and thought something about the time of day would make an interesting title.

Now it seems unlikely that Lamm would be so frank about such things as drug abuse, and not be honest about something as simple as a song title.

Just sign me,
—A Chicago Lover from Dracut, Mass.

DEAR CHICAGO LOVER: Normally I would not question the one who wrote the song in question; however, I fail to understand one part of Mr. Lamm's explanation.

If he looked at his watch “after” they finished the recording, that would mean they completed the song — including all lyrics and references to “25 Or 6 to 4” — without knowing this to be the title. This is very hard to accept.

Also, how could such peculiar lyrics be blindly written in the fashion of a title, and one have no idea why until after the session?

Now for some other suggested explanations:

DEAR JERRY: The story I heard about “25 or 6 to 4” is that it was written as a reaction to the sad events that took place at Kent State University, when 25, or 6, National Guardsmen killed 4 young people.

Given the dramatic tone of the music, I believe this explanation more than the one about it being inspired by looking at the time of day (after the session).

Sign me,
—A Fan in Virginia

DEAR FAN: The actual widely publicized number of Guardsmen is neither 25 nor 6. Here are the actual statistics:

On the day of the Kent State debacle (May 4, 1970), nearly 1000 Ohio National Guardsmen occupied the campus, about 100 of which carried lethal M-1 military rifles.

Reportedly, 28 Guardsmen fired their weapons, most shooting into the air or toward the ground. However, a small portion fired directly into the crowd. Between 61 and 67 shots were fired in a 13 second period. Four students died as a result, and nine were wounded.

If tying into this event was the intent, wouldn't it have been simple to have used more accurate information?

DEAR JERRY: Regarding “25 or 6 to 4,” I'm afraid the acid connection falls into this same category of apocryphal lyric meanings.

I do know that at one point Chicago was very opposed to drug abuse. When they found out the title of a Denver-based TV special they were doing was “Rocky Mountain High,” they insisted the name be changed — after the TV schedules and publicity had already been printed.

Many, including myself, once assumed the group's name, Chicago, was in reference to the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Actually, they were merely from the Chicagoland area, and lightheartedly adopted the name Chicago Transit Authority.

Not sharing the humor, the real Chicago Transit Authority, who runs the transit system there, threatened legal action. The band then shortened their name to Chicago.

Perhaps the misunderstanding about the name caused some to jump to incorrect conclusions about their music.
—Miss American Pie

DEAR MISS PIE: Perhaps the connection, overlooked until now, is public transportation related. Someone giving directions to another says: "take the [bus number] 25 or 6 to [the] 4, then get off at the second stop."

At any rate, thank you very much for the thought-provoking letter. IZ ZAT SO? In the 32 years since their first hit, “Questions 67 and 68” (another numerical title), Chicago placed about 50 singles on the Top 100 charts. However, only two titles made it to No. 1: “If You Leave Me Now” (1976) and “Hard to Say I'm Sorry” (1982).

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