Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” has bemused many listeners over the years as they ponder the meaning of the song, which is driven by the strange numbers in its title. The track appeared on Chicago’s self-titled second album, released in 1970, and was written by the band’s vocalist and organist Robert Lamm.
To understand the meaning of “25 or 6 to 4”, one must look at the time when this song was released. Lamm wrote the song in 1969 and it was recorded that August, the same month that the Woodstock Festival took place. There was a psychedelic air taking over the United States, and while Chicago didn’t play at Woodstock themselves, they certainly felt that air, and as made clear by the lyrics to this song, partook in the culture themselves.
“25 or 6 to 4” opens with the line, “Waiting for the break of day” followed by a verse that one can only assume is about staying up all night on psychedelics. “Dancing lights against the sky / Giving up I close my eyes / Sitting cross-legged on the floor,” Lamm sings.
This is followed by the numbers in the title, “25 or 6 to 4”, which Lamm explained to Straight Dope in 2000 is a simply a reference to the time of day, as in “25 or 26 minutes until 4am”. This further confirms the theory about the song’s meaning having to do with psychedelics, as they are known to keep you up all night long.
Lamm’s lyrics also describe other experiences consistent with taking LSD, or just being generally spun. The whole song is centered around these themes, and many of the things he sings about are things you have probably considered or done yourself if you’ve ever found yourself awake at “25 or 6 to 4”, such as “staring blindly into space.”
“Wondering how much I can take,” Lamm sings, “Should I try to do some more?”.
While Lamm himself has never confirmed that Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” is about drugs, I would say that it’s pretty clear. Funnily enough, the meaning is so clear that the government of Singapore actually banned it in 1970 for this reason, along with the music of several other bands.
Listen and decide if this song is about drugs for yourself below.