The Meaning of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4”

Chicago in 1970.

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.

Chicago in 1970. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“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 lends further to the theory about the song’s meaning having to do with psychedelics, as they are known to keep you up all night.

Cover art for the single release of “25 or 6 to 4”.

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.

15 thoughts on “The Meaning of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4”

  • June 13, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    I have read elsewhere in an interview wth Lamm that the song tells the story of writing this song, he was in LA and lots of people were partying and it was literally 25 or 26 minutes to 4am, and he was suffering from writers block “should I try to do some more”. He doesn’t mention drugs specifically and doesn’t give the impression thats what the song is about.

    Reply
    • July 10, 2022 at 8:22 pm

      That’s what I have read also

      Reply
    • October 28, 2022 at 11:43 pm

      Hello all! My dad has told me it was about being high all night on coke, he listened to an interview on KLOS, LA radio, he also gave me my first album, Chicago 5- We loved listening to them when gardening together! Simple n free!

      Reply
  • July 28, 2022 at 1:27 am

    I completely agree and also love stinky buttcheeks like Lamm mentions

    Reply
  • September 11, 2022 at 11:10 pm

    LSD 25 Purple Osley. 6 Hits to 4 people. At that rate you could hear the grass grow. Maybe my mistake.

    Reply
  • September 19, 2022 at 11:51 am

    Well I’m 70 years old and 17 back in 1969 the song 25 or 6 to 4 stands for LSD 25 you drop it at 6pm and it’s crash time at 4 am. A really nice 10 hr cruise 😁

    Reply
  • September 28, 2022 at 12:31 am

    Ha. Ha. What did I know? We played this in high school marching band for football games at Chugiak High School in the 70s. (Incredulous this music came out more than half a century ago. When I was a kid, that would’ve been like listening to music from the 1920s. Crazy.) I wonder what the folks would’ve thought if they knew the lysergic acid diethylamide reference. The aroma of marijuana around the hockey rink at the back of the school wasn’t entirely covered by patchouli.

    Reply
    • October 1, 2022 at 8:59 am

      Whoa! I was in high school band in the 80s and we played this at every football game – Friday Night Lights. Chicago the Band created such amazing music, timeless.

      Reply
      • October 28, 2022 at 8:58 am

        Same here 🎺🎶

        Reply
  • October 16, 2022 at 12:39 pm

    I thank you ALL
    for the replies here it made my day end up laughing

    Many thanx x x x

    Reply
  • October 17, 2022 at 2:59 am

    I am truly blessed to have lived through an amazing era of music. This was one of my favorites and happened to hear it in a TV show I was watching. Now 25 or 6 to 4 is playing 24/7 🙂

    Reply
  • October 22, 2022 at 2:21 am

    Saw Chicago this evening at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater 10/22/22 and their still awesome with four original members. They did play 25 or 6 to 4 as their last song.

    Reply
  • November 12, 2022 at 4:28 am

    Should I try to do some more? 25(LSD25), or 6 to 4
    (work starts at 6am gets off at 4pm)
    He is trying to decide if he should go to work or get more high. Song is clearly about being high on LSD, as many references to the subject are in the words of the song.

    Reply
    • December 1, 2022 at 4:19 am

      I think you have come the closest of all of the guesses, however I think the choice is: take a 25 or skip it and go to classes (High School) 6:00a to 4:00p. School days were a lot longer back in the day!

      Reply
  • November 17, 2022 at 9:17 pm

    I also read it was a reference to trying to write a song working through the night and that was the time. Of course musicians don’t always want to fess up about drug references 🙂

    Reply

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