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.

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

  • February 27, 2023 at 3:18 pm

    Not to be picky, but Lamm wrote the song, Cetera sang it.

    Reply
  • December 17, 2022 at 9:17 pm

    In Robert Lamm’s own words, it’s about writing a song. He’s never hidden that they (some of the band members, including him) did drugs, so there’s no reason for him to lie about what this song is about. If it was about drugs, he would’ve just said so because, in many interviews, they’ve admitted using drugs when they were young.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2022 at 9:15 am

    I honestly thought this song was about this guy being afraid to sleep.

    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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 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
  • 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
  • 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 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
  • July 28, 2022 at 1:27 am

    I completely agree and also love stinky buttcheeks like Lamm mentions

    Reply
    • December 22, 2022 at 5:27 am

      I personally think the song is about crank not LSD. Because wondering if you try to do some more isn’t really consistent with taking LSD. Taking LSD one tab is usually enough and most people are tripping too hard to want to take another tab. And I don’t think it was about cocaineBecause cocaine wasn’t really that popular back then it was just getting a startBut who am I to say anything I’ve never done drugs in my life

      Reply
      • January 5, 2023 at 4:34 pm

        They were big into cocaine. Its mentioned several times in “Chicago – the Terry Kath experience”

        Reply
        • January 6, 2023 at 12:02 am

          I’ll have to check that out!

          Reply
      • March 16, 2023 at 5:12 pm

        In the late 60s, I received a shipment of LSD from my very good friend who was living in San Francisco at the time. He was far more into LSD than I was, often going on month-long binges that only ended because his body resources literally ran out. He sent me 2,000 hits of “Purple Microdot.” It was puny compared to something like the legendary “Orange Sunshine” which would send you over the top every time. You had to take 5-10 hits of the Microdot to get off. So, I would tell trippers if 5 didn’t work, try 5 more.
        Cocaine (very expensive), hashish, heroin, opium, Reds (Seconal), meth, and Bennies, were widely available at the time as well as various and sundry natural hallucinogenics like peyote, mescaline, etc. Sopors and quaaludes came later.
        Chicago’s song certainly could have been about crank, but crank (or speed as it was called back then) gave one an intense body “stone” rather than visions or colors.
        Like Fentanyl today, you could never be sure of the purity or quality of anything you bought on the street.
        I can’t say I’ve never done drugs, obviously. But at 76 now, I have no desire to experiment or “trip” anymore.

        Reply
    • January 31, 2023 at 12:46 am

      It’s the formula for LSD

      Reply
  • 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

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