100 Essential Albums of All Time – Boston, “Boston” (1976)

***WRITER’S NOTE*** I do understand that it has been over three years since this series was updated. I am back now to try to add to the legacy of this list!

There is a term in the music industry – a “one hit wonder” – for an artist or a band that has one massive hit that simply overpowers everything that the act does for the rest of their career. But there are also those that had that one massive hit and, despite their best efforts, are unable to equal the quality or success of that masterpiece. The self-titled album from the band Boston falls into this category.

Released in August of 1976, Boston was a monumental occurrence in the world of rock and roll. What makes it even more impressive is the backstory to the album. That backstory would not have been heard, however, if it weren’t for the fact that the record was an immense moment in the passage of rock and roll time, making it truly memorable and worthy of this list.

In the early 1970s, guitarist Tom Scholz and singer Brad Delp had put together several songs that made the rounds of the labels, but there were no takers for what they were offering. Their demo tape would eventually make its way to Epic Records, who took a flyer on the duo and signed them to a deal. Indicative of the upcoming history of the band, the issues started almost immediately.

Epic, having spent the money to sign the duo, naturally wanted to keep an eye on their purchase in having them record in Los Angeles. Scholz wasn’t having that, however, preferring to work in his sanctuary of a home recording studio back in Boston. Scholz was not just being a tempestuous artist – he actually had developed recording concepts, without the usage of synthesizers, keyboards storing sounds or other electronic trickery, which could only be recreated in his basement studio, thus requiring the creation of the album on the East Coast instead of the West. Using his co-producer, John Boylan, as an intermediary with Epic Records, Scholz set about recreating the demo tapes for the inaugural album.

Scholz played nearly all the instruments on that debut album, with Delp’s soaring vocals carrying the tunes to meteoric heights. There were other players who would contribute to the record and, in fact, be listed as members of the band “Boston” (including Barry Goudreau on guitar, bassist Fran Sheehan, and drummer Sib Hashian), but the original work was all Scholz.

The album was an instant success. Boston would go on to become, at the time, the biggest selling debut album in the history of the industry, eventually selling over 17 million copies. All eight of the tracks on the record were constantly played on Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio, and three of the songs, “More Than a Feeling,” “Long Time” (often played with its intro, “Foreplay,” on AOR radio), and “Piece of Mind,” were Top 40 hits. The band Boston would become a touring force on the “arena rock” circuit, alongside such bands as Foreigner, Kansas, and REO Speedwagon.

So, what made the album so special? It is difficult to quantify this, but simply put each song on Boston was given meticulous attention by Scholz to make it as perfect as possible. Part of the charm of the album, especially in the era of disco and its overdubbed drums and bass beats, what the factor that there was no computerization or electronic effects on the record. It was purely Scholz and Delp, doing what they did best.

It certainly helped that each song would have been a singular masterpiece in its own right. “More Than a Feeling” kicks off the record, followed up by the acoustic/electric work on “Peace of Mind.” Then you had the epic “Foreplay/Long Time,” which would have been a wasteful excess in the hands of another artist but served as a triumphant and exciting close to what was just the first side of the album.

The second side of Boston could have been forgiven if it were filler, but Scholz’s meticulous nature would not allow that to happen. In fact, the second side of this album puts to shame pretty much anyone else’s FIRST side of an album. You had the dual guitar rockers “Rock & Roll Band” and “Smokin’” to lead off Side Two, before segueing in to a slowdown to the ending climax in “Hitch a Ride” and “Let Me Take You Home Tonight” (“Something About You” would have been better placed ahead of “Hitch a Ride,” but this is a quibbling point).

To put it bluntly, it was eight songs of excellence from a perfectionist (maybe two, counting Delp). But it was also unsustainable.

When you have the type of success that Boston did, it was almost automatic that you would be back in the studios to do a follow up. Scholz, Delp and Company did just that, following up this masterpiece two years later with a decent but uninspired Don’t Look Back. It had its share of success, especially with the title track, but it did not have the same cachet (or sales) that the Boston album garnered.

Then began Boston and Scholz’s Long Exodus. Frustrated with the pace that the label wanted regarding the band’s album releases and touring schedule, Scholz would enter the courtroom to battle it out with Epic (the band and Scholz would eventually win the lawsuit). A long eight years would pass before the band Boston would release another album (the intriguing Third Stage) but, by that point, the music world has passed the band by.

It would be another eight years before the final Boston album was released, 1994’s Walk On, which was empty with the lack of Delp on the vocals, and Boston was essentially over. Sure, Scholz has continued to issue albums under the Boston moniker, but they lack the same vitality that was found in the early work of him and Delp. The last album by this version of Boston, Life, Love & Hope, was released in 2013.

Here is a subject that comes up frequently when Boston, the band, is discussed. If their debut was such an impressive album, why aren’t they feted with induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? The reason is a simple one – the music that the band performed didn’t break any new ground, they were minimally influential, and they did nothing to change the direction of “rock and roll.” Boston was a good rock band, but they were far from an immortal (you could also discuss Scholz getting more attention for his production and guitar innovations, but that is a discussion for another time).

There is no shame is having one of the great albums in the history of rock and roll, however, and that is what Boston, the album, was. The record was a monumental piece of 70s arena rock folklore that deserves to be respected. It is also critical that any record collection should have the album to capture that snapshot in time.

Previous Essential Albums:

Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968)
The BusBoys, Minimum Wage Rock & Roll (1980)
Rockpile, Seconds of Pleasure (1980)
Metallica, …And Justice for All (1988)
Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1974)

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Is Moving Closer to Parody than Relevance

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Let’s start this with a disclaimer.

From my youth, I’ve loved music. I can remember saving up my money when my age was yet in single digits to buy records to play at home. As I got into high school, me and my best friend DJ (his real name was Dennis, but DJ was the ONLY name he went by) would go on field trips to nearby Champaign and religiously make a pilgrimage to the University of Illinois’ campus record store, Mabel’s (yes, back then it was a record store and had a small performance area). We’d emerge after hours of scanning over the racks with armfuls of albums, with my stack normally leaning towards things like the Bus Boys, Elvis Costello and the Motels, among literally hundreds of others.

After high school, I delved into the world of music even more. While in college I started working as a radio DJ, something that would be a career over the next 20-plus years of my life. From that small college station until I was a Music Director at an AOR (Album Oriented Rock) station in a Top 75 market (and even afterwards when I went into news/talk), music – and rock music in particular – was a staple in my life. As I have gotten older, music still resonates with me and, with age, I’ve expanded my listening interests into many diverse styles of music including two that I previously despised, rap and country.

Thus, it pains me when I say the following:  After looking at the list of the nominees for induction into the Class of 2017 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was released a couple of weeks ago, I’ve now come to the realization that enshrinement in this group is moving closer to a parody along the lines of This is Spinal Tap than being the venerable Valhalla of rock music that it should be.

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Yes, there’s been these rumblings before. None were louder, perhaps, than the commentary from one of last year inductees, Steve Miller, regarding what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has become. In various areas, Miller railed over pretty much every aspect of the Hall (“I think it’s time for the people running this to turn it over to new people…you don’t need to insult every artist that comes along,” was one of his calmer comments), signifying his displeasure with the outfit. “You tell me what the hell is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and what does it do besides talk about itself and sell postcards?” he asked.

Miller was the embodiment of what many had said of late regarding the Hall. Thought of originally as the pinnacle of rock music royalty, of late the Hall has been inducting what many would consider “non-rock” artists and bands, stating that their contributions “to rock music history and music overall” warranted their induction into rock music’s biggest honor. I’ve always contended that, in 9.9 of 10 of those cases where the artist wasn’t “rock” (a very wide ranging scope, to be honest), then their contribution to the actual evolution of rock was pertinent (this is why I don’t have a problem with Johnny Cash being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame).

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In looking at the crop of nominees for the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, there are some very qualified candidates on the list. One of the “first time” nominees for the hall is Pearl Jam and they should be a virtual lock for entry because of their contributions to the “Seattle sound” that was pioneered by Nirvana and their group. Another first-time nominee – and this one surprised me quite a bit – was Electric Light Orchestra, who should also find their way into the Hall for their innovative usage of electronics, keyboards and production (all in the masterful hands of Jeff Lynne) and their contributions to the music.

Whereas in year’s past I didn’t get bugged by some of the “non-rock” nominees – hell, I agree that rap acts like the Beastie Boys, Run DMC and N.W.A. and other “non-rock” acts like Donna Summer, Darlene Love and Bob Marley SHOULD be in the Hall – this year’s list of nominees left me wondering why they were being nominated when they shouldn’t have even been considered. Besides Pearl Jam and ELO, here’s the list of other nominations (asterisk means it is a first-time nomination):

Kraftwerk
Yes
The Cars
The Zombies
Joe Tex
J. Geils Band
The MC5
Bad Brains*
Depeche Mode*
Jane’s Addiction*
Joan Baez*
Journey*
Steppenwolf*
Janet Jackson
Chaka Khan
Chic
Tupac Shakur*

Now, you could give me viable reasons for any of the artists down to Steppenwolf being nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Personally, why Journey and Steppenwolf have never been considered previously is gross misconduct by Hall voters. Over the remainder of the list, I personally would question the inclusion of Joe Tex (yes, a hard-working individual who overcame a great deal of adversity to become a rival of Hall of Famer James Brown), the J. Geils Band (solid group, not “Hall of Fame” outstanding) and Bad Brains and maybe Jane’s Addiction (reasoning ditto to J. Geils’ nomination). Where it goes off the rails for me – repeat, for the first time ever – is in some of the “non-rock” nominations.

Chic has been nominated several times and, on first view, they would be a viable contender. The real drivers of that group, however, were Nile Rodgers, the late Bernard Edwards and the late drummer Tony Thompson. Inducting a “group” requires that all the members were great and that’s where Chic falls short. I can see nominating and even inducting Rodgers and Thompson (I remember his powerful work with Robert Palmer and The Power Station – outstanding music), but to put every person in Chic (usually featuring a rotating cast of female vocalists that joined Rodgers and Edwards) isn’t Hall worthy.

Jackson and Khan, while fine vocalists who were charting gold during their careers, didn’t exactly do anything that would have separated them away and make them Hall worthy, either. Being the sister of the members of the Jackson 5 isn’t an immediate pass (and, really, what did she do that was notable?). Khan, if you include her time with Rufus, has a bit more credibility as to Hall-worthiness, but there’s not enough of it on the resume to push her over the top.

My biggest criticism would be with Shakur, however. Yes, Tupac was one of the first voices for “gangsta rap,” but we’ve already inducted the originator of that field in N.W.A. Additionally, if you induct Shakur, why aren’t you inducting Biggie Smalls (just as powerful a performer and rapper) or Sean “Puff Daddy/P-Diddy (or whatever the hell he calls himself these days)” Combs for their work? Shakur is one of those performers that, in many people’s eyes, an early (and violent) death made them a musical martyr. As such, he must be revered in their opinion…reverence because of near-deification is not what I would call Hall worthy.

When it comes to “non-rock” entities, you’ve got to have blown the doors off things to be considered for entry inside the gates. A Madonna, a Johnny Cash, a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five…THESE are the types of performers who, by their music and by their styles, personified the “rock attitude” despite the fact they weren’t performing traditional “rock” music. Every one of the persons or bands nominated this year don’t fit that category for enshrinement.

Of course, I couldn’t end this without my own “WHY AREN’T THESE GUYS NOMINATED” choices, and this is just a sample of those that should have already been in the Hall. Pat Benatar, Warren Zevon, Jimmy Buffett, Dolly Parton (one hell of a songwriter who has had an impact on music overall, what the Hall is supposed to venerate), Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Iron Maiden, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, X, Duran Duran and Kool and the Gang (all never nominated) and the New York Dolls, the Wailers and Afrika Bambaataa all should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame RIGHT NOW as they have arguably done more for “rock” music than those under consideration for 2017.

But I digress, at least for now. We’ve got the list of nominees and, for this year, we’ll have to deal with them. But if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t want to continue down that road of becoming a joke of itself, a parody of what it is supposed to represent, it would behoove them to start considering the actual ROCK artists (and those “non-rock” performers who truly had an impact) that they are bypassing.