Rock band Boston celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2016. The group has endured numerous personnel changes, deaths, lawsuits and other elements that would have signaled the end of other bands. The group has managed to continue, albeit in a different form than perhaps when they began. Still, the legacy the band had begun to forge in the 1970s remains when audiences listen to one of the band’s first three albums.
In the band’s long history, there are only six studio albums. But the sound and arrangement of Boston songs are intricate and often fulfilling to listeners, so the relatively small output might be a case of quality over quantity.
Despite facing some challenges from record companies and at least one politician who wanted to use a Boston song in his campaign efforts and had to be told not to, Boston remains to a certain sound that while it is technically progressive, is also defined best as “Boston.” There are arguably few bands that replicate the New England group’s sound. The guitars that are made to sound like violins sometimes, the heavy keyboards that don’t overwhelm, and all the other elements that combine to tell audiences that they are listening to a Boston song, are part of what makes the band’s history remarkable.
“We were just another band out of Boston”: a rock ‘n’ roll band’s story
Few bands since Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” sang a song of itself better than Boston. The song “Rock and Roll Band” is notable not only for its high vocal harmonies, but for the story contained in its lyrics.
The song details the struggles of playing in clubs, sleeping in their cars, until the historic day that a man in a “Cadillac car” offered them a recording contract. The lyrics that follow sound like exclamations of pure joy, “Whoa! Sign the record company contract!” The notes for “whoa!” are so high, that listeners cannot help but to feel the elation the members must have felt in those hungry early days.
The band’s humility shines through in lines like the opening ones, “We were just another band out of Boston/on the road/trying to make ends/playing all the bars/sleeping in our cars/and we practiced right on down in the street…”
Clearly if there was any glamour to be experienced, it was not going to happen in those early days. The song’s lyrics function as a sort of cautionary tale for those with dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom.
The song “Rock and Roll Band” is found on the band’s self-titled debut album. It was accompanied on the album by other Boston hits, such as “More Than a Feeling,” “Hitch a Ride,” “Peace of Mind,” “Something About You,” and together they formed what the listening public thought of when the name Boston was mentioned.
The album “Boston” was released on Aug. 25, 1976. The album has since become one of the best-selling debut recordings with approximately 17 million albums sold.
“Don’t Look Back”: Boston’s sophomore effort
In August 1978, Boston was back with a follow-up to the hugely successful debut. Titled “Don’t Look Back,” the album also captured the inventive-sounding keyboard and guitar work and singer Brad Delp’s stratospheric vocals. The album was successful, and songs such as the title track, “A Man I’ll Never Be,” and “Feelin’ Satisfied,” sounded like classic Boston tracks, and they, too, helped keep Boston on rock radio for decades to come.
At this point, public perception of the band was that Tom Scholz who played guitar for the band and took on the production duties was the “brain” behind the operation. With the benefit of undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering from MIT, it was little surprise to fans that Scholz was in charge of producing so much of the band’s work.
The songs from “Don’t Look Back” also managed to climb Top 40 and Top 50 charts. However, anyone who believed that there would be another Boston album in two years or so would be mistaken.
“Third Stage”: Boston’s third album
The third classic Boston album didn’t appear until 1986. That was long enough for musical trends to change and for audiences to grow restless. When Boston returned, some wondered if the band that had so defined a certain kind of progressive rock in the 1970s, could remain relevant in the middle of the 1980s.
With their single “Amanda,” a ballad, Boston allayed the fears of fans and critics. “Amanda” and the album it came from, “Third Stage,” both went to No. 1. Even if ballads were not the favorite style of Boston fans, the new album had something for them, too. “We’re Ready” brought back the high-pitched rock harmony and guitar wizardry that Boston was known for. In addition, the catchy “Can’tcha Say” also addressed love, but in a more upbeat way, while retaining the Boston verve.
Boston fans at this point are due a documentary (or two) to begin to unpack the mysteries that surround the band. For many fans, the band wasn’t the same after Delp left in the late 1980s. He committed suicide in 2007. The band’s most famous drummer (though not the original) Sib Hashian, passed away during a performance on a rock-music themed cruise in 2017. He was not performing with Boston.
The story of Boston is worth knowing. Even without a suitable documentary, the band’s albums and the classic songs contained on them are a good place to start.