Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Boston - Boston


Released 1976 on Epic
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 23/09/2003ce

Side 1
1 More Than A Feeling
2 Peace Of Mind
3 Foreplay / Long Time

Side 2
1 Rock & Roll Band
2 Smokin'
3 Hitch A Ride
4 Something About You
5 Let Me Take You Home Tonight

You may rightfully ask why I would review this record - what is "unsung" about the all-time best-selling US debut album by a rock group, in particular one where every single track is still in heavy rotation on "classic rock" radio, and most of all BOSTON which is a name as synonymous with "corporate rock" as Journey or Foreigner?

Well, because the music is heavy & proggy and totally kicks ass! And the lyrics are way more cool and progressive than you think they are!

All the tunes on the album are good radio fodder individually (in fact all three songs on side one were top 40 singles), so the album itself has been somewhat lost to the endless repetition of boring demographic-driven radio programming.

Sometimes great unsung records hide in plain view.

The Boston story is pretty well known (and retold in the horrible liner notes): Tom Scholz was an engineering nerd and guitar whiz who spent all his spare time in his basement recording elaborate 12-track demos, sent them to the big record company in Hollywood, they fleshed out the demo tapes into an album and voila!, mega-sales. After that they cranked out exactly four more albums in the next 27 years, and hardly anyone has cared. But I think there's a reason for the slow pace of production: perfectionist Tom Scholz knows he got it perfect the first time out and he can never top himself. Also judging by his lyrics, he's something of a rustic laid-back hippy. He got into music so he could STOP trying to climb the ladder.

Judged on this album alone, Scholz's guitar playing ranks up there with Brian May and Edward Van Halen in terms of beautiful & outrageous caterwauling heavy metal orchestration. Every nook and cranny of every song is filled with his "special effects guitars" (so credited in the liner notes) which sound like nothing so much as spaceships taking off and performing groovy maneuvers on blacklight posters (which is perfectly captured in the cover art.)

Brad Delp's singing is also notable. He sounds distinctly British to me, at times a dead ringer for Paul McCartney, and when he lets loose a castrati wail he sounds a lot like Uriah Heep's David Byron. Drummer Sib Hashian pounds out a big beat that is equal parts prog metal thunder & 70's party rock with a few hooky Ringoisms thrown in (he also sported what must be the biggest afro in the history of music.) There's two other nondescript guys in the band who play bass & 2nd guitar -- all the keyboard bits are also played by Tom Scholz!

BOSTON begins with a classic pop tune, an anthem for lonely record geeks everywhere:

"I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away
It's more than a feeling
When I hear that old song they used to play"

Music as a source of joy, and also as solace for the pain: "When I'm tired and thinking cold / I hide in my music, forget the day." Scholz produces perfectly placed harmonic plings, controlled feedback wails, layered harmonies, and thermonuclear string-scrapes in assembling a temple of sound around an homage to sound itself. Leading into the last chorus Delp also lets loose what must be the highest note I've ever heard sung by a male.

"Peace of Mind" is another hard rockin' pop classic musically driven by an acoustic guitar strummed furiously to a driving boogie beat under shimmering metal guitar harmonies (think Doobie Brothers spliced with Queen.) The lyrics are timeless and right-on too:

"Now you're climbin' to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesn't take too long
Can'tcha you see there'll come a day when it won't matter
Come a day when you'll be gone

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind

Take a look ahead!
Take a look ahead!"

"Foreplay" is an instrumental interlude of classical organ bombast with metal guitar and drum accents (think ELP doing Copland crossed with Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein") which leads seamlessly into "Long Time" which may be Tom Scholz's most ornate sonic temple of guitar of them all. Sandwiched in between the funky space vamps and histrionic guitar madness, there even an acoustic guitar & handclapping breakdown ("you'll forget about me after I've been gone"). The lyric deals with getting older and chasing dreams you'll never reach (a lot like Floyd's "Time", no less moving if perhaps less witty.)

Side two doesn't reach the grandeur of the first side, but kicks off strong with "Rock & Roll Band" and its winding & grinding Sabbathoid riffs, hooky prog rhythm twists & Beach Boys vocal harmonies. In the self-mythologizing lyric a record company suit with a big cigar tells the boys: "When I hear you on the car radio / You're goin' to be a sensation!" Prophetic (and profitic) words.

"Smokin'" is perhaps the most blatant weed song ever to get heavy radio rotation. "We're cookin' tonight, just keep on tokin' / SMOKIN! / SMOKIN! / I feel alright, mamma I'm not jokin'!" (Interestingly enough, Delp wrote the lyrics to this one and the only other song with a drug reference.) Music-wise this tune is a sort of cheezy ZZ Top knockoff, though the rather long organ solo wanders from Hammond souljazz to Keith Emerson classical bombast and back, and there is also a bridgelet driven by harpsichord and a chooga-chooga "Children Of The Grave" guitar riff!

Things continue to go down hill with the three "romance" songs that close the album.

"Hitch A Ride" is catchy McCartneyesque pop-rock with mostly acoustic guitars. The first verse is rather striking however: "Day is night in New York City / Smoke, like water, runs inside / Steel idle trees to pity / every living things that's died".

"Something About You" might sound like a highlight in the context of a Journey album, but here it's sort of forgettable.

The finale "Home Tonight" is the only tune Scholz had no part in writing (it's all Delp), and it's a real 70's cliche-fest sexual seduction number: "I'm dreaming of your sweet love tonight, so mamma let it be," and that other drug entendre: "I don't wanna down you, I wanna make you high". Musically it ends with a sort of fake-energy soul revival frenzy, not too far from what you might find on a Kenny Loggins or Three Dog Night record. Eeesh!

The first side of this record is so fucking kick ass it still blows my mind every time I hear it. The compositions are stellar, the shredding guitar SOUNDS and arrangements are unlike anything anyone else has ever achieved.

Side two kinda trails off with a whimper, in part because the compositions tend toward hooky 70's shlock and also because they lack the thoughtful lyrics & topics found on side one. Side two is all about "partying and getting laid", but side one hits the big themes with an ode to music, a diatribe against the frantic stresses of modern life, and an epistle about getting older.*

It doesn't get much more kick ass than that.

As an added bonus, this album is so common you can probably get yourself a copy for next to nothing (I got my scratchy vinyl for $0.25 at a garage sale.)

* As further evidence of what a righteous lefty Scholz seems to be, his most recent LP under the BOSTON moniker was entitled "Corporate America" (2002) and the title track seems to have been adopted as a sort of anthem for the Sierra Club. Also kinda ironic since the band has always been saddled with the label "corporate rock."

Reviews Index