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Just another band out of ....

Publication: 
Nigel Morris-Cotterill

If you were at all sentient in 1977 there was one song you could not avoid. It was everywhere. BBC Radio One broadcast it at 7:15 every morning for weeks and every morning I kicked the bedclothes onto the floor as involuntarily I danced around lying down. I got applause when I played it in discos. People went hoarse singing along. "Rock and Roll Band, started "we're just another band out of Boston" but it was "More than a feeling" that launched the album and a career and remains an anthem that lifts the spirits even today. Yet Boston is more cult than band, one feels.

For musicians, the unique selling point for Boston's first album wasn't even the music. It was the claim that Tom Scholz had built his own guitar and effects and that nowhere on the album would you hear a synthesiser. That all comes down to definitions, of course but what he meant was that even the effects were analogue. Today, effects pedals are mini-computers and most are powerful synthesisers of one kind or another. But more than that is that almost the entire album, although credited with a "name" producer, was in fact produced by Scholz in the studio in the basement at his home.

We have to bear in mind: when Boston came out in the UK Punk was old hat and Northern Soul was dying on its feet. In the USA AOR had stifled creativity on the US West Coast and the East Coast was still trying to find a sound that wasn't Dylan-lite. Blaxploitation had fallen to low levels along with it the so-called soul that US record companies put out to the exclusion of real soul. R&B meant Rhythm and Blues. Dance music had yet to discover drum and bass and EDM (variously for European or Electronic Dance Music - the former because Americans have never learned to do it well) was still a distant glint in the eye of bands such as Kraftwerk.

Put simply, the world wanted guitar heroes - and that's what erupted with Boston but with a different take on rock - classical music structures but no nod to classical music melodies, blues guitar techniques but without a blues sound anywhere. It was new. It was fresh. It was at exactly the right time.

Yet Tom Scholz wasn't even from Boston: his move from Toledo, Ohio, resulted in a triumph. Why Boston? Because Scholz got a place a the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT), a place where there is no place for mediocrity. And he was not mediocre - a first degree, then a master's and then to Polaroid as a design engineer. And for a hobby Tommy played ... keyboards. But Scholz wasn't happy playing small time gigs around Boston even though some of his bands proved invaluable for experience and resulted in close, long lasting friendships and collaborations.

Long story short, he built a 12 track recording studio in his basement, wrote some songs, played all the instruments himself, overdubbing them one-by-one, and being helped by drummer Jim Masdea (forced out, much to Scholz 's chagrin, before the album was released) and part-time singer Brad Delp who, Scholz said later, didn't realise what he was singing over: he thought there was a band. To be fair, Boston would have not succeeded without any of them: individually, they were unusual; together they were unique. And very, very special.

That first album with its guitar-shaped spaceships on the cover was epic (1) in both scale and production. Singer Brad Delp brought a life to the songs that bordered on the manic but always stayed on this side of catastrophe. The clarity of production is remarkable - especially as so much of it was done by Scholz himself - a musical heretic, literally working day and night in his basement, for six years, until he got exactly the result he wanted.

Here's the weirdest thing: More Than A Feeling never made it into the UK top 20. It peaked at 22 just four months after the album was released in the USA, and almost immediately it was released in the UK - and disappeared after bumbling around in the lower half of the UK Top 100. Its total chart life has been a miserable 15 weeks.

The next album, Don't Look Back, came out two years later. It was a far less "deep" album, lighter, more pop-like. But it gave us the amazing rock-ballad "A man I'll never be." And there were the same rocking rhythms but it all seemed just a bit lightweight. Scholz went into hibernation. Always reclusive, he withdrew. The band was on a ten album contract, all to be delivered in six years. There wasn't a hope in Hell and Scholz ' own particular Hell had been knocking out the second album in two years. Scholz wasn't happy with it. American buyers loved it. In that time, the band's touring schedule had gone from local to national to global and after its release, Boston went on a two-year global album tour which wound up at the Rainbow Theatre in London's Finsbury Park. That was where I saw them, little knowing that it was a swan-song.

The next album, Third Stage, didn't appear until September 1986, just over ten years after the first one. Legal battles and bad behaviour had moved Boston from Epic to MCA. An Epic mistake for Third Stage, with its opening track Amanda being a firm radio-favourite, started banging in the sales - quadruple platinum for the album. When the album went on tour, it stayed in the USA and had a different make-up. When Walk On was released in June 1994, Brad Delp had left and been replaced by Fran Cosmo who had worked with Boston's second guitarist Barry Goudreau 's album. Once more, for all the ball-baring rocking, it was a ballad, Magdelene, that tied the album together, underpinned by the until-then forgotten sound of an organ with a Leslie speaker. There was a tour, with two singers as Brad Delp came back to the delight of fans. But it was almost the end for the band. Scholtz went back to his basement. It would be eight years before he surfaced for anything more than sporadic tours which kept the brand alive and the wolf from the door. When he did finally come into the light, the world had fundamentally changed. Crappy publicity from a disinterested (new and soon to fail) record company put Corporate America (2002) on the back foot even before it was launched. The cover, a clear reference to the first album couldn't save it. The end result had that kind of almost metallic, thin, feel of early digital recordings and it was the first Boston album produced for and first released on CD. It is, simply, forgettable. In fact, I've just looked at my MP3 backups of my CD collection, thinking to play it while I'm writing and I've not even bothered to back it up. But looking at the track listing, and replaying them in my head, it really doesn't seem to be that bad: "I had a good time" and "Didn't mean to fall in love" are playing well in the back of my mind. I'll find the CD soon.

Five years later, Brad Delp succumbed to the depression that had been a feature of his life for some years. Scholz was devastated. Delp's former wife told a newspaper that Delp's suicide was Scholz 's fault and he started a long legal battle which he eventually lost, the judge ruling that she was entitled to her opinions and the newspaper entitled to report them. Scholz , predictably, went back to the basement. He wrote songs of immense power and emotion, the guitars pounding and soaring by turns. It's a proper Boston album. And unlike all the others, if you listen to the words, it'll make you cry. The sadness, loneliness and pain in almost every line is palpable.

So, if we exclude a "best of" compilation, that's six albums. The original contract for ten is dead. Will we ever see another?

Who can tell. There are rumours, at least partially supported by the fact that Boston, in one iteration or other, has put its stuff in a duffle bag, and done multi-date tours in mid-sized venues, for several years until the last in 2017. Does that mean Scholz won't leave his basement because he's working?

We'll find out but one thing's sure: if he does, it won't be for another Life, Love & Hope. That's been done, brilliantly, and in the band credits on the official Boston website, Brad Delp is listed amongst the (then) current touring band. It's a website with no news, no information but, as history has shewn, when there's outward silence, there has been something bubbling. But the bubble won't burst until Scholz the perfectionist is satisfied.

(1) in joke: Boston was released on the Epic record label.