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Monday, July 29, 2013

Boston, "Boston"

Epic (1976)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

There are acts that automatically merit competition, usually because they played the (somewhat) same style of music at the same time. Beatles vs Rolling Stones. Tupac vs Biggie. Ramones vs Sex Pistols. You see what I'm saying. Another example, which I merit to be fair, is Boston vs Journey. I'll generalize this as "arena rockers with vocalist who can hit mad falsettos." It seems to me that Journey's usually deemed the winner of this battle, but I disagree with that finding. Sure, Journey had numerous hits on numerous albums and still plays arenas, but I give Boston the nod based entirely on its one redeemable LP. And unlike every Journey record, "Boston" is more than redeemable.

Just to create a microcosm by which we can compare the two groups, let's consider their biggest hits. For Journey, "Don't Stop Believing," and for Boston, "More Than A Feeling." Pretending that these songs are even close in terms of quality hurts me deeply, but I'll do it, just for you doubters. "Believing" is catchy, I'll give it that, but consider why you hear that song on "Glee" instead of "Feeling." Think of what the instrumentals during "Believing's" hook sound like. You can't, because they're negligible. You don't need them to sing the iconic refrain. How about during "More Than A Feeling?" I can't see the song working on the same epic level without that riff emerging along with the handclap percussion, propelling the song from ballad pace to arena anthem. The song works as a complete package, and it should, considering that Tom Scholz spent like six years perfecting it. On a more contentious note, I also think Brad Delp's voice resonates emotion better than Steve Perry's. Think what you will. All I know is that one of these songs is NOT being played at MY wedding. One last reason "More Than A Feeling" is better: It was one of Kurt Cobain's favorite songs. As any critic knows, when Cobain likes something, it must be awesome.

Most writers point out that Scholz worked on "Boston" for nearly six years, tinkering in his basement until he got every sound exactly how he envisioned it. His perfectionism paid off big time. Aside from "Feeling," consider the long instrumental sections on "Peace of Mind" and "Foreplay/Long Time." Few people consider how great the outro to "Peace" is. It doesn't have the same fireworks as say, "Freebird," but it carries the song out on a strong note. The track could easily end at 3:55, but the single-guitar repetition of the riff relaunches it into another minute of excellence.

Don't get me wrong, there are moments of schlock that one expects with arena rock. "Rock & Roll Band" and "Something About You" are worth skipping. But sometimes Scholz's attention to detail justifies songs that would have been mistakes in other hands. "Smokin'" could have been another pot song, but Scholz elevates it with an extended bridge, showing off a Hammond organ and a trippy metronome effect from the guitars that makes it all worthwhile.

It would be easy to attribute the greatness of "Boston" to Scholz's perfectionism, but I don't think that's it. Sure, he took six years to create his debut, and "Don't Look Back" was rushed, but Boston took eight years between records three, four and five. It's possible the first record was all he had in him from a songwriting perspective. If so, I'm glad he at least put out that record. If only Journey could have squeezed its few good songs onto one album, maybe I would have bought it.

INTERESTING FACT: Being the perfectionist he was, Scholz wasn't going to let anyone else touch his recordings during the production stage. However he was legally required to allot a certain amount of work to music industry union members during production. So he and the band went to various studios and recorded decoy songs, none of which made the final album, to meet the mandated requirements while Scholz handled his choice cuts solo.

More Than a Feeling by Boston on Grooveshark

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