Bob Dylan might have released an album with the title “The Basement Tapes,” but if he hadn’t, it would have been the perfect moniker for Boston’s 1976 multiplatinum debut album. The songs that would make up Boston and usher in arena (or if you want to be cynical, corporate) rock— were recorded 30 years ago in founder/guitarist Tom Scholz’s basement; the assembling the rest of the guys seemed like an afterthought. Scholz might have languished and labored in obscurity recording the songs in his basement but the hard work and ingenuity paid off: the symphony of guitars and pristine production forged a distinct sound with enough and frequent melodic hooks to ensure a good ol’ time for the young and faithful.
Although Boston released a retrospective album in 1997, its debut should have also been called Greatest Hits because nearly every track continues to receive radio airplay. Not a day goes by without listening to “More Than a Feeling” at least once on classic rock stations—alongside “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Stairway to Heaven,” that track was one of those classic rock anthems; following that track in terms of popularity is “Foreplay/Long Time,” which many have probably played air guitar (and air keyboards and air bass) to. And even if the corporate rock label insinuates something soulless, you would be hard-pressed to find such claim in energetic boogie tracks such as the self-prophecy “Rock and Roll Band” and “Smokin.’” With its 17 million in sales, Boston continues to be the old reliable standby of the arena rock era, but it still sounds riveting.
Don’t Look Back (1978), on the other hand, had the joyless task of following up its mammoth predecessor. Most artists would kill to have an album that sold 7 million copies, which Don’t Look Back did; in Boston’s case, it was a disappointment. Strangely, Don’t Look Back follows the same formula to a tee, although rushing its release might have been a factor to its ‘sophomore jinx.’ Admittedly, Don’t Look Back might have not had tunes that sunk deep like on the first album; the highlights here are the title track really soars; “A Man I’ll Never Be” set the standard for the power ballad before any ‘80s hair metal band; and “Party” continues the boogie. Such expectations, perhaps unfairly, was unrealistic and thus would be the last Boston album until almost ten years later, as Scholz ended up in litigation with the record company and the departure of the other members except singer Brad Delp. Imagine the agony for the fans…unless you didn’t like the band.
And speaking of Brad Delp: Although Scholz clearly dominates the band, the guitars, the music, and the vision—Boston’s other signature sound is Delp’s soaring vocals (he handled all the voices himself on the albums); he ranks alongside Rush’s Geddy Lee as which guy can sing the highest.
In their recent remastered versions and repackaged design, Boston and Don’t Look Back sound and look better than ever. (No bonus tracks grace the albums). There in no denying band set the standard for power rock whether you like its music or not. Somewhere in America, there is a kid playing air guitar to the sounds of Boston.