23. Boston

This image has nothing to do with this post. But it's so nice to see an artist giving props to her sound engineer.  Comic books are not reality.  In reality, no fucking artist ever gives props to their sound engineer.  But sound engineers always totally imagine they're either crushing someone's head or tweaking their nipple when giving the "OK" sign.
From Dazzler #16, ©1982 Marvel Comics.

And now on to our post...

Off the top of my head, what do I know about Boston?  This band are oft-discussed in sound engineering circles: apparently band leader Tom Scholz recorded most of the band's debut as essentially a solo act in a home studio, playing most of the instruments himself.  That sort of thing is commonplace today, but it is impressive for 1975; at that time the technology to get the results he did was difficult and expensive to come by.  Some other musicians hung out at a pro recording facility to appease Scholz's record label, fooling the label into thinking they were a full band making the record in the approved studio while Scholz secretly did his thing at home.  Eventually, Scholz got another guy to sing on his completed instrumentals, so the album was effectively made as a duo.  Lots of people have been in the touring band over the years, but it's really Scholz's thing.  This record sold something like 17 million copies, but Boston has only made a few further records.  The only song I know off-hand is "More Than A Feeling", but I suspect that I'll recognize a few of the others.  That's all I've got, but it's more than I know about most of the other bands subjected to my scrutiny for this project.

As always, I'm listening to this album for the first time ever, and have not done any research at all before listening today.  Going in with nothing but the meager info about this artist that has leaked into my brain over the course of life, I'm taking it at face value.  The writing is entirely my tabula rasa stream-of-consciousness first impressions, written in real-time as the album played, and was only edited for spelling and clarity.  Since I've got three decades as a sound engineer under my belt, I'll be listening equally to the merits of the music and the quality of the sound production.  For more info about the mission and background of this series, see C O N T E X T (post #00).

Boston (1976)
Version: Epic (Japan) 25•8P-5192 (1989)

More Than A Feeling
Yeah, this does sound damned good for a home recording.  I'd turn the bass guitar down a notch.  I wonder how much of the legend about the making of this record is strictly true.  Stories tend to get exaggerated, blown-up, and mutated over time.  A lot of these lyrics are pretty unintelligible.  All these years I had no idea what he was singing, other than something about a Marianne.  I used to tour with a certain rock band whose singer was named Mari Anne.  Our road manager used to sing her name using the melody from this song.  He'd never just speak her name.  He'd always sing it, even if he was saying her name in the middle of a sentence.  So this song.  It's a competent arena rock song.  It has enough changes to keep it interesting and enough dynamics to make the big parts seem big.  Well recorded, mostly well mixed.  Catchy hook.  I've just heard it too damned many times to remain as objective as I try to be for this writing series.

Peace Of Mind
OK, yeah, this one sounds familiar too.  Not surprising.  I want to say that "the band" are doing a spirited take here, but I guess it's all Scholz, playing all the instruments, recording them layer by layer?  Well maybe it's all the more impressive that he made it sound so energetic.  I have personally recorded music as both an engineer and an artist in this way, and it's hard to find a way to replace the spirit of a group of players vibing off each other.  That's a really big deal.  Can't overstate that.  The guitar tones Scholz gets on this record are so much better than the ones I recently heard on more guitar-focused bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. He's got them dialed in.  But - ack - those parallel 4ths (or 5ths) here.  Can't escape them.  Maybe that's the single best part about having rejected this whole style of music as a youth.  None of the punk, post-punk, synth pop, or new wave canon uses this guitar technique at all.  But in these classic rock records, it's everywhere.  That guitar playing style is the line in the sand.

Foreplay / Long Time
Ha, I know this one too.  Used to hear it on AOR radio when it was current... and then for years afterward until I switched off any radio frequency higher than 92.1 FM.  It was all about the left end of the dial - college radio and NPR - for me from my early teens onward.  That clavinet riff in "Foreplay" is ballsy.  Ok, at about 2m 30s this "Foreplay" instrumental ends, and we're into a song.  Yes of course I know this one too.  This album really did spawn a lot of hits.  They're a bit formulaic; all three sound kind of samey.  Big harmonies, handclaps, acoustic guitar accents, powerful power chords, and some keys for accents.  Maybe the reason that I didn't remember having heard so much of this record is because the songs are kind of indistinguishable.  It's like one long rock song, custom-tailored to be broken into chunks, each of which was lined up and aimed like a "la-zher" at the 1976 pop charts.  Well, with each new take on the same old formula, Scholz kept hitting bulls eyes, so good for him?

Rock & Roll Band
Are we going to hear the same well-crafted song a fourth time?  This one is not sounding familiar so far, except in the sense that it sounds like the other three, but faster.  This lyric sucks.  The "story of the band" lyric is almost as lame as the "two lovers on the run" lyric.  I've mentioned the later trope a few times in previous posts.  Haha, in the third verse, our vocalist sings "sign a record company contract" in a falsetto voice that we haven't heard from him before.  That's because said record company has his balls in a vice.

This one is has looser boogie woogie beat with a little southern vibe, and a vocal that is significantly more buried in the mix than the other songs.  This one seems like filler; it's clear that they didn't spend as much time on it.  Are they singing about weed?  Scandalous!  What is Scholz's main instrument?  His drumming is uncomplicated but solid; his bass playing is perfunctory.  Come to think of it his keys and guitar work are also both fairly nondescript, but by no means poor.  He's good at playing everything, but he isn't outstanding on any particular instrument.  The solo section toward the end has a few surprises in it though, that's kind of fun to listen to.

Hitch A Ride
Seems like they front-loaded the hits on side one of this record.  Wonder how many people played side one to death and played side two like twice, ever.  Spreading the hits out is a less fan-friendly way to sequence an album, but it's a more art-friendly approach.  Make the kids listen to all the other stuff between the hits.  This tune has a bit of a gentler feel, until it explodes into a power chord and Hammond freak-out.  There is nothing about this album that sucks.  But by the same token, it feels a little calculated and kind of bland. I'm starting to appreciate some of the artists who take more risks.  There have been some phenomenal failures on some of the records I've listened to for this project, but ultimately, I suppose I admire the bands who at least tried to stretch out a little bit and do something new.  Boston were aiming at the top of the charts, they got there, and they got there with music that is competent but not impressive.  The record shows a high level of craftsmanship, but very little art. There isn't a single musical risk on this entire album, nothing that reaches for genius (with the definition of genius being: a truly original thought).  A bit like The Eagles (see my post on them), in that sense.

Something About You
All right.  I'm done.  The big parallel 4ths (or 5ths) right from the get-go.  Make it stop.  Have I heard this song before?  Does it sound familiar because it was a hit, or because it just sounds effectively identical to all of the hits?  Same as it ever was: spirited take but somehow also passionless, skillfully workmanlike in execution.

Let Me Take You Home Tonight
This herky-jerk rhythm in the intro of this song threatens to dare to be different.  Naturally, they get over it pretty quick and go into the ninth and last identical pop song for this record.  Parallel 4ths (or 5ths) and all of the other tropes from this band's limited bag of tricks are dutifully trotted out.  

One of the benefits of having four or five (or more) people in a band is that there are more people to come up with diverse and challenging ideas.  Even if we have one person who writes all the songs, the other players will flesh out the material with their own little details, contributing the peculiarities of their individual playing styles.  Scholz really needed to have some other people's personalities on this record.  It feels too homogenized.  There's no one for him to spark off of, to push him into new directions.  People who have devoted themselves to the mastery of one particular instrument could have brought more innovative or surprising moments to the music than one person who is "good enough" on many instruments (Scholz).  With Scholz on every instrument, the songs become super-predictable after hearing just a few of them, because we've only got one person's ideas across the board.  On top of that, there was clearly no effort being made to expand the boundaries of music, at all.  Not one note on this record is anywhere except exactly where we expect it to be.  It's a snoozer aimed at the masses, and the work of a craftsman of great skill, but not a true artist (if we concur with the idea that true art is not so different from true genius in that it must always surprise us).

Song for the IMDB mix tape:
We ought to go with "More Than a Feeling", but maybe "Something About You" would be good because it sounds like one of the hits but I'm not as sick of hearing it.

Van Halen, coming April 01, 2022

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