In September 1976 the airwaves were filled with disco and punk rock, as rock and roll was in decline, then came the eponymous debut album from Tom Scholz’s Boston and everything changed in the blink of an eye. With it, Boston sold more copies than any other debut album in history, with over 17 million cha-chings! (the record was broken by Guns ‘N Roses in 1987 with their Appetite For Destruction). The New England group was the ‘new’ thing, with a new sound and today we’ll look back at this magnificent package.
The record was cut in Scholz’s basement on equipment he designed himself, as he was a graduate of sound engineering at M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He played practically all the instruments himself, layering and overdubbing tracks on his 12-track recording devices to attain that signature ‘arena rock’ sound even before the term was coined. The vocals were superbly sung by the amazing voice of Brad Delp, on bass was Fran Sheehan, John Hassian on drums, and second guitarist Barry Goudreau.
The record kicks off with the now classic More Than a Feeling, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It starts with a fade-in of an acoustic arpeggio, building towards a harmonised riff on Scholz’s ‘68 Les Paul Goldtop that is one of the most recognised in rock history. Scholz says inspiration for the song came from Walk Away Renee by Left Banke; the chord progression of G-D/F#, Em7-D, is exactly the same, “I see my Marianne walking away”. The song is listed in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Another classic hit was Peace of Mind, inspired by Scholz's time working at the Polaroid Corporation where he was upset with the climate of ‘climbing the corporate ladder’. The lyrics reflect how unhealthy it is for people to compete with each other, “I understand about indecision, and I don’t care if I get left behind. People living in competition, all I want is to have my peace of mind”. Musically it is built on soaring harmonised guitar riffs, awesome vocal harmonies, and huge hooks that have immediate appeal to the ear; it is perhaps the best example of how Scholz blended Beach Boys-like harmonies with scorching Led Zeppelin-esque electric guitar flourishes. The track Foreplay/Long Time, is two songs in one which opens with an instrumental prelude of swift triplet arpeggios on Hammond M3 organ, then the bass lines played on a clavinet leading to the bombastic body of the intro that fades until Goudreau rips into the guitar bits that sound spacey, and otherworldly. Long Time continues as an aggressive game of musical chairs between acoustic and electric guitars where Delp’s vocal range is in top form. The song has such wide appeal it has been used in commercials by NASCAR, for the video game Rock Band, in the TV show Supernatural, and in the film The Front Runner.
Hitch a Ride is a lovely acoustic ballad that contains an electric solo that some consider their best, which could be said about all the songs on this outstanding record. The anthemic ‘arena’ rockers Let Me Take You Home Tonight and Rock and Roll Band display the band’s signature style of crescendos and synthesised swoops to perfection. Delp had arguably one of the cleanest voices in rock, dedicated to pitch-perfect, howling finesse, heard throughout the setlist, but especially on Something About You, and the hard-driving, rapid-fire Smokin’.
Boston got off to the best start a band could want with this masterpiece. It quickly outdistanced anyone else by far, and set them up for a career that would see them selling over 75 million records globally. It sat pretty at #3 on the Billboard 200 charts and stayed there for 132 weeks. It still, to this day, gets plenty of airtime the world over on classic rock stations; simply an epic achievement.