Thinking about becoming a Rock star? There are two ways to go. First, you can develop your sound from one CD to the next delivering one creative high after another. Trouble is, you may run out of ideas or lose your audience in the process. Or you can do what Boston did. Release a CD once a decade that sounds exactly like the last one and get discovered by a whole new audience. Of course, the old audience, so burned out from listening to the last CD, will eagerly devour the new product. Boston guitarist/leader Tom Scholz was one marketing genius. The thing that made the deal work was Boston's self-titled debut. It was spectacular. "More Than A Feeling," "Foreplay/Long Time" and "Peace of Mind" were huge AM/FM hits.
While Boston had Barry Goudreau on guitar, Fran Sheehan on bass and drummer Sib Hashian the two most identifiable Boston sounds were Scholz's guitars and Brad Delp's vocals. Scholz, a mechanical engineering wiz, basically recorded the first LP in his basement. Then he got Epic Records interested and re-recorded it in L.A. The album racked up fifteen million sales.
Boston's next album was "Don't Look Back," released in '78. Things were pretty much still on track with the title song being the best thing on it. While nowhere near as good as the first LP it did well enough for Epic to consider Boston one of its core acts. And core acts had to produce. But Scholz was not a man who liked to be rushed.
Here's what happened in the world between the release of "Don't Look Back" and Boston's next effort, the aptly titled, "Third Stage."
1. Disco music withers and dies.
2. Iran takes U.S. hostages.
3. Ronald Reagan defeats incumbent Jimmy Carter in the presidential election.
4. Iran releases U.S. hostages.
5. Assassination attempt of Reagan.
6. MTV is launched.
7. A P.O.'d Epic demands a Boston album.
8. Scholz refuses to deliver - until he's ready.
9. Michael Jackson fights off Prince for world pop title.
10. U.S. invades some country somewhere to weed out commies.
11. Reagan re-elected.
12. Boston signs with MCA Records.
Prior to "Third Stage" there were some personnel changes. It seemed some band
members were just as anxious as Epic about Scholz's activities - of lack thereof.
From "Third Stage" the ballad "Amanda" was a pop hit - big time. Overall, the CD was every bit as OK as the band's "Don't Look Back." During this period Boston concerts featured the band playing their earlier hits first (getting them out of the way), then Scholz announced solemnly the time had come for "Third Stage." It was just a little too self-important and indulgent, especially since 90% of the audience was there for Boston's best and hadn't heard or wanted to hear "Third Stage." In '96, right on schedule, Boston, with more personnel additions and subtractions, released "Walk On."
Critics chided Boston for being a formula band. And that may be. But before the formula got run into the ground (thanks to both the band and FM radio) it was something to behold.
For most bands it never ends well - because if things were going good they would still be together. Delp's '07 death/suicide (a note pinned to his shirt said he was a "lonely soul") marred the band's history. And often the tragic is followed by the petty.
In '09, the Boston fan forum CoolThe Engines suspended their message board after an attorney for Scholz sent a cease-and-desist letter to the moderator threatening to seek "substantial monetary damages" unless all mentions of the guitarist and his wife were erased. Messages protested Scholz's treatment of former Boston bandmembers, including Delp. The attorney categorized the statements as defamatory.
Four years later, Scholz lost a defamation suit against the Boston Herald who implied that the guitarist had some responsibility for Delp's suicide. The Herald reported that Delp had been "beaten down by the years of dealing with Tom Scholz." A Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled that it was ultimately impossible to know what caused Delp to kill himself. As a result, Scholz was ordered to pay a newspaper $132,000 in court costs.
Years in the making, as it is with all Boston albums, "Life, Love & Hope," the group's sixth full-length set but their first release since '02's "Corporate America," dropped in '13. Prior to the album's release, Scholz stated that the album would not contain any Delp vocals. However, the end product did. Additional vocals were provided by Kimberley Dahme, David Victor, Tommy DeCarlo and Scholz.
Speaking of Scholz, he received a special "Certificate of Recognition" from the band's namesake city in '17. "In honor of your 70th birthday and in appreciation of your service as an engineer, musician and philanthropist, we thank you for being a dedicated resident of the City of Boston," read mayor Marty Walsh's proclamation.
1978 Don't Look Back
1986 Third Stage
1994 Walk On
2002 Corporate America
2013 Life, Love & Hope
Here's the story. Boston's debut album hit the airwaves in '76. "More Than A Feeling," "Foreplay/Long Time" and "Peace Of Mind" became the most played songs of the '70s. Those cuts were side one. About a decade later, after everyone was sick of Boston, some enterprising FM jocks turned the record over and began burning "Rock And Roll Band," "Smokin'," and other tracks. The end result: This is the most overplayed album in Rock history, even beating out "Led Zeppelin IV (Untitled)."
Each successive Boston album has been weaker than its predecessor regardless of how long Scholz takes to produce it. "Don't Look Back," with the great title track, is a good second choice. "Third Stage," rolling out eight years later (have a nice vacation?), is okay. It has Boston's power ballad "Amanda." "Walk On" released in '94 is one of those albums where the title says it all. Pass.
"Corporate America" and "Life, Love & Hope" make a listener want to shout, "Hey Tom, it's not 1976 anymore!" The songs are serviceable and Scholz can still lay down epic guitars. But as much as he would like to recreate the band's classic debut these efforts sound like rehashes of "Third Stage."