Boston Debut Album Review

Boston’s spaceship guitars flew boldly onto the Rock & Roll music scene with their debut album selling almost a half million copies in just a few weeks after its release in August of 1976. In the forty-plus years since then, the album has sold over 17 million copies, a remarkable testimony to the staying power of the classic rock sound that defined the Seventies. It had to be a musical masterpiece, given the number of amazing albums that were adorning the rock and roll landscape at the time. There was no room on the national airwaves or household turntables for anything mediocre. Artists were producing legendary albums like Hotel California, Leftoverture, Fly Like an Eagle and Destroyer. If a band’s music was less than awesome, it was going to be shot down in flames immediately. Boston’s debut album, however, soared to the heights. 

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The album cover instantly propels your mind into an other-wordly existence, matching the musical themes emanating from those deep vinyl grooves. Great album art should kick start the musical emotions and listening expectations. Before the needle ever touches the surface of the record, the listener has already begun his journey of imagination as the record slides out of the sleeve. Album art does that! Digital downloading is convenient, but it has robbed the listener of the musical foreplay necessary to fully enjoy the entire experience of the album. The visual and the auditory combine in the perfect measure with this Boston album, taking us to another place. Where are you going in your mind when you see this album cover?  What place will you visit as you hear the message in the songs? Tom Scholz, the band’s guitarist and songwriter, in his own words about the song, More Than a Feeling: “It’s a piece of music that really takes me to someplace else when I listen to it. Which is my criteria for whether a recording I come up with is worthy of going on a Boston album. I shut my eyes and I play it at the end of a long day in the studio. If I still enjoy it, and it takes me some place else, and I forget about all that I had to go through that day, then it’s a winner. “More than a Feeling” did that for me.” 

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The cover was designed by prolific graphic artist Paula Scher and illustrated by Roger Huyssen. Scholz  wanted a guitar on the cover, but Scher thought a guitar would be ‘too cliche’. She and the Epic Records product manager compromised with a guitar-shaped space ship. “The first space ship cover idea we showed Scholz had a Boston invasion of the planet, but Scholz said that space ships should be saving the planet, not attacking. So we came up with the Earth-blowing-up idea“, she said. 

The opening lines of the first song, More Than a Feeling, set the tone for the whole album. 

I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away

The exploding earth on the cover suggests we’re living in a shattered world. But the IMG_5037music tells us there is a somewhere we can go to slip away. The crisp guitar of Tom Scholz combined with the unmistakable voice of lead singer Brad Delp takes the imagination on a contemplative journey. Who is Marianne? Yes, indeed we all know her and she’s different to all of us. Did she love us? Why did she leave? Where is she now? Our minds slip into the past as we ‘hear that old song they used to play’. 

The key to unlocking the meaning of a story lies in discerning the author’s original intent. Music is often very difficult to interpret because we usually don’t know the writer’s thoughts unless they have told us. One main purpose of music is to provoke emotions in the listener, be it anger, sadness, joy, love, or peace. If we interpret a musical piece the same way as someone else (even the writer), then the piece isn’t emotive enough in its presentation. My Marianne is not Brad Delp’s Marianne or Tom Scholz’s Marianne or your Marianne. 

Foreplay/Longtime are two songs meant to be played together. The instrumental interlude bursts into a rock and roll anthem that pleased every listening ear. It climbed the charts and peaked at #22 in February 1977. This has been one of Boston’s most popular songs, along with Rock and Roll Band, Smokin’ and Peace of Mind, which are still played on radio stations and streaming music services everywhere. Hitch a Ride and Something About You also made it to the airwaves, and even though they are lesser known, that doesn’t mean they were ‘filler’ songs. There is no filler on this record. If anything, the album is way too short with only eight songs totaling under 40 minutes.

Everything about Boston’s debut album is the epitome of the classic rock era: the mustaches, the hair, the wide lapels, the massive guitar sound, the catchy lyrics. The songs never get old no matter how many times they’re played. Every poetic verse releases more of our imagination. Every drum beat makes our heart pound. And every note of the guitar gives us chills. It is all part of journey that takes us to that other place. Even Marianne had to slip away. This album entices us to climb aboard and fly away from the cares of this world, even if it’s just for a few moments.

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