(This is the 900th published post in the history of this blog. If you have read them all, you deserve some kind of award. Or to put it another way: Why?)
We have noted here before that for the first eight or nine months of 1979, disco ruled the Top 40 airwaves, but some of the most popular rock albums of the last 30 years came out during the very same period. The album charts from 30 years ago this week include such titles as Breakfast in America by Supertramp, Cheap Trick at Budokan, Molly Hatchet’s debut album, and Minute by Minute by the Doobie Brothers. Also on the album chart that week: Van Halen II, Bad Company’s Desolation Angels, Monolith by Kansas, Evolution by Journey, and Ted Nugent’s State of Shock—not classics, but significant in their time, and not dance records, either. If your chart knowledge is particularly encyclopedic, you might remember Just a Game by Triumph, Patti Smith’s Wave, Real Life Ain’t This Way by Jay Ferguson, Blackfoot’s Strikes, or self-titled albums by Herman Brood and His Wild Romance, Tycoon, and New England. All of them were on the radio and in stores during June of ’79.
New England’s debut album was released late in 1978, and we played it on my college radio station that spring. I remember hearing the band on D93, the FM Top 40 station in Dubuque. Part of my job at KDTH that spring and summer was to feed the automation system that ran its FM sister, D93—a whole room full of tape machines. The station’s music director liked to play music by new bands in hopes of breaking hits; there’s no doubt in my mind that he was on New England pretty early.
New England probably should have been huge. They were discovered in the Boston area by Bill Aucoin, who had discovered KISS and would manage them until 1982. Paul Stanley of KISS co-produced their debut album, and they opened for KISS on a concert tour. (The band also toured with with Styx and AC/DC.) The hype for the New England album was pretty intense, partly because of Aucoin’s reputation and Stanley’s participation, but also because the record was tailor-made for rock radio, particularly the lead single, “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya.”
The essay on the New England album at Allmusic.com criticizes the album’s production, suggesting that some terrific songs get swamped by too much bombast. It’s hard to say what the album might have sounded like with a lighter touch behind the board, but there’s no point in speculating—co-producer Mike Stone, who would go on to overproduce Asia, wasn’t that kind of guy. I think there’s a plausible argument that the bombastic production actually works in favor of some of the songs, giving them a bigger-than-life quality.
After their debut album, New England would release two more albums that went nowhere (including one produced by Todd Rundgren), and the group would dissolve in 1983. Two members, keyboard player Jimmy Waldo and bassist Gary Shea, ended up in the group Alcatrazz alongside future metal gods Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. Two other members, guitarist/lead singer and principal songwriter John Fannon and drummer Hirsh Gardner, became record producers. They apparently played a reunion concert a few years back, and their albums are available on their website, although the site doesn’t appear to have been updated for a while.
On “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” the big-n-busy production gives the record a power it wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s no question: If the singer loses ya, the consequences are going to be indescribable. Its combination of big guitar riffs, spacy synthesizers, and a singalong chorus should have made it a big hit, but it stalled at Number 40 on the Hot 100 during the week of June 16, 1979. “Hello Hello Hello” was apparently the second single from the album, although it didn’t chart. New England knew how to rock and roll, but that knowledge didn’t translate into anything like lasting fame, and they faded into history as just another one-hit wonder.