Walk On

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(Pictured: Boston in 1977.)

The first Boston album came on in the car not long ago and my wife said, unprompted, “This is still really good.” Lots of people on the Internet are A) sick of it or B) don’t think was all that good to begin with. I can understand A after 45 years, but I am guessing the majority of B weren’t teenagers when it came out. Those of us who love Boston tend to really, really love it, as in this 40th anniversary piece by journalist Tim Sommer (who would have been 14 in the fall of 1976), or this lovely reminiscence by Michele Catalano.

The second Boston album, Don’t Look Back, came out two years after the first. It suffers in comparison for the usual reasons second albums do—the first one is where the vision reached its fruition, and the second one is required to respond to the expectations, and the demand, created by the first. Tom Scholz has said that the reason Don’t Look Back feels as sketchy as it does is that it literally wasn’t finished.

Eight years after Don’t Look Back, Third Stage was an unlikely hit—unlikely because pop music had moved a long way beyond Boston’s 70s aesthetic by 1986. But the album hit #1, and so did the single “Amanda.” A second single, “We’re Ready,” also made the Top 10. The 1994 album Walk On had the Boston guitar sound, but a different main vocalist: although Brad Delp wrote or co-wrote the songs and sang with the band on tour, Fran Cosmo handled the leads on the record. Delp played and sang on the 2002 album Corporate America, which became the first Boston album to miss the Top 10 of the Billboard 200. Delp died in 2007, but because Boston albums take forever to make, he’s on the 2013 album Life, Love, and Hope, which is the last Boston album to date.

Unlike other bands, Boston’s entire output is limited almost entirely to those six albums (and the 45 version of “Peace of Mind,” a somewhat different vocal performance compared to the album version). The band’s 1997 Greatest Hits album includes four previously unreleased songs; in 2002 and again in 2013, they released a digital single version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” There aren’t a lot of bootlegs, either. I have a set called Demos and Unreleased, which is just that, and a live show recorded in Cleveland one month after Boston was released. (Clearly, the people who recorded quite literally every Eric Clapton show for the last 50 years weren’t taping Boston too.)

Apart from the standard discography, however, there was another Boston album, of a sort.

In 1980, Delp and two Boston mates, guitarist Barry Goudreau and drummer Sib Hashian, made an album that was ostensibly Goudreau’s solo debut. But the lead single, “Dreams,” sounded exactly like Boston. Some record-label promotion for the album also stressed the similarities. Scholz was not amused, and his displeasure may have contributed to Goudreau’s departure from the group in 1981. (Scholz apparently held no grudge against against Delp or Hashian, who remained in the band, or against Fran Cosmo, who also played on Goudreau’s record, or he wouldn’t have invited Cosmo into the band years later.) Goudreau’s album reached #88 in Billboard during an eight-week run from September to November 1980. “Dreams” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for a single week in October, reaching #103.

In 1984, Delp, Goudreau, and Cosmo made one album under the name Orion the Hunter. Their lone hit, “So You Ran,” made #58. In 1990, Delp and Goudreau got together again to form the band RTZ, which prompted Delp to leave Boston. RTZ scored a couple of modest Hot 100 hits, “Face the Music” (#49 in 1991) and “Until Your Love Comes Back Around” (#26 in 1992). After one RTZ album, Delp returned to Boston, although Goudreau made one more under the RTZ name. Neither Orion the Hunter nor RTZ sounds quite so much like Boston as Barry Goudreau did on his self-titled album, and that was probably out of legal necessity as much as artistic license.

Thanks to classic rock and oldies radio, Boston became an icon, but a strangely evanescent one, given the molasses-slow way Tom Scholz preferred to work and their infrequent tours. But at the same time, those first two albums are going to remain essential for a long time to come, as long as the aging teenagers of the 70s can still push “play.”

6 thoughts on “Walk On

  1. I saw Boston in concert in 1987 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre near Milwaukee. That great Tom Scholz-induced sound of Boston wasn’t on display much that evening as the sound was quite low, to the point that it affected the volume whenever the wind was blowing in.
    “Face The Music” by RTZ was an excellent song in 1991 and I had us playing it as a nighttime album cut, hoping it would chart higher and get more airplay. But, alas, it was 1991..a shitty year in music, where crappy songs like “One More Try” by Timmy T and “Time, Love, and Tenderness” by Michael Bolton get played all the time while “Face The Music” by RTZ and “Dangerous” by The Doobie Brothers get screwed.

  2. John Gallagher

    A radio station I worked for here in Erie, PA from 1983-1988, then called K-104, started playing “Amanda” as early as 1984. There probably was a cease and desist, I don’t recall. We played it again when the rest of the country did in 1986.

    So many of the tracks on the debut Boston album remain classic rock staples to this day. “Hitch A Ride:, “Smokin'”, “Rock And Roll Band” and “Let Me Take You Home Tonight.”

  3. porky

    I always cite my first concert as Boston, saw them at Robertson Memorial Fieldhouse in Peoria, IL (the internet says March 27, 1977). Not many recollections but at the time I thought “they sound just like the record” and I was also impressed seeing Tom play the organ workout on “Foreplay.”

    Our rock band at the time took a stab at “More Than a Feeling,” would like to hear a tape of it just to see how close we came to it. In my memory, not very close.

    As I grew away from classic rock I found it amusing that Scholz continued to labor for years over a formula he’d already perfected.

  4. Wesley

    Another solid blog post here, jb. I don’t have anything to add other than to say that I can’t think of another act during this period which had such a big impact on pop music while putting out such little content. As much as Berry Gordy complained about how long Stevie Wonder took between albums in the 1970s and 1980s, Wonder was The Rolling Stones in comparison to Boston.

  5. mikehagerty

    Yeah, about the only artist that I can think of that took a longer break was Donald Fagen. It was almost eleven years between THE NIGHTFLY and KAMAKIRIAD. He said in an interview that when he decided he was ready he called Warners to let them know he’d be making good on his contract and nobody he spoke to there was aware he was under contract to them. Eventually, paper was produced, he was shuffled over to the Reprise imprint and took 13 years to get them the third album (though he did manage to deliver two Steely Dan albums in between),

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