Just Another Band Out of Boston

Before I say anything else, I want to be clear: I'm a fan. I bought the first album. I loved the first album. I sweated out the long months before the second album, and when it came out I played it almost as often as the first album. But in the end, it's the first album that stays with me. I have enormously fond memories of every song on it, and some of them remain evocative enough to put me in a particular time and place. Yes, I close my eyes and I slip away.

But by all that is holy, radio programmers, I say unto you QUIT PLAYING ALL THAT GODDAM BOSTON.

Yesterday morning, I slid into the driver's seat and turned on the car radio, which was tuned to Charlottesville's album rock station, WWWV, better known as "3WV." A song from Boston's self-titled debut album was playing.

This isn't shocking, as AOR stations in general and 3WV in particular have been stuck to Boston like barnacles to a supertanker since it came out in 1976. It is the best-selling debut album by any American artist ever, and by any measure it is one of the most successful rock records of all time, having sold in excess of 17 million copies in the US alone (thank you, Wikipedia.) The albums that have outsold it are generally the ones where I don't need to mention the artists' names to let you know what we're talking about: Thriller. Dark Side of the Moon. IV. Rumours. And its cover, with a fleet of guitar-shaped spaceships evacuating entire cities from a doomed Earth, has become downright iconic:

boston debut.jpgThis particular song from Boston, "Rock and Roll Band," is a passable piece of anthemic rock mythology, though it is woefully inaccurate with regards to Boston's own success story. They were the brainchild of guitarist/songwriter Tom Scholz, a gifted musician and engineer whose homemade demo tapes were good enough to earn a recording contract with Epic Records. There were no years of travel from gig to gig, no nights spent in the van, no overdoses on road food. Scholz had to put the band together in order to have someone to play the songs live after the record was released. The song is somewhat interesting in that it was never released as a single, but it's considered "classic" enough to enjoy regular airplay, arguably almost as much as the three songs from the debut album that WERE released as singles: "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind" and "Foreplay/Long Time."

Having heard it more than often enough, however, I switched stations. Turning to Kelly, I announced, "You know, I think it's finally happened: I'm tired of Boston's first album."

I don't know why I was surprised. We're talking about a record released nearly 40 years ago, and one that is played incessantly. But it's one that I've long considered the perfect blend of hard rock and melody, a beautifully crafted piece of popular entertainment. "More Than a Feeling" was one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar, and only my recognition that Brad Delp's voice cannot be duplicated by ordinary human beings has prevented me from trying to play it live. It's an album I could easily play in my head from start to finish without missing a lyric or a drum fill, and one I cannot ever condemn.

But come on, radio people. THERE ARE OTHER RECORDS WORTH PLAYING.

Boston's debut album has only eight songs on it, and six of them (excepting only "Something About You" and "Let Me Take You Home Tonight") get regular airplay, despite the fact that this is an album that most of the audience already owns. And there are only three or four songs from their other albums that you'll ever hear on the radio: "Feeling Satisfied" and the title track from Don't Look Back, plus occasionally "Amanda" and "We're Ready" from Third Stage. I don't think I've ever heard anything from their three other studio albums.) Basically, then, there are between eight and ten Boston songs that might be heard on the radio. And at least a couple of them can be heard Every. Single. Day.

Don't believe me? Yesterday evening, on the way home from the same trip that began with "Rock and Roll Band," I turned on 3WV again and laughed aloud. "Don't Look Back" was playing.

"Well, at least it's not the first album," I said to Kelly, and switched off the radio.

And tonight, when I got in the car to come home from work? On went 3WV, and on came "Foreplay/Long Time." And off went 3WV.

Radio folks, this isn't hard. There are dozens--scores--HUNDREDS of great songs by legitimate classic rock artists that you can put on the air. You want some suggestions? The Rolling Stones alone have released over twenty studio albums; try a deeper track like "Monkey Man" or "Dead Flowers" or even a recent tune like "Rain Fall Down" off 2005's A Bigger Bang. Jethro Tull doesn't get nearly enough radio play, and they've topped twenty albums as well; give a spin to "Look Into the Sun" off Stand Up, or something off Songs from the Wood. You want to play American tunes? Fine! How about some Allman Brothers? No, not just "Rambling Man" and "Midnight Rider." Spin "Trouble No More" or "One Way Out" for a change. What about Steely Dan? Only nine albums total, but there's plenty of stuff that hasn't been played to death. "Barrytown" from Pretzel Logic is an underappreciated gem, and you won't find a nastier guitar than Larry Carlton's work on "Don't Take Me Alive" and "Kid Charlemagne."

In short, radio people, it's time to broaden your horizons. If you want to stay in the classic rock ghetto, be my guest. It's sad that you won't be digging into the rich musical offerings of Janelle Monae or the Magnetic Fields or the Carolina Chocolate Drops or American Aquarium, or even the great underappreciated music of the same era as classic rock: Brian Eno's breathtaking Before and After Science, XTC's amazing Black Sea, Television's Marquee Moon, the Isley Brothers' Go For Your Guns, and so on. But for crying out loud, an allegiance to classic rock doesn't mean you have to spend your lives spinning the same handful of songs off the same record. No matter how good it is.

Please. Come away from Boston. For our sanity. I'm listening to some friends, and they've got lots of tunes.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on January 5, 2015 9:59 PM.

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