How does one attempt to celebrate the release of an album like Boston? To date, the record has sold twenty-five million copies worldwide. The breakthrough single from the album, “More Than A Feeling,” has attained a status which makes it rank among some of the most instantly recognizable songs of all time; the average Joe on the street might not be able to name the artist, but can at least hum the rhythm guitar riff without pause, if asked. The artwork (originally conceived by Paula Scher – who also did covers for Leonard Bernstein and Bob James) is equally iconic and, while often mistaken for a Roger Dean piece, continues to be instantly recognizable. Simply said, there is nothing about Boston which isn’t perfectly recognizable. So how does one present this album in a manner which no one has seen before? What Legacy Recordings has done is make the album one of the first in its new Legacy Celebrates line. Now, Boston has been remastered and pressed on vinyl as a picture disc.
Ignoring all of the superficial trappings of this presentation though, listening to Boston’s debut album is actually both entertaining and (for rock history geeks like this writer) educational. After the “Sensational Sounds of the Seventies” mega-hit that “More Than A Feeling” turned out to be plays out to open the record (that’s right – it opens the album and, in so doing, proves that no one knew the track would become the hit it did – if they had, it would likely have appeared at the end of the A-side or basically anywhere that some other songs would get heard first), Boston actually manages to retain its momentum through “Peace Of Mind.) There, warhorse acoustic guitars and soaring leads rush up to meet listeners as singer Brad Delp offers heartfelt kindness which could actually fill an arena with the lines “If you’re feelin’ kind of low about the dues you’ve been paying/ Future’s coming much too slow/ And you want to run but somehow you just keep on staying/ Can’t decide on which way to go” before flying into the stratosphere, propelled by a mammoth push of guitar power.
In retrospect, all that one could possibly call “Peace Of Mind” is textbook corporate rock maneuvering but, when it was originally released, it’s easy to understand and see how this comparatively small Boston band was reaching for Queen-level heights, and it’s actually impressive to witness that kind of ambition. After that, the band dives into prog-rock movements for “Foreplay/Longtime” (which initially shoots for Pink Floyd-ian posturing before falling gracefully back into screaming rock bombast for the sure Seventies bar-band-and-jukebox standard “Rock n’ Roll Band” which closes the side. Combined, those four songs make up an absolutely brilliant and earnest statement which was never paralleled by any band before Boston came along or since (keep in mind, this was Boston’s first album – they were a baby band); had “More Than A Feeling not eclipsed everything else Boston would ever do, the first half of this review might read much differently.
The B-side opens with what would become another Seventies rock staple which would end up on more than a few period feature film soundtracks (“Smokin’”) before indulging in some poetic theft with “Hitch A Ride” (okay, it’s not overt theft – but references to “Smoke On The Water” and some very-nearly-lifted vocal arrangements which sound like CSNY are pretty hard to see around), phoning in some filler in the form of “Something About You” and finally resting on an “It’s Alright Now”-identified, AM Radio classic, “Let Me Take You Home Tonight.” Clearly, the ride through the B-side is far softer than the one through the A-, but it could be argued that such a conclusion could have been solved with some gentle re-ordering prior to the original release of the album in 1976. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to do that on this release though, and that it STILL holds together is admirable.
Regardless of how top-heavy Boston may play, it’s still difficult to argue with the enduring appeal that the record has proven to have, and the new Legacy Celebrates reissue has the sound as well as an eye-catching presentation which makes it an all-around winner. Here, longtime fans can feel justified in re-buying a great-sounding and fantastic-looking piece of vinyl, and new listeners who are curious about what Boston was beyond “More Than A Feeling” will not only get a chance to find out, they’ll be able to do it without raiding their father’s dusty, generally abused record collection. In that way, the Legacy Celebrates reissue of Boston is a great buy for anyone.
(Fortieth Anniversary, Legacy Celebrates edition picture disc reissue from Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music)