Boston frontman Tom Scholz spent six long years tinkering away on songs in his basement, braving rejection and humiliation as he tried to win a record deal. Finally, he did. Boston subsequently went on to become one of the biggest rock bands of the 1970s, selling over 17 million copies of their debut album alone and over 75 million records in total. The success didn’t come without its flipside – the band spent most of the 80s engaged in a bitter legal dispute with their record label, while Scholz’s perfectionism and tight control over the band led to a war of words that, 30 years on, is still waging – but none of that came through in their music. To find out what made them such a phenomenon, check out these 10 best Boston songs of all time.
10. Foreplay/ Long Time
Written several years before Boston’s debut album came out, Foreplay/ Long Time is a song of two halves. The first is the prog rock-inspired instrumental (the aptly titled Foreplay) and the second is the climatic, showstopping anthem, Long Time. Despite the fact that Scholz was barely out of his teens when he created it, it has the style and the swagger you’d expect of a seasoned vet, with fist-pumping riffs, meticulously crafted melodies, and watertight arrangements.
9. Can’tcha Say (You Believe In Me)/Still In Love
Not many bands could get away with such a staggeringly convoluted title (pity the poor radio DJs who have to say it), but then again, not many bands have a creative talent like Tom Scholz on board. After deciding in 1986 that the best way to end Boston’s eight years in the wilderness (or more precisely, the courtroom) was with a concept album, Scholz set about creating the brilliant Third Stage, an album that landed the band back at No.1 and gave a decisive middle figure to the record label that had kept them from it for so long. Can’tcha Say (You Believe In Me)/Still In Love is essentially two songs rolled into one. Crafted with care and delivered with love, it ranks as one of the album’s finest tracks.
8. A Man I’ll Never Be
Tom Scholz is a control freak, the ultimate perfectionist who irons out every last kink and crease of a song before presenting it to the public. On the band’s second album, Don’t Look Back, he didn’t get the chance. Under pressure from the record label to follow up on the success of the band’s debut, he rushed to finish it, overlooking things he’d never have allowed to pass on its predecessor. He wasn’t happy with the result, and neither was the public – it still managed to sell 4 million copies in its first year, but that represented just half of what the band’s debut had sold. Still, by anyone’s standards but Scholz’s, it’s still a great album, with the introspective ballad A Man I’ll Never Be standing out as one of its best tracks.
7. Feelin’ Satisfied
Described by Billboard as “an affectionate tribute to the power of music,” Feelin’ Satisfied was a chart flop when it was released as the third single from the 1978 album Don’t Look Back. But chart success isn’t everything, and few would argue in retrospect that this groovy celebration of rock and roll isn’t one of the album’s standout tracks. It’s not often that Tom Scholz cuts loose, but here he does, leaving the perfectionism to one side and indulging in some straight-up fun. The hand claps that accompany the guitar riffs on the chorus are a mark of genius.
6. Rock & Roll Band
If there was always one thing Boston liked singing about, it was music. The theme found its ultimate expression on More Than A Feeling, but it works pretty well on Rock & Roll Band too. According to Wikipedia, this is the song that Paul Ahern played to Charlie McKenzie to spike his interest in the then unnamed rock band. It worked and shortly after, both Ahern and McKenzie signed on as the band’s co-managers. A ballsy anthem that sets the foundation for classic rock radio, the band sounds like they’d been packing out stadiums for years. They hadn’t, but this is the song that helped ensure they would.
As Louder Sound says, the title to this next song speaks volumes. An all-out rocker with a deep-seated groove, it may have lacked some of the sophistication of the rest of the band’s debut album, but that doesn’t make it any less formidable. If you want to rock out, this is the song to do it too.
4. Livin’ For You
By spring 1990, Tom Scholz was beavering away in the studio working on the band’s fourth album. A few months later, he ran into a major problem when Brad Delp decided to walk away from the band to concentrate on other projects. Scholz, now the last original member of the band remaining, started to scout around for a replacement. He eventually settled on Fran Cosmo, one of the few singers around that could fill Delp’s huge shoes. His performance on Livin’ For You, the highlight of 1994’s Walk On, is sensational – as, indeed, is everything else.
Thanks to a drawn-out dispute with their record label, it took Boston eight years to record their third album. Released in 1986, there was a real risk the audience they’d left behind had done the same to them. They hadn’t. As ultimateclassicrock.com writes, the opening track and lead single from Third Stage might not have been the big, ballsy rocker fans were expecting, but this sweet love song still managed to strike a chord, taking Boston to number one in the US and spelling the ultimate victory for the band after years of legal wrangling.
2. Peace Of Mind
Following hot on album opener’s More Than A Feeling’s heels, Peace Of Mind is the 2nd track from the band’s debut album. It’s not quite as great as the first track, but it’s still an awesome tune, with a freewheeling energy that’s practically infectious. The vocals are dazzling, as are the fuzzy guitar riff and sumptuous melody. A permanent fixture on classic rock radio to this day, it still sounds as positive and life-affirming now as it did back then.
1. More Than A Feeling
Boston’s debut album is filled with one hit after another, but none of them quite match up to More Than A Feeling. The album’s opening track and flagship single boasts one of the most memorable guitar riffs of all time – if you haven’t played along on an air guitar at least once, you’re the only one. Everything else is just as glorious, from the soaring vocals to the multi-layered arrangement. The lyrics, like a lot of Boston songs, tackle the transcendental power of music. It doesn’t get much more transcendental than this.