Tonight’s musical selection is a real chestnut: Foreplay/Long Time, one of a long succession of chartbusters from Boston’s 1976 self-titled debut release, a for-reals monster hit of an album as well.
After several years of receiving the contemptuous stiffarm from just about every major label in the biz, the band finally signed with Epic, in a story full of the kind of remarkable turns of Fate, happenstance, and fortuitous timing which have become as old and familiar as Classic Rock itself.
Epic wanted the band to record in Los Angeles with a record producer, but Scholz was unwilling and wanted to record the album in his basement studio, so he hired Boylan to run interference with the label. In an elaborate ruse, Scholz tricked the label into thinking the band was recording on the West Coast, when in reality, the bulk was being tracked solely by Scholz at his Massachusetts home. The album’s contents are a complete recreation of the band’s demo tape, and contain songs written and composed many years prior. The album’s style, often referred to as the “Boston sound”, was developed through Scholz’s love of classical music, melodic hooks and guitar-heavy rock groups such as the Kinks and the Yardbirds, as well as a number of analogue electronic effects developed by Scholz in his home studio. Scholz would later found Scholz Research & Development, Inc. to market many of his inventions that he used in developing the sound on the album.
The album was released by Epic in August 1976 and sold extremely well, breaking sales records, becoming the best-selling debut LP in the US at the time, and winning the RIAA Century Award as best selling debut album. The album’s singles, most notably “More Than a Feeling” and “Long Time”, were both AM and FM hits, and nearly the entire album receives constant rotation on classic rock radio. The album has been referred to as a landmark in 1970s rock and has been included on many lists of essential albums. It has sold 17 million copies in the United States alone and 25 million worldwide.
In the late 1960s, Tom Scholz began attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he first began writing music. After graduating with a master’s degree, he began working for the Polaroid Corporation in the product development division. By night, he played keyboards for bands in the Boston bar and club scene, where he collaborated with keyboardist/drummer Jim Masdea. The two—who shared a concept of the perfect rock band, one “with crystal-clear vocals and bone-crunching guitars”—viewed themselves as only part-time musicians. Despite this, the duo built a small studio near Watertown, Massachusetts to record ideas. Scholz recorded for hours on end, often re-recording, erasing and discarding tapes in an effort to create “a perfect song”. Both musicians later joined Mother’s Milk, a band featuring guitarist Barry Goudreau, that vied for recognition in the Boston music scene. Scholz quickly went from keyboardist to lead songwriter, and the band went through dozens of lead vocalists before Brad Delp auditioned. Delp, a former factory worker at a Danvers electric coil company, spent much of his weekends in cover bands. Delp drove to Revere Beach, where the three-piece were performing at a club named Jojo’s. Delp was impressed that the band had recorded a demo tape and were still recording, and earned his position in the band after auditioning the Joe Walsh song “Rocky Mountain Way”. Mother’s Milk became an early version of Boston, with Goudreau on lead guitar.
By 1973, the band had a six-song demo tape ready for mailing, and Scholz and his wife Cindy sent copies to every record company they could find. The songs on the demo were “More Than a Feeling”, “Peace of Mind”, “Rock & Roll Band”, “Something About You”, “Hitch a Ride” (under a different title) and “Don’t Be Afraid” (which would be eventually released on Don’t Look Back). The group received rejection slips from several labels—RCA, Capitol, Atlantic and Elektra among the most notable—and Epic Records rejected the tape flatly with a “very insulting letter” signed by company head Lennie Petze that opined the band “offered nothing new”. The tape that received the most attention contained embryonic renditions of future songs that would appear on Boston’s debut album. Financial reality encroached the dream for Delp, who departed shortly thereafter because “there just wasn’t any money coming in”. By 1975, Tom Scholz was finished with the club scene, concentrating exclusively on the demo tapes he recorded at home in his basement. Scholz was renting the house and spent much of his funds on recording equipment; at one point, he spent the money he had saved for a down payment on a future home on a Scully 8-track. He called Delp to provide vocals, remarking, “If you can’t really afford to join the band or if you don’t want to join the band, maybe you’d just want to come down to the studio and sing on some of these tapes for me.” Scholz had given the Mother’s Milk demo to a Polaroid co-worker whose cousin worked at ABC Records (who had signed one of Scholz’s favorite bands, the James Gang). The employee forgot to mail the tape out and it sat in his desk for months until Columbia began contacting Scholz, after which he sent the tape to ABC.
Charles McKenzie, a New England representative for ABC Records, first overheard the tape in a co-worker’s office. He called Paul Ahern, an independent record promoter in California, with whom he held a gentleman’s agreement that if either heard anything interesting, they would inform the other. Ahern had connections with Petze at Epic and informed him—even though Petze had passed on the original Mother’s Milk demos. Epic contacted Scholz and offered a contract that first required the group to perform in a showcase for CBS representatives, as the label felt curious that the “band” was in reality a “mad genius at work in a basement”. Masdea had started to lose interest in the project by this time, and Scholz called Goudreau and two other performers who had recorded on the early demos, bass player Fran Sheehan and drummer Dave Currier, to complete the lineup. In November 1975, the group performed for the executives in a Boston warehouse that doubled as Aerosmith’s practice facility. Mother’s Milk was signed by CBS Records one month later in a contract that required 10 albums over six years. Currier quit before he knew the band passed the audition, and Scholz recruited drummer Sib Hashian in his place. Epic had signed an agreement with NABET, the union representing electrical and broadcast engineers, which specified that any recording done outside of a Columbia-owned studio but within a 250-mile radius of one of those studios required that a paid union engineer be present. As such, the label wanted the band to travel to Los Angeles and re-record their songs with a different producer. Scholz was unhappy with being unable to be in charge, and John Boylan, a friend of a friend of Ahern, came on board the project. Boylan’s duty was to “run interference for the label and keep them happy”, and he made a crucial suggestion: that the band change their name to Boston.
And thus was their future secured, and rock and roll history made.
Now, as y’all already know, I was a confirmed punk-rock devotee right from the inception of the sub-genre. So, seeing as how Boston’s music was pretty much the living embodiment of the overly slick, tamed-down, theatrical “corporate rock” that the punk movement’s founders so angrily objected to, one might think it safe to assume that my visceral response to Boston’s stuff would consist of little more than a sneer, a snarl, and a disgusted snort.
Au contraire, mon frere. When the Boston album hit the airwaves, my inner Classic Rock afficionado—although already forcibly leashed and subdued by the heat and unrestrained frenzy of the Ramones, the Damned, and the Pistols—still definitely dug it anyhow. Now granted, Boston’s output was overproduced, all the jagged edges meticulously smoothed away by a recording-studio process that might as well have been designed for the purpose of watering down the wild, rebellious angst innate to rock and roll from Sun-era Elvis on, all aggro and ferocity removed so as to appeal to more timid ears. Boston wasn’t quite what anyone would call “soft rock,” no. Then again, they weren’t quite D-Purp or Black Sabbath, either.
That said, in spite of all the studio jiggery-pokery and my own all-in embrace of the punk rock revolution, despite Boston reputation as one of the exemplars of 70s recording-studio excess and sterility, I loved ’em then, and I love ’em still. Listen carefully to the passage in the video above that begins at 6:01 and runs to 6:21—the close of the guitar solo, which builds into a somewhat elaborate resolution to the dominant, with Brad Delp’s signature yelp providing overwatch throughout. Then the turnaround, taking us back into the final verse and the end of the song.
Might as well just embed that specific section too so’s nobody misses anything, what the hey.
Wretched 70s corporate-rock excess or no, that’s some Really Big Noise there. And if it doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up, you’re almost certainly dead. Or have a tin ear, maybe. It’s as powerful a climax to a rock song as any I know of, and moreso than a lot of ’em. It might well be a fair cop to say that my fondness for Boston makes for an unflattering constrast with my equally-strong love for the stripped-down, spare, no-nonsense credo of punk. Don’t care. I repeat: loved it then, love it still. And you should too.