40 years ago, an unknown band led by an introverted genius was transformed into a global rock’n’roll phenomenon. The band was Boston, the genius leader was Tom Scholz, and their first album – titled simply Boston – went on to sell over 17 million copies, becoming the biggest selling debut in the history of American music, a record they held for a decade until it was broken by Guns N’ Roses with Appetite For Destruction.
In celebration of the glory of Boston and the genius of Tom Scholz, we hereby present the Top 10 Boston Songs. No need for a spoiler alert – we all know what the number one is. But there is so much more to Boston than that one iconic track…
10. Sail Away (2013)
On the most recent Boston album, Life Love & Hope, Tom Scholz utilised five different lead vocalists. He even sang one song himself – the first time he has ever done so. But the big deal on this album was the inclusion of four tracks recorded with the band’s original singer Brad Delp, who committed suicide in 2007. The best of them was Sail Away, which Scholz wrote in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. At the core of the song, Scholz said, was “the thought of sailing away to a better place in your mind”. In that sense, it was a song that could have been written for the man who had sung it so beautifully.
9. A Man I’ll Never Be (1978)
Scholz was never happy with the second Boston album, Don’t Look Back. Under pressure from record company Epic, he had rushed to finish it, and felt it was incomplete. To an extent he was proved right. That album sold four million in its first year: a huge success by any normal standards, but still only half as many as the first album sold in that time. As a result, Scholz – the ultimate perfectionist – refused to be rushed on the band’s third album, and would subsequently be sued by Epic before getting out of his contract. But for all the drama it caused, Don’t Look Back was a great record. And at the heart of the album was the ballad A Man I’ll Never Be – a song so epic that Rolling Stone called it Boston’s answer to Stairway To Heaven.
8. Can’tcha Say (You Believe In Me)/Still In Love (1986)
As that convoluted title implies, this piece was essentially two songs in one – seamlessly combined by Scholz as part of the brilliant concept album Third Stage. The album was the band’s first with MCA following the acrimonious split from Epic, and was eight years in the making. But it was worth waiting for – an AOR masterpiece, perfectly crafted. Can’tcha Say (You Believe In Me)/Still In Love is proof of that.
7. Feelin’ Satisfied (1978)
The third single from Don’t Look Back album was a flop, peaking at outside the US top 40, but it’s one of the best songs on that album. For all the painstaking work that went into Boston’s music, there’s a real groove to Feelin’ Satisfied – and a sense of fun in the way that handclaps beat a rhythm along with the guitar riff. Even a control freak like Tom Scholz could get loose sometimes.
6. Foreplay/Long Time (1976)
The longest and most complex track on Boston’s debut was in two parts: the proggy instrumental intro piece Foreplay followed by the grandstanding rock anthem Long Time. Together, it made for what one critic described as “a perfect marriage of Yes and Led Zeppelin”.
5. Amanda (1986)
There was surely no sweeter victory for Tom Scholz than when this song went to number one in America. After a gap of eight years between albums, he might have feared that the public had forgotten about his band. He had also been through the wringer – battling the lawsuit from Epic. When Amanda hit the top in November 1986, Boston’s comeback was complete – for Scholz, the ultimate vindication. From the golden age of the power ballad, Amanda is one of the definitive classics.
4. Smokin’ (1976)
The title spoke volumes. For all the sophistication in Boston’s debut album, there was one song that just rocked out, and it was Smokin’. A flat-out, high-octane blaster, it stands toe-to-toe with Ted Nugent’s Just What The Doctor Ordered, Montrose’s Space Station No.5 and Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic as one of the most ass-kicking songs of its era.
3. Livin’ For You (1994)
When making the fourth Boston album, Walk On, Tom Scholz had a big problem. A new singer was required, after he and Brad Delp had fallen out. Replacing Delp wasn’t going to be easy – the guy’s voice was out of this world. But Scholz found the right man from an unlikely source. He enlisted Fran Cosmo, a singer who had worked with Barry Goudreau, the guitarist that Scholz had fired from Boston in 1981. And it worked. Cosmo’s voice was similar to Delp’s, and his brilliant performance on Livin’ For You – the standout track from Walk On – made it Boston’s greatest ballad.
2. Peace Of Mind (1976)
The second-best Boston song came right after the best one – as track two on the debut album. Like so much of Boston’s music, Peace Of Mind has an uplifting quality: in its freewheeling riff, its rich melody and dazzling vocal harmonies. And in the lyrics there is that sense of positivity that Scholz would carry through the band’s entire career. As Scholz once told Classic Rock: “My music is about escape.” And that is the message in Peace Of Mind: to go beyond the trials of everyday working life – “people living in competition” – and find a deeper meaning.
1. More Than A Feeling (1976)
Scholz always knew that this was a special song. That’s why it was placed as the opening track on Boston’s first album, and released as the flagship single. 40 years on, More Than A Feeling remains his and Boston’s definitive statement. Everything about it is perfect: the melody, the arrangement, the multi-layered production, Brad Delp’s wonderfully emotive lead vocal, a guitar sound like nothing ever heard before, and, of course, that revving riff famously echoed in Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. A top five hit in the US, More Than A Feeling launched Boston’s career in spectacular fashion. It also gave rise to a whole new subgenre: Adult Orientated Rock. After this, the floodgates opened for Foreigner, Journey, Toto and so many others to follow. Unquestionably, More Than A Feeling is Tom Scholz’s masterpiece. More than that, it might even be the greatest rock song ever created.