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Why Do I Own This? - Boston

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You'll forget about me after I've been gone

I'm a visual learner. I'm a tactile guy. And I've never been an early adopter.

As such, I've yet to fully and truly embrace the MP3. Sure, I've downloaded things. I have an iPod and I have iTunes, and they're great. But they're both extensions, duplications really, of the rows and rows of CDs on my media shelves. I know people who've uploaded their entire collection to their PCs, sold off their CDs, given their CD players away and claim they live happy existences.

That's crazy to me. What if the computer takes a dump? What are you going to do then, people? I know I'd freak out. I need R.E.M.'s "Murmur" to be safe and cozy on its shelf ready for me to listen to it anytime I want. I need to see it and touch it and know it's there.

I like looking at my collection at a glance, in a way you can't on a computer or an MP3 player or anything else. I like that I can put The Dukes of Stratosphere CD with the rest of the XTC albums. I like that the soundtracks all come at the end. I like when an old, forgotten album's cover art catches my eye, meriting a fresh spin.

Every once in a while, I come upon something I didn't know I still had in my music collection. Despite packing up my collection to move multiple times and a fair amount of regular purging, there are still some curious selections in there.

It's not like they're just files taking up a fraction of the hundreds of gigabytes on a hard drive. That's valuable shelf space over there. It's an honor to be a member and I won't have any tag-along albums in my collection. Not any more.

So, I've begun this new feature -- Why Do I Own This? I'll pluck an album that mystifies me. I'll listen to it again. I'll share my memories of the band, artist, album and music. I'll recall why I might have ever enjoyed it while finding out if I still do. Then, I'll render a verdict: To keep or not to keep?

Of course, there are a couple of ground rules. My wife's CDs are off limits, obviously. And it has to be something that I haven't listened to in a year, at least.

That's it. Let's begin to explore the dusty corners of my music collection with ...

Boston - "Boston" (1976)

This record and I have history.

However, this CD and I do not. None I can recall, anyway. I have probably listened to "Boston" more times tonight than during the entire time I've owned it. And I'm on the third spin right now.

"Boston" is a natural fit for the first edition of this feature. Not only am I unsure why I own this, I have no idea how I got it.

That might not seem weird to you, but I could probably explain how most of the CDs on that shelf over there came to be in my ownership. Many were freebies (I've worked as a music critic), some were gifts (Green Day's "Dookie" -- thanks, Grandma), some were the bounty of returned presents (I exchanged a gag gift of Kid Rock and Mariah Carey albums for the Pretenders' debut, "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" and the "From Dusk to Dawn" soundtrack -- good trade) and others were steals (not literally -- "My Aim is True" was mismarked $6.99 at Barnes & Noble).

But Boston? "Boston"? No idea. No memory. It has to predate college. Was it given to me? That's why I had "Hotel California" for about a year. I know, I know, it's still no excuse. But if I sold that off to a used music store, why didn't this ship out with it? Puzzling.

In more ways than one, "Boston" is a real head-scratcher.

I say that because my high school English teacher Mr. Nelson told my friends and I that Boston made his brain itch. We laughed. The man didn't own a TV. He thought "The Simpsons" was starting to get crappy. His first name was Olaf. No joke, Olaf. He had to be a fool. It's incredibly easy to be so smart at 17.

But I understand now. Here I am in my living room and I have "Peace of Mind" playing extremely quiet and it's still excruciating. Tom Scholz might be a killer engineer, but he doesn't know shit about rock 'n' roll. Making a guitar sound super-duper clean is like colorizing "Casablanca." It's a technically impressive way to rob something of all its personality.

How could I have doubted Mr. Nelson? He had a "Check Your Head" sticker on his wall. He showed us the Orson Welles version of "Othello." He confided to me that he spent hours as a teenager locked in a car listening to "Live at Leeds" on cassette. He was right about everything ... except for the TV. That's nuts.

But the brain itching -- dead on.

Now there's a big difference between music that makes your brain rattle and music that makes your brain itch. It's very scientific. I've had my brain rattled many times and loved it. At concerts, at my house, in the car (with "Live at Leeds"). The Ramones, Slayer and Danko Jones rattle my brain. But this junk, this annoying, awful, home-assembled, squealing nonsense just makes it itch. It pesters me. I can't wait to finish this piece so I never have to listen to this music ever again.

Yeah, right. Like "More Than a Feeling" won't be on at Walgreen's. Switch that to "so I never have to listen to my own copy of this music ever again."

But there was a time when I was thrilled to hear "Foreplay/Long Time." Mostly in the car, with my friends, riding to and from school. Sure, we liked "Live at Leeds," but the radio was most often on and tuned to the classic rock station. Bonafide classics and absolute non-classics, we gobbled it all up and sang along. The Stones, The Doors, Zeppelin and The Who what a talented imaginary cover band we were. Greg sang and played air guitar (maybe a little dashboard piano), I played bass on the backseat's middle seat belt and sang backup (poorly, I might add) and Ryan ... drove (well, someone had to).

It was just like those commercials, only the music was occasionally better.

It was one of our Honda Civic jam sessions that prompted Mr. Nelson to ask what exactly we had been doing in the school parking lot. Not sure if "rocking out to Boston" was more of a relief or a disappointment.

I don't think I would have been so intense in playing the doob-a-di-doob basslines in "Foreplay/Long Time" if I had known I was emulating a guy named Fran. No joke, Fran. And that's not much better than the other members of Boston: Barry, Sib, Brad Delp. Jesus, was this a rock band or an Olympic curling squad? The picture on the back of the record won't give you any more clarity.

Will these songs keep their spot on the shelf or are they bound for the landfill?

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Now flip the CD over to get a glimpse of Boston's view of the future. You see, Tom Scholz is bent on blowing up Earth after sucking up all of the world's energy supply by quintuple tracking every instrument on every song. And only the 17 million people who bought "Boston" get to hitch a ride on one of the band's guitar-shaped UFOs, which are powered by upside-down Sterno canisters. Ah, utopia at last.

Wait, did old Delpy just sing, "We were just another band out of Boston"? OK, but I'll bet you were the only one that was named after the city, you baked bean-eating cream pies. Oh, wow, at 2:10 of "Rock & Roll Band," the Delp-meister did some crazy high-pitched screech/squeal thing. A squeach? That's about right. Delp and Scholz must have been having a squeach-off. I bet they both lost.

You know, it is merciful that "Rock & Roll Band" is the worst song on the record and also the shortest. Oh, wait. Forgot about "Smokin'." Scratch that.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment I have with "Boston" and Boston is that the group didn't go for the rock 'n' roll hat trick. The band Bad Company had the song "Bad Company" off of the album "Bad Company." You want them to be the only ones? Do you? And you were sooo close.

None of these songs are about much anyway. Half these songs mention sailing away. Got a Christopher Cross fetish, guys? "Wish there was something I could say"? That's one of your lyrics, Boston. Yes, really. I don't know about you, but it gives me considerably less than a feeling.

Scholz, you write like an engineer. These are just words to fill the space between tinkering sessions. I bet your e-mails are sentence fragments in all caps. GUITAR. SQUEAL. GOOOOOOD.

Point being that you could have called any of these tracks "Boston." Why didn't you? How about "Smokin'"? Everyone would have been cool with it. You think His Delp-ness would have given you trouble? Please. Give him a chance to wail in every octave, he doesn't care. And Sib? Fran? With those names, they're just happy to be in a band.

Not that naming a song "Boston" would help the record at all. I'd still be stumped as to why I have it, how I got it and why it's still here. All I know is my brain hurts.

To keep or not to keep?

Consider this a squealing, multi-tracked, echoing, brain-itching, all caps NOT TO KEEP.

But, after shattering the CD by playing its squeaching full-blast, I might hold on to the UPC. You never know when you'll need a ticket for a Sterno-powered UFO.

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