Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Boston - Don't Look Back (1978)

I felt like I was in need of some positivity today so I threw an old stand by in the CD player, good 'ol Boston. Their music is always rockin' and happy guaranteed to bring a smile to an old dog like me. I could go into the irony of how a band with such a legally combative and argumentative past could generate cheerful sounding tunes but I'll leave that alone. So here we go, track by track:

1. Don't Look Back

This was the first Boston anything I had owned. When I first started buying records and tapes, I relied on the radio and what music videos I could come by on tv (we didn't have cable tv) to know what was out there. To learn more about Rock music the nerdy way, I bought books on the subject like the Rolling Stone Record Guide or a picture filled book that I think was called Classic Rock. Both books made reference to Boston, a band whose music was often grouped with Journey and Foreigner which were two of my favorite bands on earth. My neighbor that would clue me in on the latest bands had a poster of Boston on his wall that looked really cool. I became fascinated with this band that had a smash album in 1976 only to disappoint in 1978 and disappear afterwards. Since it was 1983 it seemed Boston was gone forever without a trace.

On the way to a family vacation in Lake Tahoe, we stopped at a gas and sip in the middle of the long drive up. While in the store I bought this tape, even though I had not heard a note of Boston's music at that point. The descriptions of their music as high tech finely crafted arena rock was irresistible to me. I popped the tape into the car tape player and was left in awe of what I had heard.

Cruising through the mountains in the Summer heat while guitars chugged and whooshed by as high pitched choruses sang "I! Finally see the dawn arriving. I! Finally see the road I'm driving" was a musically transcendent moment. Needless to say, I was hooked. It was so packed with guitars and amazing was everything I loved about music in 5 minutes time.

Today, this song still carries a spirit of hope that buoys my spirits (even though phenomenal lead vocalist Brad Delp eventually committed suicide). A reminder that you should always move forward, as Satchel Paige famously said don't look back because something may be catching up with you. Or something like that. This was a Top 10 single in '78 though I didn't hear it until I had the tape.

Yes, life is a journey. An organ humming echoey journey with guitars squealing in the background. And by the measure of this track, life is brief clocking in a little over 90 seconds.

3. It's Easy

If you don't look back and take the journey, you find life is easy takin' it day by day. I used to rock out in my little room as a kid air guitaring and everything. If that sounds embarrassing to admit, it's even more embarrassing to say I was caught doing this by a stranger. One day I was rocking out and had left the shades to my window open. I looked out and saw a telephone technician standing on the telephone pole staring at me. Mortified, I kept rocking out because I thought the only thing that could be worse was if I stopped and looked as idiotic as I felt. At least kids today can throw on a plastic guitar and claim they were practicing for a video game. Are you sure life is easy Tom Scholz?

4. A Man I'll Never Be

When I heard this song, I could not believe it wasn't a bigger hit (I think it barely crawled into the Top 40). "A Man I'll Never Be" isn't just a great Boston power ballad, it's one of the best of the form I've ever heard. It has that classic Boston structure of building up tension, releasing and then starting all over again but in a love song form. And the way that big theme-ish guitar part keeps recurring with little variations leading up to the big solo is a marvel. As a teenager who had heard the "Let's be friends" speech from girls I could definitely relate to the lyrics because I felt like the ladies were looking for someone other than me. Though I'm happily married now, I still think this is a brilliant piece of art.

5. Feelin' Satisfied

Or for me aka "That Beach Boys sounding song". Tom Scholz only had a mere two years to work on this record and has said this album was about half finished when it was released. I took that statement at face value because I felt the second half of this album seemed a little thin sonically compared to the first side. Still, "Feelin' Satisfied" had those Boston hallmarks of stop and go guitar licks, harmony vocals and handclaps a plenty. The third single from Don't Look Back, "Feelin' Satisfied" sounds like the foundation of a great Boston sound that was not finished. Strangely, I do feel satisfied. When I saw Boston live in the 80's I thought they were a little dull but enjoyed hearing this one.

6. Party

Boston is not a terribly deep band lyrically, they were a great party band. Even with their clean crisp atmosphere, there is a loopy bit of 70's sleaze in here that gives a little flava. Easily the funnest track on the record, I just imagined a happening 70's kind of par-tay when I would listen to this. The kind where you approach women and call them "Mama" while smoking a lot and drinking Billy Beer. Because we are...two wild and crazy guys.

7. Used To Bad News

My wife suggested this as my personal theme song which fit because I was playing it for sort of that reason anyway. She pointed out this was a happy sounding jam which is true, I was listening to the breezy way it handles the bad news. "Used To Bad News" is one of my fave Boston tracks because I like the laid back beat that suddenly launches into an organ solo followed by a blistering guitar solo. Like if The Eagles had jammed with Uriah Heep. Hopefully the worst of 2009 is over or I'll wear a hole through this track on the CD player!

8. Don't Be Afraid

One of the weaker Boston cuts in my opinion, it's so slight I was surprised to hear it on a bootleg that I believe predates the first record. It's not bad though, because until you got to Corporate America there was no such thing as a bad Boston song in my book. "Don't Be Afraid" meshed together boogie guitars, a John Mellencamp beat and the word "Love" being repeated a lot. Who knows, maybe with four more years Scholz could have made more of this one.

And there you have it, an album made for having a positive outlook on life. Remember to don't look back, get used to bad news and party til you're feelin satisfied. Don't be afraid of the journey even if you're a man you'll never be. While looking up clips on you tube for the music this band Piston kept coming up that seems to have covered the Don't Look Back album in '89. I'm not sure where this band came from and they don't really pull off the sound they're going for but it is fun to watch them try.


Jeannie said...

You know how you started like me when you found out I like Journey? Boston is like that for me. When I saw you like Boston, I thought, "This guy is pretty cool."

Don't look back baby.

Bunny loves you.

Mr. Mike said...

I love the Bunny