Vinyl Treasures: How Tom Scholz’s Taste for the Extreme Made Boston’s Debut a Stunner

Tom Scholz [left] and Barry Goudreau put together one of their immaculate guitar harmonies
Tom Scholz [left] and Barry Goudreau put together one of their immaculate guitar harmonies (Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Boston’s self-titled debut album was released in 1976 on Epic Records and went on to become the eighth best-selling long-player in rock history. Not a bad way to start your career.  

I’ve loved Boston for 20-plus years, despite initially having had a complicated relationship with the album. The opinionated snob in me aside, it ranks in the top five of my guilty pleasures, even though it has ingredients I might historically dislike. 

The guitars sometimes sound totally effected, each song has numerous kitchen sinks thrown in, and many of the ideas are drawn upon rock clichés. It’s not as unlawful as Randy Bachman stuttering on “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” a Bachman-Turner Overdrive classic that finds Mr. Bachman inappropriately channeling the genius of “My Generation,” but some well-traveled contrivances abound. 

I love 'Boston' for exactly what it is, and at this point in my life it’s an old friend. When I listen to it, I’m almost overwhelmed by the full menu of things to listen to... It’s a hearty musical feast

Numerous pick slides against the string, commonplace guitar licks, canned arena cheering, and prog rock that pops out of nowhere are a few of the music’s hurdles I eventually jumped over. I wondered if Boston bordered on being too informed to be real – real in the sense of the Ramones.

And yet, it’s a friggin’ great album. Would the harmony guitars sound better if Scholz and Barry Goudreau imitated Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner on their fantastic live version of “Sweet Jane” from Lou Reed’s Rock ’n’ Roll Animal? Would an Angus Young AC/DC guitar tone make Boston better? Would roping in the magnitude of ideas have improved the record? Absolutely not.

I love Boston for exactly what it is, and at this point in my life it’s an old friend. When I listen to it, I’m almost overwhelmed by the full menu of things to listen to – the great lead vocals and harmonies, the twin guitars, the flying-finger organ playing, and solid-as-a-rock drumming. It’s a hearty musical feast. The only possible downside to Boston might be its perfection, but that’s what makes it perfectly wonderful.

There is no shortage of ideas. “Smokin’” has a repackaged John Lee Hooker boogie riff that’s infectious and iconic. The organ solo leads into an “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida”–style interlude before entering seamlessly into an organ breakdown, then into the big chorus outro. If I were speaking this, I’d be out of breath.

This is a carnival ride of rock ideas. “Foreplay/Long Time” begins with an arena prog-rock section before settling into a monolithic festival of melody. I’m at a loss to understand how these guys could have made this song bigger. It’s humongous, with pretty harmonies and a wonderful vocal performance by Brad Delp.

The track speeds along on a high-stimuli highway. “Hitch a Ride” is stripped down in the context of a Boston album. The song is a gem, bursting with melodic ideas and hooks. At around 1:33, it enters an arena-rock section that I wait for, and yet sometimes I wonder: If Tom and the boys had held back on this section, we might have lived without it. Nitpicking aside, it’s a lovely song.

“More Than a Feeling” has another perfect vocal performance by Delp and a melodic rock-anthem chorus. It’s a home run, but “Peace of Mind” might be my favorite track on the album, as it encapsulates a great classic-rock song with a noteworthy atomic clock, pre–Pro Tools drum performance by Sib Hashian. Sib could really hold down the fort – or should I say mansion?

“Rock & Roll Band” plays like a naïve Hollywood biopic about “making it,” with an overdubbed arena crowd cheering. To me, it perfectly sums up Boston: They can be performers and rock fans simultaneously. 

If Tom Scholz were a pal, I might ask him to come over and help me paint. I’d say, “Hey, Tom, come over Sunday morning around 9 a.m. It’s a small bathroom, and we should be done by 12 noon at the latest.”

But Tom wouldn’t stop. He’d paint the bathroom, the bedroom, the kitchen, and the living room, and on Monday at 5 a.m. Tom would be painting the outside of the house. I’d shout to him, “I just wanted the bathroom painted and planned for the outside to be yellow. But, man, this looks terrific!”

Boston was a great band, and to my ears they played like they truly loved what they did, while feeling lucky to be doing it. Their first record is a study in craftsmanship that emanates the joy of being human.

  • Jim Campilongo and Luca Benedetti’s new release, Two Guitars, is out now via City Hall Records on CD and vinyl.
Jim Campilongo

Jim Campilongo has 14 critically acclaimed instrumental records available on vinyl, CD and digital download here.