Guest Blogger Jeff Kaplan: Boston – Boston

6 Jul

In a wonderful, six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon kind of way, I am pleased to introduce a guest blog by a friend of a friend.  I allegedly have never met Jeff Kaplan, but if our paths are anything like that of mutual friend, Mark Rentzer, then we have surely been in the same small NYC clubs watching a band at one time or another over the last 20 years.  Hell, I might have seen him play . . .

—–

Classic rock is a wonderful thing. Classic rock RADIO, well, sucks.

I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in (the suburbs of) New York City, which I hear is fairly large among cities, classic rock radio has been destroying everything great about classic rock for decades.

Familiarity with a song certainly paves a way for a deeper appreciation one cannot possibly get through a single listening. But, there comes a point where repeated repetition pushes aside that appreciation and makes way for utter annoyance and contempt. An alien might think that some of the great rock bands composed perhaps three or four songs and left it at that. Perhaps that’s all the world wants. In essence, and ironically, classic rock radio has done what it can to destroy classic rock by making us have contempt for some of the world’s great compositions.

The D.J.’s have no say in what they’re playing and the program directors are simply giving what the real antagonists of this story (the listeners themselves) what they want: safety and familiarity. We live in a world where “Stairway to Heaven” has become background music or a joke or an unchallenging piece of work because the whole planet has heard every inch of it too many times to count.

And, musically speaking, that’s kind of a sad thing.

The discussion about radio is a worthy one to have for its own sake, but we’ve gathered here today to talk about the first Boston record, released August 25, 1976 (I like knowing these things for some reason). So let’s.

I can hear some groans from here. Among all the artistes you’ve read about on this blog so far, and will in future weeks, months, and years, why are we spending time with a “corporate rock” record (I mean – that is what people think when they think of bands like Boston, no?).

Honestly, I’m not even sure what “corporate rock” means. I suppose it’s a pejorative describing rock music created not for the sake of artistic expression, but rather to sell maximum units. If that is the definition, it’s hard to say that the first Boston album isn’t a huge success given that it’s a known fact that every person on planet Earth has bought this record……at least twice.

Speaking of planet Earth, it features prominently on the record cover, being surrounded by a bunch of spaceships oddly shaped like guitars. It’s unclear if these ships are invading Earth or maybe just hovering. Either way, the Boston ship that is largely in our frame of view seems to be bringing up the rear. (Stay tuned for the cover of album number two for a continuation of that story).

What makes the first Boston album such a success, and I’m not just speaking at the box office, is that it is an album of irresistibly hooky songs, excellent musicianship, soaring vocals and harmonies, and a production that is so warm and clear it feels as if it could have been recorded yesterday.

There was a joke of some sort about this album that it was the first record composed by a computer and given just how faceless this band actually is (off the top of your head, can you visualize even one member of the band?), maybe there could have been some truth to that. But my guess is that only flesh and blood humans could tap into the type of music that just makes people feel good and uplifted.

These are simple songs created by complex minds. Prog rock it is not: don’t let the album cover fool you, or even the slightest hint of prog found on the first half of “Foreplay/Long Time” (child’s play to Yes and Genesis and downright infantile compared to King Crimson).

Side One also contains the obvious rockers, the ones ready-made for the arenas: “More Than a Feeling” and “Piece of Mind”.

The real humanity lies on Side Two.

Apparently the boys actually did slug it out in the clubs before striking gold (“Rock & Roll Band”) get high (or they don’t mind if the audience does) (“Smokin’”), some breezy Cali-rock (“Hitch a Ride”), they love (“Something About You”), and they lust (“Let Me Take You Home Tonight”).

Turning back to my opening rant about classic rock radio: classic rock radio created the idea of the “deep cut”. The idea being that – wow – The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Kinks, The Who, and Aerosmith actually did write more than seven songs each.

And now, here’s the most amazing thing that I can say about the debut Boston record. It has no deep cuts. In the modern tragic age of classic rock radio, I honestly cannot think of one other record where every single song is played in regular rotation – even to this day. If you have subjected yourself to modern day classic rock radio – then you know every song I mentioned in this little essay, and I did list them all.

Boston continues on today with leader Tom Scholz at the helm, but have never duplicated the highs reached on the first album. The second album (Don’t Look Back) was a more than decent effort, the third album (Third Stage) a not-as-decent effort, and, to be totally honest, I’ve never given anything past that a chance (2002’s album was called, strangely enough, Corporate America).

Some random final thoughts:

  1. The back cover does put some faces to the faceless. Rhythm guitarist Barry Goudreau looks like Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma’s missing twin, drummer Sib Hashian sports a killer afro, and band leader/lead guitarist Tom Scholz looks like Black Flag’s Greg Ginn.
  1. Speaking of Greg Ginn, I’ve always felt a bit of a spiritual connection between him and Scholz. Aside from looking somewhat similar, both were electronic whizzes in their pre-band lives inventing stuff (most notably, for Scholtz, the Rockman guitar amplifier), and both the mainstays and kings of their respective bands.
  2. I was far more bummed out than I thought I would be when I heard that soaring-vocals vocalist Brad Delp had taken his life in 2007 at age 55.

—–

Jeff Kaplan came into this world on the same date as the first Queen album, which probably made for a good omen. 

Jeff’s passion for music, both as listener and player of notes, has been a life-long one and he has been entrenched in the Long Island and NYC punk/hardcore scene for over 25 years, although his musical adventures has taken him down different paths as well. 

Jeff’s brief ventures into writing about music (something he finds virtually impossible to do well) include the short-lived blog ‘12 Notes Is Enough‘ and zines ‘3 Cynical’ and ‘A Light in the Attic’. 

Jeff plays guitar in long-running hockey-punk band Two Man Advantage where he is better known as “Captain” and plays bass in melodic-hardcore band Too Many Voices.  He has also played bass for the Hudson Falcons and The Judas Iscariot and a ton of other bands you’ve never heard of.

Jeff lives on Long Island with his metal-head wife, Anna, as well as their dog, two cats, two bearded dragons, tarantula, and Sulcata tortoise. 

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2 Responses to “Guest Blogger Jeff Kaplan: Boston – Boston”

  1. Wendell July 6, 2015 at 2:22 PM #

    Completely agree about the inanity of classic rock stations. But yeah, Boston’s first album really is pretty good, if I can forget that I’ve heard each song a billion times.

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  1. [138] Jackson Browne – Late For The Sky | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - November 27, 2015

    […] blog has talked before about the limitations of Classic Rock radio.  That there does not seem to be a place for anything from Late For The Sky is as damning an […]

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