Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #9

Boston – More Than A Feeling

I loved Boston during their late 1970s heyday, but always sort of understood that there wasn’t anything particularly special about the band. I was no musical purist – in addition to my deep and unquestioned love for the Bay City Rollers, I owned three Shaun Cassidy 45s and one by Leif Garrett (no disrespect intended to either gentleman – those were great pop singles), to say nothing of Joe Dolce’s culturally questionable (and really quite awful) “Shaddap You Face”. But, track by track, there was very little that stood out in Boston’s catalogue. I was likely influenced in this direction by my all-time favourite rock critic dis; the literary genius in question queried why, in writing about “Don’t Look Back”, it took two years to re-record their first album and sleeve it in a rejected ELO jacket. Priceless.

Some bands were built to be one-hit wonders. They have one outstanding musical idea, and it explodes across the culture, takes its place among the greats, and the band itself disappears. Oh, they might still be out there, plugging away, but the collective culture no longer cares. We’ve moved on.

But what happens when a band doesn’t go away, but still has nothing more to say. Well, as one example, you get Boston.

“More Than A Feeling” is an all-time classic, an uncontested great. Now, name Boston’s second best song. There’ll be “Amanda” devotees, probably a fair number of whom lost their virginity while it played over a car stereo or a boombox in a darkened basement. There will be “Long Time” stans who’ll insist it’s as good as “More Than A Feeling” – they’re wrong – or “Don’t look Back” freaks. You might favour a deeper cut – my favourite track when I was young was “Feelin’ Satisfied” (no idea what I was thinking) and “A Man I’ll Never Be” is a solid and quite moving rock ballad that runs out of ideas three minutes in then inexplicably runs for 6:35. But the gap between “More Than A Feeling” and any of those is incon­testable.

I used to think this was a great-but-not-good song. By that I mean a song that somehow overcomes a lot that is wrong to collectively be right. I was the one who was wrong – it’s just a great song. But I wasn’t listening to it right. Context is so important for music. Some bands are meant to be played in the car, some are for when you’re out in nature, others are for when you’re a little too drunk and have gotten to discussing the meaning of life with your cat. (I recommend Big Star, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Pink Floyd, respectively.) I’m no Adele fan, but I know if she gets me at the right place and time, I will turn into a puddle, such is her demonic power. (“Over You” by Daughtry was my anthem as my first marriage started circling the drain, and until writing this, I felt no need to revisit it in the many years since.) For “More Than A Feeling”, it took the trailer for “Inside Out”. I’d heard the song hundreds of times, but matched with those Pixar visuals, I finally appreciated it, and it’s grown for me in the years since. I have a visceral reaction to the song, a physical sensation that still surprises me.

The song’s construction by mad scientist Tom Scholz is masterful. A slow build – gentle guitars and quiet vocals – explode about 35 seconds in and never let up. Brad Delp is in full roar, and Sib Hashian slides in with perfect support in his unobtrusive drumming. The peak comes around the 2:30 mark as Delp’s howl blends into an air-guitar classic solo from Scholz – 20 seconds of playing that is instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever heard it on repeat.

Then the needle moves along to “Peace of Mind” when what you really want to do is go back to the beginning. How many copies were worn out this way in 1976/1977? Boston had a good run – spread out though it was – but nothing ever came close to the very first song most of us heard from them, whether as the lead single or the opening track of the album. There is no shame in that – we should all strive for a “More Than A Feeling” moment in our lives.