Beats from the Basement—Boston

Artist: Boston
Album: Greatest Hits

Growing up with a rock n’ roll dad meant that I would be familiarized with virtually every 70s and 80s band as part of my childhood initiation.  Not that I ever minded; there aren’t many genres that manage to make me feel as transcendent and impassioned as rock does.  But with a lack of bona fide bands in the mainstream nowadays, does rock music stand the test of time?

On the docket, we have Boston’s Greatest Hits, a selection of songs I’d generally describe as melodically spiritual symphonies that make good use of the organ.  Rather than starting us off with a bang, however, we are mesmerized by the resonating soft power of “Tell Me”, a romantic ballad that is light on the progression yet immersive with gentle, raspy vocals by David Sikes, who reminds me of former Pink Floyd member David Gilmour.

The sacred journey of “Higher Power”, a precursor to heavy metal, is where the bang really begins.  There are several parts to this song that keep it varied: the subtle whispers of Fran Cosmo, Tom Scholz, and Brad Delp harmonized with the guitar and at one point culminating in a triumphant “YEAH!”; a buildup with dreamlike ambience; and the seldom-heard sounds of the harmonica and hi-hat symbol.

We’re then treated to Boston’s most popular song and the highlight of my car rides, “More Than a Feeling.” What could I say, other than that it sums up the band’s shtick? It has everything you’d expect: spirit, adrenaline, and an anthemic spectacle for the ages.

Their other well-known song, “Peace of Mind”, is the kind that could mark the beginning of a great new day as you stroll happily in the city.  It sounds folkish at times, and Delp’s vocals are more engaged than usual.  It’s no wonder, considering the lyrics encourage you to take life at your own pace and enjoy it without wasting your energy on apprehension before your time is up.

While “Don’t Look Back” is thematically similar to that song, there are distinctions that help it earn its place on the album.  Produced in the 70s, it sounds as clean as an 80s track because of how tight the instrumental harmonies are.  The electric guitar riffs, especially those shivering moments on the bridge, are reminiscent of Kansas or even Styx, and the arrangements are somehow simple though complicated, a welcomed conundrum.  Unlike “Peace of Mind”, this song also takes some quiet time for itself—an opportunity for listeners to breathe, no doubt.

“Cool the Engines” is one of the few tunes here characterized by a cosmic motif.  The prelude is like an unidentified flying object beaming you up, and Delp’s singing is unusually higher pitched.  The song is a favourable combination of “Peace of Mind”, “Don’t Look Back”, and “Higher Power”, ending in a relaxing ride off into to the sunset.

We then revert back to the sweet, calming romanticism heard in “Livin’ for You” that the album started off with, but it’s more subdued than “Tell Me” with Cosmo’s and Sikes’ angelic trills and vibratos.

The similarities to “Peace of Mind” and “Don’t Look Back” become a little stale in “Feelin’ Satisfied”.  It’s a fun, celebratory bop that I could otherwise enjoy dancing to as long as I listen to it in isolation from half the songs on the album.

I was worried that “Party” would follow suit; at first, I was pleasantly surprised.  You get this feeling it’ll be a reflective piece that asks, “What happens when the party is over?” but it doesn’t sink in as the song quickly turns into a full-blown jam.  I would’ve preferred something subversive, though I won’t deny that the initial surprise threw me in for a loop.

After that disappointment, I was nevertheless grateful when “Long Time” brought back the much-needed extraterrestrial atmosphere with its aggressive staccatos, the occasional, mysterious organ chords stylized like The Doors near the end, and a jovial turn after such a tense escalation.  Not bad for a song about trying to move on from a failed relationship.

If you’ve ever listened to Guns N’ Roses’ cover of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, you’ll undoubtedly notice some parallels with the next love song, “Amanda”, which features particularly haunting and beautiful vocals by Delp at the end.

“Rock n’ Roll Band” is another one of those revved up tunes we’ve already heard, but it’s nonetheless exciting like watching a cinematic fight scene or dangerous drag race.  As the dramatized version of the band’s story – or, more accurately, its members’ hopes and dreams—it’s also a necessity in any enthusiast’s collection.

Although “Smokin’” carries a comparable vibe, you can successfully do the twist to its organ-heavy progression.

Lyrically, “A Man I’ll Never Be” is my favourite of the bunch.  It reads like a letter laced with a sense of hopeful vulnerability to someone its writer presumably strives to emulate, whether religiously or otherwise.  Delp’s vocals elevate this idea, lying somewhere on the spectrum between Steve Perry’s wails and the late Freddie Mercury’s theatrics, along with the softer piano chords.

Boston’s instrumental rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” should’ve closed off the album.  It opens with static, an industrial and otherworldly distortion that soon transforms into an intense march befitting of the American national anthem.  In such a short time, this cover accomplishes a variety of moods.

The Kaldoner edit of “Higher Power”, on the other hand, does the opposite of that.  I may be alone in my thinking, but I don’t believe the original is too long or disjointed that it needed a shorter and cleaner version.  It has character, rendering the edit pointless.

Still, the point of a greatest hits compilation is to appease the wider audience who popularized them, so I understand why several songs, as safe as they may be, made it onto the album.  With indie bands slowly taking over the genre and music biopics on the rise, there may still be a chance for rock to shine through again.  If nothing else, we’ll always have Boston to remind us of what still is and can be, no matter how much time has passed.