Rock This Way
A lot of water has flowed under the Mass. Ave. Bridge since the
Standells cranked out their immortal three-chord ditty. Lovely, raunchy
water, infected with a garage guitar spirit—Aerosmith, the Lemonheads,
Dropkick Murphys. But while Boston's soul is long and truly pledged to
rock, that's only one side of the iPod. Our city has been the cradle of
folk singers and disco divas, metalheads and hip-hop stylists. And, of
course, boy bands.
With all respect to the Handel and Haydn Society, the symphony, and
the good people of the Regattabar and Wally's, here are 15 acts that
have defined the city's musical past or are blazing their way onto
today's TRL countdown. A few may surprise (who the hell is
Godsmack?), some omissions may be controversial (no James Taylor? no
Throwing Muses?), and you already know about Aerosmith. Whatever your
taste, this is our pick of the rest of the best of the Boston Sound.
Plus, check out the 50 greatest Boston songs of all time, and get free
music from some of the city's hottest bands.
>15 all-time Boston Musicians we love*
*Obviously, In no particular order—and not including Aerosmith.
Formed in—surprise—Boston in the early 1970s with a lineup of Tom
Scholz, Fran Sheehan, Brad Delp, Barry Goudreau, and Sib Hashian, the
group staked its claim in the classic rock sound: powerful vocals,
drums, bass, and lead guitar. Powerful everything, come to think of it.
High Point: Boston's debut release, in 1976, sold more than 16 million
copies thanks to songs like “More Than a Feeling.” Low POINT: In the
mid-'80s, after Sheehan, Hashian, and Goudreau left the group, Scholz
won the right to record and tour under the Boston name. His old
bandmates sued him. Legacy: One of the great classic-rock acts of all
2. Mission of Burma
Art-punk smarty-pantses Roger Miller, Peter Prescott, Clint Conley,
and Martin Swope united in 1979 to make a joyful, jittery noise. Their
debut single, “Academy Fight Song,” made them darlings of the American
underground scene. High Point: Despite Burma's relative obscurity, the
EP Signals, Calls, and Marches and the album Vs .
inspired myriad post-punk outfits, including REM. Low POINT: Burma
disbanded in 1983 after Miller developed painful tinnitus. Legacy:
Critic Michael Azerrad's book Our Band Could Be Your Life
trumpeted Burma's importance, and the band reunited in 2002. Obscure no
more, Burma performed to large audiences before releasing 2004's On Off On. A follow-up is in the works.
3. Donna Summer
The Queen of Disco was born LaDonna Andre Gaines and grew up in
Mission Hill. She sang in the church choir, developing the vocal range
that powered her X-rated moaning on “Love to Love You Baby,” her very
first hit in America. High Point: In 1979 Summer became the first woman
to ever have three songs hit number one in the same year. Bad Girls,
her double album, also topped the charts that year. Low POINT: In the
mid-'80s, the born-again Summer reportedly said the AIDS epidemic was
God's punishment for gays. She has always denied making the comment.
Legacy: Apart from the odd ironic theme night, disco is long since dead
and buried. Still, Summer has a reputation as a skilled songwriter, and
as a lasting talent in the genre.
4. Mighty Mighty Bosstones
For 18 years Dicky Barrett and his crew were the reigning kings of
ska-punk, combining attitude, politics, and seriously heavy brass.
Their influence was enormous; their concerts, legendary. High Point:
“The Impression That I Get” helped the 1997 album Let's Face It
go platinum. Low POINT: In 2003 the band announced that it was going on
hiatus and would skip the Hometown Throwdown, a holiday tradition in
which it performed on consecutive nights in a Boston club. Legacy: The
Bosstones were eventually overshadowed by ska-influenced bands like No
Doubt, but their plaid suits and wailing horn section live on in the
annals of cool.
5. Aimee Mann
A Berklee College of Music dropout, Mann sang with punk rockers the
Young Snakes before moving into the lusher pastures of new wave with
'Til Tuesday. When she finally went solo, her smooth, haunting voice
made her an indie music goddess. High Point: Filmmaker Paul Thomas
Anderson worked from Mann's lyrics to create characters and situations
for the 1999 film Magnolia . Low POINT: Though 'Til Tuesday
won an MTV Video Music Award for best new artist for the song “Voices
Carry,” Mann's spiky hair led some to foolishly dismiss the band as too
punk. Legacy: In 1999 Mann went truly indie by founding SuperEgo
6. The Cars
This Boston new wave outfit led by Ric Ocasek was one of the most
successful bands to emerge from the receding tide of punk in the late
'70s. Driven more by smooth pop harmonies and synthesizer hooks than
guitar riffs, the Cars loaded the charts with hit singles (“My Best
Friend's Girl”) and radio-friendly albums until breaking up in 1988.
High Point: The hit 1984 album Heartbeat City gave us
“Magic,” “You Might Think,” and a video with the future Mrs. Ocasek,
supermodel Paulina Porizkova. Low Point: Bassist-singer Benjamin Orr's
death in 2000 of pancreatic cancer. Legacy: The single “Just What I
Needed” may have found new life as a Circuit City ad, but otherwise the
Cars are best remembered as the friendly face of American new wave.
Formed in the Boston student scene in 1986 and starting out as a
supporting act for Throwing Muses, the Pixies (Charles Thompson—a.k.a.
Black Francis—Joey Santiago, Kim Deal, and David Lovering) created a
unique brand of savage but hook-y thrash pop that's often credited with
dragging indie rock into America's commercial consciousness. High
Point: Their 1989 album, Doolittle , a not-so-missing link
between college rock and the birth of grunge. Low POINT: After
announcing the group's breakup during a 1993 radio interview, Black
Francis gave his fellow band members the news by sending them a fax.
Legacy: Although Francis (now Frank Black) and Deal went on to other
high-profile projects, last year saw the Pixies re-form for a hit
international tour that returned them to the heights of alt-rock glory.
8. The Perceptionists
Boston's only hip-hop supergroup combines the prodigious talents of
Mr. Lif, Akrobatik, and DJ Fakts One, all successful solo artists from
the all-too-often overlooked local scene. When they join forces, the
effect is an unusually potent one: intelligent, witty lyrics enlivening
some of the best underground rap around. High Point: Their introductory
release, 2005's Black Dialogue, sounds like a conversation
among three friends. Three friends who happen to be very gifted hip-hop
stars. Low Point: The fact that they're not better known. Legacy:
Boston isn't widely regarded as a hip-hop city. Will the Perceptionists
finally put us on the map, or at least point us in the right direction?
It's too early to tell.
9. Carly Simon
Since the release of her debut album in 1971, Carly Simon's frank
confessionals, tragic relationships, and perfectly feathered hair have
made fans of romantics, the broken-hearted, and moms. High POINT: In
1988 pal Mike Nichols commissioned Simon to create a song for his film Working Girl.
“Let the River Run” won a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar. Low
point: A messy early-'80s divorce from James Taylor was compounded by
an onset of stage fright that kept Simon off the touring circuit for
more than 15 years. Legacy: After 27 albums, five kids' books, two
marriages, two children, and a successful battle with breast cancer,
Simon's back on the charts with Moonlight Serenade .
10. Jo Dee Messina
Born in Holliston, the country music star is known for her
optimistic lyrics and scrappy attitude—equally suited for bemoaning a
love affair or driving cross-country in a beat-up truck. With eight
number-one singles to her credit, she's a lone Boston fixture on the
country scene. High Point: Her second album contained the singles “Bye
Bye,” “I'm Alright,” and “Stand Beside Me,” all number ones. Low Point:
A five-year break between studio albums, including a year spent
with family in Massachusetts after seeking treatment for alcohol
addiction. Legacy: She could easily join the ranks of Shania and Faith
if the right song becomes a crossover hit.
11. J. Geils Band
In 1967 the J. Geils Blues Band, led by guitarist Jerome Geils,
added Hallucinations singer Peter Wolf and dropped the “Blues.” It
became the hardest-working act in the biz, and its lineup of bassist
Danny Klein, keyboardist Seth Justman, drummer Stephen Bladd, and
harmonica wizard Magic Dick stayed intact until 1983. High Point: After
11 albums, Freeze Frame topped the charts and “Centerfold” made the bandmates superstars. Low POINT: After Wolf's bitter split, 1984's You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd tanked at number 80. The band folded. Legacy: Wolf and Geils have solo careers; the band sometimes regroups for charity.
Cross the post-grunge wail of Limp Bizkit with the depth-charge bass
lines of Alice in Chains, and you have an idea of the decibels cranked
out by Boston's most popular nü-metal band. Except when it goes
unplugged, in which case it's surprisingly pretty. High Point:
Godsmack's song “I Stand Alone” was the defining piece of soundtrack
for the 2002 action flick The Scorpion King . Also, a 2001
Grammy nomination. Low Point: Founding member and drummer Tommy Stewart
quit in 2002. Legacy: It may not have defined the genre, but it's at
the top of it. Last year saw
a new direction with the excellent acoustic CD The Other Side .
13. New Edition
Formed in Roxbury in 1978, boy-band progenitors New Edition created
a smoothed-out R&B sound that was copied by countless others. Some,
like New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men, would adopt the format and
achieve much greater success. High Point: Their first single, “Candy
Girl,” remains a radio classic, as do “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Cool It
Now.” Low POINT: After arguing with manager Maurice Starr over the
group's direction, New Edition fired him. Starr went on to make gobs of
money by forming New Kids on the Block. Legacy: Remembered less for its
achievements than for the acts it created by splitting up, New Edition
launched Bobby Brown on a solo career, while Ricky Bell, Michael
Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe would go on to form another commercially
successful crew, Bell Biv DeVoe.
Patched together from existing Boston groups, Morphine appeared as a
party band in 1990, when vocalist Mark Sandman recruited Dana Colley
and Jerome Deupree—later replaced by Billy Conway—to create a highly
inventive, guitar-eschewing, saxophone-heavy sound that netted it a
legion of rabidly loyal fans. High Point: Music industry heavyweight
DreamWorks bought Morphine's contract from Rykodisc in 1996, a move
that set the stage for the band to rise beyond cult status and conquer
the lucrative American mainstream. Low Point: It never happened.
Sandman collapsed onstage in Italy in 1999 and, at the age of 47, died
of a heart attack. Legacy: For all of Morphine's talent, its formula
was either too unconventional or too gimmicky to achieve widespread
acceptance. Today the surviving bandmates are carrying on the alt-rock
torch with a genre-bending outfit called the Twinemen.
15. Click Five
Could this be a vision of boy bands to come? With its layered
melodies, pop hooks, and genuine musicianship, the newest band on this
list is drawing more comparisons to the early Beatles than to the
Backstreet Boys. High Point: The Click Five's Greetings from Imrie House debuted at number 15 last October, and the
band has opened for everyone from Alanis Morissette to Fleetwood Mac.
Also, the band members got to have Thanksgiving dinner with Paul
Stanley from KISS. If that doesn't make them rock stars, we don't know
what does. Low Point: None (so far). It's been barely more than a year
since former Berklee students Joey Zehr, Joe Guese, Ethan Mentzer, and
Ben Romans and Purdue alum Eric Dill were playing in residence at the
Paradise Lounge. The rest just clicked. Legacy: Lead guitarist Guese
says his goal for the group is “nothing short of world domination.”
Best of luck to him, but at least the Click Five has given boy bands a
good name again.
>The Top 50 Boston Songs
Our music gurus, below, pick what they think are the most
influential, the most inspired, and the most rocking boston songs.
(Except for “Dirty Water.” Let's retire it, like Ted Williams's
1. Just What I Needed
The Cars, 1978 / The Cars
Doolittle, 1989 / Pixies
3. Dream On
Aerosmith, 1973 / Aerosmith
4. More Than a Feeling
Boston, 1976 / Boston
5. Prettiest Girl
The Neighborhoods, 1991 / The Neighborhoods
The Modern Lovers, 1976 / The Modern Lovers
7. Voices Carry
Voices Carry, 1985 / 'Til Tuesday / Aimee Mann
8. That's When I Reach for My Revolver
Signals, Calls, and Marches, 1981 / Mission of Burma
9. It's a Shame About Ray
It's a Shame About Ray, 1992 / The Lemonheads
10. Delicate Cutters
Throwing Muses, 1986 / Throwing Muses
11. Freak Scene
Bug, 1988 / Dinosaur Jr.
12. All Kindsa Girls
The Real Kids, 1977 / The Real Kids
13. Help You Ann
On Fyre, 1984 / Lyres
Freeze Frame, 1981 / J. Geils Band
15. Where'd You Go?
More Noise and Other Disturbances, 1992 / The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
16. My Sister
Become What You Are, 1993 / Juliana Hatfield
17. Love to Love You Baby
Love to Love You Baby, 1975 / Donna Summer
18. You're So Vain
No Secrets, 1972 / Carly Simon
19. Sweet Baby James
Sweet Baby James, 1970 / James Taylor
20. Fast Car
Tracy Chapman, 1988 / Tracy Chapman
21. I Can't Make You Love Me
Luck of the Draw, 1991 / Bonnie Raitt
22. Where Is My Mind?
Surfer Rosa, 1988 / Pixies
23. Barroom Hero
Do or Die, 1998 / Dropkick Murphys
24. Rock and Roll Band
Boston, 1976 / Boston
25. When Things Go Wrong
Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, 1980 / Robin Lane and the Chartbusters
Surfer Rosa, 1988 / Pixies
27. More than Words
Pornograffitti, 1990 / Extreme
28. Mama Kin
Aerosmith, 1973 / Aerosmith
29. Fire and Rain
Sweet Baby James, 1970 / James Taylor
30. Cure for Pain
Cure for Pain, 1993 / Morphine
31. Taillights Fade
Let Me Come Over, 1992 / Buffalo Tom
32. Dig for Fire
Bossanova, 1990 / Pixies
33. Land of the Glass Pine Cones
In a Roman Mood, 1981 / Human Sexual Response
D.I.Y: Mass. Ave.—The Boston Scene (1979?83), 1993 / The Atlantics
35. Academy Fight Song
Signals, Calls, and Marches, 1981 / Mission of Burma
36. The Impression That I Get
Let's Face It, 1997 / The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
37. Mass. Ave.
Willie Loco Boom Boom Ga Ga 1975?1991, 1992 / Willie “Loco” Alexander
38. Keep Away
Godsmack, 1998 / Godsmack
39. How Much Art
The Kids Will Have Their Say, 1982 / SS Decontrol
Another Wasted Night, 1986 / Gang Green
41. It's Been Awhile
Break the Cycle, 2001 / Staind
42. Knock Me Down
I Remember, 1999 / The Outlets
43. Coin-Operated Boy
The Dresden Dolls, 2004 / The Dresden Dolls
44. Musta Got Lost
Nightmares . . . and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, 1974 / J. Geils
New Parade, 1999 / The Sheila Divine
46. Feed the Tree
Star, 1993 / Belly
47. What Does Sex Mean to Me?
Figure 14, 1980 / Human Sexual Response
Wolfpack, 1983 / DYS
49. Better Off Dead
La Peste, 1996 / La Peste
Wholesale Meats and Fish, 1995 / Letters to Cleo
Four local music gurus sound off on the state of play in Boston's music scene.
Mark Kates (founder, Fenway Recordings) I'm not sure you
have a confluence of great local bands right now, but there have never
been so many venues to see good music. You have a favorable media, a
full-time alternative radio station, and there's only one Newbury
Comics in the world. There's more here than people realize. But you
have to be really good to make it here.
Shred (DJ at WBCN; booking agent for the Middle East)
Boston's got a lot of cliques, a lot of scenes. You can make it to a
certain level here, but in the future, bands will have to work harder
to sell records because people are getting used to downloads. Hopefully
gas prices won't stay so high, since for the small band that's a
breaker on whether they can tour.
Chip Rives (executive director, NEMO Music Festival and the Boston Music Awards) In
the late '90s you had all these cutbacks, so 50 percent of the bands
that got signed got dropped. Now it's easier to distribute your music,
so people like Guster are making a great living by connecting with
their constituents. It's websites and endless touring, and all the
things a marketer used to do.
Paul Kolderie (cofounder Fort Apache Studios; founder, Camp Street Studios)
Rock is a minority music in this country, but Boston will always be a
college town, and there'll always be college rock. There'll always be
talented people coming up here from art school. I wish it could get
back to where it was in the mid-'80s. People played to be in a rock
band, not to be rich.