KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – BOSTON “THIRD STAGE”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: BOSTON
Album: THIRD STAGE

Boston - Third StageThe majority of rock fans from my generation probably know every note of Boston’s 1976 debut album by heart. It was a perfect record from start to finish which I previously discussed in my Great Out Of The Gate series. After a sophomore effort (1978’s Don’t Look Back) which was excellent but not quite in the same league as its predecessor, they entered a legal battle with their record label that put the band on indefinite hold. In an era when artists still released at least one album a year, it’s hard to imagine a band picking up right where they left off after an 8-year hiatus. Not only did Boston manage that feat with 1986’s Third Stage, their patient fans rewarded them with a multi-platinum Number 1 album and two Top 10 singles, one of which topped the charts. By this time the only remaining band members from the original lineup were guitarist/songwriter/mastermind Tom Scholz and singer Brad Delp, who I previously described as having a “seemingly limitless vocal range.” In spite of an arduous recording history over several years, it’s a cohesive record and there’s no mistaking the distinctive Boston sound.

The first single was the chart-topper “Amanda,” an ideal choice to reintroduce the band after their extended absence. Follow-up single “We’re Ready” was nearly as successful and it rocks a little harder than its predecessor. The FM radio hit “Cool The Engines” is the most driving song on the album and the mini-suite “Can’tcha Say (You Believe in Me)/Still in Love” combines a rocker & a ballad with a melancholy mood throughout. That sense of melancholy actually pervades most of the album, giving added emotional resonance to much of the material. “My Destination” is the perfect example of this; a somber keyboard-and-voice song with the same melody as “Amanda.” “To Be A Man” is another touching ballad, and album closer “Hollyann” manages to be both wistful & uplifting. Nothing they do can ever come close to matching the creative, critical & commercial success of their first album, but Third Stage proved that they still had a lot to say a decade after they first took over the airwaves. This is one of those records that sounds like a product of its time so it’s not surprising that 30 years have passed since its release, but I still have the same emotional connection to it that I did back then.

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28 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – BOSTON “THIRD STAGE”

  1. Phillip Helbig
    April 14, 2016

    ” It was a perfect record from start to finish”

    Indeed. Even more impressive when one knows that the album, as released, was originally intended as just a demo (with Scholz playing most of the stuff). (A similar case is Nightwish’s first album: perfect from start to to finish, originally intended as a demo, and founded a genre (symphonic metal), even more clearly than Boston founding AOR (one could make a case for Foreigner or Journey as well).)

    I agree with your takes on all three albums. What bothers me somewhat about Boston is that their stuff sounds too similar. I’m not in favour of change for the sake of change, and am happy when the latest Uriah Heep album sounds like something from 1974, but Scholz has recycled his One Big Riff (dummm da da da da da dummm da da da da dummm da da da da da dum de dum dum) too often.

    What about their later albums (with which I am not familiar)? A mixed bag?

    Like

    • I remember reading an extensive article about the early years of Boston leading up to the release of the debut (probably in Record Collector) and I was amazed at how polished the record sounded considering it really was a demo, and it was back in the days when you could only get professional sound in a real studio. Tom Scholz was clearly brilliant at all the technical aspects of recording in addition to being a great songwriter & guitarist.

      I agree that their sound kinda played itself out, and they never really went in new & interesting directions. I only stayed with them for one more album, on which Delp either didn’t appear or only sang on a couple of songs. His voice (lead AND harmonies) was the key ingredient and without him it wasn’t the same. I know he recorded with them again prior to his suicide a few years ago but I haven’t heard any of those albums. I might have to check them out one of these days. Even if they just released those first three albums they earned their place in rock & roll history.

      Like

    • Phillip Helbig
      April 14, 2016

      Beating the drum for Nightwish, whom I saw a few months ago, let me mention a recent review in Prog magazine (I’m not a subscriber, but bought it since Geddy Lee was on the cover, advertising a long interview) which I have found online: http://teamrock.com/livereview/2016-01-27/live-nightwish (some registration might be required, but you can sign up with some credentials from other networks). Read the review then give them a listen!

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      • Phillip Helbig
        April 14, 2016

        “Of course, the purists will pose the question of whether Nightwish really are a progressive rock act. And the answer is ‘not in the very purest sense’, but any band that closes an album with The Greatest Show On Earth, a 24-minute, five-song suite inspired by the evolution of human life, featuring narration from noted evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, can surely lay claim to being a very close relative indeed!”

        Much more prog than, say, “Benny the Bouncer” by prog gods ELP. 🙂

        Troy Donockley is a really good addition: combine uillean pipes with heavy metal? Good idea. Not that long ago, I saw him accompanying Maddy Prior (singer with Steeleye Span) in a high-school auditorium in a small town in Cheshire. (And there is something about a female singer who towers over the (male) rest of the band.)

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      • I don’t really care too much about the definition of “prog.” I like a variety of styles & genres so it’s all about each individual artist. There are elements of Nightwish I like but as a whole I’m not drawn to their music.

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      • I’ve listened to Nightwish. They’re okay but not a band I love. A little too bombastic for my taste.

        I’ve been reading PROG for years but have had trouble finding it since I moved to North Carolina, so I recently started a subscription. They were running a special deal for 6 months and I couldn’t pass it up.

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  2. mikeladano
    April 14, 2016

    I was later to the Boston party than you, but I still like most of this album! What I really liked too were that Scholz started going into great detail in the liner notes as to the recording. I love the insane amount of attention paid to every single detail. Building a studio, tape problems, all that stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phillip Helbig
      April 15, 2016

      Interestingly, at the beginning they were touted as a technology-friendly band, “using technology as an instrument”, and so on. Not much later, they were writing “no synthesizers used” and “no computers used” on their albums. Not necessarily a contradiction, but interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That’s a good point, Phillip. Much like Queen, they thought it was important to let listeners know that all the sounds they were hearing were from real instruments. Times have certainly changed since then.

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    • I also loved the details that Scholz provided in the packaging. As someone who waited patiently for 8 years, it was great to know what had been going on all that time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        April 15, 2016

        Plus I’m a geek trying to understand all that stuff. Some of the most fascinating interviews with Scholz are the technical ones. Seeking the perfect tone. It seemed to be a quest for him.

        Similarly I remember reading guitarist Eric Johnson saying that even changing the battery in a pedal can effect the tone, and sometimes he’d be better off if he couldn’t tell the difference!

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      • I’ve heard the same thing about Eric Johnson. I think he might have done some slight exaggeration but I do know that he’s a perfectionist and has an amazing ear. I saw him at The Bottom Line, the much-missed 400-capacity venue in NYC, 20+ years ago and I’m still awed by his guitar-playing abilities. He’s also one of the few guitar gods who has a great voice. I love his vocal songs as much as his instrumentals.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Phillip Helbig
        April 18, 2016

        I’ve seen Eric Johnson twice, once at venue of similar size in Fort Worth, Texas, and once at a small club (certainly less than 100 capacity in Hamburg, Germany). Both were good concerts. In Hamburg, he had Uncle John Turner on drums (played at Woodstock, I think) and IIRC a left-handed bassist who played a right-handed bass. Johnson is rather soft-spoken and reserved, but the bass player was one of the most aggressive groupie-courters I’ve ever seen. Between songs he stepped off the stage to the table where a friend and I and two women we didn’t know were sitting, asking the women if they would like to come to “a party back at the hotel” after the show. 🙂

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      • Great story, Phillip. Having played in many bands over the years (none of which went beyond local gigs), I’ve seen my fair share of groupie-chasing musicians…even though we never had any groupies. As a songwriter friend once told me, “the only difference between you and the guy sitting at the bar is that you’ve had a spotlight on you for an hour. Take advantage of that.” In my single days I wasn’t quite as aggressive as the bassist in your anecdote, but I was always on the lookout for female attention.

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  3. ianbalentine
    April 14, 2016

    I am listening to this for the first time ever, right now as I type this, on vinyl. It came with a stack of LP’s I purchased at an estate sale the other week. So far i have to say I am really enjoying it. Nice write up, too, as always.

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    • Vinyl is a great way to get to know this album, Ian. That’s how I first heard it since it wasn’t initially available on CD. I’m sure you remember back then that only certain albums were released simultaneously on CD and there was no way to know if it would be months or years before that finally happened. I’m glad you’re enjoying Third Stage. Wasn’t sure how it would sound to someone hearing it for the first time.

      Like

  4. galley99
    April 14, 2016

    This album has probably had more effect on my life than any other. In the summer of 1985, I saw a spot on MTV News that Boston had already spent 10,000 hours in the studio recording this album. As I recall, the news was a shock to everyone! I grew up in North Dakota where Boston was this legendary band that everyone listened to, but no one had ever actually seen. Back around 1982 I met a dude, who knew a dude that had seen them in concert in 1978. I never thought that there would ever been a third album, or another tour.

    Third Stage was an immediate success, and became the first album to simultaneously be certified gold, platinum, and triple platinum, less than two months after it was released!

    In the fall of 1985 I was able to see Boston in concert in Minneapolis. It was like seeing The Beatles! The crowd screamed the entire show, and during a few of the instrumentals songs you could barely hear the music. It was crazy! In 1995 I attended a recording clinic hosted by Boston guitarist Gary Pihl and spoke with him afterward. I told him about the Minneapolis show and he remembered it vividly.

    Besides being one of my all-time favorite albums, it is the lyrics of “To Be A Man” that I have chosen to guide my life by.

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    • galley99
      April 14, 2016

      D’oh! The Boston concert I saw was in 1987. I saw them two more times in the ’90s.

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      • I figured that date was slightly off, since I don’t think they toured in advance of Third Stage. How were they in the ’90s compared to that first show?

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      • galley99
        April 15, 2016

        Rich, the shows I saw in the ’90s were in amphitheaters, and I had much better seats. Tom Scholz played triple hammer-ons on the guitar with his left hand and triple arpeggios on the organ with his right hand! Another highlight of the Third Stage tour was that they played the album in its entirety. Tom introduced it by saying “And now… the Third Stage”.

        Like

      • Wow, they played Third Stage in its entirety? That’s awesome. Bands playing classic albums from start to finish has been popular in recent years but it’s rare that a band would play their entire new album.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That is an awesome story. Thanks for sharing it. I’m happy to hear that Third Stage had such an impact on your life. I remember it arriving pretty much out of the blue and I couldn’t have been more excited. The last time I had waited years for a follow-up to a classic album was Meat Loaf. In 1981 it felt like I was the only one who still cared about him, so I bought Dead Ringer the day it was released, and it was…pretty awful. That was only a 4-year gap between albums. Who knew what to expect with Boston after EIGHT years?

      “To Be A Man” is a great song. I hadn’t thought of it before, but in some ways it’s a spiritual cousin to “A Man I’ll Never Be” from Don’t Look Back. Third Stage was emotionally important to me, as I was going through my first breakup shortly after it was released, so that melancholy mood really struck me…then and now. Between the two of us that’s a lot of impact for one album.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. wardo68
    April 15, 2016

    While I’m not a fan of all these albums, I am definitely loving this series. 1986 looms large in my autobiography, mostly because that’s the year I turned 18 and experienced all the life changes suburban American males tend to undergo. Suffice to say this was a huge album in my particular dorm, though nobody appreciated my modified lyrics (“I wanna look you in the eyes/And jump between your thighs/Amanda”).

    Looking forward to next Thursday’s installment!

    Like

    • Thanks, Wardo. I’m only 2 years older than you so I also have a huge emotional connection to 1986 (and this was one of the key albums of that year for me, even though I don’t play it that often anymore). Love the altered lyrics to “Amanda.” I never heard that before, but I was already in college and we were too mature for that kind of thing (haha). I appreciate the kind words. Glad you’re enjoying this series.

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  6. Jeff Kempin
    April 21, 2016

    Big fan of the first Boston album too. It’s perfect, ’nuff said. Don’t Look Back was kind of like The Bridge, the good songs were really good (and stood tall with the songs from the first album) but there were only a few and the rest of the album was meh.
    Third Stage? I was jacked for this record when it came out (I was only a sophomore in ’86) and I loved Amanda, We’re Ready, Cool the Engines, Can’tcha Say, almost the whole album worked for me. Listening back to it now, it does sound dated and cold, unlike the first album which sounds timeless. I still like Third Stage, and the songs I mentioned above are still worthy, but just like with Billy Joel, I parted ways with this band. I know they released more albums, although it was pretty much a Tom Scholz solo project by then, with some help here and there from Brad Delp and other musicians, but I just never paid attention to them the same way as I did before. I can’t say I outgrew them because I still play songs from those first 3 albums to this day. I guess that’s all I really need from Boston.
    That could be a good topic for a post. What artists/bands did you stop following after a certain point, and which ones did you keep listening to when they released new music?
    Maybe?

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    • Phillip Helbig
      April 21, 2016

      “That could be a good topic for a post. What artists/bands did you stop following after a certain point, and which ones did you keep listening to when they released new music?”

      Looking forward to Rich’s series on this!

      Also, keep in mind that sometimes it is good to check back. Rush lost me in the 1980s in their synthesizer period. (It’s not the synthesizers: I like Pink Floyd, the synthesizers (yes, there are many) in Jethro Tull, and even Jean-Michel Jarre; it’s more the whole 1980s sound, when even Joni Mitchell had a Fairlight and only Iron Maiden still made good-sounding records.) However, their recent stuff is quite good.

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      • Those are good examples, Phillip. Perhaps you’re the man to tackle this topic in a blog series. It’ll be especially interesting to highlight artists you lost interest in and then returned to at a later date. In those cases, how many times did you reassess the period that you had previously dismissed? I mostly lost interest in Rush after Signals (which I loved), but they won we back with the under-appreciated Presto. Over the years I’ve gone back to those ’80s albums (which I didn’t completely ignore in that decade) and I appreciate them a lot more now.

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    • Jeff, it sounds like we have very similar feelings about the Boston discography, with the first 3 albums bring the essential ones. At one point I owned their third album (Walk On) but it wasn’t the same without Brad Delp. After that I stopped keeping up with them. I knew the replacement vocalist, Fran Cosmo, from Barry Goudreau’s solo album, but I preferred Delp’s contributions to that record.

      That’s a good suggestion for a blog series, but probably not for mine. In most cases I’ve remained a completist so there aren’t many artists I’ve stopped following, especially among my favorite artists. I will keep the concept in mind for the future but right now I only have time for these Thirty Year Thursday posts, and I already have a few other series I’d like to start whenever my schedule permits.

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