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45 at 45: Boston’s More Than A Feeling

Alright, let’s rock…

Boston formed in 1970 when MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) student Tom Scholz hooked up with singer Brad Delp and some other beardy types and were signed to a recording contract with Epic Records, who flatly rejected their debut offering, Scholz’s composition More Than A Feeling. Scholz was particularly peeved because the slowcoach had taken five long years to write the song, which he recorded in the basement of his home in Watertown, New England (not the NY one Sinatra sang about).

The Massachusettsan had been inspired by the Left Banke’s hit Walk Away Renée, which reminded him of a lost love, and which he subconsciously or deliberately referenced by lifting the entire chord progression from the 1966 song and implanted it in his own work.

Widely considered a quintessence of baroque pop and later covered by the Four Tops, Walk Away Renée was co-written by Michael Brown of the Left Banke, who subsequently revealed that he was inspired by Renee Fladen-Kamm, the then-girlfriend of the Left Banke’s bassist Tom Finn, and also the object of Brown’s affections, but his love for the coveted Renée would remain unrequited, and the the older outfit never pursued a royalties share from Boston’s hit record. I bet they would now, given half the chance.

Scholz has revealed that there was a girl named Marianne who was the inspiration for their song, and the repeated line “Till I see Marianne walkin’ away/ I see my Marianne walkin’ away,” and it wasn’t his girlfriend, but an older first cousin, who in the eyes of an 8 year-old Tom was beautiful and he had a big crush on her.

More Than A Feeling is therefore a bittersweet rock ballad, which resonated with fans of that typical American AOR sound that was everywhere in the mid seventies: accessible if inverted mordent-incorporated guitar riffs, a powerful radio-friendly backbeat, and Delp’s soaring tenor/falsetto vocals, certainly hit the mark.

The song climbed to #5 in the Billboard chart, and 4 in Canada (though a midrange 22 in Blighty). Ever the sponge, Kurt Cobain remarked that his musical influences when forming Nirvana included not only the Pixies but the ungrunge-like rock of Boston, and its not hard to discern the tempo and crescendo/decrescendo shifts in More Than A Feeling being repeated in Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Boston’s eponymous debut long-player was also a birrova smash hit, selling 17 million copies to become the biggest-selling debut album in history at the time.

I bet Chicago were fuming.

Steve Pafford

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