Brad Delp, who died today at 55, sang many more songs than the eight that fill Boston's first album. "Don't Look Back," of course. Some people love "Amanda." No doubt there are even fans of specifics from Corporate America, from 2002, which may or may not prove to be the band's swan song.Regardless, it's unlikely that everything else he ever recorded combined will be half as remembered and revered as what he did on that first Boston album, one of those totems of classic rock that reminds me of that great exchange between Tia Carrere and Mike Myers in the first Wayne's World:
Cassandra, showing Wayne a worn copy of Frampton Comes Alive!: "Isn't that great? You've heard it?"
Wayne: "Exqueeze me? Have I seen this one before? Frampton Comes Alive!? Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive! If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide."
The dialogue would play just as funny were Boston substituted for Frampton. It's an album everyone who has ever listened to rock 'n' roll has heard at least something from, even if they despised it. And, frankly, I never felt it deserved the drubbing it got at the hands of critics and first-generation punks, who hated its polished craftmanship and corporate-rock association. Look again: It was first a homegrown piece of studio rock wizardry. Then it became a household staple. It's one of those rare stories.
And it remains as pervasive as sunlight. Side 1 is virtually inescapable: "More Than a Feeling" or "Peace of Mind" or "Long Time" of "Rock 'n' Roll Band." Classics, all of 'em. Side 2: "Smokin'," "Hitch a Ride," "Something About You," "Let Me Take You Home Tonight." I'm just listening to it again - concentrating on it, I mean, not just passing by it on the radio - for the first time in years. Side 1 is monolithic to me anymore. Side 2 is still really nice. And "Hitch a Ride" I just never tire of.
Some people never tire of any of it, I realize, and for them, this is a case of one of the voices of their youth dying. Brad Delp was certainly never a rock god like Robert Plant; he wasn't even Steve Perry, really, in terms of stature. But he was every bit as popular at a certain time in pop music history. His voice became a major element of the soundtrack to millions of people's lives - and at a very specific time in their lives.
And what an indelible, tremendous voice it was. Listen to the sweet clarity and mellow crispness with which he nails those inhuman high notes and carries those melodies on Boston: It's unquestionable that the number of people capable of replicating that can probably be counted on a hand, two at most. Keep in mind: Yeah, Tom Scholz, the brainiac behind the band, was a master DIY production whiz. But this was 1976. The Age of Analog, not pitch-perfection computer sorcery.
It is a positively staggering performance, when you put down the beer or get out of the car and really stop to think about it.
And here's reason to regard Delp even more highly: Even as he moved into his 50s he had retained that vocal power. I last saw Boston in Aug. 2003, at a sold-out Pacific Amphitheatre. The show was solid, but Delp, as I recall, was astonishing. "His might after all these years was the night's shocker," I wrote. "He joked more than once that center-stage guitarist-vocalist Fran Cosmo was there to hit notes that now were beyond his reach, but apart from one or two extreme highs during "More Than a Feeling,'' I didn't notice Delp deferring to Cosmo at all."
He belted everything with fresh enthusiasm, I said. How impressive: Night after night, singing his heart out on the same songs he'd been wailing for 30 years, yet not showing any sign of boredom.
Just doing what he could do to help people relive some ebony porn memories. He'll be missed more than we may hear about, I suspect.
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