ORPHEUS REBORN Home Page
Something Called the BOSTON SOUND .
Alan Lorber, (the Creator of the Boston Sound)
appeared in Goldmine magazine, April 1992
© Iris Properties, Inc., used with permission
Editor's notes by Eric Gulliksen, not by Goldmine staff
When I was asked to contribute this sidebar, I couldn't help but smile in satisfaction that the Boston Sound is truly living history. After 22 years it is still written about in lengthy articles, annotated in rock encyclopedias, historic retrospectives and academic studies, and is now the subject of a soon-to-be-released CD set of its recordings on Polydor, with a book by this author on the story of the movement and the time, from which this article is excerpted. After 22 years, I feel that I can finally put to rest the unanswered questions and the unresolved answers to this controversial slice of Rock 'n' Roll history.
Boston Sound! What was it, this "Boston Sound?" What did it mean? What did it say? Was it even a sound? Why was it so controversial? And why, in the year 1968, did so seemingly simple a marketing plan suddenly ignite virtually every major journalist in the country in both the "underground" and "overground" press to write something, somewhere, about it for more than a year?
"BOSTON SOUND!!!" A marketing plan gone amuck. A symbol of "underground" outrage. A symbol of an "establishment's reading of a trend vs. a counter-culture's rejection of it. "Boss-town Sound: The Sound Heard Round The World" - A Billboard (magazine - ed.) ad slogan, with Revolutionary Minutemen in columns, rifles poised, ready to fire. "Where the new definition of love is helping to write the words and music of 1968!" A headline in Newsweek. In the Wall Street Journal: "The Selling Of A New Sound." A page in Vogue: "Boston Rock Scholars!" In Rolling Stone: "Boston Shucks" - "Boston Sound Kerplop!" Time, Village Voice, Cosmo, Christian Science Monitor, UP, AP, House and Garden, Richard Goldstein, Al Cuniff, Nat Hentoff, Stanley Penn, Ben Fong-Torres, Betty Canary. Even Women's Wear Daily was suddenly finding fashion in Boston! Was it the music? Was it the concept? Was it the time?
As its creator and primary producer, I will try to unravel the beginning, the middle and end of the Boston Sound, and provide you, the reader, the record collector, the student of popular music history, with a dissection of the causes and effects. Why in a year that changed a generation, in the year that man orbited the Moon, there was even enough column space left for the Boston Sound.
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It was 1968 - the turning point of a maturing society; the year of Nixon; the year of Vietnam's escalation; the year Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were killed; the year "Rage", "Biafra", "Seizures of Youth", "Defiance", "Prague", "New Order", "Two Dead", "Chicago", "Vietnam" were the words and music of the time.
The words "Boss-town Sound" (after Motown) were first used in a Newsweek magazine article (January, '68) to describe a grouping of new East Coast artists from Boston, but it could have been any city, really. Three months before the Newsweek story I had announced my plan to make Boston the target city for the development of new artists (in Billboard, Cashbox, Variety, and Record World). At the time I was a successful producer of records and commercials, a composer scoring motion pictures and television specials, and had been the leading arranger in the country credited with many of the top hits of the time, responsible for over $50 million dollars in sales. My plan for a Boston talent center was based purely on ordinary record business marketing. I would put out product, announce it, advertise it, put the artists on the road, have product in the pipeline to support personal appearances, and do week-to-week press to help spread national sales. It was a marketing program no different from any other used in the industry at the time, except that the artists were from one geographical base. But, almost immediately, I ran into trouble. MGM Records, which had released my product, immediately became the object of "anti-establishment" outrage, with the underground impeaching them as the label of "hype".
I had chosen MGM not because they were any more prone to "hype" or "commercialism", a dirty-word to the "underground press" of the time. MGM was like all the other labels, no more or less commercial. I could have chosen Columbia or RCA. I chose MGM for convenience. I had already signed several other artists to the label before the Boston Sound, and it was easy for me to piggy-back the new artists to those existing production deals. It was customary practice then, as it is now, that artists were signed to a production company like mine, and released on a label by way of a production deal. I never worked for MGM. Nor had the other producers, such as Wes Farrell (the Beacon Street Union). Tom Wilson did, but also produced independently.
I chose Boston because I needed a convenient location to musically prepare the artists I had signed. Boston was easily reached by shuttle from New York, which at the time was the hub of the record industry. It was also convenient for the artists to come to New York to record, since New York had superior state-of-the art facilities. Understand, though, that at the time "stereo" was still in its infancy. "Monaural" recording was still almost the standard. And "multi-tracks" beyond 8 and 16 were still in development (note: the first Orpheus album was recorded with 4 track equipment - ed.). More importantly, Boston was accessible to the label support staff, personnel, press, promotion, managers and agents.
But, primarily, I chose Boston because it had always been a center of talent from its folk days, and because there was a built-in buying market of 250,000 college students living there. It was a natural marketplace. The Boston Sound concept was basic marketing at its best.
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Almost immediately after the launching of the first "Boston Sound" product (Orpheus, Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union) the torpedoing began. The "Sound" was deemed exploitive because the artists were "bunched" together, denying their individual integrity. In reality, though, only two or three artists had initially appeared together at special performances, and afterwards were promoted as individual acts. It was never my intention, or MGM's, to join all the artists together in one tour under a "Boston Sound" banner as was charged. Moreover, MGM wasn't the only label signing "Boston Sound" artists. Yet MGM and the "Boston Sound" were linked, and together became the "poster boy" of the 1968 counter-culture.
The ad "THE BOSTON SOUND-- The Sound Heard Round The World", which MGM had taken out and which appeared in Billboard and other trade magazines, was immediately criticized as a purveyor of bad-taste art direction. It had simply played off the Newsweek "Bosstown Sound" article and used historic Revolutionary themes natural to Boston. Realities of marketing strategies assume connected themes such as these, designed to interface with product development, publicity, etc. Today, Artist Tour Units function similarly as marketing focal points to insure success. In truth, the ad was no more provocative than any other music ad of the time, no different from any other label or location, including those used, for example, for "psychedelic" San Francisco.
In the same week, and by sheer coincidence, a financial cover-story ran in the Wall Street Journal, "The Selling Of A New Sound", which reported on the pitfalls and gains of the then modern music business using MGM's new "Boston Sound" campaign as a model of what was entailed in the launching of new artists. The story was picked up as front page news by every other Wall Street Journal-syndicated publication across the country. Adding to this, the financial editor of the United Press (UP) carried a follow-up piece, asking "Why, then, not a 'Nashville Sound,' as a profit center?"
These articles and others were enough to overboil the outraged "underground press" which finally exploded, branding the "Boston Sound" as "pure establishment hype," charging collusion with the "establishment press", and vowing to "get" the Boston Sound. Led by Rolling Stone magazine, a new but already powerful publication out of San Francisco, the "underground" condemned the original Newsweek story as "insidious artless trash" and blatantly discredited anything smacking of "commercialism" and "establishment hype" as the enemy, especially the "Boston Sound." But why did they do this?
A view expressed by Boston's Fusion magazine is that there was talk that the West Coast was becoming "musically barren", and that the "East Coast was picking up the baton (from San Francisco) and was about to take over commercial supremacy." This explanation seems too simplistic to me.
Fusion also indicated that it wasn't just Newsweek that had had something to say about the "Boston Sound." So had Jazz & Pop, House & Garden, and all the other "overground" dailies across the spectrum of American publishing, including Playboy - all of which played some part in the underground's condemnation, rallying 'round the band-wagon as the press, in its greed, often does. Ever watch the 6 o'clock news? Any channel will do. Or, as the syndicated columnists found, it was simply more fun to just play the "What's In A Name" game: "I'll take Moby Grape!" "Make mine Ultimate Spinach!" "One Electric Prune to go, please!", not wanting to be left out. But even this is too simplistic an explanation.
I believe the central solution to the enigma of why the "Boston Sound" came under such vicious attack was that "Boston Sound" was an expedient political scapegoat in the middle of a battle between the "anti-establishment" and "establishment" in a battle for dollars, a battle to legitimize the "underground", to give it credibility as evidenced today by its own subsequent success in becoming powerful members of today's commercial "establishment press".
I believe that the "Boston Sound" was just a media victim caught in the crossfire. During the same time, Schaeffer Beer was hawking a talent hunt "We'd Like To Make You A Star", the Blues Magoos released a 2nd LP Electric Comic Book, Herman's Hermits were on a 90-day tour with the Who, and Ravi Shankar played Monterey and was now out promoting his 1st LP, Live At Monterey, which was working its way up the Record World charts, all this commercialism going on without "underground" backdraft. Later, when the second Orpheus album, Ascending, was voted #10 as the best vocal album of the year in the Playboy's 1969 "Jazz and Pop Poll" alongside Simon and Garfunkel, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Cream and Big Brother and The Holding Company, it was never recognized by the underground. Nor was the classic I Can't Find The Time To Tell You, (which was - ed.) a regional single hit, Top 10 in most regional markets, and the subject of one of the first music videos ever.
The underground unleashed a year-long outpouring of controversial print which overshadowed the music and, eventually destroyed whatever chances the new Boston artists might have had.
In April, 1968, Rolling Stone wrote, "The side of Boston that is reaching the national audience with the first three albums (Orpheus, Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union), is inextricably bound to an extremely heavy promotion by MGM, and the question should really be whether or not there is anything lying beneath the hype." A positive thought which should have been explored. Unfortunately, the angry prejudiced word-images describing the artists as "pretentious," "derivative," and "boring" had a more lasting effect on the reader than the music might have, given the chance. The snowball became an avalanche. It was now more trendy to talk "Boston Sound" than to hear it. In retrospect, it was hard to believe that something which had received so much media coverage could fail to become a commercial success.
20 years later, in 1988, the same Rolling Stone, in its encyclopedia of rock, "Rock Of Ages", finally conceded: "With an anti-Boston critical backlash, it was easier to put down Ultimate Spinach and the other Boston groups then it had been to like them."
* * *
To add to the growing difficulties, the Boston "city fathers" held back their support, standing in the way of Pilgrims' Progress, hiding behind a "Drug" and "Psychedelic" rationale. The initial marketing had pushed the Boston club scene into high gear, the local economy was flourishing, so were the record outlets. radio revenue increased, music papers' circulation doubled, students lined up for product - Ultimate Spinach sold 110,000 LPs in New York and Boston its first week out. Multi sell-out performances by "Boston Sound" bands were normal at the Tea Party. But the puritanical City Council didn't endorse it. Their fear was ironic, really, because all lyric references to drugs in the songs by the Boston Sound artists were "anti-drug" (i:e Speed Kills! by Beacon Street Union), and any "psychedelic" references, lyrics, and art work were consistent with the poetry of the time, having its base again in the San Francisco flower-world. And the psychedelic instrumentation and sensibilities found in Orpheus, Ultimate Spinach and Chamaeleon Church (sounds known as "New Age" today) were derived from Bach and Scarlatti, with some of the most extraordinary sitar work performed by the late and extremely gifted Colin Walcott, later of Oregon fame, and my orchestrations played by the strings of the New York Philharmonic.
As an aside, in 1991, Ultimate Spinach's Funny Freak Parade became the soundtrack music for a PBS 6-part television series Making Sense Of The Sixties, which accompanied "flower-children" newsreel footage from San Francisco.
Finally, and perhaps most bizarre, were the actions of the newly-appointed president of MGM Records - the so-called "flagship" label of the movement. Mike Curb, the young 25-year-old executive with an early Beatle haircut, called his own Boston Sound "Boston shucks" in Rolling Stone, putting down his own artists as "just a bunch of junk." "Dump the dopers!" was his war cry in his zeal for corporate reorganization, using the "Boston Sound" as the Judas Goat. (editor's note from Eric Gulliksen: I've read that Mr. Curb cited Orpheus' I've Never Seen Love Like This as being drug-oriented. Bruce Arnold and I wrote the song - tell me where it says anything about drugs! - ed.) The amalgam of East-West rivalry, "anti-establishment hype" and drug proliferation was a ready and handy wizardry to turn his label chameleon-like. His betrayal was a bitter price for his own professional producers, and for the artists who were daring and innovative, taking the heritage of folk to a new sophistication and style, trying to bring another dimension to rock 'n' roll.
As a humorous "sidebar" to this "sidebar Mike Curb, who eventually became Lt. Governor of California before returning to the present-day music business, asked me a week after crucifying the "Boston Sound" in Rolling Stone to renew my options for more Orpheus and Ultimate Spinach product. This time I was outraged. And it was too late, the damage had been done. These causes and effects led to the destruction of the artists of the Boston Sound - those hybrid Beatles, early Little Feat, the new balladeers, who had been given too instant an opportunity, and were perhaps too fragile and too young to survive such a premature flash-point. Orpheus, Ultimate Spinach, Puff, Phulph, Beacon Street Union, Chamaeleon Church, Eden's Children and the others became caught up in their own counter-culture and, like in a Goya painting, self-destructed, swallowing themselves alive, disbanding, perhaps in fear, perhaps in pain or embarrassment, but killing the baby none the less. (Some great diverse talent did survive - Chevy Chase, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter).
It is ironic that Orpheus, the last surviving member of the "Boston Sound," chose a performance in the Sculpture Garden of New York's Museum of Modern Art to announce it's "farewell." It was almost like sealing its fate in stone. The New York Times Sunday Theater Section carried an impressive six-column picture of them: "Everything In The Garden - Love Songs and Rodin." I asked them to change their minds but, for Orpheus like for the others, it was over. In their song Love Over Here they say, "Now that idea that seemed so clear had reached its finale..." No longer did sweet tones of an enchanted Lyre drift past Congress Alley windows. Orpheus, the "Music-Bringer", singers mostly of love songs, the four who had laughed with Pan, vanished forever.
(Editor's note - Alan has taken a bit of poetic license here. The concert in the Sculpture Garden took place on July 31, 1969. The actual final performance of the original Orpheus took place at Arlington High School in Massachusetts, in December of 1969.)
(Read Cash Box magazine's review of the Sculpture Garden concert here).
* * *
For another year, the death knell was documented in various follow-up retrospectives. But, in the end, all this anti-establishment had just taken on an establishment of its own.
Other articles have appeared frequently during the last 22 years. In Fusion's Boston Sound Revisited they simply penciled out pieces of the words "Boston Sound" as the story progressed to make it disappear. Boston's WBCN's Beat Magazine features it in its "Boston R & R" sections. Most articles attempted to explain the "Boston Sound" failing, I think, most not asking or wanting the true story, it seemed. A recent account appeared in 1987 in the Boston Phoenix, which did a fine extensive piece called "Bosstown Sound Scene, Not Heard."
Now, in the Polydor collection and in the "Story of The Boston Sound" you can hear a retro-echo of a different time - a different tune that will let you finally know those artists who were once only seen in print, but not heard, and let you finally hear, perhaps for the first time, something called The Boston Sound.
(Note: the Polydor package referred to above was never released. It was substituted by the Ace UK Best Of the Boston Sound in 1995. Album notes follow.)
Boston Sound 1968 -
The Music and the Time
© Iris Properties, Inc., used with permission
This is the first volume in a cross-section sampling of the artists of the Boston Sound , a 1968-69 music movement popularly known as Bosstown Sound, which was given its name not for the sameness of music styles - since here, one finds an extraordinary diversity of sounds, but for a music industry marketing plan conceived to develop artists from one geographical area.
I established the concept of the Boston Sound in late 1967 with MGM Records as my distribution company (a label later absorbed by PolyGram Records), and recorded Orpheus and Ultimate Spinach as the first of three Boston artists to be initially released. The third initial Bosstown artist, Beacon Street Union, was recorded by the well-known producer Wes Farrell, also released on MGM, and then on Janus Records under the name Eagle.
I chose Boston as the target city since it was a place for new and progressive music forms from the folk days, and had an exceptionally strong initial sales potential in the 250,000 college students in residence in Boston's 250 colleges and universities. Boston also had a large number of performance clubs where artists could develop before touring nationally. There were many pop music college and commercial radio stations which could expose the new product on a grass-roots level. Boston was also easily accessible for record label promotional and creative executives, since it was within an hour by plane from New York City.
In this unique atmosphere, I sought out dynamic and influential individuals in the area to support the Boston Sound movement. Bill Spence, the first Boston club owner to use rock 'n' roll as a standard form of club entertainment, owned the Surf clubs, three major clubs (Surf Nantasket, Surf Salisbury Beach and Surf Hyannis) located in very popular New England beach communities such as Cape Cod, which provided an extended non-college audience for the new product. These clubs, described at the time as "Contemporary Music Houses," were the biggest and oldest teen clubs in New England (pre & post Bosstown Sound) and gave birth to several of Boston's biggest early 60s groups, including the Rockin' Ramrods, 1965-66 predecessor to Puff, Barry & the Remains, Teddy & the Pandas and the Lost, 1965 predecessor group whose members went on to form Bosstown Sound artists Chameleon Church, Ultimate Spinach III, and Bagatelle with Willie Alexander.
Spence also broke the ban on Boston rock concerts. Facing the same ardent political and religious opposition which existed in 1958 when Alan Freed brought his Big Beat Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis rock 'n' roll tour into the Boston Arena, Spence presented the Rolling Stones in their first American tour, in the same Boston Garden Arena in 1965. The opening act for the Stones was the Rockin' Ramrods, who were managed by Spence, who had released them on his Plymouth Records label.
Dick Summer, in 1968 WMEX radio's most popular and perceptive Boston D. J. (then later at WBZ), was directly responsible for Bosstown's initial radio success. Summer held live radio performances from local Boston clubs and hosted live free outdoor concerts on the Boston Common, such as the famous "Spring Sing" of 20 April, 1968, where Orpheus and the other Boston artists played to 14,000 enthusiastic fans.
Today, Bosstown Sound fans still recall in hundreds of postings on the Internet the times Dick Summer encouraged them to open a paper clip in the shape of an "S" and wear it as a pin in support of the Bosstown Sound. Some also claim to be new fans of the artists, having found and listened to the Ace U.K. reissues.
Another prominent Boston club owner of the time, George Papadopoulo, was a major force in Boston music prior to the Boston Sound, and made his Unicorn Coffee House (where Dick Summer held frequent live broadcasts of Bosstown artists) and his other clubs, the Psychedelic Supermarket and Cambridge Electric Ballroom, important spots for this new talent.
Of all the Boston clubs, Ray Riepen's Boston Tea Party (mostly a showcase for psychedelic music) became the most active in promoting Boston Sound's new groups, bringing these performers through initial and transitional stages into national recognition, where they ultimately played the Filmore East & Filmore West and toured other major venues and arenas throughout the USA. Some groups such as Orpheus were opening acts for Janis Joplin, 10 Years After, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Cream.
Of course, the artists and record producers were the primary contributors to the movement. Within 6 months every major label signed and/or released at least one Bosstown artist. Within a year, 200 Boston-based albums and singles were marketed by 40 different artists, containing over 2,000 new songs of varying sounds, styles and concepts, some product still enjoyed today, some 28 years later.
The most extraordinary impetus which gave intense national recognition to the Bosstown Sound came from the press, the anti-establishment underground national rock press led by Rolling Stone magazine, which presented itself as the voice of the counterculture of the time (taking negative views of anything "establishment," which included the Bosstown movement), and the "establishment press," such as the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, etc. which looked at the Bosstown Sound as a business, and presented itself as the voice of the anti-counterculture.
Practically every day for more than a year something was written about the Boston Sound, placing the movement in the crossfire of an establishment's reading of a trend, vs. the counterculture's rejection of it, ultimately making it one of the most written about rock music phenomena of the time.
It is odd, however, that the Boston Sound was so quickly woven into the social fabric of the time, since it was born into the chaos of 1968, the most turbulent year of the 60's, a year in which there should have been no open column space at all.
"Stop the War!"
The Picture of America in 1968
Stop the War! was the theme song of America in 1968. A radical confrontation, with Vietnam as the catalyst, and the counterculture its voice of opposition. The outcry was never more prevalent than on the campuses and park commons across the USA, in the neighborhood hippie-turfs such as Central Park in New York City, Lincoln Park in Chicago (the site of the August 1968 protest at the Democratic National Convention), the Boston Common at the top of Beacon Hill, and Haight Street in San Francisco.
Civil dissent, mind-consciousness, drugs, anti-establishment flower people fostered the nucleus which became the central core of this explosive time. It was 1968, the year of Nixon, the year of Vietnam's escalation, the year Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were killed, the year of "Rage," "Biafra," "Chicago". American Man, as the cover of this package depicts, was looking in on a window of a country-for-sale, awash in a chord of America screaming!
The local Boston scene was a microcosm of the time, a smaller society reflecting the greater national picture. It was their big year, too, a dream year for this impassioned sports town when the Red Sox baseball team finally came close to winning the national championship (St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers played the World Series, to a Tigers' win). In 1968 Boston was an avid sports-town (The Bruins ice-hockey team, the Celtics, basketball, and the Red Sox baseball team). But it was still the same conservative establishment it had been 10 years earlier when it opposed the rock music community. In contrast was the vast progressive student population thriving on pop music and the artists who created it.
Masked in the subtle nostalgia of The Red Sox Are Winning, Peter Rowan's (Earth Opera) allegory best describes the voice of the city in 1968 within the conflict of a nation aflame. "The weather is strange. No summer this year, in the days of the war," sings Rowan, depicting the national dissent, and at the same time suggesting a more local, direct route to home plate - Boston. The roar of the crowd at the song's end, and the "pitch", "Let's make Boston America's #1 baseball city. Kill The Hippies! Kill The Hippies!" reflects the scoreboard of both the local and national hurrah.
More deeply representative of the Seal of America exploding is Peter Rowan's powerful anti-war saga, American Eagle Tragedy, a song-collage of the Lyndon Johnson years of the American presidency during the escalation of the Vietnam war. Rowan's lyrics, steeped in imagery of a Kingdom in revolution, describes a "King in a counting-house" (wealth and power with soldiers dead in a foreign jungle war), and a Queen in a rose garden (Lady Byrd Johnson, the First Lady of the time, in her White House Rose Garden) as "an orchestra assembles while the hounds are howling in the stables."
Rowan clearly recalls the time in a recent interview: "Yes, we were part of the historical thing," he related. "Especially since we played for people who were doing protest, playing in places like Sanctuaries - safe places where people stayed who were dropping out of the Army. You have to remember I was educated on Henry David Thoreau, in civil disobedience, and civil disobedience was the whole thing behind the protest movement of the 60's," he continued. "Our forefathers told us we can do this. We can stand up against what we don't believe. So I felt a high connection with my particular roots as a musician from Boston, and I had historical residence to say what I felt in this kind of form."
Other depictions of the turbulence of the time are represented in the songs of Bosstown Sound artist Ted Myers (co-founder of In the Lost and lead of Chameleon Church & Ultimate Spinach III). His moving description of the August 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention riots in The World Has Just Begun is a compelling commentary on the crowd, the Chicago police, the rage.
In the Front Page Review's unusual apocalyptic Prophecies/Morning Blue, Silver Children and Valley of Eyes, Steve Cataldo, writer and lead vocalist, describes heroic "mystic Soldiers" drowning in a sea of oblivion, another deliberately devastating picture of humanity in a world which needs saving from itself.
In contrast, Ian Bruce-Douglas saw the future of a new generation in Fragmentary March of Green where he reflects on a late 60s hippie society giving way to suburbia, status-symbols, relationships, religion and success, the fragmentary march of "green 60s people into the 70s, beginning a new materialism, and ending anti-establishment ideals.
A Shot Heard Round the World:
Another Kind Of War
As the social/political events of 1968 unfolded, so did the chronicle of the Boston Sound. The first record trade advertising for the Bosstown Sound came in January 1968: "The Shot Heard Round The World," and featured the LP covers of the first 3 artists of the movement (Orpheus, Spinach and Beacon Street Union), with renderings of Revolutionary Minutemen poised, rifles ready to fire.
The same week, a cover story ran in the Wall Street Journal, "The Selling Of A New Sound", which reported on the pitfalls and gains of the then modern music business, using the new "Boston Sound" campaign on MGM Records as an example of what was entailed in launching a new artist, highlighting the group Ultimate Spinach. The story was picked up as front page news by every Wall Street Journal affiliate across the U.S.A. The financial editor of the United Press (UP) carried a follow-up story asking "Why not Nashville as a profit center?" Newsweek published a feature on the new artists of Boston. Time, Village Voice, Cosmo, Jazz & Pop, Christian Science Monitor, UP, AP, House and Garden, Playboy, and all the dailies across America carried Bosstown Sound as important news. Even Women's Wear Daily found fashion in Boston. Some syndicated columnists found it simply more fun just to play the "What's In A Name" game: "I'll take Moby Grape!" "Make mine Ultimate Spinach!" "One Electric Prune to go, please!"
"Establishment hype!" "Boston Shucks!" cried Rolling Stone magazine, a new but already powerful publication out of San Francisco, ironically condemning and discrediting Boston Sound's anti-establishment attempt to form a Boston rock 'n' roll movement as smacking of "commercialism": "The side of Boston that is reaching the national audience with the first three albums (Orpheus, Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union), is inextricably bound to an extremely heavy promotion by MGM, and the question should really be whether or not there is anything lying beneath the hype."
As the leading arranger in the USA through the early 60s, and as a successful producer in the mid and late 60s, I had seen the marketing of artists expand from simple promotions to sophisticated strategies as the industry grew. As a result, I was completely surprised by Rolling Stone's reaction and assertions of "hype," since editorially it was vehemently opposed to Boston's type of political conservatism. But, in retrospect, it was important at the time for Rolling Stone and its sister "underground" publications, in a different kind of "hype," to commercialize themselves in order to become powerful members of the "establishment press".
Nevertheless, the reaction triggered a national controversy which continued for more than a year. It became more trendy to talk "Boston Sound" than to hear it. A snowball became an avalanche, with the artists buried under the outpouring that overshadowed the music, and eventually destroyed whatever future they might have had.
Strangely though, Boston Sound marketing was successful for Boston itself. Record outlets prospered. Revenues of rock 'n' roll radio multiplied. Circulation of local music papers doubled. Boston clubs experienced overflow attendance. For the groups, Orpheus' single Can't Find The Time was #1 in most US markets. The first Ultimate Spinach album sold 110,000 copies its first week out. All the Boston artists flourished creatively in a wonderful diversity of things political, things poetic, things classical and jazz, things of the time.
Wayne Ulakey, John Lincoln Wright and Robert Rosenblatt, bassist, lead vocalist and keyboardist of the group Beacon Street Union, recall the development of their band from its emergence in 1966 as a club and backup band for visiting rock 'n' roll artists such as Chuck Berry to complex psychedelic conceptions in 1968. In 1971, at the height of their musical evolution as Eagle as heard here, they return to their rock 'n' roll roots. For John Lincoln Wright it marked the beginning of his transition to country.
Willie Alexander of Bagatelle in a recent interview remembered his growth in Boston. "I worked out of a little rehearsal studio on River Street, called Riff's. A lot of people came to Boston from other parts of the country. They came to go to school and they formed bands. It was the thing to do. We were all different. Very distinct!" he said (as evidenced in his Back On The Farm): a sudden blaring of matador-trumpets heralds almost scat-vocal. "She was stolen by gypsies!" "The song was free form, kind of free association. But the first song I ever wrote was Everybody Knows," Alexander recalled (both in its Bagatelle version, and in the original with the Lost, the vital predecessor group he and Ted Myers founded). Alexander recorded Everybody Knows a third time in 1978 in one of his two Boom Boom Band albums for MCA. Today he continues to perform and record in Boston.
Ian Bruce-Douglas' first and second Ultimate Spinach albums' haunting sounds with Theremin and psychedelic guitars were played extensively on radio throughout the world. Ian's (Ballad Of) The Hip Death Goddess, with the eerie vocals of Barbara Hudson, is a psychedelic standard today.
In Spinach III, Ted Myers lyrically reflects the socially defiant picture of the time (to his earlier songs with the Lost and Chameleon Church), while his co-member ...Jeff "Skunk" Baxter... found comfort in a heady cure of blues guitar and harmonica in Eddie's Rush for his hazy days of 1968. Eventually, Jeff Baxter found his creative right in the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Chameleon Church added to their expression the sitar genius of Colin Walcott (late of Oregon and Codona fame) and used a choir of oboes and bassoons. Chevy Chase, a member of the group Chamaeleon Church, ultimately became the heart of Saturday Night Live and star of movies and TV.
In the day-dreamy Puff, or the timelessness of Ill Wind with Connie Devanney's longing vocals, there lived things of great promise.
Orpheus spoke mostly of love, with string orchestrations reaching out to touch the emotion of their words. "That's where we made our connection. About basic emotions, the heartbeat," Bruce Arnold, lead singer of the group remembered. "Our framework on records and live performances never detracted."
Eden's Children sang with Doors-like vocals and be-bop guitar, while the Rockin' Ramrods and the Lost as predecessor groups displayed more of a basic, vibrant early 60s rock 'n' roll roots.
Ken Frankel of Ill Wind experimented with the group's bluegrass and folk orientation. "I added new electronics as an inspiration, as in the double-fuzz sustain of the solo melody played on the electric bass in In My Dark World," Frankel said.
In more sizzling contrast, Ted Demos, Apple Pie Motherhood Band's lead guitarist and vocalist, found personal fire in his interpretation of Born Under A Bad Sign, which was originally cut by Albert King. Producer Felix Pappalardi, who produced this one odd cut for the band's Atlantic LP, had done it with Cream for Wheels of Fire at about the same time Apple Pie's version was made. (Cream recorded theirs in April, '67, and released it August of '68).
Earth Opera fused John Coltrane- and Ornette Coleman- influenced jazz with bluegrass/folk and rock. After Earth Opera, Peter Rowan joined Seatrain, recorded in England with Beatles producer George Martin, and eventually returned to bluegrass roots. Earth Opera co-founder Dave Grisman extended his body of work with remarkable associations with John Sebastian, Steve Katz and Jerry Garcia.
In compiling this first edition of Boston Sound artists, I was moved by the ageless quality of the music. Though created 28 years ago when early expansions of stereo and multi-tracking were on the cutting edge of modern technology, these artists, most of whom never achieved universal acceptance, made music both significant in quality and performance, and left a legacy of the time. Articles on the Boston Sound have appeared frequently during the last 28 years. In 1971, Boston's Fusion magazine recounted the event, penciling out parts of the words, "Boston Sound" as the story progressed. Boston radio's WBCN's Beat Magazine featured it in its "Boston Music R&R" Sections. In 1976, on the occasion of his first Boston album release, Tom Scholz recounted his Boston Sound experience in the Real Paper, and credited the Bosstown artists' influences on him as a teenager growing up in Ohio seven years earlier. In 1987, the Boston Phoenix did an extensive piece called "Bosstown Sound - Scene Not Heard."
In 1988, in its encyclopedia of rock Rock Of Ages, Rolling Stone conceded that "With an anti-Boston critical backlash, it was easier to put down Ultimate Spinach and the other Boston groups than it had been to like them.
In 1992 I wrote an extensive piece for Goldmine Magazine, which was coupled with a fine work by Professor Gary Burns of Northern Illinois University - a Boston Sound collector and documenter.
When Orpheus, the last surviving member of the Boston Sound chose to perform in the Sculpture Garden of New York's Museum of Modern Art to announce it's "farewell", the concert was carried in the New York Times' Sunday Theater Section in an impressive six-column photo spread: "Everything In The Garden - Love Songs and Rodin."
(See the Editor's note in the "Something Called the Boston Sound" article, above)
(Read Cash Box magazine's review of the Sculpture Garden concert here).
* * *
Looking back, as Peter Rowan wrote in his The Red Sox Are Winning: "The past is behind, when believing and beauty celebrated the birth. It was green, lovely green. So long ago, when we could fly like milkweed."
Whatever sense one makes of the 60s, the moral upheavals, the spirit, the rhythms, the freedom, the dreams and promises, defiance and love, killings and cleansing, baby-boomers giving way to a loss of innocence, there exists in these recordings an exact record of the time, and within it a slice of rock 'n' roll history - the artists, the music, the story of something called the Boston Sound.
A Few Observations in Retrospect
Alan wrote the above more than a decade ago. During the intervening years the music industry has evolved even more quickly than it had previously, into a form that could not have even been imagined in the days of the Boston Sound. CDs, DVDs, P2P file sharing, the Internet, iPods, digital distribution, surround sound, etc. were things of fantasy. Today it is far more difficult for new artists to gain recognition. In the late 60s the difficulties revolved around artistic issues, a plethora of competition with hundreds of records being released weekly, culture and counter-culture, etc. But, then, there were literally thousands of labels vying for a piece of the pie, seeking new talent.
Today, the scene is entirely different. Consolidation within the industry has resulted in the vast majority of commercial music residing in the hands of four multinational conglomerates, whose focus is strictly on the bottom line (profits). Most are run by accountants, not by "music people." Concern over profits has led "RIAA" (read: establishment) labels to cut back on their artist rosters, and to almost entirely eliminate artist development. Successful artists either have a long legacy, have achieved substantial success as "indies" at their own expense, or have been "manufactured" by the labels in order to minimize risk and limit product release, insofar as possible, to "sure things." Most media outlets (radio, television) are controlled by mega-corporations, and "Digital Rights Management" has literally set the music industry and much of its customer base at each other's throats.
The Internet gives independent artists a chance to be heard even without the backing of the major labels. It is, however, not an easy task to get one's music to the ears of the general public, because the nature of the Internet is such that would-be listeners or potential fans have to discover it amidst the billions of web pages out there.
Love it or hate it, the Boston Sound was a phenomenon without parallel. We believe that one of its shortcomings lay in its very name, which implied that there was a single, identifiable and discrete sound. After all, even then there were the Detroit (Motown) Sound, the San Francisco Sound, the Nashville Sound, the Memphis Sound, the Liverpool Sound, etc., which were identifiable. Boston, as a melting pot and fusion of various musical genres, did not have a single sound. We, as Orpheus, used to say when interviewed that we were "one of the Boston Sounds" (emphasis on the plural). The addition of that little "s" might have made the concept less controversial - but that, too, may be an oversimplification; as Alan said above, neither he nor MGM had ever had any intention of grouping the artists for any purpose other than to get the biggest "bang" for the marketing dollar.
I personally don't think that a phenomenon like the Boston Sound could happen today - at least, not as an orchestrated commercial effort - because the market and musical tastes have become too fragmented. Billboard magazine now publishes 129 different charts weekly; in 1968 there were less than a dozen. A new movement like the Boston Sound could concievably arise from a grass-roots source such as an Internet community, but this would likely be limited in penetration and acceptance.
Some have said that the Boston Sound set Boston's musicians back by years, if not decades, because of the negative aspects of the "marketing plan gone amuck," as Alan outlined above. I beg to differ.
If nothing else, the Boston Sound served to bring the music of the time and region to the forefront of the minds and hearts of the local kids, just growing up, inspiring them to write and perform. Without the Boston Sound, would we have Aerosmith? the Cars? Boston? the J. Geils Band? Godsmack? Donna Summer? the New Edition? Howie Day? Pat Metheny? Aimee Mann? Jo Dee Messina? Staind? the Dropkick Murphys? the Mighty Mighty Bosstones? John Mayer? maybe ...
"...If there was a Boston Sound, it was Orpheus..."
(excerpted from a review of one of the Orpheus CD compilations, posted on amazon.com)
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