Saturday, January 19, 2013


The first time I knew of "the Bosstown Sound" was through a collection of old Scholastic Co-Ed magazines that my sister had bought when she was in junior high in the late 60s. I liked to look at these because they contained the things I were interested in the most when I was in junior: photos of girls and information on music of the 60s (then it was the current music scene).

I remember this article saying that the coolest music was coming no longer coming from San Francisco or London, but Boston. The article told about these band, but even with my limited knowledge of the music of that era at the time (I was only beginning my exhaustive studies) I knew I had never heard of any of these bands. Although one band name stuck with me because I thought it was so cool: The Ultimate Spinach (pictured above).

Skip forward to my college years when I would do a monthly segment during my KSMU airshift a called the Psychedelic Limits. I found a copy of Ultimate Spinach's second LP, Behold and See. I began using a song from the LP called "Mind Flowers" on the Psychedelic Limits.

Recently, I found an abundance of psychedelic music on iTunes and Amazon and began downloading it like crazy. I found that many of the songs that I were not familiar with were by bands from "the Bosstown sound." In recent years I had read that "the Bosstown Sound" was a huge flop in the music industry. it is even mentioned in Dave Marsh's Book of Rock List. Why did it flop?

Part of the problem was the fact that most of the bands were all on MGM Records. This was almost an "all-your-eggs-in-one-basket" situation as much as Columbia Records went overboard with jazz horn rock bands about the same time, with the main difference being that the jazz horn rock bands at Columbia were huge sales success with wide spread airplay (many of those songs are still radio staples), where as the Bosstown Sound didn't make enough money in sales to cover the amount of promotion and very little airplay.

Another problem was the hype surrounding the Bosstown Sound. Co-Ed was not the only magazine promoting the Bosstown Sound as the next big thing. 16 and Seventeen did too. The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, Life and even Playboy ran positive articles about it. On the other hand, a relatively new magazine called Rolling Stone trashed the Bosstown Sound an article. It took MGM and the mainstream media to task for trying to steal the thunder of the San Francisco music scene. Of course, Rolling Stone was based in San Francisco.

While we are on the subject of the Rolling Stone article, I should mention the other problem with the Bosstown Sound was lack of support at the top of the records company. Shortly after the marketing started for the Bosstown Sound, MGM Records appointed Mike Curb as president. Curb was quoted in the Rolling Stone article as saying "Boston shucks" and calling the music "a bunch of junk." Curb later used his controversial "Dump the Dopers" campaign as a way to get rid of the Bosstown Sound bands. He claimed the Orpheus love ballad "I've Never Seen a Love Like This" was "a drug song." It should also be noted that Curb had MGM drop Frank Zappa, but kept Judy Garland and Hank Williams Junior (Mike Curb's sunshine pop choir, the Mike Curb Congregation backed Hank Junior on some of his MGM hits). It was later found that most of the acts dropped were groups whose contracts were ending. To add insult to injury, Bosstown Sound producer and creator Alan Lorber says Mike Curb asked him why the Bosstown groups hadn't provided any new material. This was after Curb had bragged to the press about dropping these "junk" groups. I should note that not all of the Bosstown bands were at MGM, some were on a smaller label called Mainstreet.

As I said earlier, I've been downloading music by these bands various Bosstown bands and I have noticed that there is another reason these groups seem forgotten. Unlike many of the San Francisco groups and the British bands of the late 60s, the Bosstown groups sound dated, like a stereotype of 60s music. To me that is not a bad thing, but consider the mundane nature of classic rock radio. The songs that have become staples on classic rock radio by Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Santana, the Rolling Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin, sound as if they could be recorded by any current band or even in the 70s or 80s.

The Bosstown groups have an overly psychedelic sound to them. All the psychedelic bells and whistles show up on these groups LPs. There is an abundance of slowed down voices, vibes, chimes, backwards taped instrumentation, and lyrics about "sounds," "bright colors," "pretty flowers" and "beautiful girls with hypnotic eyes." However, before we say that Mike Curb was right about these groups, it should be pointed out that one thing that hurt them among the underground press was that many songs have a negative view of the drug culture, such as Beacon Street Union's "Speed Kills."

On a whole, the Bosstown groups were more mellow. They were sort of a mix of "sunshine pop" and smooth jazz rather than bluesy like the British and West Coast acts. Not real heavy, but kind of light.

So what happened to the people of the Bosstown Sound. Many of the musicians continued performing various other acts. Of the acts from the Bosstown boom years, there are three names you would recognize. Ultimate Spinach produced future Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. A group called The Chain Reaction only recorded one single, but that group featured future Aerosmith lead singer/ American Idol judge Steven Tyler. The most surprising future star in a Bosstown band was the drummer of Chamelon Church. He would leave music for comedy and make people laugh on TV's Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update anchor and on the big screen as hapless father figure Clark Griswold. Yes, the drummer of Chameleon Church was Chevy Chase.

Here is a short list of Bosstown Sound tacks:
  • "The Clown Died In Marvin Gardens" Beacon Street Union
  • "Mind Flowers" Ultimate Spinach
  • "Seven Starry Skies (Mystic Magic Oceans)" The Lost
  • "When I Needed You" The Chain Reaction
  • "Images" The Freeborne
  • "I've Never Seen Love Like This" Orpheus
  • "The Red Sox Are Winning" The Earth Opera
  • "My Island" The Fabulous Farquar
  • "Another Day" Phluph (I'm sure that is pronounced Fluff)
  • "Can't You See" The Tangerine Zoo
  • "Goodbye Girl" Eden's Children
  • "Silver Children" Front Page Review
  • "Camillia Is Changing" Chameleon Church
While the Bosstown Sound may be considered a failure, it did paved the way for successful acts from Boston in the 70s such as Aerosmith, Johnathan Richman and Modern Lovers, The Cars, J. Gelies Band and, of course, Boston.  

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