37 Years Ago: Boston Falter After Rushing Out ‘Don’t Look Back’
One of the ‘70s’ most remarkable breakthrough success stories turned sour with the release of a second album that redefined the “sophomore slump” – and all because it was so late on arrival.
Sure, over the past few decades, classic rock fans have grown increasingly accustomed to waiting four, five, even seven or eight years between the release of their aging heroes’ studio albums. But, back in the ’70s, the meager two years separating Boston‘s landmark, record-breaking debut from its 1978 successor Don’t Look Back felt more like 200 years to impatient Epic Records executives.
Not so, however, for Boston’s demanding leader, guitarist and songwriter Tom Scholz, who was simultaneously coping with label pressure and management headaches while attempting to get on with the considerable workload involved in writing and recording new songs. Once again, he was crafting and recording Boston’s sophomore LP virtually singlehanded in his basement studio – so it took a while.
When Don’t Look Back finally arrived in record stores on Aug. 2, 1978, it went straight to No. 1. In fact, the album sold four million copies during its first month of release. Sales were powered, no doubt, by a title track which met every expectation set by Boston’s nearly perfect debut, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard charts. Other highlights, including “A Man I’ll Never Be” and “Feeling’ Satisfied,” also came mighty close.
Still, remaining tunes like “It’s Easy,” “Used to Bad News” and “Don’t be Afraid” unquestionably fell short of Scholz’s exacting standard. He chose to openly and undiplomatically deflect every bad review received (and there weren’t all that many) by accusing Epic Records of rushing him into finishing the album before he felt it was ready. Listeners no doubt noticed that Don’t Look Back barely eclipsed the half-hour mark, which also served to validate the guitarist’s assertion that he’d run out of time.
Turns out, the next wait would be far longer. As Tom Scholz began slowly piecing together new songs for Boston’s third album, he seemed determined to obey no clock except that of his muse. CBS Records ultimately filed suit, alleging breach of contract. Before long, both parties were locked in a bitter court battle that would span years and leave loyal Boston fans trapped in their own kind of purgatory, awaiting some resolution.
By the time Boston’s depleted lineup finally produced 1986’s Third Stage through MCA, the band had lost something even more important than piles of money in legal fees: career momentum. They simply never recovered.
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