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35 Years Ago: Boston’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ Released

Epic Records

One of the ‘70s’ most remarkable breakthrough success stories turned sour with the release of an 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, and yes, we’re looking at you, AC/DC! But, back in the 1970s, the meager two years separating Boston‘s landmark, record-breaking debut (which was the best-selling debut album in history, until Guns n’ Roses came along with ‘Appetite for Destruction’) from its 1978 successor, ‘Don’t Look Back,’ felt more like 200 years to impatient Epic Records executives.

Not so, though, 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 for his band’s sophomore LP, which he once again crafted and recorded virtually singlehanded in his basement studio – as was his wont.

And still, he got the job done! But, when ‘Don’t Look Back’ finally arrived in record stores, it went straight to No. 1, and sold four million copies in its first month of release, Scholtz openly and undiplomatically deflected 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.

Yes, the title track met every expectation set by Boston’s nearly perfect debut, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Charts, and other highlights, ‘A Man I’ll Never Be’ and ‘Feeling’ Satisfied,’ also came mighty close. But remaining tunes like ‘It’s Easy,’ ‘Used to Bad News’ and ‘Don’t be Afraid’ unquestionably fell short of Scholz’s exacting standard. And, to top it all off, the album barely eclipsed the half-hour mark, seemingly validating the guitarist’s own assertion that it needed at least one more song, but he’d run out of time.

And the worst was still to come. As the 1980s dawned and Scholz began slowly piecing together new songs, this time obeying no clock except that of his muse, CBS Records 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 was finally granted permission to release 1986’s ‘Third Stage’ through MCA, all involved had ironically taken the long delays between studio albums we alluded to earlier to an entirely new level … and for what? While millions of dollars were being wasted on legal fees, ‘Don’t Look Back’ had shifted nearly six million units and Boston’s first LP even more, but none of that could bring back the momentum lost to the band’s career.

In the end, looking back a little sooner might have been a good idea, after all.

Next: Top 10 Boston Songs

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