|January 1968 Billboard Magazine ad|
The San Francisco Sound developed spontaneously in the incubator of the Bay Area around San Francisco. It came about gradually and you can’t point to a single event or date and say, “it started here.” The Bosstown Sound started in January 1968 when the ad shown above appeared. The sound was really a marketing campaign by MGM records. They created hype about Boston Area artists, much like the hype around San Francisco the previous year. Let’s face it; there was a lot of money being made by those Bay Area groups and MGM wanted to cash in. Even the name “Bosstown” was chosen to emulate “Motown.”
Before I get into it further, I want to say that the Bosstown Sound has its supporters. There are many that would contend that after you dig through the hype and marketing that there really was something legitimate there. However, many more would tell you it was a hoax, a scam to sell records and there never really was a defining Boston Sound.
The Counter Culture of the late 60s, the market that MGM was targeting, was pretty much against the corporate machine and the “Man.” Anything capitalized was anathema to the hippie culture of the time. The push back was almost immediate and the bands of the Bosstown Sound were at best marginalized and viewed as “manufactured” much like the Monkees and many of the “studio only” acts of Buddah Records. To say that there was outward hostility to their “selling out,” is probably fair. After all, it began with an advertisement in Billboard Magazine, complete with the MGM logo emblazoned in the center of the top banner. (see above)
This air of capitalization would continue in the Boston area, outside of the MGM corporate machine. Waleeco Candy, a local area company, employed a local Boston Area band, the Flat Earth Society, to produce a jingle for their candy bars. In turn, Waleeco sponsored their first album, which just so happen to be titled, “Waleeco.” Talk about marketing gone amok! To add insult to injury, packed with every Waleeco Bar was a coupon to send in $1.50 and six Waleeco wrappers to get a copy of the album. The Boston music scene had just received another corporate black eye.
(I used to love listening to WBZ when I was a kid living in Massachusetts.)
Despite the legitimate talent and music, the MGM campaign deserved the disdain it received when one considers the culture of the day. Unfortunately, there was guilt by association and the listening public and fan base couldn’t separate the music from the record label. Soon it was not just MGM but any Boston Area band that became part of the artificially created corporate “Bosstown Sound.” Eventually, MGM would abandon the failed campaign and the bands they had pulled into the fiasco. Those artists knew that no record label would sign them up after such negative press. Most disbanded or died in anonymity in the local clubs or doing high school dances in gyms. That is why no one ever heard of Ford Theater or Ill Wind. There was plenty of great bands and great music but unfortunately they were all collateral damage of the MGM corporate machine as it came crashing down on Eastern Massachusetts.
So, was there actually a Boston sound? The debate continues to this day. If there is, it would probably be a more folksy sound. The beatniks in Boston left a similar legacy to the one they left in San Francisco. The Folk influence remained very strong until January of 1968. The Boston Sound was muddied from the beginning, when the ad above grouped together three different sounding bands, the Beacon Street Union, Orpheus and the uber psychedelic Ultimate Spinach. (The three record jackets in the upper right of the ad)
During my set tomorrow (7-9 pm SL time at AWT) I will play two hours of the Bosstown Sound. I’ll let you decide if it is real or strictly a contrived hoax. You can post your opinion or vote in the comments below and I invite you to participate in the discussion and debate.
As Bosstown was in its most final death throes, the Beacon Street Union released one more album in the summer of 1968, the Clown Died in Marvin Gardens. Afterwards, they would change their name to Eagle in an attempt to distance themselves, but in the end it was not enough and they too folded. Maybe the lyrics of the title cut of that album were telling…
Through the dust on the panes of my window
I watch a street show in the rain.
The rusted spokes and the charcoal cloaks,
A funeral below.
Over puddled streets of asphalt
The cortege treads slowly by.
The design that once graced the black pall
The rainfall dissolved; dissolved all and died…
…And then the ground dried and hardened
After the clown died in Marvin Gardens.