Unpopular Opinion: America's Greatest Rock & Roll City Is ... Boston
I don't know where they're going, but I sure hope they take me with them.
I have some bad news for you, Los Angeles: You think you’re the best city for rock & roll, but you’re not.
It’s not that you’re a particularly bad city for it. On the contrary, I’d probably place you a strong second. You’re the home of The Doors, Black Flag and Guns N' Roses. How could I ever hate on you, L.A.? Like Randy Newman says, “I love L.A.!” Even if I’m sure glad I don’t live there anymore.
America is, in my estimation, the greatest country on the face of the earth. I might be partial, but I love gigantic, polluting vehicles, high-capacity assault rifles and loud rock & roll. Most other countries have one or two cities pumping out the glorious cacophony that is rock & roll, but America has … well, I doubt I could even count. Los Angeles, Detroit, Memphis, Rockford and …
Sorry, guys. That’s the best city for rock & roll. And I’m about to prove it in terms that even your waiter still suffering under the delusion he’s going to be "discovered" can understand.
I feel like any discussion of why Boston is the best city for rock & roll should begin with the band that bears its name. True, the band Boston — who are, despite all pretense of false modesty, most certainly not “just another band out of Boston” — didn’t have much staying power. What they did have, however, was one perfect, shining moment of sublimity. Their self-titled debut (the biggest-selling debut rock record until Appetite for Destruction dropped) is a masterpiece where every song is an unabashed, out-of-the-park winner.
From there, I must mention Aerosmith, who as far as I can recall were my first favorite band. True, like Boston, their staying power is in question. I don’t even much care for their debut, but everything from Get Your Wings to Draw the Line is pure rock gold. They were every bit the equal of Led Zeppelin and the Stones, the two bands they were somehow able to seamlessly merge. Even their '80s (and dare I say '90s) singles are worth a listen when spinning your radio dial.
If Aerosmith are the city’s greatest export, The Cars easily pick up the silver. The first two records are nonstop bangers from start to finish. While other bands were content to bitch and moan about how syntheizers were putting them out of work, The Cars were smart enough to pick up what was cool about all that British synth nonsense and put it to work on top of driving, guitar-based rock & roll rhythms.
Back in the '60s, Boston boasted three of the best garage/proto-punk acts: The Remains, The Barbarians and The Rockin’ Ramrods. The Beatles thought The Remains were good enough to open for them on their final U.S. tour. If you’ve never heard The Barbarians' “Moulty,” stop what you’re doing right now and go listen to it. It offers all the fun you’d expect from hearing a guy with an outer Boston accent talk about the pain of losing a hand (no, really, he was a drummer with a hook for a hand) over a backing track that could have been recorded by The Band.
These bands, in turn, inspired DMZ, probably the greatest Boston punk band of the 1970s and not for lack of competition from The Real Kids and The Nervous Eaters. All of this is, of course, prehistory for Boston hardcore, which wasn’t the greatest hardcore scene of them all (not without Cro-Mags and Crumbsuckers it fucking wasn’t), but was pretty damn good regardless.
The Pixies (or is it just “Pixies”?) are one of those rare bands who sound familiar and strange all at the same time. They went to my alma mater, ZooMass, and I even once took the class that “Debaser” is about (what’s up, Don Levine?). Black Francis is one of the great unsung guitar players of rock history, bar fucking none. The guy’s solos are blazing and he successfully melded screeching noise with beautiful pop melodies in a way that Kurt Cobain only wishes he could.
Throw in nearby satellites like Western Mass (the home of metalcore) and Providence (Dropdead, Thee Hydrogen Terrors and The Amazing [Still Royal to the Loyal] Crowns) while you’re at it. So long as Los Angeles is claiming Long Beach and Orange County as their backyard. And there's also a little band called The Showcase Showdown who are the best live band you'll never see.
Listen, L.A., don’t be down. It’s OK to come in second. These are some pretty heavy guns you’re up against.
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