Resources and info on the history of Boston MA pop music
July 20, 2015 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I just moved to Boston and don't know much of anything about it's history as a music town. I mean I'm generally aware of classic rock bands being from Boston, and then Mission of Burma, but what else? What books, documentaries, websites, magazine archives, etc should I read to find out more about the Boston (and surrounding area) scene?

Specifically looking for resources along the lines of what I've seen in DC-- Dance of Days the book, the DC Punk Archive, Punk the Capital, and similar things for Go-go and so on. Genre-specific resources especially appreciated rather than just the history of generic rock or pop music that happens to be in town, and 20th century onward is more what I'm looking for. Doesn't have to be Boston proper, New England in general is interesting as well.
posted by Potomac Avenue to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
When I was going to shows in Boston (mid eighties to mid nineties) The Channel was where you'd go to see live bands. It no longer exists but there's a neat little website called Boston's Best Live Rock. There's not a ton there but they have a good "news page" that gives links to other stuff you might want to check out.
posted by jessamyn at 11:33 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mission of Burma just opened for the Foo Fighters @Fenway this past weekend, as did Dropkick Murphys and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Anyway, All Ages: The Boston Hardcore Film is an idea.

Carter Alan's Radio Free Boston is a history of Boston's biggest rock radio station, WBCN, "The Rock of Boston."

Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock and Roll by Brett Milano is also another great read.
posted by kinetic at 11:34 AM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pixies were founded in Boston, and Throwing Muses were a part of that scene as well (although they originated in Rhode Island). Information about both bands (and their various offshoots) is plentiful and would probably offer you many other rabbitholes down which to fall.

I think that what you're doing is a great idea, by the way. Getting even deeper into Minneapolis music was a big part of my transition to living here.
posted by padraigin at 11:44 AM on July 20, 2015

If you haven't yet, Wikipedia's Music of Massachusetts page is another source.

There are HUNDREDS of bands that came from the Boston area.
posted by kinetic at 11:52 AM on July 20, 2015

Boston's also got what I consider to be one of the ur-folk stations: WUMB. It's the UMass Boston station and does a significant amount of folk music programming and is basically a direct offshoot from the Vineyard-and-Cambridge folkie scene with Dylan/Baez etc. (and also the East Village in NYC and I'm sure other places I know less about). Club 47/Passim is also in that general orbit. Fun history page on Club Passim. I grew up listening to Boston-area music my whole life so I think a lot about the radio stations and what they were playing.

- WBUR (history) - the NPR station where Car Talk came from and how a lot of people in the US even know what a Boston accent sounds like except for President Kennedy.
- WGBH did a lot of classical stuff. The Boston Pops always plays the 4th of July. Arthur Fiedler directed them basically forever and most people adored the man.
- WCOZ was the shorter-lived rock station when I was growing up. Sort of like WBCN (seriously, read that book it's great) but JUST ROCK. COZ also had Dr. Demento's show on Sunday nights which was mission critical for nerds like me.
- WBCN - did a lot of very good regular shows like Charles Laquidera's Big Mattress and they hosted the Rock and Roll Rumble battle of the bands thing for a long time.
- WAAF was more for hair metal when I was growing up. The frequency has been online in some fashion since 1939. Lots of various rock things. You can see some lists on their Wikipedia page.
- WFNX showed up on the scene when I was in high school and was the first non-collegey "alternative" station around. They broke a lot of new bands (Wikipedia says it, I confirm it). This collection of articles about forty years of that station is worth reading if you can handle the weird broken website from the print paper the Boston Phoenix (loosely related) which is also out of business.

I'm sure someone else can come along and chime in about clubs like The Middle East, TT The Bears (good laundry list of local bands on that page OMG SCRUFFY THE CAT). I should also give some mention of The Iron Horse which was a coffeeshop-ish place turned more serious music venue on the other side of the state in Northampton.
posted by jessamyn at 12:17 PM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

OMG The Noise is still in business! Are Rita and Lolita still on the beat? Yes they are.

Relevant: They've got archives. See you there!
posted by whuppy at 12:30 PM on July 20, 2015

Don't overlook The Real Kids!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:32 PM on July 20, 2015

FYI, T.T. the Bear's Place is closing its doors for good this Saturday (7/25).

Johnny D's in Somerville, home to a diverse array of folk, funk, rock, jazz, bluegrass, country, you name it, really, has just announced plans to close next year. (Davis also lost a the divey Rosebud earlier this year, but that wasn't as historic or well known a place, just one with a lot of very small band shows).

It's not been a great year for smallish Boston venues.

PS: If we're talking Boston radio stations, I'd highly recommend WERS (Emerson College) for general listening, but I don't think of them as necessarily strongly Boston-centric. I think they do have a regular local show hours, but I don't know when it is off hand. And man, I miss FNX.
posted by maryr at 12:35 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, I don't know too much about jazz, but Wally's Cafe is the oldest continually operating jazz club in the United States. I've also heard that The Cantab Lounge in Cambridge has some significance but I can't seem to find anything online to back that up ATM.
posted by maryr at 12:47 PM on July 20, 2015

In the late 90s, there was a jam band from New Hampshire called Percy Hill who maybe would've played The Paradise They remind me of, if not were part of, the Home Grown Music Network, and I got concert tapes through a variety of online groups including Speaking of bands that allow taping, have you gone through the Live Music Archive & etree ? Somewhere in a book I have related to Phish history, there's a wonderful family tree of Burlington, VT musical acts including Phish, Jazz Mandolin Project, and other jazz/jam projects.

I'm also reminded of the band Fly Upright Kite which came out of Berklee in the early 2000s. I've asked one of their members to weigh in on his experiences then. The Push Stars are also of that era. Chris Trapper of the Push Stars lived for a while with Garrett Dutton, aka G. Love. Guster grew out of Tufts and played around locally for quite a while, too.

I searched for a bit just now, and couldn't find: Were there any Boston-specific USENET newsgroups for music?
posted by knile at 12:54 PM on July 20, 2015

There was a documentary about WFNX, "We Want the Airwaves", made after the station announced they were closing down. It might be relevant to your interests. It looks like the whole thing is online.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:00 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I want to run down the history of a particular city's music, I go to a website that catalogs record auction results on eBay like popsike or collectorsfrenzy and search the name of the city. Inevitably there's plenty of noise in these kind of search results (and occasional inaccuracies), but it's the easiest way to get a view of local music wider than any other resource is likely to have. I find I get the best results by organizing by price, but ymmv.
posted by vathek at 1:05 PM on July 20, 2015

This is not the answer, but a bit of strange Boston music trivia: according to an old Dave Robinson interview, before they were famous Aerosmith were best buddies with The Modern Lovers. (well... I thought that was pretty funny...)
posted by ovvl at 1:14 PM on July 20, 2015

Although far from complete for its era, Rhino's Mass Ave.: The Boston Scene, 1975-83 is one of those records that points to a lot of other good ones, if you follow up on its leads.

Leading down more puke-and-needle-soiled, grim, going nowhere fast, (and so) real Boston rock alleys is the Live at the Rat 2xLP.

Boston has an insanely deep and rich music history, and in lots of areas you wouldn't expect it to (e.g. doo wop) - Brett Milano's Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll is good for hours and hours of YouTubing and record hunting.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:15 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Not Boston, but Galaxie 500 are from Cambridge.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:18 PM on July 20, 2015

Rykodisc was based in Salem until 1999 when it moved due to a merger. It didn't work out.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:25 PM on July 20, 2015

The Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner" is the definitive love letter to the metro Boston area.
posted by brujita at 7:02 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

YouTube is really a great Boston rock resource these days, and you can wormhole your way into some gems long rotting on Super 8 and VHS - a few examples (all Boston area TV or live performances):

The Neighborhoods: Prettiest Girl / No Place Like Home [1979]

The Real Kids: Outta Place [1982]

Human Sexual Response: Dolls Came to Life [c. 1979]

The Girls: Methodist Church [1978]

Unnatural Axe: The Creeper [1979]

I should have mentioned it before, but This is Boston, Not LA is Boston's "Flex Your Head", and essential listening - if only as an introduction to The Proletariat.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:52 PM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Don't forget Morphine.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:55 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's also a lot of weird trivia. I forgot (to my eternal shame) that the Boston Garden (which had a bunch of dumb names in the years since but will always be the Boston Garden to people of a certain age) hosted a ton of great shows. By the time I was growing up a lot of the huge stadium shows had moved to the Worcester Centrum, Great Woods or whatever Gillette Stadium used to be called. This short article is well worth a read: Boston Mayor Kevin White, the Boston Garden, the good, the banned, and the ugly.
In 1972, the Rolling Stones were scheduled to perform at the Garden, but did not arrive, due to their being detained by police after a drug bust in Providence, where they'd appeared the previous evening. Fearful that angry Stones fans (already in the Garden awaiting the show) would riot, then-mayor Kevin H. White flew to Providence to bail the band out of jail and deliver them to the Garden to play their set. [1] The band had also played at the venue in 1969 and for the last time in 1975.
posted by jessamyn at 4:31 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Worlds collide and WBUR has written a nice little article about the history of TT The Bears: 'I Really Liked To Take Chances'—An Oral History Of T.T. The Bear's
posted by jessamyn at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

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