September 23 – Was Third Stage First Rate?

Was it worth the wait? While the time between albums by hit artists has slowed considerably since the time of the two-a-year-plus-a-few-extra-singles Beatles, eight years is a long time by any standard. And that’s what the devout fans of Boston had to wait for their third album. Third Stage came out this day in 1986, eight years and one month after the previous one, Don’t Look Back.

There were various reasons for that lengthy delay. Boston was involved in a lawsuit with their original record company, Epic, that took a couple of years to resolve and perhaps diverted main man Tom Scholz’s attention from music a bit. (This one came out on MCA Records instead.) His home studio, where all the magic was made, flooded. Several members of the band left, which would be a huge blow to most bands, but not so much Boston. After all, it had always basically been Tom making music and Brad Delp singing, and that duo stayed the same. In fact, the only thing Scholz didn’t play on the album was most of the drums (but he did play them at times), and backing guitar on one track. The rest of the guitars, bass, keyboards and random organic sounds were all Tom Scholz. We say “organic” because as much as he loved electronics and electric guitars, he shied away from synthesizers… which also slowed down the process a little for the type of music he wanted to finish with. When all was said and done, it took him six years of recording to get the 36-minute album done. Classic Rock Review note that he “claimed to have pushed the ‘record’ button over one million times” in the making of Third Stage. Oh yeah… Tom’s a bit of a perfectionist, which also played into the long time between records.

The completed project was not that far different in sound than the two earlier ones for the most part, although the lyrics perhaps were a bit more mature and dealt with aging to some degree…not surprising since he was almost 40 when the album hit the stores. The one exception to the sounding the same was the first single, “Amanda”, a big power ballad love song only recognizable as Boston by Delp’s soaring vocals. Reviews were by and large, OK but nothing special. Allmusic, later on, rated it 3-stars, less than the previous two but still better than the follow-up, which remarkably enough also took eight years to arrive. The figured the “long delay was even more surprising considering their sound didn’t change at all!” and “the songs are not as strong as on their debut.” Classic Rock Review seconded that, suggesting the debut was “a masterpiece” but here it was “a bit weak lyrically” and “there is a bit of a disparity between the album’s earliest tracks on side 1 (of which “Amanda” was one) and the more recent material on side 2.”

Did the public concur? Well, yes and no. The band’s self-titled record, a decade earlier was still at the time the biggest-selling debut ever in North America, and many of the fans had stayed on, anxious to hear more. Case in point, the album went to #1 in the U.S. in only three weeks. But its popularity wasn’t nearly as long-lived as the prior couple of records, nor as widespread. While it got to #1 in both the States and Canada, it didn’t have a long chart run and although 4X platinum in their homeland, that was still a big drop-off from their 1970s works. Overseas, it seemed to go all but unnoticed. The single “We’re Ready” was an American top 10 that made it to #2 on rock charts, and “Cancha Say?” got a little airplay but the album’s selling point was “Amanda.” It became their only #1 hit in both the States and Canada, remarkable in itself and even more so because old-school Tom Scholz didn’t have a video made for it. Videos weren’t really that important in the “More Than A Feeling” era, but by ’86 were assumed to be a must. “Amanda” was in fact the only American #1 hit of that year that didn’t have a video running on MTV.

Boston’s last album came out in 2013, meaning if history teaches us anything… maybe a new one will be around the corner!

17 thoughts on “September 23 – Was Third Stage First Rate?

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    I’m surprised it did as well as it did. Music had changed so much in that span but he pushed ahead…although I’m not really a fan I have to admire him for that. He didn’t really bend to musical trends. Amanda sounded like it could have been on one of their other albums.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see what you’re saying, and agree. Also admire his perfectionism although it wouldn’t have hurt him to loosen up a little … a little tiny bit of spontaneity in there and a few more records released woulda probably helped. It’s a weird trivia fact that Amanda was the only #1 hit that year w/o a video.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        My thoughts exactly. I know someone who worked with him briefly in Nashville. The guy worked sound and he told me they were talking about performers hitting the wrong chord on stage…Tom said he would just stop playing and walk off. Imagine if the Stones thought that way? They wouldn’t make it through a night.
        The Replacements thought the same way about videos but they were not big enough to get by with it. Many didn’t like them because they didn’t want people getting their interpretation of the song…I get it but you had to have one…most of the time.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Paul

    The problem with waiting so long between albums is your audience matures and moves on. I was 12 when first Boston came out and so 22 when third one did. My musical tastes has changed and I had kind of moved on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I got this in 86 when it came out and as a 19 year old I was confused with all the guitar firepower in the band why would they open the album with a ballad? Who did that..but in 2021 I get why as they were going outside the box on what everyone else was doing..
    I like this one now as I picked up cheap at a used shop a year ago. A good revisit but the first two are so solid.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Likewise. I was a bit surprised when I looked thru list of 86 #1s & found it was only one without video (1 or 2 I didn’t know about but quickly confirmed they had videos) but shouldn’t have been. That was a huge part of biz back then.


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