The designer for Boston's eponymous 1976 record is baffled that it became iconic--but for rockers of the era, the art ingeniously complemented the music.
By Steven Hellermar
Boston's hit song "More Than a Feeling" has long been a frequent presence on movie soundtracks and at wedding receptions. Just as instantly recognizable, though, is the cover of the eponymous first album on which the song appears. Designed by Paula Scher and illustrated by Roger Huyssen for Epic Records, the cover has a loyal following equalling the iconic art for The Beatles' Revolver (designed by Klaus Voorman) and Cream's Disraeli Gears (Martin Sharp). Album covers often carry emotive and symbolic weight--but what is it about guitar-shaped space ships fleeing an exploding planet earth on Boston that makes the image so special?
Scher, who once designed covers and worked as an art director for major artists such as The Rolling Stones and Maynard Ferguson, admits she's "mystified" by the continued interest in this album package. "The Boston cover was designed in 1976 and is now 39 years old," she says. "It was, and still is, in my opinion, a mediocre piece of work."
Yet the album has endured: The guitar-ship has been repeated on subsequent records and as backdrops on concert stages.
Album images don't always turn out as planned--their popularity is often a matter of timing. Take the cover for Boston: Tom Scholz, the band's guitarist and songwriter, wanted a guitar on the cover, which in Scher's artistic lexicon was a cliché. She and Epic Records product manager Jim Charney compromised with a guitar-shaped space ship. "The first space ship cover idea we showed Scholz had a Boston invasion of the planet, but Scholz said that space ships should be saving the planet, not attacking. So we came up with the Earth-blowing-up idea," she said.
The cover would have become iconic anyway, says Lenny Kaye, the guitarist, author, and Patti Smith collaborator, since the album was an out-of-box success. Yet the cover art "gave it a science-fictional feel, as if Martians had landed and took over Earth using a particularly post-apocalyptic guitar tone and frequency."
To rockers at the time, the ambiguity of the design worked in its favor. "There was something special and risky about albums that did not show the band," said Joe Butler, the drummer for The Lovin' Spoonful. "It allowsed you to imagine what and who was behind the music." Kaye concurred. "Surely one could read just about anything into it," he said. "And its color scheme of many warm colors certainly enhanced the lighting of the bong."
But does the image have more resonance than the band and the song it accompanied? The cultural significance of the art for Boston lives on: Just last year on NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, when host Peter Sagal did a bit about the earth blowing up and space ships leaving the planet, he made the connection: "You, know, like the Boston cover."
Three other Boston albums, all with similar space ships, have been produced since that first one--all with strong designs by real science illustrators. "But no one talks about them," Scher says. "They only talk about this one, and continually! It is a total vernacular item. Everyone knows what it looks like."