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Monday, July 2, 2012

Boston "More Than A Feeling" Song Analysis

Boston Band logo image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Reader Michael Frassetti asked for an analysis of the song that broke the band Boston into the big time called "More Than A Feeling." The song, written by guitarist Tom Scholz, was the first single from the band's self titled record in 1976, and set a standard for rock guitar sounds that came afterwards.

The song supposedly took Scholz 5 years to complete and was one of the six that he worked on in his basement that eventually lead to a record deal with Epic, 5 of which eventually ended up on the album. The song was recorded by Scholz on all the guitars and bass, drummer Sib Hashian and singer Brad Delp.

"More Than A Feeling" eventually made it to #5 on the Billboard charts, becoming the biggest single that the band would ever have, and was eventually named the 39th best rock song ever by VH1. The album went on to become the 2nd biggest debut album of all time in the United States, selling 20 million copies.

As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"More Than A Feeling" uses a slightly different form than the normal rock or pop song of the era in that the B sections are instrumental as they transition into the choruses. The form looks like this:

intro, verse, B section, chorus, intro, verse, B section, chorus, bridge/solo, 
intro, verse (with an extra 9 bars), chorus, outro

The intros are just the verses minus the vocals, and the outro is a chorus minus the vocals. The bridge is where the solo occurs and is almost like a different song with a completely different set of chords and feel. During the last verse the song takes a left turn with an added 9 bars that builds to the B section guitar line.

The lyrics are pretty good in that they tell a story and are cadenced well. They roll off the lips with no trouble and the rhymes never seem forced.

The Arrangement
The arrangement of "More Than A Feeling" is pretty classic in that it breathes with intensity pretty much where you expect it to, except for one place. The intro is just doubled 12 string guitars, followed by another acoustic guitar doubling the bass when the vocals enter, and the drums playing a sidestick snare. 

The B section is unexpected in that it's a Les Paul/Marshall lead line that fades into feedback and reverb into the chorus, which has both double big electric guitars, handclaps adding motion and harmony vocal answers.

The second verse is pretty much the same as the first except the acoustic guitar doubling the bass is augmented with a clean electric guitar as well. The 2nd chorus is identical to the first.

The bridge is interesting in that it's a written guitar solo over a new set of chord changes, which leads into the 3rd verse, where it gets interesting in that the drums drop out and the intensity lowers. This is brilliant in that there's a new 9 bar part that's tacked on to the verse where the drums and lead guitar enter and help it build to the peak of the song with the lead vocal and guitar wailing on the same reverbed note.

The last chorus is identical to the first two, but unlike many other songs, just plays once. The vocal exits but the rest of the instruments remain on the fadeout.

Here are the arrangement elements:

  * The Foundation: bass and drums

  * The Rhythm: acoustic 12 string guitars in verse, claps in chorus

  * The Pad: none

  *The Lead: lead vocals, lead guitar in B section and solo

  * The Fills: lead guitar in 9 bar 3rd verse build, vocal answers in chorus

The Sound
The sound of "More Than A Feeling" isn't all that great. I looked for the best audio representation and they were all the same; extremely mediocre quality-wise. This is probably because the tracks were done on a 12 track Scully tape machine (that's a rare one) in Scholz's basement in Massachusetts, then transferred to a standard 24 track for completion at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. The quality degradation really shows.

Tom Scholz Guitar Tone Secret image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
The unique guitar sound is the result of a 1968 Les Paul Goldtop Deluxe into a Marshall Super Lead 'Plexi" cranked all the way up, but padded down with Scholz's homemade attenuator. The real secret to the sound appears to be an MXR graphic equalizer with the 400 Hz, and especially the 800 Hz band heavily boosted. Tom also used a custom-made analog doubler/harmonizer that eventually became his "Dual Chorus" product from Scholz R&D.

Delp's vocals are doubled, but not that closely, and pushed back in the mix a bit. This is another case where the vocals probably would have been fixed if done today. The reverb is rather plain, and has a bit of a "boing" to it that you can hear on the fade at :43. It sounds like an EMT plate that hasn't been tuned recently.

There's only one reverb and there appears to be a bit of it on everything except for the claps in the chorus, which makes them stick out about.

The Production
The production on this song (by John Boylan and Scholz) was state-of-the-art back in 1976 and is still hot even by today's standards. The use of doubling (the 12 string in the intro and verses, and electric guitars in the chorus), the unexpected peak of the song at the end of the 3rd verse, the intensity swings during the song are all things that continue to keep the listener's attention glued.

There are lots of little things as well. Listen to the way the song fades in on the intro. Listen to the way that the drums play along with the guitar during the 2nd intro. Listen to the way that the drum fills are slightly boosted. Listen to Delp's high vocal double the lead guitar at the end of the 3rd verse when the song really peaks. Listen to the drum and clap patterns during the choruses and how they move the song. Notice the clean electric guitars at the end of each chorus as the tension releases. This is a very well thought-out song in just about all aspects.


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CC said...

The single for Top 40 trimmed what... the second verse? Part of me feels as though that version might yet be the better all-around track.

There are accapella groups who perform this song now. Quite a different feel!

Dave said...

I owned this record on vinyl! I loved it as a kid :-) Listening again now, I hear what you mean about the sound.
Classic tune for sure.

I also owned a Rockman at one point -- I don't really care for the sound. It's fatiguing somehow.

Thanks for the analysis!

Analog Rules said...

Great job breaking down Toms musical mosaic. I wouldve loved to seen that basement with the Scully back in '75!

When you look at the digital cheese that has been getting cranked out in the past 15 years (or more) it makes works of art like Tom's all-the-more impressive. The thought and work behind it all. Long before it was about money, image and gross sale reciepts.

I wonder who has the original 12-track reels? And were they laid down at 15ips?

Again, thanks for your analysis, a classic done by a prodigy.

Anonymous said...

hi bobby
what specifically compelled you to state that the sound of more than a feeling was mediocre. to my ears, it still cuts right through on the radio and delivers alot of dynamics along the way. .

Matthew J. Harris said...

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. The end, as the third verse pushes into that finale where those additional measures continue to build in intensity with its final resolution when they hit that chord at the final iteration of the chorus/ outro is one of the most amazing song endings the world. The build and resolution is very powerful emotionally.


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