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Ultimate Spinach
Ultimate Spinach

History of Boston Rock
     History of Boston Rock & Roll - Chapter 12 - The Bosstown Sound - Part 1

Another Revolution has begun in Boston. Phluph (pronounced Fluff) has fired the shot heard round the world. The British (and San Francisco) are on the run. Phluph, the first Boston group recorded by a major recording company, is the originator not the imitator...
Back cover of the 1968 MGM release, PHLUPH

Warner Bros./Reprise hotshots Joe Smith and Mo Ostin, more affectionately known as "Mo & Joe", spent the Summer of Love meandering through the nightspots of San Francisco. It was there that they found and signed the major acts of the flower power movement. By the time they were through, The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Hendrix had all been taken under wing. This was only the tip of the iceberg.

Some record company execs felt it was time to challenge the West Coast momentum with a movement of their own. Thus born, The Bosstown Sound. Alas.

Profiles on those exploited will be featured in our next article, so please lend an ear as we unravel the tale.

They're really rockin' in Boston?

In 1967, Boston certainly wasn't busting at the seams with mature talent, but the scene was definitely healthy. New York was having a tough time living up to its name as THE place for cultivating new talent. Poor Boston, with our heavy college population and solid Cambridge reputation, had such appealing market potential. The Boston Tea Party, the renowned club of the day, was having big success in importing acts of the second British Invasion (TULL, BECK ... ) and cult heroes, The Velvet Underground. The Unicorn, under the direction of George Pappadopolous, had the foresight to bring in acts like Jefferson Airplane from the West Coast. WBZ's Dick Summer played it all, which was pretty outrageous for AM at the time. The folkies were out of the question because they weren't commercially accessible. So .....

Get me my Spinach

The Underground Cinema had recently made the transformation into Ultimate Spinach. Their twisted approach to pop caught the attention of Amphion, a Boston based management company headed by Ray Paret and David Jenks. The common practice at the time was to get some "hot masters" in the studio and sell them to a prospective label Amphion knew that with the right producer, the deed could be done. Enter Alan Lorber.

Lorber's productions had previously made the industry upwards of $32,000,000 but more importantly, he had heavy connections with the labels, primarily MGM. In September of 1967, Lorber released a statement to the trade publications concerning his intentions with Spinach, and another local band, Orpheus. He stated that he felt the scene in Boston was far superior to that in the West Coast, and also that MGM was very interested in the outcome of his adventures. Before you could blink an eye, Boston was swarming with industry people.

United We Stand

MGM fell into their role so quickly due to the fact that the company's sales were close to an all time low, and their biggest acts had already peaked in the early sixties. With corporate expertise, MGM pieced together a coherent promotion, lumping all the acts together (add Beacon St. Union and Phluph). Several promo parties later, the albums were unleashed on the public. Too bad the acts had absolutely nothing in common.

That's news to me!

On January 28, 1968, Newsweek published a lengthy article called The Bosstown Sound It seemed as though MGM had written it themselves.

Citing Beacon St. Union's Speed Kills and Spinach's Ego Trip, the movement was declared anti-drug, anti-hippie. The public was also informed that other Boston acts, Earth Opera, The Bagatelle, Butter, The Cambridge Electric Opera Co., and The Hallucinations had been signed. One Radcliffe girl was quoted as saying, "They're Thomas Wolfe (Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) in sound with words that make gloomy but always gladder" when asked about Butter.

The good news was that after a few weeks, the record sales were pouring in. Ultimate Spinach's album led the pack with sales of 75,000 copies in three weeks. Time, Vogue, and Jazz and Pop all ran pieces, and then came Lexington, Mass. native Jon Landau's (now Bruce Springsteen's manager) Rolling Stone article. It marked the beginning of the and. Landau pointed out the contradictions and questioned the validity of the sound since it was, in reality, quite derivative.

When the kids popped the albums on their turntables, they were dismayed. The music was pale in comparison to what was coming out of Britain and San Francisco. Phluph's "Doctor Mind" just didn't stand up to The Doors' Light My Fire or Strawberry Alarm Clock's Incense and Pepperment To make things worse, Spinach choked on their West Coast Tour. The Bosstown Sound went into a tailspin from which it would never recover.

1 step forward, 3 steps back

Boston's name was mud. It took over three years to recover from the blow it was dealt. Fred Lewis (ex-Cars, Geils manager) remembers flirting with record companies who had shown interest in The J. Geils Band. "I couldn't say that we were from the area."


Ultimate Spinach is the classiest. Lead vocalist Ian Bruce Douglas, a 21 year old classically trained musician, plays 18 instruments, writes all the songs, and sings them expressively. The sound is witty, original, electric, fusing a variety of styles into a sparklingly fresh musical idiom.

Beacon St. Union is a five man group with a soft dissonant rock sound permeated by eerie, unworldly experimental extremes propelled by restlessly changing rhythms and topped by Wayne Ulaky's mournfully evangelical lyrics.

Orpheus is sparked by baritone Bruce Arnold. The quartet's bittersweet love songs are rich in melody and harmony and often closer to ballads than rock.

The Hallucinations, an electric trio specializing in hopped up urban blues, ex- press anger and desperation in a harsh wall of sound that builds to shattering, cathartic climaxes.

This article originally appeared in The Beat in 1985
(c) Charles William White III

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