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By BRETT MILANO  |  November 15, 2006

40th_tuesday
’TILL TUESDAY: Newbury Comics counter clerk Aimee Mann led Boston’s most elegant and Euro-sounding band.
The ’70s also saw a blues-rock boom with the rise of James Montgomery and Duke & the Drivers, and the first hints of an artier sensibility when singer Rick Berlin launched his rock-theater troupe, Orchestra Luna. But the ’70s saw the rise of a new, larger-than-life music business, as ballroom venues like the legendary Boston Tea Party gave way to bigger arena shows. It’s no coincidence that Boston, the next star band out of the city, embodied this massive arena-rock ethos — even if leader Tom Scholz had actually done much of his recording in a basement studio in Watertown. Still, Boston’s multi-platinum debut defined the AOR radio format and became the biggest-selling debut in history. Not bad for a band (appearing under the name Mother’s Milk) whose club gigs were largely in the suburbs, and which had virtually no fan base before the album’s release.

Once again Boston was sending out a sound, then creating an antidote. It may seem that punk rock sprang out of nowhere in 1977, but that wasn’t quite the case. The Modern Lovers had already laid the groundwork, and the Velvet Underground (with local boy Doug Yule replacing John Cale) were locally based for a time. Proto-punk bands sprang up through the ’70s, including the Kids (later the Real Kids), the Slade-inspired Thundertrain, and Ready Teddy. Not to mention the 1974 band that brought Willie Alexander together with Steve (Nervous Eaters) Cataldo and the future Fools, and boasted what may be the greatest band name in Boston history: the Rhythm Assholes.

But the floodgates truly opened when Jim Harold bought the failing Rathskellar in Kenmore Square and started hiring bands who wrote their own material — in part because he couldn’t afford the slick cover bands who played at Narcissus across the street. So local audiences now had two choices: they could see a Narcissus band do letter-perfect covers of Stevie Wonder songs, or they could venture into the Rat where the Mezz’s singer Mickey Clean would be taking his shirt off, flogging himself with the mike, and rolling on tables.

So the hits just kept on coming, and venues like the Rat, the Underground, and Cantones were overrun with new bands. Maybe the singer looks like a grade-school brat in a crewcut and short pants, the music is impossibly fast, and the song is a funny, tasteless bit of doggerel about saving Hitler’s brain — that’s Richie Parsons fronting Unnatural Axe. Or the music’s still impossibly fast but more snarly, the singer is a Bowie-esque fashion plate, and the song’s a snotty rant about how he’s “Better Off Dead” — that’s Peter Dayton fronting La Peste. Or the music is three-chord grit, the singer’s a gutter preacher in blond curls and shades, and the song’s a soulful pep talk, “Don’t Give It Up Now” — that’s Jeff Conolly and his Lyres. Or the singer has a blond pop-star look, the song’s as catchy as a mid-’60s nugget, and the song is “All Kindsa Girls,” about how fast he’s going to get over his last girlfriend — that’s John Felice fronting the Real Kids. Or it’s the Neighborhoods, with life-affirming kid anthems, or the Thrills with leather-jacket swagger, or the Neats on a blues-rock bender, or even Scruffy the Cat doing jacked-up country music. It all happened in a scant few years.

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