Whatever the decade, Boston is a tough town to be from if you’re a band. Sure, it’s had its share of breakout stars – Boston (of course), The Cars, Buffalo Tom, Tracy Chapman, The Pixies, Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr. (and yes, we’re stretching out to Western Massachusetts with some of those), etc. – but for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like the number of nationally known bands from Boston is remotely proportional with the size of the city. It could just be that the relative proximity of New York City means that “serious” artists feel they have to move there to make it, and this creates a cultural gravitational pull that has turned this feeling into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever it is, I’m glad to live in a city of about the same size that isn’t constantly bleeding talent to some nearby mecca of hipness (that said, I’ve got my eye on you, Portland!).
Which brings us to Salem 66, a band that made a go of it for the better part of the ’80s before finally throwing in the towel just as the Alternative Age – and my own awareness of cool bands in Boston – was dawning. As a kid I saw a bunch of bands that were big in Boston that no one outside of the broadcast range of WBCN would have heard of – The Del Fuegos, The Neighborhoods, Cave Dogs, Treat Her Right (you might have heard of their singer, Mark Sandman), Scruffy the Cat, The Lines, and many more – but Salem 66 never crossed my radar, at least to my memory. This excellent “New England Music Scrapbook” page contains a very thorough and thoughtful sum-up of Salem 66’s varied career and many different band members, but the basic story is one you’ve heard many times before: band forms, band plays, band garners critical acclaim and a handful of fans, band calls it a day.
Down the Primrose Path was Salem 66’s farewell salvo, released after they broke up in 1989. It appears not to have been a huge hit at the station, but they certainly had their admirers here; I hope it would have pleased them to know their music was being played and enjoyed all the way across the country at this little college station.
“I’d always wanted to hear Salem 66 and now that I have, I’m not quite sure why. Reminded me in bits of loads of other bands (Muses, early Sonic Youth) but in no way as good as any of them.”
“Some of these, especially on side 2, sound almost exactly like the Pretenders, only a bit better. Unfortunately for Salem 66 this isn’t really a good thing. [I don’t know about you, but if someone told me I sounded like the Pretenders only better, I would take that as a huge compliment.] These folks are still struggling to make it. A decent effort, I enjoyed some of these, but nothing super. Perhaps they’re headed down the wrong path.”
“They already headed down the wrong path. They’ve broken up.”
“I like this band & I think this deserves M at least. They have some other great albums – so look ‘em up.”
“L for the music, H for the lyrics (so M!)”
“Does anybody like this band? And why?”
“Although this isn’t their strongest LP, I do – lots!”
“Because they’ve forged an interesting combination of elements – folk, jangly guitar pop and some sludgy stuff, too – into their own personal sound (i.e. I don’t hear Muses or S. Youth).”