‘An Odd & Overlong Joke’?

Musically here, it’s still, for the most part, all Moody Blues, all the time, as I continue to move through the band’s immense catalog, starting with the British debut album The Magnificent Moodies (and the additional early tracks that came with the CD reissue, four of which showed up as substitutes on the group’s first U.S. album Go Now). I’ve also been rotating the band’s later albums in and out of the car as I run errands around town, re-familiarizing myself with them as albums instead of single tracks that pop up on random.

(Not surprisingly, I know the work from the 1970s and very early 1980s better than I know the work from the late 1960s or from the later 1980s and beyond. And as I add additional hearings on to the pile, I am beginning to notice some things that, well, they don’t surprise me, but maybe reaffirm in unexpected ways my thoughts on the band.)

One thing that has not surprised me is wide and varied critical reaction to the band. Writer David McGee, in the 1992 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, wrote:

“No major band has so relentlessly parlayed nonsense as have the Moodies; were it not for their titanic success, in fact, they might easily be dismissed as an odd and overlong joke . . . but it’s the artsiness of their symphonic rock that’s truly crass, and their self-importance that’s offensive. Gods of ’70s FM radio, they invented a sort of easy-listening psychedelia that resolutely combined the worst of both worlds. Long since their heyday, they’ve continued to produce mild echoes of that stuff.”

McGee goes on to praise the band’s early work on The Magnificent Moodies, calling the single “Go Now!” a “ballad version of the British Invasion pop they were masters of,” noting as well the band’s facility at performing “credible Sonny Boy Williamson numbers and R&B fare along the lines of a sweeter Spencer Davis Group.”

But head back in time to 1979, when writer Alan Niester took on the topic of the Moody Blues for the first edition of the Rolling Stone guide. Assessing the album Go Now, Niester writes:

This 1965 album is now interesting mainly for the wonderful hit single “Go Now” and its near-hit follow-up “From The Bottom Of My Heart.” The other ten songs are as thin and inept as anything by the Dave Clark Five. But as a souvenir of young adolescence, this timeworn LP is irreplaceable magic.

Well, I have always thought the Dave Clark Five was low-rent, but “thin and inept”? That’s harsh. Anyway . . .

“From The Bottom Of My Heart (I Love You)” scraped the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 93 in June 1965, four months after “Go Now!” had reached No. 10. To my ears, neither one of those owes much to Sonny Boy Williamson or Spencer Davis Group Lite. Instead, I hear hints of what would happen to the group when Denny Laine and Clint Warwick left and Justin Hayward and John Lodge joined up with Mike Pinder, Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas.

Here’s “From The Bottom Of My Heart (I Love You).” I think in the next week we’ll spend one more post looking at the pre-psychedelic Moodies and then jump into the era I know better (and like a lot more). I hear hints of that era here.

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