The Moody Blues in 1969, No. 1

As I’ve noted in earlier posts – without actually saying so, I imagine – I came late to the Moody Blues (as is true of most pop-rock music), only beginning to listen to them in the early 1970s. The first of their albums that I was aware of at the time of its release was 1971’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and the first Moodies album I acquired close to the time of its release was 1972’s Seventh Sojourn.

So I missed the band’s deepest forays into what I call “hippie mysticism,” which is my stereotypical shorthand for the ethos that led college students and others of their age during the very late 1960s and very early 1970s to utter murmurs of admiration for the deep ideas they garnered from the LPs on their turntables. That’s caricature, of course, but I heard enough folks around me during my first two years of college (during the early 1970s) telling me how deep the Moody Blues’ albums were, how filled with insights each song was, to wonder if I was missing something.

The sources of those murmurs and assessments were four albums: In Search Of The Lost Chord from 1968, On The Threshold Of A Dream and To Our Childrens Childrens Children, both from 1969, and A Question Of Balance from 1970. The first of those four was discussed her not quite two weeks ago, and we’ll take on A Question Of Balance in the near future. This week, we’re going to briefly tackle the middle pair of those four albums.

Why briefly? First of all, I know those two albums less well than most of the rest of the group’s catalog. I missed them when they came out, and they were the last two of the Moody Blues’ original releases to find their ways to the vinyl shelves, arriving there during the summer of 1998. (I played both once and placed them on the shelves, probably vowing to get back to them, a vow unkept until this year.) And they were among the last CDs to arrive here on the North Side during this summer’s spree.

And briefly, too, because – being far removed from the late 1960s and also being a far more critical listener than I was then – I don’t find the two albums to be much more than collections of mostly pleasant and occasionally impressive songs. Both, seemingly, were considered “concept albums” when they were released, but I’m not sure what the topics under discussion were. Maybe that means I’m just shallow. Maybe it means that I need to listen to the two albums over and over and over. Or maybe it means that the two albums are just collections of (generally) good songs with a couple of tricks used that seem to set the tables and the bind the things together.

Both start with silly introductions: To Our Childrens Childrens Children starts with a track called “Higher and Higher” that gives us a crescendo of instruments and voices starting from nothing and truly going higher and higher for ninety seconds until the band kicks in underneath a spoken verse:

Blasting, billowing, bursting forth
With the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes
Man with his flaming pyre
Has conquered the wayward breezes

Climbing to tranquility
Far above the cloud
Conceiving the heavens
Clear of misty shroud

Maybe it was far out in 1969, as we said back then. (Yeah, I called things “far out” for about two weeks.) But it seems lame now (and probably did back then to those less impressionable). But however much it limps, it’s a far better start than the conversation between an unformed youth and a computer that starts On The Threshold Of A Dream. “In The Beginning,” as the conversation is called, is just silly and painful to listen to.

Both of those introductions kind of sour the modern listener on both albums, I think (having listened to both entire albums about four times each in the last couple months). Using the “skip” button on a CD player at the beginning of each album gives that modern listener a much better experience.

There are still some misses: The two-part “Eyes Of A Child” and the split “I’d Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred/Million” on Children would each have been served better, I think, as single tracks. And “Candle Of Life” on the same album offers majestic music accompanied by lyrics that had to have seemed trite even at the moment they came out of John Lodge’s pen:

Something you can’t hide
Says you’re lonely
Hidden deep inside
Of you only
It’s there for you to see
Take a look and be
Burn slowly, the Candle of Life

Something there outside
Says we’re only
In the hands of time
Falling slowly
It’s there for us to know
With love that we can go
Burn slowly, the Candle of Life

So love everybody and make them your friends
So love everybody and make them your friends

But the music is lovely. So listen to “Candle Of Life” and stop back here later in the week when we’ll look at a few missteps from On The Threshold Of A Dream and note a few tracks on both albums that I think rise above their general qualities.

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