Saturday Single No. 655

Puttering on Facebook the other day, I ran across a link to a review of a solo performance by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. The performance had taken place in the Chicago area, I believe, so, curious, I clicked the link.

It seemed as if it had been a good show. The titles of the songs Hayward performed – with help from three side musicians – were mostly familiar, and it sounded from the tone of the review that the evening had been very pleasant. Most of the tunes performed were, as one might expect, from the Moody Blues’ catalogue with a few of Hayward’s solo pieces tucked in.

What stuck with me most, though, was the reviewer’s note that only one of the pieces performed was unfamiliar: “Haunted,” from the 1999 Moody Blues release Strange Times. The reviewer said that after the show, he’d hunted down a copy of the album and was generally pleased. I recalled the opposite reaction when I got a CD of the album in 1999.

Strange Times was the first Moody Blues studio release in eight years, since the release of 1991’s Keys of the Kingdom. (There were a few compilations and a live release in those years.) Prior to that, the band had been releasing a studio album every three years or so, back to the release in 1978 of Octave, which had ended a six-year hiatus.

I ordered Strange Times from a CD club, likely as one of the eight I got for a buck each to join the club. I was optimistic, as the last Moody Blues’ album I’d really listened to was Sur La Mer, a 1988 release that was generally good although there were a few tracks on the LP that seemed a little bland. (I hadn’t heard much of Keys of the Kingdom; I bought the album on cassette, as I did not yet have a CD player in the mid-1990s, and rarely popped it into the player; trying to sort out single tracks for relistening is, of course, awkward with cassettes.)

Anyway, when I got Strange Times, I was underwhelmed. Something about it seemed unfinished, and even though I added it to the digital stacks when I got my first ’Networthy computer about six months later, it wasn’t an album I revisited very often. But having read the review the other day of Hayward’s performance, I did two things:

First, I pulled Strange Times from the stacks and put it in the car, where I could listen to it several times as I drove around town on errands. Second, I figured out which Moody Blues CDs were missing from the physical stacks and ordered them: Days of Future Passed (1967), Caught Live + 5 (1977), The Present (1983), Sur La Mer (1988), Keys of the Kingdom (1991), and a collection of the band’s work from the “Go Now” era, which should, I hope, cover both The Magnificent Moodies (1967, U.K.) and Go Now – The Moody Blues #1 (1967, U.S.). Those two earliest albums, from what I’ve read, had each had four tracks that were not on the other release.

So with that, I’ll have a nearly complete Moody Blues studio catalogue. “Nearly,” for a couple of reasons. First, I will not have a physical copy of December. I just don’t do Christmas albums, although I do have the album on the digital shelves.

And then, there are a few studio tracks that seem to be available only on a 1987 collection of rarities titled Prelude, but it’s currently priced too high at any of the online sites I frequent. And I suppose there are things on other collections and box sets that I’ll miss, too. So it goes. I will have the vast majority of the band’s studio output available, and I’m not much concerned about collecting live performances.

So what’s the point of it all? Well, I’m hoping to put together a series of posts about the band and its studio output, perhaps ranking the band’s albums, maybe after separating the albums into those before the 1972-78 hiatus and those after. I don’t know.

I do know that after running through Strange Times a few times in recent weeks, I like the album better than I did twenty years ago. Why? Well, I’ll let the answer to that wait until I figure out how I’m going to assess the band’s work. For now, we’ll start with the track that triggered this project, however it fills out. Here’s “Haunted,” a Justin Hayward-penned track from Strange Times. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

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