Posts Tagged ‘Moody Blues’

The Moody Blues in 1969, No. 2

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

As was noted the last time we talked about the Moody Blues in the context of their two 1969 albums (a discussion found here), I noted a couple of tracks that I thought missed the mark on To Our Childrens Childrens Children and promised to do the same for the other album from that year, On The Threshold Of A Dream.

Well, as I listen to Threshold, I’m reminded of a discussion I’ve seen or heard many times over the years, most recently among the members of a Facebook group devoted to music of the 1970s: An artist or group releases its debut album to acclaim, having spent at least a couple years putting together the material, and is then expected to produce another album in a very short time, resulting in a less-than-stellar effort. I think, to an extent, the same thing happened with Threshold, sandwiched as it was between 1968’s In Search Of The Lost Chord and To Our Childrens Childrens Children, released later in 1969: The work on Threshold kind of pales in comparison to the albums that bracket it.

Now, as I noted when I discussed it (here), I wasn’t all that impressed with Lost Chord when I first heard it in 1972, and it’s still not high on my list. But I’ve come to realize in the last few months of heavy Moody Blues listening that at least the songs on Lost Chord, though flawed, are interesting. The songs on To Our Childrens Childrens Children are generally interesting, though – as I noted in that post a little more than a week ago – I have a few quibbles with some of them.

But the songs on the album between those two albums – On The Threshold Of A Dream – are for the most part dull. They’re competently arranged and played, but as I ran the album through the CD player a few times and then played individual tracks sitting at my desk, I found myself less and less interested in the album. Nothing on what was Side One in the LP configuration grabs hold of me positively, and only the first track on what was Side Two does so: “Never Comes The Day,” which I find one of the group’s best efforts ever.

After “Never Comes The Day,” another few tracks meander by until we get to “The Dream,” which does commands my attention because it’s another one of those spoken word tracks the Moodies liked to throw out in the early years:

When the white eagle of the North is flying overhead
The browns, reds and golds of autumn lie in the gutter, dead.
Remember then, that summer birds with wings of fire flaying
Came to witness spring’s new hope, born of leaves decaying.
Just as new life will come from death, love will come at leisure.
Love of love, love of life and giving without measure
Gives in return a wondrous yearn of a promise almost seen.
Live hand-in-hand and together we’ll stand on the threshold of a dream.

Heavy, man.

The album closes with “Have You Heard (Part One),” “The Voyage” and “Have You Heard (Part Two),” all of which ends with about a minute of not quite white noise slowly fading into silence. And I imagine that all of it seemed quite astounding and deep in a college dorm room in 1969. Or maybe it sounded mostly silly and pretentious then, too.

A lot of folks were listening to the two 1969 albums: On The Threshold Of A Dream spent 136 weeks on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 20 , and To Our Childrens Childrens Children was on the chart for forty-four weeks, peaking at No. 14. But only one single from the two albums charted: “Never Comes The Day” lurked near the bottom of the magazine’s Hot 100 for four weeks, peaking at No. 91. I’d say it deserved better.

I gave In Search Of The Lost Chord a letter grade when I discussed it (a C-), so I suppose I had better keep doing that as I wander through the rest of the Moody Blues’ catalog. On The Threshold Of A Dream earns a C- as well, and To Our Childrens Childrens Children gets a C, mostly because it has better songs (and because, having learned in the last week that the album was a response/tribute to the Apollo 11 moon landing, I now hear its introductory track as a little less ludicrous).

Here’s “Never Comes The Day,” the best track on either of the two 1969 albums (though “Gypsy” from To Our Childrens Childrens Children comes close).

Note: I’m bothered by the missing apostrophes in the title of To Our Childrens Childrens Children, but the title – as ill-advised as it might be – is the title.

The Moody Blues in 1969, No. 1

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

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.

‘In Search Of . . .’

Friday, October 11th, 2019

During the autumn of 1972, having completed my Beatles LP set, I turned to explore other music, selecting four albums in a record-club buying binge: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, Retrospective by the Buffalo Springfield, a live album by Mountain and In Search Of The Lost Chord by the Moody Blues.

In the forty-some years since, the least-played album of those four is that last, the Moody Blues’ first foray into mysticism backed by the Mellotron (which gave them sounds orchestral and more with which to work). Released in 1968, it was also – to my ears – the worst of the group’s albums until the 1990s. I recall the first time I played it, lazing on the green couch in the basement rec room, hearing the spoken word track “Departure” as it led off Side One:

Be it sight, sound, the smell, the touch.
There’s something inside that we need so much
The sight of a touch, or the scent of a sound
Or the strength of an oak with roots deep in the ground.
The wonder of flowers, to be covered, and then
To burst up through tarmac to the sun again
Or to fly to the sun without burning a wing
To lie in the meadow and hear the grass sing
To have all these things in our memories’ hoard
And to use them
To help us
To find . . .

And then came laughter taking the place, I’ve assumed, of the words “the lost chord.” One of the lyric sites I use offered “God” as the laughter-covered word. Maybe. All I know is that as “Departure” played on my stereo for the first time, I was baffled and not at all entranced. The rest of the album – picking up right after “Departure” with “Ride My See-Saw” – was just okay. “Legend Of A Mind” with its “Timothy Leary’s dead . . .” was a bit silly, and the creaking doors in “House OF Four Doors” were overkill. I was not blown away as I had been a year or so earlier when I’d heard the group’s Question Of Balance across the street at Rick and Rob’s house.

There were some nice moments: “Ride My See-Saw” does rock, and “Voices In The Sky” and “The Actor” are lovely and elegant. And on my listening this week, the closer, “Om,” is not so odd as it seemed that autumn evening in 1972.

But my interest in exploring the rest of the Moody Blues’ catalog stopped when I heard In Search Of The Lost Chord. It engaged again a few months later at Christmastime, when Rick gave me the group’s most recent album, Seventh Sojourn, which was much more accessible to the nineteen-year-old me.

So I ducked back a year and listened with friends to bits and pieces of the 1971 album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and eventually bought that album – along with Days Of Future Passed – in the late 1970s, just about the time the group came back from its hiatus with Octave, which I bought immediately.

So In Search Of The Lost Chord was a rocky start. How did it do on the charts? According to Joel Whitburn, the album went to No. 23 on the Billboard 200, and one single – “Ride My See-Saw” – went to No. 61 on the Hot 100. It’s my least favorite of the group’s early albums (those released before the group’s 1970s hiatus). I’ll give it at best a C-minus.

Here’s “Ride My See Saw” (led off by the last cackling laughter of “Departure”).

Saturday Single No. 661

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

We’re going to get back to the Moody Blues today, taking a listen to a record that stiffed the first time it was released as a single in the U.S., bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 103, and then went to No. 2 after a re-release in 1972: “Nights In White Satin.” That success followed the relative success of three singles in the previous two-plus years: “Question” (No. 21), “The Story In Your Eyes” (No. 23), and “Isn’t Life Strange” (No. 29).

“Nights,” of course, was the closing song on the Moody’s 1967 album with the London Festival Orchestra, Days Of Future Passed. The song was followed by one of the poetic passages that studded the album, some of which worked and some of which did not. The closer was pretty effective.

And I guess it was “Nights In White Satin” that made me a Moody Blues fan back in the late summer and autumn of 1972. I’d liked the three singles mentioned above, and I’d liked the album Question Of Balance when I’d heard it across the street at Rick and Rob’s. I got a couple of their albums in the late months of 1972, with mixed results. But I didn’t hear the full Days Of Future Passed album for some time. (The LP database shows me picking the album up in December 1977, just after I moved from St. Cloud to Monticello.)

Days is perhaps where the Moody Blues become the Moody Blues as we think of them, with orchestral backing and the (sometimes silly) spoken word bits. They’d get a lot more mystical on their next albums, especially 1968’s In Search Of The Lost Chord, but the musical pattern was mostly set in 1967.

“Nights” is a great single (one that somehow managed to not get included in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox), one that summons back my world as it existed in late 1972 and early 1973. That makes it difficult to assess with any objectivity, of course. I also liked “Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon),” which was released in 1968 (in a horribly truncated single that discogs tells me ran only 2:16) and went to No. 24.

So I was primed to like the Moody Blues when I began to dig into their albums in late 1972. What happened then will begin the major portion of our look at the Moody Blues in the next week, I hope. In the meantime, “Nights In White Satin” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘An Odd & Overlong Joke’?

Friday, September 20th, 2019

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.

‘Go Now!’

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

So what have I been doing lately, besides misreading data and taking away a No. 1 hit from Paul McCartney and Wings by saying “Listen To What The Man Said” peaked in Billboard at No. 13?

(In my defense, well, I’m battling my annual summer sinus infection, and the files I have for the weekly Hot 100 are not always clear. But I really have no defense, as within ten feet of where I sit as I write, there are at least five reference books that would have given me the correct information; and there’s always Wikipedia. I just blew it.)

Other than making stupid mistakes, I’ve been sorting CDs that have come in the mail. As I noted the other day, I’m expanding my collection of the Moody Blues in hopes that I can craft a series of posts assessing the band’s work, probably in three different temporal segments. Those would be the band’s beginnings as a British R&B band in the mid-1960s, the evolution from that phase into pop culture’s mystics and seers from 1967 into 1972, and the less mystical and sometimes less complex music the Moodies released from 1978 through 1999, when Strange Times was released.

(The group released December in 2003, and as I’ve noted over the years, I don’t really do Christmas music, but I’m pondering at least adding the album to the stacks and making a comment or two about it. I don’t know.)

I said I was sorting CDs. All the albums I ordered last week have arrived. The last to get here came yesterday. The Magnificent Moodies CD release has lots of bonus material, offering the group’s 1965 album as it was presented in the U.K. as well as various singles and B-sides that, as I had hoped, include the material that was slipped onto the group’s first U.S. album in place of some of the tracks from the U.K. edition.

So I have lots of listening to do as well as some research. I also have to keep my regular appointments with my physical therapists (and continue to find time to do my home exercises so my visits with those therapists are not wastes of my time or theirs). So let’s get started! We’ll begin at an obvious place: The Moody Blues’ first hit, “Go Now!”

Written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, “Go Now” was first recorded by R&B singer Bessie Banks in 1963 and, Wikipedia says, released in early 1964 on the Blue Cat label, the R&B and soul imprint of Red Bird, owned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Banks’ original reached No. 40 on the Billboard R& B chart.

The Moody Blues recorded “Go Now!” – adding an exclamation point to the song’s title – during the summer of 1964. (An unreleased first version of the song, dated to July 24, 1964, is included in the bonus material on the CD of The Magnificent Moodies.) The single was released in the U.K. in in November 1964 and in the U.S. in January 1965, says Wikipedia.

The website notes, without citation, that “[i]n contrast to other songs from their debut album The Magnificent Moodies, ‘Go Now!’ contained many early elements of what later would become progressive rock, such as the lush instrumentation, the innovative variations of the Fifties Progression, as well as strong baroque elements that would later become hallmarks of progressive rock.”

The so-called “Fifties Progression” is, of course, the I-vi-IV-V pattern (C-Am-F-G in the key of C) used in many songs over the years, perhaps most notably in doo-wop. And maybe it’s me, but I don’t hear much of that in the Moodies’ “Go Now!” I hear more of a partial reliance in both verses and choruses on a descending bass pattern and the resulting chord progression that comes from that. The rest of that quote from Wikipedia makes sense, though.

The single was a major hit in the U.K. reaching No. 1 in late January 1965; in the U.S., it entered the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-February and peaked at No. 10. Here’s “Go Now!”

Saturday Single No. 655

Saturday, August 24th, 2019

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.

Saturday Single No. 568

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

My sister and brother-in-law and I stood in the cold for a little more than an hour yesterday as three guys from a local auction and estate sale company emptied one of Mom’s storage lockers.

“It’s an odd feeling, isn’t it,” my sister said, “seeing your parents’ lives go past piece by piece?”

She was right. We saw the foreman and his two young movers assess Mom’s china closet, a nearly six-foot tall piece with some curved glass windows on either side of its door. Mom and Dad got it soon after I left home in 1976, and I’d guess it dates from somewhere around 1920. As they maneuvered it toward the door of the storage unit and out to the rapidly filling truck, I held my breath for a moment.

But they got the fragile piece safely into the truck, draped it heavily with drop clothes and secured it to the side of the truck with bungee cords.

I remember the china closet being filled with dishes and pieces from Mom and Dad’s past: wedding gifts that they’d gotten in 1948, dishes from both of her grandmothers, and much more. For about thirty-five years, that “much more” included two painted tea glasses that I somehow acquired from a Tunisian restaurant in Paris in March 1974. Mom loved them (although I think she was unhappy with my means of acquisition). The china closet went with her to her assisted living apartment, and in recent years, she began to give away some of her treasures to me, to my sister, to her grandchildren. The tea glasses now sit on a bookcase in our dining room here.

We watched as the dresser and the bed headboard and foot board that Mom and Dad bought soon after they were married headed out the door and onto the truck. Then there was the teal couch Mom bought when she moved into her patio home after Dad’s death, followed the large brown kitchen table my folks bought in the early 1970s, a table at which several of my girlfriends had joined us for meals in the early years, a table around which we’d all gather on Christmas Eve through 2003 for a late evening snack of sausage, meatballs, pickled herring, crackers and flatbread. Then came the black wooden rocking chair – once my great-grandfather’s, I believe – that was my place on Sunday evenings when we all gathered together to watch Walt Disney’s show, a couple of sitcoms and Bonanza.

The last things heading out of the locker were two big cardboard boxes filled with heavily wrapped glassware, much of it antique. From another locker – filled mostly with furniture my nephew may want – the estate sale guys took the vanity and mirror from Mom and Dad’s 1948 bedroom set and the treadle sewing machine that had belonged to my dad’s mom. And they were ready to go.

It was indeed an odd feeling, with the three of us watching as Mom and Dad’s lives, and – in large part – our lives, too, went out the doors and onto the truck. And it happened fast. An hour and ten minutes after the three fellows arrived, they secured Mom’s vanity and its bench in the back of the truck and headed to their warehouse on the southern edge of the city. They’ll organize everything into an on-line sale that will take place most likely next May or June.

Seventy minutes is a very brief time to watch more than sixty years of memories go by. But then, time and memory twist themselves in odd ways as we find our sometimes uncertain paths through our lives. As long as I live, my grandmother’s sewing machine will forever be next to the green couch in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard, the brown lamp upon it providing the only light as I sit back – maybe by myself, maybe with a sweet young lady – and listen to the Beatles or maybe Van Morrison or maybe the Moody Blues.

The green couch went in Mom’s garage sale in 2005, the sewing machine went onto the truck yesterday, the brown lamp sits on an end table in our living room just steps away, and my vinyl copy of the Moody Blues’ Seventh Sojourn is in the stacks just across the room from me. And they’ll all be in that basement rec room with me for the rest of my life.

Here, from Seventh Sojourn, is “Isn’t Life Strange.” The question in that title can only ever be answered with the words “Yes, indeed.” And “Isn’t Life Strange” is today’s Saturday Single.

Revised slightly after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 525

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Wandering through the digital stacks this morning, I found a few tracks tagged as having been recorded on January 28 over the years. (I have session date information for perhaps five percent of the 90,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer.) Let’s take a look at them.

The oldest comes from Frank Hutchison, who recorded “Stackalee” in New York City in 1928. An early version of the tale of bad man Stagger Lee that Lloyd Price turned into a No. 1 hit in 1959, Hutchison’s spare take on the song – with his guitar on his lap and a harmonica in a rack – came to me through the CD box set of the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music compiled by Harry Smith and released in 1952.

Next along the timeline for January 28 are a couple of western swing tracks laid down in Chicago in 1935 by Milton Brown & His Brownies. “Crafton Blues” is an instrumental composed by the band’s Ocie Stockard, and “Who’s Sorry Now” is a cover of the 1920s standard first recorded and released in 1923 by Bob Thompson. The two tracks came my way on Western Swing, a three-CD set that billed itself as “The Absolutely Essential” collection.

On January 28, 1953, most likely in Los Angeles or Hollywood (a judgment based on the fact that the arrangements and backing were from Nelson Riddle), Nat King Cole recorded “Almost Like Being In Love.” The track was released that year on Nat King Cole Sings For Two In Love, an eight-track, ten-inch LP. I found “Almost Like Being In Love” on the compilation CD The Very Best of Nat King Cole.

Big Joe Turner had a busy day on January 28, 1955, in New York City, and four tracks from that day’s session have made their ways to my stacks: “Morning, Noon and Night,” “Ti-Ri-Lee,” “Flip Flop and Fly” and “Hide and Seek.” Of the four, “Ti-Ri-Lee” is a little less frantic but still nowhere near a slow dance, and the other three are your basic (but still enjoyable) Joe Turner joints. I found “Morning, Noon and Night” and “Ti-R-i-Lee” on a Turner compilation titled Big. Bad & Blue, and the other two came from the CD The Very Best of Big Joe Turner (which I happened to be playing in the car this week).

Jumping ahead in the timeline a little bit, two Johnny Cash-related tracks show up. On January 28, 1971, Tammy Wynette appeared on The Johnny Cash Show on ABC. Her performance of “Stand By Your Man” showed up on The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show. And on January 28, 1974, in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Cash recorded “Ragged Old Flag,” which was released as a Columbia single and was later included in the CD collection The Essential Johnny Cash.

Heading back a few years from that, in 1969, George Harrison brought Billy Preston to a Beatles session at the Apple studios on January 28. Among the results was the single version of “Get Back,” on which Preston provides an electric piano solo and became, if I recall things correctly, the only non-Beatle credited on a Beatles record. The track was included in the Mono Masters CD package.

And last, we’ll head back another year to 1968 and a recording session for the Moody Blues at the Decca Studios in the West Hampstead area of London. The group was working on In Search of the Lost Chord, and among the results of the session was an early version of “What Am I Doing Here?” The track got left off the album, and in November of that year, it was given some overdubs and a new mix. Still, “What Am I Doing Here?” was unreleased until 1977, when the November version was included in the Caught Live + 5 collection.

I found the original version of “What Am I Doing Here” on the expanded CD release of In Search of the Lost Chord, and I prefer it to the overdubbed November version. At any rate, a November track doesn’t meet our requirements today, so the January 28, 1968, recording of “What Am I Doing Here?” is today’s Saturday Single.

First Days On The Job

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Even after more than forty years pondering memory and time as an adult and almost ten years writing here about the two (along with music), sometimes the blurring and blending of my days, months and years holds me still for a moment or two. This week, it was this photo.

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That, of course, is me, in a photo taken thirty-nine years ago this week during my first day of work at the Monticello Times. I started there on Monday, November 28, 1977, and the first edition with my byline in it was dated Thursday, December 1. And I remember a few things about that first day:

I rode with our photographer, a fellow named Bruce, to the crossroads hamlet of Hasty – about nine miles up Interstate 94 from Monti – to interview the owners of a newly opened cheese shop based in an old creamery. The Milky Whey, as they called it, was in a decent location on a county road that intersected the freeway, not far from from the exit. I’m not sure when the shop closed, but by the time I left Monticello for grad school not quite six years later, the creamery was once again boarded and shuttered.

My boss, DQ, took me over to the high school, where a lot of my newsgathering would take place over those nearly six years. He introduced me to some of the administration and then we ate lunch in the faculty lounge, which had long been his habit on Mondays. I did the same for several of the following Mondays, but I felt like an interloper. Those folks didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them (although I would get to know some of them well as the years went by). So by February of 1978 or so, I had developed my own schedule for getting news at the high school on Mondays, and my lunch hour found me in another place.

That afternoon, Bruce took the photo above and another one, more of a portrait shot, for use in that week’s paper. It was the portrait that ran, along with a brief bit of copy I wrote, introducing our readers to the new guy at the paper.

And that evening, I think I covered a girls basketball game at Monticello; if I did, it was the first time I’d covered girls athletics. This was only a few years after girls began to play interscholastic sports, and the game was a bit ragged, not the fluid, well-played game that one saw on occasion then and sees these days from high school on up.

And after that day – a long one that was capped, no doubt, with some television and a frozen dinner – the rest of the first publication week moved rapidly. Tuesday, I wrote most of the day, learning more and more about my slate of responsibilities, and that evening, I covered a wrestling match, writing the story early on Wednesday, just hours before the paper went to press.

That evening, I looked at the paper’s front page and my first professional byline. I remember staring at it, wondering if I would be able to stick, to do the job well enough. And, with a few missteps here and there, I did stick, and that byline – one I can still see in my head – turned out to be the first of probably a few thousand over the years.

So, is there any music attached to those first few days? Not really. I can’t think of anything that I heard either driving from place to place or at home in the evenings. But on Thursday that week – technically our publication day, but a light day at the office – I drove the thirty miles to St. Cloud and had dinner with my girlfriend and my parents (it was Mom’s birthday) and took time out to do some record shopping downtown, buying one album, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus.

After dinner, I headed back to Monti, and before driving to the mobile home park just south of town, I stopped at one of the few places in that small town that sold LPs and bought two more records, Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees and the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed.

I remember playing the Moody Blues’ 1967 album that evening in my half of a mobile home duplex. I’d had a busy few days: the rush of moving during the weekend before, my first days at the paper, my first byline, my excursion to St. Cloud. I recall sitting there as the music played, thinking that my job was in Monticello, but my girlfriend and my family and all the rest of my life, all of that was still in St. Cloud.

And I don’t know if I felt as melancholy as the album’s last track sounds (even though the song proclaims love, it always has and always will sound more like a plaint to me), but looking back at those combined feelings of accomplishment and dislocation, it seems somehow appropriate that the last music I likely heard on that first publication day was the Moodys’ “Nights In White Satin” and the album’s closing bit of verse.

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