Posts Tagged ‘Moody Blues’

The Moody Blues: 1972

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

As Christmas approached in 1972, I had no idea that the Moody Blues had recently released an album. I knew that in the spring, as I was finishing my first year of college, the group had released a single, “Isn’t Life Strange,” which I’d heard a fair amount and liked a bit.

During that autumn, spurred by my having heard the group’s A Question Of Balance across the street at Rick’s – and also likely spurred by having liked “Isn’t Life Strange” coming out of the radio in the spring – I acquired the four-year-old In Search Of The Lost Chord through a record club and was, as I’ve noted here before, pretty well disappointed and baffled.

So I didn’t quite know what I had in my hands when, a couple of days before Christmas, Rick gave me the group’s new album, Seventh Sojourn, as a Christmas present. Now, nearly fifty years later, I know it’s my favorite album by the group, the one I’ve no doubt listened to more than any other. For a couple of years not quite a decade ago, it was one of three or four albums that I played softly at my bedside as I went to sleep.

Now, is it my favorite because I’ve had it longer than almost any other album by the group? Entirely possible, perhaps even likely. And if it’s my favorite, does that mean it’s the group’s best album? I don’t know, but it may be the best, for a couple of reasons.

First, the sound was richer. The five members of the group began putting the album together in the studio (a converted garage) at Mike Pinder’s home, Beckthorns, in early 1972, and as they did, they began using a new instrument called the Chamberlain, which replaced the Mellotron. “It worked on the same principle as the Mellotron , but had much better quality sounds – great brass, strings and cello and so on” said Justin Hayward, as quoted in the notes to the 2008 CD release of Seventh Sojourn.

Second, the group had left behind much of the mysticism that had permeated its earlier albums. There were no spoken word interludes on the album, and the album had no introductory segment; it just took off into the first track, “Lost In A Lost World,” and headed on from there. The music is as accomplished as ever, and the lyrics are more down to earth, if sometimes a hair preachy as in the ecological plaints of “Lost In A Lost World” and “You & Me.”

Otherwise, there are love songs – “New Horizons,” “For My Lady” are fairly traditional love songs, and even “Isn’t Life Strange” and “The Land Of Make Believe” work on the topic of love in one way or another. There’s the open letter to academic and hallucinogenic drug advocate Timothy Leary, who spent 1972 in exile in – according to Wikipedia – Switzerland, Austria, Lebanon and Afghanistan. And there’s the closer, with the band proclaiming “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band).”

Some of the tracks are a little self-conscious and perhaps overbearing, I’ll acknowledge, giving the group a sense of self-importance that could be off-putting. But when I was nineteen, that slid right past me, and besides, it’s a flaw that runs through almost all of the Moody Blues’ catalog, something you know you’re gonna get when you cue up the record.

I don’t recall a lot of folks around me talking about the album, as had been the case with the release of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour a year previously. But that was probably because I was generally hanging around with fewer and different people than I had been a year earlier, and I spent a lot more time than I had the year before down in the rec room listening to my albums, with Seventh Sojourn near the top of the playlist.

So how good is it and how well was it received? As for the latter, the album was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for five weeks, starting in the second week of December 1972 and continuing on into January 1973. The previous spring, “Isn’t Life Strange” had reached No. 29 during a ten-week run on the magazine’s Hot 100, and in February 1973, “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)” began its own ten-week run on the Hot 100 that peaked at No. 12.

As to how good the album is, it’s more difficult to separate my affection for the album from its quality than it has been or will be for any of the other albums by the Moody Blues. I have to give it an A-.

Here’s the album’s opening track, “Lost In A Lost World.”

The Moody Blues’ Seventies: Part 2

Friday, December 27th, 2019

Casting my memory’s net back to the summer and fall of 1971, I vaguely recall conversation among my pal Rick and his friends and among my friends at St. Cloud State about the Moody Blues’ 1971 album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. There was talk before the album came out about what seemed to be an odd title. There was talk when the album came out about the striking cover art. What I don’t recall is talk about the content of the album.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour(The title comes from the mnemonic used by music students in Britain to memorize the lines of the treble clef – E-G-B-D-F – with the word “favour” taking on the British spelling. Here in the U.S., our mnemonic is slightly different: Every Good Boy Does Fine. As to the art work, well, it’s displayed here, and perhaps it’s a little less striking after nearly fifty years.)

As to the content, the music and lyrics, the Moody Blues were, as usual, ambitious. Says Graeme Edge in the liner notes to 1997 CD release of the album, “We decided we would write the history of music” in the opening track, “Procession,” which fades in to what seems to be the chirping of insects and makes its way to obviously computerized sounds (Mellotron or Moog, I don’t know) and then wind before we get the chanted word “Desolation!” followed by raindrops and “Creation!” Then come drums and “Communication!” followed by grunts, chants, sitar, a somewhat Baroque melody on flute and harpsichord, an organ wandering around, a brief orchestral interlude, and then electric guitars leading into what is no doubt the album’s best-known track, “The Story In Your Eyes.”

It’s not as bombastic as the spoken word intros of the group’s late 1960s albums, but it doesn’t age well, either. Some of my fellow freshmen at St. Cloud State during the autumn of 1971 thought, however, that it was profound. The same three introductory words – desolation, creation, and communications – show up with numerous other “tion” and sound-alike words (“degradation,” “humiliation,” and “salvation” among them) – in the lumbering chorus to “One More Time To Live” on what was the first track of the album’s second side in its LP configuration. They work there, but only a little better.

The Moodies were always – up to 1972, at least – trying to make a statement and craft their music and lyrics to center on a chosen theme. That’s hard to do, which is why writers are often told to forget about theme and message and just tell the story: The theme will shine through the story and the message will be in the tale itself. So, like the group’s previous albums, EGBDF is in several places heavy-handed and obvious.

It has its very good moments, too, however. The one single released from the album, “The Story In Your Eyes” is one of my favorite Moody Blues tracks. Its lyrics are a little preachy, yes, but they’re carried along by one of the group’s most propulsive rock tracks. Released in the U.S. a month after the album was released. “The Story In Your Eyes” went to No 23 in the Billboard Hot 100. (The album went to No. 2 in Billboard.)

I’m not going to go into great detail about the rest of the tracks on the album, except to note that a few do stand out: “After You Came” and “You Can Never Go Home” are well-done, and the closer, “My Song,” is an ambitious statement song collage, much like the closers on the group’s previous albums. How well it works depends on whether you’re . . . well, let me put it this way: I’d like to be as impressed with it today as I was when I was 18, but I’m not. What was moving – if recognizably bombastic – in 1971 is just overkill and the source of pleasant memories in 2019.

And that’s the key there, the memories: Even though I didn’t have my own copy of the album until the late summer of 1977, evidently enough of my friends did, or I heard enough of it on KVSC, the St. Cloud State student radio station, for the album to pull me back into 1971, not as potently as a couple other albums and a few singles and album tracks, but enough so that EGBDF feels like my freshman year of college.

Assessing it as fairly as I can in 2019, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is better than the group’s late 1960s albums, and about as good as 1970’s A Question Of Balance. I’ll give it a B.

Here’s the second-best track on the album, “You Can Never Go Home.” Again, there were often no discernable gaps between the tracks, so the beginning of the song is indistinct.

Still Moody

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

Today was the day I was going to continue my assessment of the Moody Blues’ catalog and dive into their 1971 album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. But my semi-annual cold with its assorted ailments has sapped my energy, and although I’ve likely listened to the album enough, I don’t have the energy to write about it at length.

Later in the week, perhaps, I can take another whack at it. In the meantime, here’s the best track from the album, likely an unsurprising choice (and one that’s been featured here before): “The Story In Your Eyes.” A single release of the track went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early October 1971, a month after the album peaked at No. 2 on the magazine’s album chart (where it sat for three weeks, blocked from the top spot by Carole King’s Tapestry).

The Moody Blues’ Seventies, Part 1

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

Now we come, in our long-term look at the catalog of the Moody Blues, to the hard part, assessing the three albums the British group released during the first years of the 1970s: A Question Of Balance from 1970, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour from 1971, and Seventh Sojourn from 1972.

Those are the albums that made me a fan of the Moody Blues. I heard the first of the three across the street at Rick’s sometime in late 1970, soon after it came out. During my early college days, I heard bits and pieces of the second in dorm rooms and apartments, enough to know I liked it. The third of those came my way in December 1972 as a Christmas present from Rick.

And there were singles from all three of those albums that got airplay during those years as well.

In other words, enough of my youth is tied up into those three albums to make it difficult to assess them dispassionately. But I’ll give it a try, starting today with A Question Of Balance.

After starting their last three albums with spoken word introductions or sound collages, the group shifted gears and started A Question Of Balance with music, the stand-out track “Question,” written by Justin Hayward. A version of the track was released as a single in late April 1970, a little more than three months before the album came out, and went to No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. By the time the album came out in early August, the track had undergone some changes, perhaps most notably the addition of orchestral flourishes – courtesy, no doubt, of the Mellotron – in its introduction.

About a decade ago, I included the single version of “Question” in the 228-track Ultimate Jukebox, but I like both versions equally, and I recall the sixteen- and seventeen-year-old me listening especially closely during the spring of 1970 to the words of the single’s slow middle section:

I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
You’d safely lead me to
The land that I once knew
To learn as we grow old
The secrets of our soul

And if I hadn’t ever written anything in this space about my adolescent romanticism, all you’d need to do is read those lines to know a lot about who I was in 1970 (and likely still am).

So I still love the album’s title track. What about the rest of it? How can I separate the music I hear now from how I heard it as a junior in high school (and as a college student and as a young adult and so on)?

Well, first, let’s note that – as was often their habit – the Moodies blended a lot of the tracks into one another, making suites instead of discreet tracks. And that’s how I listen to the album these days: as clusters of tracks. Still, being as discerning as I can, I have noted during my listening over the past few months that some of the songs on the album work less well than others.

The first of those is the one that immediately follows “Question,” Mike Pinder’s “How Is It (We Are Here),” which kind of lumbers along with its commentary about “men’s mighty mine machines” and “concrete caves with iron doors.” The fade-out, repeating the title, works but the stuff that comes before it seems heavy-handed in 2019.

Nothing else on the album is that awkward, but I find two of John Lodge’s compositions a little lacking as well: “Tortoise & The Hare” – appended to Graeme Edge’s “Don’t You Feel Small” – strains lyrically, as does his “Minstrel’s Song,” which one finds between a pair of Hayward tunes: “It’s Up To You” and “Dawning Is The Day.”

And then there’s the final track, “The Balance,” co-written by Edge and Thomas, which starts with a spoken word section that – like those on preceding albums – indulges the worst instincts of the band. Consider this:

And he felt the earth to his spine,
And he asked,
And he saw the tree above him,
And the stars,
And the veins in the leaf,
And the light,
And the balance.
And he saw magnificent perfection,
Whereon he thought of himself in balance,
And he knew he was.

I’m no cynic, but that doesn’t connect with me nearly as well in 2019 as it did in 1970 (or 1975 or 1980, even). Maybe it should, but . . .

There are, though, some tracks on the album that still work for me after almost fifty years. Ray Thomas’ “And The Tide Rushes In,” the two Hayward tunes – “It’s Up To You” and “Dawning Is The Day” – and especially Mike Pinder’s “Melancholy Man” all still speak to me without irony or eye-rolls.

And back in 1970, the album spoke to a lot of people, rising to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and staying on the chart for seventy-four weeks. From what I can tell, “Question” was the only single released from the album.

So with all that, what letter grade would I give the album, assessing it not as a memory but as I hear it today? Despite the missteps outlined above, it’s got a better selection of songs than most of the group’s albums, and my misgivings with a few of the songs are generally with the lyrics; musically, the album is gorgeous. (Assuming, that is, that the listener likes the wall of sound the Moodies offer; I recall one co-worker years ago at the Monticello Times who refused to listen even once to an album I offered him. The group’s sound was “too busy and heavy” for him.)

So I’ll give it a B.

Here’s a 2017 remastered version of my favorite track (save perhaps “Question”) from the album, “Melancholy Man.”

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!”