Sunday, February 17, 2013

Music Of My Years-The Moody Blues 1967-1972

When you live in a era of the 45, knowing what was out there on albums was like the great unknown.  When my Aunt Cindy moved in with us back in the mid 70s she didn't have a big record collection but when she was at work I would sneak up there to see what she had and played it and returned it before she got back home from work.  One of them was the 2 record set This Is The Moody Blues a collection of their better known hits and other oddities from their classic years.

If any band was progressive rock/classical that would be The Moody Blues.  When they started out, like any other British band the Moodies incorporated blues and pop songs into their music with Denny Laine and Mike Pinder doing the original songs.  They had a top five hit with Go Now then Laine and Clint Warwick departed.  Their replacements Justin Hayward and John Lodge would take them into a different direction.

While some people believe that Pink Floyd was the ultimate headphone classic band, I was in the minority that The Moody Blues were better, making better albums and with Tony Clarke's production of when one song ends another begins, kinda like movements in a orchestral piece. Nothing was more evident of this on their 1967 masterpiece Days Of Future Passed to which Peter Knight's orchestral beginnings would gave way to Dawn Is A Feeling and on to Another Morning and to the thrashing Peak Hour.  Even The Beatles never took classical to this type of rock settings and that was only side one.  The best song Tuesday Afternoon remains a Moody Blues classic with movement going into strings and Knight's arrangement leading to the mysterious Time To Get Away.  After perhaps the weakest track done by Mike Pinder, the album concludes with Nights In White Satin to which Peter Knight's orchestra meets up with the Moodies for the grand finale and a Graeme Edge poem to conclude it all.

The first album that I got was a Christmas present from my aunt and a note telling me to quit taking her dang albums was In Search Of The Lost Chord and from that album up to Seventh Sojourn, the concept album was set in stone. The strange Departure would lead into Ride My See Saw, Dr. Livingston I Presume, The House Of Four Doors and in between Legend Of A Mind, Ray Thomas' elegy to Timothy Leary.  I didn't play the second side all that much outside of Thinking Is The Best Way To Travel but a much later return showed that Voices In The Sky, Visions Of Paradise and The Actor had their strange and moody charm as well.  As with Om, Pinder's finale you either love it or hate it, probably best served with a bit of LSD to get the whole meaning, not so much with Red Bull, especially on the freak out middle of song.

On A Threshold Of A Dream, improves over In Search Of The Lost Chord although Edge's poetry hasn't aged well but certainly The Moody Blues could rock out  on Lovely To See You and To Share Our Love and the beautiful Never Comes The Day.  Ray Thomas was a underrated songwriter and it shows on Dear Diary and even co writes with Justin Hayward on Are You Sitting Comfortably? There's a country vibe on Send Me No Wine and Mike Pinder goes soul on So Deep Within You but he's also the one behind the long suffering Have You Heard/The Voyage.

To Our Children's Children's Children might be their masterpiece outside of Days Of Future Passed, many people have sang its praises, Mark Prindle gave it a 10 on his review site.  Beginning with the chaotic Higher And Higher, Grahame Edge begins to add poetry and set it to music and it's a wild ride into the nothingness and beginnings of the wonderful Eyes Of A Child Part 1 and another Ray Thomas winner Floating and into the reflective I Never Thought I Live To See A Hundred.  Side 2 might be the best Moody Blues side ever starting with the rumbling Hayward number Gypsy which leads into the best Ray Thomas song ever written Eternity Road and unto probably the best John Lodge song ever wrote Candle Of Life.  Even Pinder's Sun Is Still Shining is very good and after Hayward sings I Never thought I see A million (fat chance) it all ends with perhaps the most beautiful and haunting songs they ever did Watching And Waiting.  I can listen to this all eternity.

A Question Of Balance is another classic in it's own wake.  The hit single Question to which it starts out rocking and all out before Justin Hayward quiets it down for another reflective middle passage and back to rocking out before it goes into Pender's How Is It We Are Here. Even though Hayward and Lodge wrote the majority of songs, every member of the band contributed something of value Thomas adds the sweet and sad And The Tide Rushes In,  John Lodge adds the jamming Tortoise And The Hare and Minstrel Song and Justin Hayward gives us the excellent It's Up To You and Dawning Is The Day.  The last two songs, Pinder's overlong Melancholy Man and The Balance makes the album less than perfect it still remains a solid A grade.

Cracks were beginning and the next two albums while good, were not as good as the first five.  Every Good Boy Deserves Favour begins to show self indulgence.  The side one opener Procession is a variety of styles and words and where does it lead I don't know.  They can still rock out on the hit single Story In Your Eyes and on After You Came, The Moody Blues never made a harder rocking song that they did on that 4 minute 35 seconds of heavy metal.  Ray Thomas provides another winner with Our Guessing Game. Side 2 on the other hand outside of You Can Never Go Home and the Thomas throwaway Nice To Be Here was a snoozer, Pinder being the oddball continue to write the album ending turd that would become My Song.  One of the least favorite songs of this era.

Seventh Sojourn was their final masterpiece or so it seems.  It's a hard album to like, even impossible to love.  I think the boys were moving toward writing love songs like Ray Thomas did on the sappy For My Lady or Justin Hayward's New Horizons.  They could still rock like I'm Just A Singer (in a rock n roll band) but even better the Edge/Hayward You And Me and even Pender wrote a couple decent numbers When You're A Free Man and Stranger In A Strange Land.  But all in all this would be their final album as they would take six years off to return with the lackluster Octave.

In the meantime Decca UK would keep the Moody Blues alive with a live album that goes back to around 1969.  Caught Live Plus 5 is a decent Royal Albert Hall concert of December 1969 and added five studio tracks that really aren't that bad.  Decca/London would put out a album of lost singles and the five numbers into Prelude, which could have used that Tony Clarke segway  into the next song. Prelude adds the should have been hit single Fly Me High, the much rocking than usual Mike Pender I Really Haven't Got The Time. Pender also give us Love And Beauty and the underrated A Simple Game to which The Moody Blues actually back The Four Tops!  For the five unissued stuff that made the Plus 5 of the live album and side 2, Gimi A Little Something is the best of the bunch and the rest while good was not good enough to make the original albums it seems. 

But in the beginning for me it was This Is The Moody Blues the 2 record overview that enticed me enough to seek out the originals and even though that album is a curiosity piece it did provide the best sampler of the Moody Blues best era, to which they took the concept of mixing classical overtunes to their songs and making them more into suites than actual songs.  And they still hold up to this day much to the chagrin to the classic rock folks and Jann Wanner who still refuses to let them in the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame.  And that's his problem.  The Moody Blues continue to this day Justin, John and Graeme and I'm sure they're content to play the hits but one time they were true serious album artists making classic music in their own way.  And we all for the better of it.

Grades:

Days Of Future Past (Deram 1967) A+
In Search Of The Lost Chord (Deram 1968) A-
On A Threshold Of A Dream (Deram 1969) A-
To Our Children's Children's Children (Threshold 1969) A+
A Question Of Balance (Threshold 1970) A
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (Threshold 1971) B+
Seventh Sojourn (Threshold 1972) B
This Is The Moody Blues (Threshold 1974) B+
Caught Live Plus Five (London 1976) B
Prelude (London 1987) B+
Moody Blues Live At The Isle Of Wright Festival 1970 (Eagle Reissue 2008) B


2 comments:

TAD said...

Ah Crabby, you knew I'd be all over this, didn't ya?
Basically agree with you about the Moodies, the best headphone band ever, better songwriting than the Floyd, great production, even some great guitar work from Justin Hayward now & then.
THIS IS is a pretty great package, altho it's pretty obvious stuff except 4 "Simple Game" -- Mike Pinder's best song ever, which SHOULD have been on their TIME TRAVELER box set.
CHILDREN is my fave of their 1st 7, tho I think it's cold & distant & tough 2 get in2 -- & tho "Gypsy" & "Watching and Waiting" R both great, my fave is "Eyes of a Child Part 2" -- they shoulda rocked like that more often.
I'd agree DAYS is pretty great, but a lot of the orchestrations R kinda cheezy -- I can't really start listening 2 it til "Peak Hour," which is a throwback 2 their "beat band" days. But the 2nd side is almost perfect.
Also like QUESTION -- & SOJOURN would B a better album if it wasn't programmed bass-ackwards. Shoulda led-off with "You and Me" & maybe ended with "Isn't Life Strange" -- which I'd probly still hate.
Still, my fave Moodies album ever is THE PRESENT -- it's so consistent, no really painful, embarrassing moments. VOYAGER's pretty solid too. BLUE JAYS is also a lost classic. But I can hardly take anything they did later. Coupla great singles, but the rest just hurts.
So, who's next? Who? ELP? Yes? Somebody else I can write an epic response to? Nice work, keep crankin' 'em out....

R S Crabb said...

Kinda figured I had you in mind while I thought of this one up Tad ;)

A lot of ppl I know agree that Children's Children was their best over all but your right about it being somewhat dark sounding. Simple Game was only on This Is The Moody Blues before it came out on The Prelude comp. Isn't Life Strange remains a strange choice for a single although the B side was the rocking After You Came which got more 45 play than the hit single, You're right ILS drags a bit too much.

For this, I pretty much did the classic Moody Blues album of that period and let off the other ones. You could probably make a case for Blue Jays since it came out in 75.

Octave still remains a disappointment although I do like Stepping Into A Slide Zone and Had to Fall in love and the sweet and sad Driftwood. And I'll Be Level With You is tolerable but the rest of that album is boring as hell, Side 2 probably the worst side they ever did. Long Distance Voyager was a surprise left field hit album overall and took about three decades to finally like it. I know you love The Present their last good album, took me forever to find a decent copy of it and still have it on the shelf. Blue World and Sitting At The Wheel are my favorites off that.

The rest of the Moody Blues albums are mostly miss than hit but their Christmas album December was better than expected. But in all fairness I didn't pay much attention to their newer material although some reviewer gave props to Strange Times, but can't bring myself to listen that one yet.