Wednesday, 14 October 2015
The Moody Blues: 1964-1974
The Moodies are another one of those bands who, after a split many years ago, have reformed and are still going, albeit in a slightly altered form. And, like the Quo, Deep Purple and Yes, they are another one of those reformed bands who don’t quite do it for me nowadays. This may be because, between 1967 and 1971, The Moody Blues released a run of six - yep, count ‘em - six absolutely stunning albums, an incredible workrate which produced a series of prog rock classics that rarely drop below levels of utter genius. So it’s always been hard to equate the quality of the material that this version of the band produced, with the one that did bouncy pop like “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” a decade or two later on.
But let’s not worry about what they are doing at the moment, and instead concentrate on the first incarnation(s) of the group.
The first line up of the band consisted of Mike Pinder on keyboards, Ray Thomas on flute and percussion, Graeme Edge on drums, Clint Warwick on bass, and future Wings member Denny Laine as their guitarist and lead singer. They were signed to Decca Records and released their debut single in 1964. Over the next couple of years, the band recorded a sizeable chunk of material, enough to fill up nearly seven singles as well as a debut LP, “The Magnificent Moodies”. Most of these releases failed to do much, a handful dented the top 40, but the album failed to chart in the UK at all. However, their cover of “Go Now”, released as their second 45 in late 64, gave them - statistically - their biggest ever hit, as it went to the top of the UK singles charts. Not even “Nights In White Satin” managed that.
The band’s sound was best categorised as R&B, or a Brummie-version of Merseybeat, and half of the debut album was covers of US R&B, with versions of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and old James Brown records. The band’s US label revamped the album, issuing it in a different cover and replacing several of the songs with material that had been issued in the UK on 45. But by 1966, the group were still struggling to make any real commercial headway, and mid 66 saw the departure of Clint Warwick from the group. He was replaced by Rod Clark, but by the end of the year, Clark had also walked along with, quite crucially, Denny Laine.
Decca continued to issue material by the band - the stand alone 45 “Boulevard De La Madelaine” was released in the UK as their next single, and in France as the lead track on an EP, which also included a previously unreleased track called “People Gotta Go”. There was plenty of more “Mark 1” material already in the can, but after a hyper rare release for “Life’s Not Life” in early 1967, the decision was taken to head in a different direction.
The band’s “classic” lineup was formed in late 1966 by the arrival of new bassist John Lodge, and singer and guitarist Justin Hayward. Initially, the change was gradual - the band remained signed to Decca, and their first single with Hayward, “Fly Me High”, was a flop, which even included an “old style” flipside in the form of “Really Haven’t Got The Time” - it dated from the Mark 1 sessions for the abandoned second album, but was appearing here in a re-recorded form by the new lineup. A second Decca 45, “Love And Beauty”, continued to showcase the band’s move away from their slightly simplistic R&B roots, but was still another non-hit.
The story of how the Moodies went from primitive R&B groovers into space-rock pioneers is open to question, but the legend goes that the group, after all these flop records, were in debt to Decca. Decca sound engineers had been working on a method of trying to improve the sound of new fangled stereo recordings, and had developed something called “Decca Panoramic Sound”. An offshoot label, formed from the title of this invention was launched as Deram, and the Moodies were allegedly approached by Decca with an offer - they would write off the debt, if the Moodies agreed to record an album that could be mixed in - what was now being called - the “Deramic Sound System”. A number of orchestral albums were due to be issued in this way in late 67, and Decca wanted the band to collaborate with their own in-house orchestra to create a rock/classic hybrid album.
Apparently, the plan was to record an adaptation of the classical piece “Symphony No 9”, but that once in the studio, the band simply set about recording an album of completely original songs, although the move from Decca to Deram did happen, and the “Deramic Sound System” logo appeared on the next album cover. The in-house orchestra, dubbed the “London Festival Orchestra”, did appear on this album as planned, but there remains scepticism about the backstory of the record, with some sources stating that the plan to record the symphony was something that was later talked about with the band in the 1970s.
Either way, album number two was issued in November 1967 - the ground breaking “Days Of Future Passed”, seen by some as the originator of the ‘concept LP’, more so than “Tommy” or “SF Sorrow”. It represented a mind boggling leap forward from the debut album, and was designed to showcase a typical 24 hour day. The album consisted of seven “pieces” of music, starting with “The Day Begins”, going through “Dawn“, “The Morning“, “Lunch Break“, “The Afternoon“, “Evening” and ending with “The Night”. Each of these pieces included at least one original piece of Moodies music, alongside a short orchestral section written by Peter Knight. The orchestral sections were designed to link each of the songs together, so that the album ran continuously across both sides of the record, but - like Deep Purple’s later “Concerto For Group And Orchestra” - the rock/classical hybrid was not perfect, as at no point did the band and the orchestra actually appear on the same individual song together...the nearest we got was that the LP mix of “Nights In White Satin” (which formed most of “The Night”) concluded with a Knight conducted orchestral flourish, something totally absent from the single mix.
There are moments of genius throughout - the opening and closing sections feature Graeme Edge poems narrated by Mike Pinder, both of which feature lines about the “cold hearted orb” - ie. The Moon. By repeating these lines at the end of “The Night”, it successfully brings the album full circle. And then we have the sheer beauty of “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)”, later issued as an edited overseas 45, the punchy bounce of “Peak Hour”, the growling piano driven roar of “Twilight Time” - this is a genuine masterpiece, and gave the band the commercial break through they deserved.
It was the first of seven albums to be issued with this lineup of the band before their mid 70s “split”, and the start of a run of much loved LP’s that sometimes get referred to as the “Core 7”. Each of these albums would usually follow a theme of sorts, although none were as explicitly spelt out as “Days Of Future Passed” had been. 1968 saw the release of the second of the “Core 7”, “In Search Of The Lost Chord”. It came housed in a gatefold sleeve, something that would become par for the course for the next few years, with a suitably proggy front cover. Again, the music was often spectacular - the romping pop of “Ride My See Saw”, the trippy pop of “Legend Of A Mind”, the spaced out psych of “The Best Way To Travel”, the hippyish, Indianesque rumble of the closing “Om” - this was light years away from “Go Now“. As per “Days”, the songs cross faded into one another to produce what were effectively two long pieces of uninterrupted music. This was music designed to be listened to in one setting. Please do not let me catch you streaming “part of it”. This cross fading trick would be repeated on future releases in the “Core 7” series.
1969’s “On The Threshold Of A Dream” was the first of five albums to be issued in gatefold sleeves whose full artwork was only revealed when the gatefold was fully folded out. In true proggy “respect the artwork” style, the track listing was completely absent from the back cover, and the inside had a posh lyric booklet. Yet again, the music was often flawless. The album title provided inspiration for the band, who then formed their own Threshold Records imprint, and issued their second LP of the year on their “new” label in late 69, “To Our Children’s Children’s Children”, which was home to the sublime “Watching And Waiting”, and several numbers which appeared separately throughout the record but which were ’linked’ (the two parts of “Eyes Of A Child”, along with side 1‘s “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred” and side 2’s “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million”).
On the subsequent tour, the band found it almost impossible to recreate any of this material on stage, such was the psychedelic complexity of it all, and so decided to “scale it back” for 1970’s “A Question Of Balance”, which was designed as a more ’rock and roll’ album. The artwork was still gloriously OTT, this time in a portrait-gatefold sleeve (ie. designed to be opened out and folded downwards, not left to right), and was home to the enormo-hit “Question”, a gloriously raucous acoustic guitar driven semi-orchestral romp, that despite being part of the new scaled back sound, was still as brilliantly noisy and anthemic as anything that had come before.
1971 gave us “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”, it’s title derived from the EGBDF mnemonic ’music’ formula, which like some of it’s predecessors (“Departure“ on “Lost Chord“, the robotic madness of “In The Beginning“ on “Threshold“), opened with a short but sweet introductory number designed to sort of wind the album up from a standstill, this time around being the big booming mostly instrumental proggy growl that was “Procession”, in which the band slowly chanted the words “Desolation, creation, communication”, before launching into the ultra-pop throb of “The Story In Your Eyes”. Glorious stuff. This particular song was issued as single, which like many of the band’s post-”White Satin” 45’s, was a spectacular flop. It was almost as if the band were seen by their fan base as a genuine “albums act”, what with all those bonkers opening numbers, concept album features and constant cross-fading, and these singles were not how you were ’supposed’ to listen to the band.
Now, you would need to ask my sister - who had bought all of the “Core 7” records pretty much when they first came out up until this point - as to why she never bothered with “Seventh Sojourn”, the band’s eighth LP but only their seventh with Hayward, hence the title. I eventually tracked it down in a charity shop years later. It may be psychological, having listened to her collection of the other records in the “Core 7” many many times for many many years before, but I’ve never gone back and listened to this one as much as the previous six. “Uncut” apparently only gave it two out of five, so perhaps she didn’t buy it at the time because it was seen as patchy, and maybe I don’t play it a lot because I think it must be patchy. But it does feature the complex pomp of “Isn’t Life Strange”, all wobbly vocal madness in the verses, followed by big, grandiose, mega-ness in the choruses. And you also get the harmony driven glory of “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock And Roll Band”, where more or less everybody in the group takes lead vocals AT THE SAME TIME and follows The Byrds’ own “So You Wanna Be A Rock And Roll Star” in proclaiming the slight pointlessness of rock and roll music, and was reportedly written to deflate their fans own view of the band, who allegedly saw them as music messiahs who had mystical healing powers, so I am told (see Wikipedia). The LP went top 5, and “Singer” dented the top 40, but “Nights In White Satin” was still floating around like an albatross, and repressed copies of the original 1967 release sold in such high numbers after a Deram driven promo campaign, that it made it into the top 10. It even went top 20 again as part of a third “revamp” for the release in 1979.
The band did head back into the studio in 1973 to begin work on album number nine, and at least one song, “Island”, was finished, before the band decided they probably needed a break, as there hadn’t been a period of more than a year without new Moodies material (“Island” was later added as a bonus track to an expanded “Seventh Sojourn”). A ’final’ tour to promote the album was conducted, before the band announced their hiatus. To mark their “temporary” sabbatical, Threshold issued the utterly monumental “This Is The Moody Blues” in 1974. Ignoring the Denny Laine years completely, this double LP set offered a run through of singles, flipside “A Simple Game” (later covered by The Four Tops) and standout album tracks (such as the two parts of “Have You Heard” that were used to bookend “The Voyage“, and the haunting genius of “Melancholy Man“). In keeping with the original albums, cross fading was employed here, and because many of the songs were appearing here ‘out of context’ from their original LP’s, the cross fades were thus mostly different, meaning that pretty much everything here was appearing in what were essentially new mixes. A collectors dream. “Nights In White Satin” and “Late Lament”, which had formed the bulk of “The Night” on “Days Of Future Passed”, were again used here as album closers.
In 1977, with the band still on hold, Decca rummaged through the vaults and pieced together the “Caught Live +5” set which, despite featuring then contemporary photos of the band on the cover, consisted entirely of material from the 60s. A double LP, the first three sides documented the band’s Royal Albert Hall gig on 12.12.69, with the fourth side a set of 5 studio outtakes (hence the title). The band seemingly disowned it, I guess that was the reason this stuff had been left in the storeroom for eight years.
The group reformed later that year to begin work on the follow up to the “Core 7”, with the appropriately titled “Octave”. However, as the final stages of the recording process took place, Pinder decided to leave the band, and by the time it was released, the band were being presented to the public as a four piece. Former Yes man Patrick Moraz joined, although after he left, the rest of the group claimed he was never more than a session musician. Ray Thomas left a few years ago due to ill health, reducing the band to a trio. This does mean, for anybody who is still keeping the faith, that drummer Graeme Edge is now the sole surviving member, just like Paicey in Purple.
Compilations and Reissues
For those of you who are only interested in the Mark 1 and 2 lineups, once you have “This Is The Moody Blues” in your life, what next? Well, I would certainly recommend the Dutch only 2001 release on BR Music called “The Singles +”, which features all of the band’s UK a-sides from the period, along with stuff that made it to A-side status overseas (“Stop”, “Melancholy Man”), the odd b-side and stuff from after 1973, including Justin Hayward’s quite charming “Forever Autumn”. For the stuff from the Deram and Threshold years, this means you get rare 7” edits from the period.
1989’s “Greatest Hits”, which covers the 1967-1988 period, includes two 1988 “reworkings” of stuff from the “Core 7” years - slightly pointless, especially as these re-recorded songs lack the punch of the originals - alongside five “untouched“ songs from the Mark 2 years. The 1994 boxset “Time Traveller” is mostly concerned with the Mark 2 years, and includes an alternate mix of “House Of Four Doors” which sees the original “Pt 1” and “Pt 2” mixes glued together. There have also been several “posthumous” releases, such as the BBC sessions album “Live At The BBC 1967-1970” (issued 2007) and “Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970” (issued 2008). A couple of Moodies’ best ofs in more recent times have made the effort to include “Go Now” at the start of the proceedings, including 1997’s “The Best Of The Moody Blues”, whilst completists may be interested in 1987’s “Prelude”, which cobbled together the “genuine” standalone A-sides and B-sides from the Mark 2 years (ie. not the 7” mixes of album tracks that were issued as flipsides) along with the five studio outtakes from “Caught Live”. 2006’s “An Introduction To The Moody Blues” was concerned entirely with the Mark 1 lineup.
All of the eight albums from this period have now appeared in expanded form. “The Magnificent Moodies” has appeared on a number of occasions in expanded form, more so than any of the “Core 7”, suggesting Decca have never cared for it a great deal so have left everyone else to step in every so often to have a go at revamping it. A late 80s reissue of the album was issued on Decca, and included all 13 of the non-album A-sides and B-sides that appeared before Hayward joined, which was then followed by a slightly bizarre reissue on Repertoire Records in the 90s which included only a random selection of the same batch of material. My copy is a later Repertoire reissue, from 2006, which includes the 13 rarities plus “People Gotta Go”. The most recent reissue has been this year, to tie in with the 50th anniversary, which does all this and then adds a second disc of outtakes, including material from the aborted second LP.
The “Core 7” albums were subjected to a special reissue program in 2006/7. Now, given that - “Seventh Sojourn” aside - there is, in my opinion, little to choose between this lot in terms of their sonic genius, it’s difficult to work out why some were subjected to 2-CD Deluxe repressings, and others were given more bog standard single-disc reissues, with just a handful of bonuses shoved onto the end of the original album. Many of these releases were issued as hybrid SACD releases, and featured a big chunk of material taped for the BBC - but after the Beeb material was shoehorned onto the “Live At The BBC” set, then all of the albums were reissued as regular CD’s in 2008 (the SACD is now, officially, a dead duck of a format) with the original double disc releases repackaged as single disc releases, with much of the BBC session material now missing. However, the ‘08 reissue of “Lost Chord” saw some of it’s non-BBC rarity material go AWOL as well, so I would urge anybody starting from scratch to try and go for the double CD sets if they can. I assume the decision to reissue these ones as single discs was so that the prices for each could be set at a standard level.
Legend has it, that the original master tapes for “Future Passed” had reached a level of deterioration by the late 70s, so much so that a new mix of the album had to be created for future releases. Therefore, anybody owning a copy of this record on vinyl or cassette that was pressed before 1978 has in their hands, a now unavailable mix. I did read somewhere, or maybe I imagined it, that some other albums may also have been affected. So, for fun, the discography below lists the original pressings of the eight studio albums, on the basis that at least one is an essential buy - and then, the details of either the most recent reissue, or the most important one, from the noughties and beyond. We also have some of the important “other” releases thereafter and all of the singles from the period.
ORIGINAL STUDIO ALBUMS AND LATER IMPORTANT REISSUES
The Magnificent Moodies (1965, LP, Decca LK 4711)
The Magnificent Moodies (2015 reissue, 2xCD, Esoteric ECLEC 22473)
Days Of Future Passed (1967, LP, Deram SML 707)
Days Of Future Passed (2006 reissue, 2xCD, Deram 983 2150)
In Search Of The Lost Chord (1968, LP, Deram SML 711)
In Search Of The Lost Chord (2006 reissue, 2xCD, Deram 983 214 7)
On The Threshold Of A Dream (1969, LP, Deram SML 1035)
On The Threshold Of A Dream (2006 reissue, CD, Deram 983 2153)
To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969, LP, Threshold THS 1)
To Our Children’s Children’s Children (2006 reissue, 2xCD, Threshold 983 2156)
A Question Of Balance (1970, LP, Threshold THS 3)
A Question Of Balance (2006 reissue, CD, Threshold 983 7706)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971, LP, Threshold THS 5)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (2007 reissue, CD, Threshold 984 5506)
Seventh Sojourn (1972, LP, Threshold THS 7)
Seventh Sojourn (2007 reissue, CD, Threshold 984 5507)
Note: it is also worth pointing out that 8 track cartridge versions of these records exist, many including alternate mixes of a number of the tracks, due to the “logistics” of the format - “House Of Four Doors“, on “In Search Of The Lost Chord“ for example, appears in three sections, as opposed to the two sections you get on LP. Whether you can play any of these or not once you find a copy, is another story.
OTHER CDS OF NOTE
This Is The Moody Blues (1974, 2xCD, Threshold 820 007-2, 1989 reissue with booklet and foam inner)
Caught Live +5 (1977, CD, Threshold 820 161-2)
Greatest Hits (1988, CD, Threshold 840 659 2)
The Singles + (2001, 2xCD, BR Music BS 8123-2)
Live At The BBC (2007, 2xCD, Deram 984 720-2)
Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival (2008, CD, Eagle EAGCD 380)
Steal Your Heart Away/Loose Your Money (7”, Decca F11971)
Go Now/It’s Easy Child (7”, Decca F12022, reissued in 1985 with “I Don‘t Want To Go On Without You“ on B-side on Old Gold)
I Don’t Want To Go On Without You/Time Is On My Side (7”, Decca F12095)
The Moody Blues EP: Go Now/Loose Your Money/I Don’t Want To Go On Without You/Steal Your Heart Away (7”, Decca DFE 8622, p/s)
From The Bottom Of My Heart/And My Baby’s Gone (7”, Decca F12166)
Everyday/You Don’t (7”, Decca F12266)
Boulevard De La Madelaine/This Is My House (But Nobody Calls) (7”, Decca F12498)
Life’s Not Life/He Can Win (7”, Decca F12543)
Fly Me High/Really Haven’t Got The Times (7”, Decca F12607)
Love And Beauty/Leave This Man Alone (7”, Decca F12670)
Nights In White Satin/Cities (7”, Deram DM161, later reissued in 1983 on Old Gold)
Voices In The Sky (7” Mix)/Dr Livingstone I Presume (7” Mix) (7”, Deram DM196)
Ride My See Saw (7” Mix)/A Simple Game (7”, Deram DM213)
Never Comes The Day (7” Mix)/So Deep Within You (7” Mix) (7”, Deram DM247)
Watching And Waiting (7” Mix)/Out And In (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH1)
Question (7” Mix)/Candle Of Life (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH4, later reissued in 1983 on Old Gold)
The Story In Your Eyes (7” Mix)/My Song (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH6)
Isn’t Life Strange (7” Mix)/After You Came (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH9)
I’m Just A Singer In A Rock And Roll Band (7” Mix)/For My Lady (7” Mix) (7”, Threshold TH13)