Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My General Moody-ness

I'm not generally a big fan of "Progressive" Rock bands in general, but one Prog Rock band that truly honks my hooter is the Moody Blues, victims of quite possibly the biggest snubbing of all-time by the vaunted Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame.  Some people consider the Moodies to be too lightweight or too high-brow or too mellow, while many aging hippies merely considered them to be great music to get high by back in the day, but they are a very important band in Rock history, and a band whose body of work (particularly their '60s and early '70s output) continues to grow on me after each listen.

The Moody Blues are also unique in that they started off as a Pop band during the British Invasion, scoring a hit in 1965 with "Go Now!", sung by future Paul McCartney co-hort Denny Laine, but they quickly fizzled out after that, and were on the verge of breaking up at one point.  Laine and their original bassist, the late Clint Warwick, left the band and were replaced by bassist John Lodge and guitarist Justin Hayward, the latter of whom nearly joined Eric Burdon and The Animals—good gracious, how that move would have altered music history in unfathomable ways!  They tried to carry on playing the same old Pop clap-trap, but soon realized they were destined for bigger and better things, and one thing led to another, thus they wound up making the landmark album Days Of Future Passed, which was initially intended by the record company to merely demonstrate the newly-emerging stereo format for vinyl records.  Days was such a wildly successful record amongst both the critics and the fans that the record company gave the Moody Blues free reign and unprecedented latitude to make their next album, and from then on, they enjoyed incredible artistic freedom for a British Rock band in the late '60s.

It's easy to only think of Justin Hayward's songs when you think of the Moody Blues because he sings on most of their big hits (esp. during the '80s), but it was only recently that I came to realize the unsung contributions that former Moodies Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas brought to this band.  Pinder was a wizard on the keyboards, and pioneered the use of the mellotron in Rock music.  The mellotron was a rather cantankerous instrument that used tape loops to sample different sounds like strings and horns and such.  Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road LP features quite a bit of mellotron on it, and even Lynyrd Skynyrd used one on "Tuesday's Gone" (very noticeable during the extended solo in the middle of that song), and Pinder used it to make the Moody Blues sound like they were backed by a full orchestra on their records, like on tracks such as "Gypsy (Of A Strange And Distant Time)", "The Actor" and even "I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock 'N' Roll Band)".  Also, Pinder's is the voice you hear reciting the "Late Lament" poem at the end of "Nights In White Satin".

Meantime, multi-tasker and fan favorite Ray Thomas played the flute, sax, and various percussion instruments and provided amazing backing vocals along with the occasional lead vocal, like on his signature song "Legend Of A Mind" (aka, "Timothy Leary's Dead", to those aforementioned aging hippies).  If you ever want to hear a really mesmerizing backing vocal performance, check out Brother Ray on "The Actor" from In Search Of The Lost Chord as his haunting falsetto just floods the background during the choruses of the song, giving it a wonderful trippy-ness that you don't even need to smoke a joint to enjoy.  Ray's backing vocals are also very prominent on "Nights In White Satin" and "The Story In Your Eyes", among many others.

The Moody Blues pretty much hit the wall in early 1973 following a concert tour, exhausted from their prodigious output of seven albums in a little over five years.  The band took a break and they each pursued solo projects (Lodge and Hayward worked together on a successful album called Blue Jays in 1975), and when the Moodies reconvened in late 1977, Pinder's heart was no longer in the group, so he departed after the recording of 1978's semi-successful comeback album Octave.  The comeback was completed on 1981's Long Distance Voyager, with former Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz replacing Pinder, and his contribution was immediately noticeable on the track "Gemini Dream".  Moraz remained with the band throughout the '80s, but curiously he barely even rated a mention in their 1993 box set Time Traveller, where he's credited as "additional keyboards", even though at the time Moraz was considered a full-fledged member of the group and appeared in all their videos.

I have to say that I enjoyed the Moody Blues' '80s music at that time, but as I listen to it now, stuff like "Your Wildest Dreams" and "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" pales in comparison to their '60s and early '70s catalog.  By the '80s, they were under record company pressure to churn out hit singles instead of cohesive albums, which were far less satisfying.  They continue to tour to this day (usually with an orchestra in tow every other tour), and what a coincidence—their set list leans heavily on those first seven albums.  Sadly, Ray Thomas was forced to retire about five years ago because of health issues, having already been relegated to tambourine duty on stage for many years—except during "Legend Of A Mind", where he usually brought the house down—but Lodge, Hayward, and drummer Graeme Edge continue to soldier on.  Not unlike with Cheap Trick, it depends on what night you catch the Moodies as to what live band you get.  In beer parlance, some nights are Michelob Ultra, while others are watered-down Miller Lite.

There are a ton of Moody Blues greatest hits compilation CDs out there, but none of them really do the band justice, apart from the box set.  Better yet, I suggest just investing in those first seven albums on CD (all remastered now too) and a good set of headphones, then just kick back and enjoy...

And you know damn well a band is important if they make a cameo appearance on "The Simpsons".  D'oh!!

My All-Time Moody Blues Top 10:
1) "I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock 'N' Roll Band)" (1972)
2) "The Story In Your Eyes" (1971)
3) "Legend Of A Mind" (1968)
4) "Tuesday Afternoon" (1967)
5) "Question" (1970)
6) "The Actor" (1968)
7) "Nights In White Satin" (1967)
8) "Lovely To See You" (1969)
9) "You And Me" (1972)
10) "Gypsy (In A Strange And Distant Time") (1969)

1 comment:

Randy Raley said...

Absolutely LOVE the Moodies, definately in my all time top ten. I did see them at Starlight in 2004 and they were horrible. Man, it was such a bummer. Sure, the three main characters are still there but sadly, something is missing. Maybe it was just me, but two weeks before that Bowie rocked my ass off at the same venue. Nice article, I don't know if I could do a top ten on the Moods, however.
Too many tunes. The "Have You Heard" medley is quite nice,...aw, don't get me started...