The Other Side Of Life by The Moody Blues

June 4, 2009

The sixties were long gone and The Moody Blues weren’t young anymore. That’s not to say that they weren’t smart however. They continued to move further and further from their orchestral and classical roots toward a modern eighties sound. Patrick Moraz’s keyboards would be unleashed to create the type of synthesizer pop/rock sound that was so popular at the time. It was polished and sometimes repetitive but it was commercially successful. The Other Side Of Life would reach the top ten in The United States and spawn two hit singles.

Justin Hayward and John Lodge were now the dominant creative force of the group. They would write or co-write eight of the nine songs. Ray Thomas almost completely disappears as he does not receive any writing credit and is only listed as a back-up vocalist. The only non Lodge-Hayward track was “The Spirit” which was co-authored by Graeme Edge and Patrick Moraz and is just average eighties style rock ‘n’ roll.

There are three very good songs on this album. The best is probably Justin Hayward’s hit single, “Your Wildest Dreams.” It has some of the epic grandeur of their past material while retaining a modern sound. It has a wonderful lead vocal by Hayward while the lyrics explore the experience of first love. It would reach the American top ten on Billboard’s Pop Charts plus number one Adult Contemporary and number two Mainstream Rock. It attracted a new generation of fans. Also of note was the second successful single, “The Other Side Of Life,” which is a nice and smooth pop rocker plus John Lodge’s power ballad, “It May Be Fire,” which closes the original release.

The rest of the album has some ups and downs. “I Just Don’t Care” by Hayward is a nice ballad but he has covered that ground a lot better in the past. “Talkin’ Talkin’” is actually danceable which is not what I want from The Moody Blues. Songs such as “Rock “N’ Roll Over You,” and “Slings and Arrows” just don’t measure up with the many superior songs they had created over the years.

The Other Side Of Life is average eighties guitar/keyboards based music which makes it one of the weaker releases in the group’s catalogue. There is nothing terribly offensive but if you plan on listening to some Moody Blues music there are a lot of other albums that are a superior visit. If, however, you are an eighties aficionado or a hard core Moody Blues fan then go ahead.

The Present by The Moody Blues

June 4, 2009

The Present is now 26 years in the past as it was issued in August of 1983. The Moody Blues returned two years after releasing Long Distance Voyager which had become their second number one album in The United States. While this new release continued in the same progressive rock vein proven successful, it was an over all weaker album and was not a great commercial success as it did not crack the American top forty.

Patrick Moraz was the keyboardist for his first complete album after touring with the group for two years. His playing was now providing the foundation for their sound and it moved them closer to being a typical eighties progressive rock band.

While The Present retained the musical slickness of Long Distance Voyager, the lyrics were not as hopeful or optimistic which gave the album an overall depressing feel.

Justin Hayward and John Lodge would write or co-write seven of the ten tracks but it would be the three by Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas that I found the most interesting. “Going Nowhere,” which was written by Edge but sung by Thomas, is nice seventies rock ‘n’ roll. Edge’s drumming and Moraz’s keyboards drive the song along. Ray Thomas produced the last two tracks on the original vinyl release. The short “I Am” has a mystical appeal. It is, however, the five minute final track, “Sorry,” which contains a classic Moody Blues sound with harmonies and keyboards all in place that may be the best on the album.

John Lodge would write three songs. “Sitting At The Wheel” and “Under My Feet” are typical and average rockers while “Hole In The Wall” is an instrumental. All three are a pleasant listen but are not memorable or up to par with his best work.

Justin Hayward would also write three tracks. His “Blue World” would be representative of the direction that he and Lodge were steering the group. A fusion of guitar and synthesizers pushed the track toward a main stream rock sound. “It’s Cold Outside Of Your Heart” is a gentle love ballad that he was so good at creating and “Running Water” probably contains his best vocal.

The final song was written by Lodge and Hayward together. “Meet Me Halfway” may not be original but does have a nice smooth flowing appeal with good harmonies.

The Present is one of those albums where there is nothing really wrong but nothing outstanding to make it essential either. As such it gets lost among the many superior and creative releases in The Moody Blues catalogue. In the final analysis it may not be inspiring but is it solid which is faint and in this case appropriate praise.

Long Distance Voyager by The Moody Blues

June 4, 2009

Change was in the air for The Moody Blues. Founding member and keyboardist Mike Pinder had left and was replaced by Patrick Moraz. In many respects Pinder had been the spiritual and creative center of the group. His virtuosity on the mellotron and chamberlin had provided the classical and orchestral sound that had made them famous. Moraz had played with Yes for a spell and was a technically adept musician, his sound bringing a modern element to the Moody Blues.

The other change was Justin Hayward and John Lodge were emerging as a creative force. While elements of their former sound would still remain, they could now be classified as a progressive rock band.

Despite all these changes, Long Distance Voyager was a huge commercial success and would become their second chart-topping album in The United States, ultimately producing two hit singles. It was a very consistent work and is probably the best overall post-core-seven release of their career.

The album’s lead track, written by Justin Hayward, was “The Voice.” It contained somewhat mystical lyric, but the sound was very commercial and contained an excellent guitar solo. It was very representative of the early eighties yet was superior to most of what was being produced. Likewise the successful single, “Gemini Dream,” is a fun rocker that is driven by Moraz’s keyboards.

Graeme Edge would only contribute one song but it would be memorable. “22,000 Days” is bombastic rock with thoughtful and hopeful lyrics. 22,000 were considered about the number of days in an adult life and the song focused on how they should be used.

“Nervous,” by John Lodge, is one of the great lost songs of The Moody Blues catalogue. It begins slow and mellow but gradually soars with strings and an orchestral sound.

Ray Thomas would write a suite of three songs to end the album. While he would spend another two decades with the group, his contributions would dwindle. “Painted Smile” and the wonderful “Veteran Cosmic Rocker” were connected by a short poem. They used circus imagery and have a childlike quality to them. “Veteran Cosmic Rocker” would become a part of their stage act and, as time passed and the group aged, it would take on new meaning.

Long Distance Voyager remains one of the better and more interesting albums to have emerged from the early eighties. It is both powerful and uplifting, serving as a clear statement that The Moody Blues were alive and well.

Octave by The Moody Blues

June 2, 2009

The Moody Blues returned after a five year hiatus with a very different sounding album. The punk and disco era were now in full flower and such groups as Styx, Journey, and REO Speedwagon were dominating the rock charts. Octave would abandon the cosmic and symphonic sound of the group’s past, and move toward one more in tune with the era. As such it would not stand out as a unique creation as did their core of classic albums.

Octave would also be the last album for founding member Mike Pinder. He had always provided a spiritual and in many ways the classical center of their music through his mellotron and chamberlin. Now playing a synthesizer the sound was different and not as grand. Years later it would come to light that he was not pleased with the musical direction of the group. Patrick Moraz would replace him as the group’s keyboardist and tour in support of the album.

Octave would have no unifying theme and be the most diffuse album that The Moody Blues had released up until that time. Each song would match the individual personality of its composer.

The John Lodge composition, “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone,” was typical of the new sound. It is a typical energetic Lodge rocker but the musical center was the keyboard-guitar interplay which was in vogue at the time. Still it was catchy and was a commercially successful single.

Justin Hayward is in ballad mode for this release and while he would not create anything as wonderful or unique as “Nights In White Satin,” his music is still very listenable because of the innate beauty of the songs. “Had To Fall In Love” and “Top Rank Suite” are both very mellow. “Driftwood” is the best of the three as it is a gentle love ballad which was a Hayward trademark by this time.

Ray Thomas created two songs for this release. “I’m Your Man” just disappears but “Under Moonshine” contains a strong lead vocal by him plus some classic harmonies by the other members of the group.

“One Step Into The Light” would be a final spiritual statement by Mike Pinder and his only composition on the album. The music would be more progressive rock than the grandiose sound of his past as he would bring his Moody Blues career to a conclusion.

A fourth Justin Hayward song would close the album. “The Day We Meet Again” would unintentionally or intentionally point toward the future as a new keyboardist was on the way and the grand classical sounds were being left behind.

Make no mistake, Octave remains a very good late seventies album but does fall short of the group’s best work. It was different, more modern, and ultimately a transitional work. Despite all that it still remains a good, if not essential, Moody Blues listen today.

Seventh Sojourn by The Moody Blues

June 2, 2009

It’s odd what a person remembers over the years. When Seventh Sojourn was released on November 17, 1972, I was in college and my car was in the shop. I was a big Moody Blues fan and so I walked the two or so miles to and from the record store where it was on sale. I can’t think of many recent album releases that I would be willing to walk four miles in order to purchase on the first day of release. A lot of people in the United States must have made that same journey to their local record stores as the album became The Moody Blues first Number One hit in the United States and stayed in that position for five weeks.

Seventh Sojourn was the group’s seventh release issued between 1967 and 1972 and completed what would become known as their classic core of albums. It would be five years before they released another album as the members of the group would pursue individual projects, all ultimately releasing solo efforts. It was a fitting memorial to leave behind before they went on hiatus.

The Moody Blues’ career was now at its creative peak. They are one of very few groups who were able to produce so many excellent, creative, and commercial albums in a row. This latest release was worldlier than cosmic. The sound was polished and it had a definite progressive rock feel. Mike Pinder had retired his mellotron and now played an instrument called the chamberlin, which was named after its inventor. It was technologically superior to the mellotron, but by the time the group had returned to the studio it had been superseded by the development of the synthesizer.

When I play this album today I am drawn to the two John Lodge compositions which closed sides one and two of the original vinyl release. Both would become hit singles. “Isn’t Life Strange” has an almost peaceful feel as it meanders along to the entwining sound of Pinder’s chamberlin and Ray Thomas’ flute. Lodge and Justin Hayward provide stellar vocals. “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock and Roll Band)” is a classic John Lodge rocker and one of the group’s best known songs. It has a tremendous amount of energy and remains a concert favorite over 35 years after its release. These two songs perfectly show the two sides of not only John Lodge but of The Moody Blues as well.

Ray Thomas contributed “For My Lady,” which featured him playing the flute and providing the lead vocal at the same time, making it impossible to play live except with an orchestra. The sound has a light feel to it but the music is actually dense and complex.

Justin Hayward wrote or co-wrote three of the eight tracks. “New Horizons” is a poignant balled for his deceased father and new daughter. “The Land Of Make Believe” speaks of a perfect world and features both his acoustic and electric guitar playing. “You and Me,” written with Graeme Edge, is an up-tempo rocker with some political bite. It is an anti-Vietnam War song and features the wonderful harmonies that the group is known for.

Mike Pinder provided the last two songs and they are the closest to what is considered the classic Moody Blues sound. “When You’re A Free Man” lyrically explores breaking free from psychological oppression. Despite its dark lyrics, though, the music has a floating and dreamy feel to it. “Lost In A Lost World” is about the evils of government and again is representative of the creative sounds that he could put together.

Seventh Sojourn was a wonderful way for The Moody Blues to end the first phase of their career. It is a thoughtful, mature album and remains a lasting monument to their creative power. As I look back over the decades toward this album, I have to say that it was a four-mile journey well worth taking.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by The Moody Blues

June 2, 2009

The Moody Blues returned in July of 1971 with the sixth of what would become known as their seven core albums which stretch from Days Of Future Passed to Seventh Sojourn.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour returned the group to their layered textures and cosmic musical feel that had been abandoned on their stripped down last release, A Question Of Balance. There would, however, be no unifying theme present; instead each song would be a unique creation. Despite veering from their usual unified approach the music would be highly listenable throughout and would reach the number one and two positions on the English and United States charts respectively. The title would be taken from a way to memorize the sonic scales; E, G, B, D, F.

The lyrics would not be as other-worldly as on their past releases but many would be darker in nature. The sonic and inspirational quality of the music would serve as a counterpoint to the words. This would also be the last Moody Blues album in which Mike Pinder’s mellotron would play a significant role as technological advances in the music field would lead toward its ultimate retirement.

The album would begin with the only song in their catalogue that gives writing credit to all five members of the group. “Possession,” which only includes three spoken words, desolation, creation, and communication, is a history of music and the human race if you want to stretch a little and all in just under five minutes. It is a building and complex song and is seventies progressive rock at its most self indulgent and creative.

Justin Hayward’s “The Story In Your Eyes” is the second track and explodes from the speakers. It would become a hit single and a signature song for the group. The dark lyrics are almost overlooked as the mellotron and guitars combine to give the track a high energy rock sound.

One track that breaks up the dark mood is John Lodge’s “Emily’s Song.” The song was written for his baby daughter and while gentle in nature, it has a complexity due to the overdubbing of the instruments. According to the group it was never performed live until 1992 when they had an orchestra behind them to fill in the sounds. I can only wonder what Emily thinks of this song as she approaches forty.

The album contains a number of other highlights. “After You Came” has wonderful flute work by Ray Thomas mixed in with Justin Hayward’s stellar guitar playing. “Nice To Be Here” is the other track that lightens the mood as it is a kind of funny philosophical fairly tale. “You Can Never Go Home” is classic Justin Hayward as the sound soars in this examination of love on several levels.

The album concludes with the six minute opus, “My Song,” written by Mike Pinder. This is The Moody Blues at their cosmic best as the music sweeps the listener away to places unimagined.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is like a book with a number of short stories that are exrememly entertaining even though they don’t form a continuous story. While it is often overshadowed by some of the Moody Blues more famous albums, it stands the test of time well and still deserves a listen now and then.

A Question Of Balance by The Moody Blues

June 2, 2009

The Moody Blues returned in August of 1970 with a release that was somewhat different than their four previous efforts. It has been chronicled that the group was having trouble reproducing their sound live and that some songs just could not be presented at all. I saw The Moody Blues in concert in the early 1980’s and, from what I remember, they had no problems recreating their studio sound, but maybe technology had advanced far enough by that time so that it had become possible. Whatever the reason, A Question Of Balance leaves behind much of the cosmic atmosphere and complicated instrumentals in favor of a more stripped-down sound. The album would resonate with the record-buying public and reach Number One in England and Number Three in The United States.

Also missing is the exploration of one cohesive theme. While several songs explore the meaning of life and identity, they are not as unified as on their former releases.

The Moody Blues veered from their past by placing a Justin Hayward track as the lead-off song rather than a Graeme Edge composition as had been the norm. “Question” would be a hit single in England and in the USA and remains one of the group’s signature songs. This straightforward and catchy rocker would also have a little political bite as it deals with the issues of the Vietnam War, which was raging at the time. Justin Hayward’s guitar playing that connects the track’s two halves is particularly memorable.

Ray Thomas’ “And The Tide Rushes In” remains one of my top five or so favorite Moody Blues songs. This pensive but beautiful piece is a philosophical exploration of the wrongs and problems of life which are ultimately washed away.

John Lodge’s first contribution, “Tortoise And The Hare,” is in some regards a typical rocker by his standards, but he also simplifies the sound and it adds up to a fun listen. “Minstrel’s Song” features one of the better vocals of his career; plus the guitar work by Justin Hayward and the drumming by Graeme Edge are first rate.

The two Mike Pinder songs are less successful than much of his past work. “How Is It (We Are Here)” is a dark song on the environment and starvation. Likewise, “Melancholy Man” has an ominous feel to it.

This time the album concludes with an Edge/Thomas composition in which the lyrics are spoken. The song contains wonderful imagery and is probably the closest they come to sounding like their past work.

A Question Of Balance would be a stand-alone album as they would return to their former style with their next release. Still, when I think about their catalogue, this would be the album that I have probably listened to the most, except for possibly Days Of Future Passed. Nearly forty years after its release, it remains thoughtful as well as interesting and should be a part of any progressive rock collection.

To Our Children’s Children’s Children by The Moody Blues

June 1, 2009

The Moody Blues returned in November of 1969 with their fourth consecutive concept album. They had explored a day in a life, a spiritual journey, dreams, and now they traveled into space. Apollo 11 had landed on the moon the previous summer and humanity’s venture into space was at its apex. The five members of The Moody Blues would create a cosmic, philosophical, and musical look at mankind’s reaching outward into the unknown.

To Our Children’s Children’s Children may not be the most enjoyable Moody Blues album, but it is one of the most creative and experimental. The songs form a cohesive unit and from track one through thirteen they keep it interesting.

Graeme Edge would again lead off the album. This time, however, it would be through his first full length song as “Higher and Higher” clocks in at over four minutes. The sound of a rocket taking off and the lyrics recited by Mike Pinder introduce the theme. This rock song launches the Moody Blues and the listener into the space age at least from a musical perspective.

I have always thought that the next three songs were some of the most creative that the group would produce. “Eyes Of A Child” by John Lodge is a two part composition that is split by Ray Thomas’s “Floating.” The brilliance is in the simplicity and the beauty. The wonder and hope of the space age is explored through the wonder of a child.

“Out and In” was the only song that Mike Pinder and John Lodge would co-write together, and in some ways is the center piece of the album around which all the other music swirls. Pinder’s mellotron provides a lush backing for this exploration of the universe.

There are a number of other delicacies to be found here. “Gypsy” is an ominous and haunting rocker by Justin Hayward. “Eternity Road,” penned by Ray Thomas, is a wonderful and upbeat lyrical journey that considers space exploration as a continuing journey. Beneath the grandiose music is some of Justin Hayward’s masterful guitar playing. “Candle Of Life” finds John Lodge diverting from his usual rock style and contributing a romantic and lovely song centered around a piano sound.

It’s easy to ignore the two Justin Hayward compositions, “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred” and “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million,” as they are very short. It is a looking back at life and opportunities taken and passed over. As you grow older these songs take on new meaning. To Our Children’s Children’s Children has an artistry to it and fits in well with The Moody Blues catalog of concept albums. It holds up very nicely so put on your ear phones, turn the lights down low, close your eyes, and prepare to leave this world, all courtesy of The Moody Blues.

On The Threshold Of A Dream by The Moody Blues

May 31, 2009

On The Threshold Of A Dream is an album where the sum is better than the parts. There were no breakout songs or hit singles such as “Nights In White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon” from Days Of Future Passed, or “Ride My See Saw” from In Search Of The Lost Chord. Instead the music all hangs together and the songs need to be experienced as a whole rather than individually. Released in April of 1969, it would be the Moody Blues largest selling album to date and would reach number one in England.

It was another concept album from The Moody Blues. After exploring the themes of a day in the life of a person, and the journey of spiritual enlightenment, they now turned to dreams. While still maintaining their classical-rock fusion roots, they would move a little closer to what can be considered to be progressive rock. The lyrics were a little more obscure and open to interpretation than in the past, but the lush instrumentals maintained their other worldly quality. Of all their releases this one may have painted the best visual pictures.

Graeme Edge leads off the album in typical Moody Blues fashion. “In The Beginning” introduces the theme as he employs spoken lyrics again. It immediately establishes the mood of what will follow.

John Lodge continued his tradition of providing upbeat material. His “Send Me No Wine” and “To Share Our Love” can both be considered love songs hidden in rock structures, and Mike Pinder provides the lead vocal for the second tune which was rare for a Lodge composition. His songs would usually stand out as they tended to rock more than the material by the other members of the group.

Justin Hayward contributed two songs. “Lovely To See You” and “Never Comes The Day” are both melodic and feature his comfortable vocals. They tend to lull the listener and draw him or her into the sound.

Mike Pinder would create the most complex and interesting music. His two part “Have You Heard” and “The Voyage” form three quarters of a suite that close the album. “The Voyage” features his mellotron as the focal point, while a cello and flute dart in and out. “So Deep Within You” is a song of longing for love and features one of Ray Thomas’ stellar flute solos.

The track that may capture the ambiance of the album best is “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” which was written by Ray Thomas and Justin Hayward. It uses the imagery of King Arthur and Camelot. Thomas’ flute creates a dreamy sound as it floats above Hayward’s guitar work.

On The Threshold Of A Dream is another Moody Blues album that stands the test of time well. The music has majesty and creates a sense of wonder and not many albums can make that claim. It should be a part of everyone’s collection.

In Search Of The Lost Chord by The Moody Blues

May 31, 2009

The Moody Blues became stars because of their creative fusion of a classical and rock sound on their 1967 release, Days Of Future Past. They solidified that star status in 1968 with the release of In Search Of The Lost Chord. It was, for the most part, another concept album as it traced a spiritual journey which included a search for the lost chord.

In Search Of The Lost Chord may not have had the lushness or sonic quality of its predecessor, but it more than made up for it in creativeness. Gone was the orchestral backing and in its place the five members of the group would play over thirty different instruments. A sitar and tablas played by Justin Hayward, a cello by John Lodge, timpani by Graeme Edge, saxophone and different types of flutes by Ray Thomas, and harpsichord plus an autoharp by Mike Pinder all contributed to the unique sound of the album. The central component continued to be Pinder’s mellotron, which could mimic dozens of instrumental sounds. The Moody Blues were proving that their music went beyond just listening enjoyment as it also created an experience to be shared.

I have always felt that Graeme Edge’s 48-second song, “Departure,” was the perfect introduction to the album. The spoken lyrics announce the beginning of a spiritual and musical journey. John Lodge’s classic rocker, “Ride My See Saw,” follows and is one of the better straight rock ‘n’ roll songs in the group’s illustrious history. John Lodge would also contribute “House Of Four Doors.” This two-part composition would contain a complex interplay of instruments all centered around the mellotron. The sophisticated textures and layers would trace musical styles through history.

The sound created by The Moody Blues would often be associated with a drug trip. In fact, the six-minute, forty-second track, “Legend Of The Mind,” written and sung by Ray Thomas, was a tribute to Timothy Leary. Its relatively lengthy two-minute flute solo helped to establish this experience. The song has long been a concert staple for the group. The Hayward-Thomas creation, “Visions Of Paradise” would continue in the drug-trip vein.

Justin Hayward contributed two beautiful compositions. The music of “Voices In The Sky” just soars behind his lead vocal. “The Actor” is a haunting ballad built around his delicate acoustic guitar playing.

“Om” by Mike Pinder brings the album to its final destination. It has mid-eastern roots and places the cello and mellotron at the center of its sound. It is a meditative piece that brings the album to a fulfilling end.

In Search Of The Lost Chord is both thoughtful and fascinating and remains a timeless celebration of rock music at its creative best.