Sunday, November 5, 2017

Mood Indigo: The Case of the Moody Blues

Baby, Baby, Baby, Let's Investigate The Moody Blues had a long career, perhaps longer than you remember. They were in the Top Ten with “Go Now” in 1965, early enough to be considered part of the British Invasion, and were in the Top Forty with “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” as late as 1988, in the shank of the MTV era. All told, they placed 13 songs in the American Top Forty, three of them in the Top Ten.

What they’re best known for is the series of singles released from their somewhat spacy (but not quite progressive, I would say) albums from 1967 to 1972. ‘Tuesday Afternoon,” “Ride My Seesaw,” “Question,” “The Story in Your Eyes,” “Isn’t Life Strange,” and “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock n Roll Band)” all became FM-radio staples, and are fondly remembered by early-70s stoners to this day.

Just What the Truth Is, I Can't Say Anymore The Moodies are probably best remembered as an album rock band, but they were a particularly top-heavy band. The singles listed above all had a certain verve to them, but the rest of the albums tended to be sub-filler quality, especially the poetry written by drummer Graeme Edge (which was generally passed to keyboardist Mike Pinder to recite). “Senior citizens wish they were young,” indeed.

And then there’s “Nights in White Satin,” the warhorse from the Moodies’ groundbreaking 1967 album Days of Future Passed, recorded with a full orchestra. “Nights in White Satin" was the first single released from that album – and promptly stiffed, stalling out at Number 103 on the Billboard charts. In 1972, a longer version of the single was re-released, and this time, it took off, peaking at Number Two on the charts that December. There's a story on the Internet that the song's second life began when a late-night DJ in D.C. began using it as his theme music; if any of this blog's loyal readers know for sure, please let the author know.

Was “Nights in White Satin” the first power ballad? It set that template of hyperemotional singing backed by swelling strings, and it probably doesn’t hurt that Justin Hayward was just 19 when he wrote it. The power ballad is certainly a disreputable genre, but it’s also clear that “Nights in White Satin” is one of the absolute best of the type, as long as it doesn't last into the recitation.

After the release of 1972’s Seventh Sojourn and a subsequent lengthy tour, the Moodies went on hiatus, putting a five-year gouge in the middle of their career. One reason for the hiatus was to allow the members to work on their solo careers, which speaks to the hubris of the era, but probably signifies just as strongly the huge amount of money flowing into the rock industry in the mid-1970s. You don’t take five years off from your career without being very financially secure.

At the same time, it doesn't do a whole lot for their Hall of Fame case. You expect a little more output from a band that has at best one truly classic single.

Why Do We Never Get an Answer? They came back in the 1980s to a certain amount of success, but it’s the run from 1967 to 1972 that the Moody Blues will be remembered for. Is it enough to get them into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Probably. Is it enough for them to get my vote? No. Hey, I liked them a lot at the time, even though I thought the colored-pencil album cover for In Search of the Lost Chord looked kind of cheap, but there’s nothing indelible or innovative here, aside from the work with the orchestra on Days of Future Passed, which is not the kind of thing we want to encourage. They’re likely getting in, but without any help from me.

1 comment:

  1. The Moody Blues were neither particularly moody, nor all that blue. Discuss.

    The hiatus could be seen as a positive -- when they got burned out on the album-tour-album-tour routine, they stepped away, rather than grinding on just so they could keep releasing "output."
    (More critically favored acts have taken similar sabbaticals. John Lennon and Roxy Music come to mind.)

    I owned two Moodies albums at one point in my youth and that was enough to convince me that they were the dullest, deadest band in all of Olde England. That pretty much remains my opinion.