The Moody Blues started their career as an R&B band, enjoying a hit with ‘Go Now’, fronted by future Wings member Denny Laine, in 1965. But after Laine left and Justin Hayward and John Lodge joined, the band found a new direction, lush pop songs, supported by Mike Pinder’s Mellotron. The seven albums the band made between 1967’s breakthrough Days of Future Passed and 1972’s Seventh Sojourn are known as the core seven, all featuring Hayward on guitar and vocals, Lodge on bass and vocals, Pinder on keyboards and vocals, Ray Thomas on flute and vocals, and Graeme Edge on drums and poetry.
With four different songwriters, as well as Edge’s poems and occasional songs, The Moody Blues’ quality control can be variable; it’s telling that Hayward dominates the group’s compilations, and he’s the strongest singer, but on their albums songwriting duties are spread relatively evenly. Each writer has their own style – Pinder delivers sonorous, mystical, dramatic songs, while Thomas sometimes tends towards childlike ditties.
With the poetry of Edge often providing a portentous opening to the albums, The Moody Blues can sometimes sound twee and dated. Their strength is arguably their detailed arrangements. All of the members are strong musicians, and they generally stay away from standard rock and roll; their songs often use acoustic instruments with prominent flute and acoustic guitar. The keyboards and flute provide rich counter-melodies, and the group’s harmonies are also pretty.
While the same five members were all in the band throughout the 1967-1972 era, the group did evolve over their early career. Days of Future Passed has the orchestral interludes, while In Search Of The Lost Chord pushes unconvincingly towards the psychedelic flavours of 1968. The group’s albums became more streamlined in the 1970s, and by 1972’s Seventh Sojourn they moved closer to the rock mainstream, ditching the poetry and turning up Hayward’s electric guitar.
After Seventh Sojourn the band didn’t record another album until 1978’s Octave, and Pinder left the band midway through the sessions. I’ve chosen just to cover the core seven albums at this point, although the Hayward written ‘Your Wildest Dreams’, from 1986’s The Other Side of Life, is an exemplary adult contemporary pop hit, and 1981’s Long Distance Voyager is generally considered their strongest later album.
The Moody Blues Album Reviews
Favourite Album: To Our Children’s Children’s Children
Overlooked Gem: On The Threshold Of A Dream
Days of Future Passed
Days of Future Passed is The Moody Blues’ second album, but it marked a new beginning for the group. Their 1965 debut The Magnificent Moodies was an R&B album, which featured Denny Laine on guitar and vocals and spawned the hit ‘Go Now’. Laine left the group along with bass player Clint Warwick, and they were replaced by Justin Hayward and John Lodge, creating the lineup that played on The Moody Blues’ “Core Seven” albums. The band struggled on as an R&B group, but changed direction to baroque pop in 1967, emphasising Mike Pinder’s Mellotron and Ray Thomas’ flute.
Days of Future Passed was recorded when the group were paired with conductor Peter Knight and assigned to record Dvorak’s A New World Symphony in a rock style. But the planned project was never finished, and instead The Moody Blues used the studio time to record an album of originals, with Knight composing and using an orchestra of session musicians to record link tracks between the original songs.With Pinder’s mellotron, The Moody Blues’ material already sounds symphonic, and the orchestral tracks fit in more seamlessly than one would expect. As well as the symphonic overtones, the album’s based on the concept of a day passing, from Knight’s instrumental ‘The Day Begins’ through to Hayward’s dramatic closer ‘Nights in White Satin’.
The soaring, orchestrated ‘Nights in White Satin’ is the most notable track on Days of Future Passed, but the album also features ‘The Afternoon’, comprising of seperate parts by Hayward and Lodge. Lodge’s driving ‘Peak Hour’ sounds like a holdover from their R&B days, but it’s a nice burst of energy in the middle of the record. Like every Moody Blues album, there’s some silly Graeme Edge poetry, but it’s best to not analyse it too deeply and just let it add to the group’s silly, mystic feel.
The Moody Blues never made an album like Days of Future Passed again – while they’d retain the symphonic feel with Pinder’s Mellotron, the orchestral interludes give this album a unique feel in their discography.
In Search of the Lost Chord
Days of Future Passed had elements of psychedelic pop, but with their follow-up effort, The Moody Blues fully embraced the hippie ethos, with songs like ‘Om’ and lyrics like “Timothy Leary’s dead”. I have difficulties with the approach – this attempt to jump on the hippie bandwagon has always felt forced to me, at odds with The Moody Blues’ strait-laced image. After their previous success, the group had the license to go all-in in the studio, and the group used all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments, embracing the Indian textures recently used by The Beatles. The resulting album is often distracting – while there are good songs, the hippie facade is distracting.
There are good songs among the mess – ‘Ride My See-Saw’ is a peppy John Lodge rocker that largely avoids the psychedelic trappings. Hayward’s material on the second side also generally eschews the hippie sounds for pretty ballads like ‘Voices in the Sky’ and ‘The Actor’, and is also effective. But there’s a fair bit of silliness like ‘Om’ and ‘Dr. Livingstone, I Presume’, and it’s one of the less satisfying albums from the “Core Seven”.
In Search of the Lost Chord is a weak follow-up to Days of Future Passed, and the group would drop the psychedelia and focus on solid song-craft for their next release.
On The Threshold of a Dream
In Search of the Lost Chord often posited itself as a search for deeper meaning, with Mike Pinder and Graeme Edge as gurus. On The Threshold of a Dream lightens the band’s approach, largely dropping the mysticism for a set of pretty, straightforward pop songs. While it’s a little fluffy and disposable, pretty pop songs is where The Moody Blues excel, and a whole album of them with little distraction makes Threshold one of the band’s better albums.
The opening ‘In The Beginning’ is one of Edge’s more effective poetry pieces, but the overriding mood of the album is set by melodic, mid-tempo songs like Pinder’s ‘So Deep Within You’, twee but with rich arrangements and harmonies. Hayward’s ‘Lovely To See You’ is energetic and memorable, as is Lodge’s ‘To Share Our Love’. The second side is moodier, with Hayward’s beautiful ‘Never Comes The Day’, while Pinder dominates the end of the album with his ‘Have You Heard’/’Voyage’ suite.
On The Threshold of a Dream is so light that it almost feels disposable, but it’s still a strong entry in The Moody Blues’ catalogue.
To Our Children’s Children’s Children
To Our Children’s Children’s Children was the poorest selling of The Moody Blues’ “Core Seven” albums, but in retrospect, it’s their strongest work. It takes their lush sound to its extreme; these songs were difficult to play live, and their next album was purposefully more simple. Inspired by the moon landing of the same year, it’s a concept album based around space travel, although I always find it difficult not to think in double entendres with Mike Pinder’s ‘Out And In’.
Most importantly, all four songwriters contribute high-class material. I often find Ray Thomas the weakest writer in the group, but his ‘Eternity Road’ is excellent and he also contributes to the majestic closer, the Hayward fronted ‘Watching and Waiting’. Hayward provides the key material – ‘Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time)’ is both urgent and beautiful, while his stripped back ‘I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred’ is just his acoustic guitar and voice. Other strong songs like Pinder’s ‘Sun Is Still Shining’, with Hayward’s sitar, and Lodge’s ‘Candle Of Life’, with Pinder’s mellotron riff, are representative of the tuneful, beautifully arranged material on To Our Children’s Children’s Children.
The lush, gentle, melodic songs of To Our Children’s Children’s Children are The Moody Blues’ finest achievement, and for me this album towers above the band’s other work.
A Question of Balance
The lush orchestrations of To Our Children’s Children’s Children proved difficult to recreate on stage, and The Moody Blues stripped back down their sound for A Question of Balance. Because of the less detailed sound, A Question of Balance feels like a retreat back from the band’s career peak, although the material is generally strong. It’s not as explicitly a concept album as a lot of their other work, but there is an environmental theme on a lot of these tracks, like Pinder’s ‘How Is It (We Are Here)’ (“Men’s mighty mine-machines digging in the ground/Stealing rare minerals where they can be found”) and Edge’s ‘Don’t You Feel Small?’
Instead of opening with an Edge poem, A Question of Balance opens with Hayward’s excellent ‘Question’. With its driving acoustic guitar and Mellotron flourishes, it’s one of the band’s best songs. ‘Dawning Is The Day’ is another Hayward highlight, an acoustic piece with lots of gorgeous flute from Thomas. Pinder’s ‘Melancholy Man’ takes his self-examining, self-loathing lyrics to an extreme, and it’s silly on paper but works musically, although that applies to a lot of Moody Blues’ material. ‘And The Tide Rushes In’ is one of my favourite Thomas songs too, simple and effective.
A Question of Balance is a step back in ambition, but it’s still a consistent, often excellent, album from The Moody Blues.
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is named after the mnemonic that piano students use to remember the notes on the treble clef – although I was taught it as “Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit”. While it has enough of their detailed arrangements and melodic tunes to be a solid entry, it’s the most inconsequential Moody Blues album from the core seven. It doesn’t bring anything new to the group’s oeuvre, and it feels like a lesser rehash of past triumphs.
‘The Story In Your Eyes’ is an excellent Hayward song, even though it’s melodic and harmonised, it’s one of the group’s most rock-oriented pieces. The opening ‘Procession’ attempts to capture the history of western music in one four-minute piece, and it’s entertaining enough, while John Lodge’s ‘Emily’s Song’ is a pretty tribute to his newborn daughter. Edge’s song ‘After You Came’ is effective, but much of Pinder and Thomas’ material is weak, particularly Thomas’ nursery rhymes like ‘Our Guessing Game’.
Sometimes I feel like the “Core Seven” is a genius marketing concept that The Moody Blues used to make people collect their set of albums; if you like the rest, you’ll probably want to hear Every Good Boy Deserves Favour too, but it’s the least essential album of the period.
Seventh Sojourn is more streamlined than The Moody Blues’ earlier albums – the poetry’s gone, and there are only eight tracks. There’ more electric guitar, and only eight songs – it feels much more like a 1970s rock album than a 1960s psych-pop album. In a further break from their 1960s’ work, the Eastern mysticism that characterised a lot of Pinder’s work is gone. There are references to Christianity in ‘You And Me’, while Lodge’s ‘I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)’ explicitly delates the band’s reputations as gurus.
With the streamlined approach and no poetry, Seventh Sojourn is arguably The Moody Blues’ most accessible album. John Lodge is the star performer, and ‘Isn’t Life Strange’ and ‘I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)’ are the album’s centre-pieces. Pinder’s ‘Lost In A Lost World’ is a dramatic, effective, opener, and Hayward’s ‘New Horizons’ is typically gorgeous.
Even though the band were tired and relationships were strained, Seventh Sojourn is one of the band’s stronger albums and it’s an excellent conclusion to the core seven.
Ten Favourite Moody Blue Songs
Nights in White Satin
The Story In Your Eyes
Candle of Life
I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)
Watching And Waiting
Tuesday Afternoon/(Evening) Time to Get Away
Back to 1960s album reviews…..
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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