By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
It's easy to imagine the Moody Blues establishing residency at a retirement village in Boca Raton. Their orchestral leanings -- more Mantovani than Solti -- and the addition of guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge sent them away from the R&B of their earliest days and helped them find a comfortable niche providing easy listening for the marijuana crowd of the late Sixties. When pundits discuss the “wretched excess” of that decade, they're eluding to Blues opuses, such as Days of Future Passed, where the lackadaisical music actually is trumped by the icky spoken-word passages that link the tunes. That the album began as a “stereo demonstration record” should give you some idea of the serendipitous nature of the album's eventual success via tunes such as “Nights in White Satin” (inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 1999) and “Tuesday Afternoon.” The Summer of Love obviously was a very forgiving time. It remains a world wonder that these guys never bothered to set Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet to music. It was a project just begging to happen.
But instead the band plodded onward with their own mystical gobbledygook. Late Sixties and early Seventies albums such as In Search of the Lost Chord, On the Threshold of a Dream, and To Our Children's Children's Children are dated period pieces that either set listeners reeling in nostalgia for their own gullible youth or leave outsiders scratching their heads as to what that particular party line was all about. Had the group disbanded after these ponderous essays into nothingness, they might be rightfully remembered as a thinking man's Iron Butterfly. Instead their use of mellotron set the stage for Emerson, Lake and Palmer and King Crimson -- two groups that, in retrospect, are a helluva lot more interesting (the latter far more than the former, by the way).
The Blues, however, continued to mine the psychedelic vein. In 1972 (!) they released Seventh Sojourn, for those whom the acid trip did not quickly dissipate. Lodge's “I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” ignored the obvious ironies of a band untuned to play rock and roll in the first place. For an unknown reason, bands that did not “rock” or “roll” felt obliged in the early Seventies to sing about this genre in which they did not actually partake (see Jethro Tull's Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll, Too Young to Die for further study in this area).
Again the Moody Blues found a near-respectable spot to call it quits. The hangover of the Sixties was bound to take awhile to clear up. The Moodies thought no such things and released a live album (1977's Caught Live + 5) and a mediocre studio release (1978's Octave) that met with public indifference -- which always works inversely in proportion to a group's cult status, as dedicated followers of esoterica revel in a band's most underappreciated works.
Fortune is a funny thing, though, and in 1981, for no explainable reason, the Moodies were back in fashion. The New Wave-disco era was ebbing and flowing, and sandwiched in between Blondie and Pat Benatar was Long Distance Voyager, a callback to another best-forgotten time. “The Voice” and “Talking Out of Turn” brought them back to contemporary hit radio. The rise to prominence within the group of keyboardist Pat Moraz (who served a tour of duty with Yes) signaled another desperate time. Just as Spi&numl;nal Tap suffered upon its heavier dependence on keyboards, so did the Moodies. Instead of the organic orchestra, there was only clinical electricity. The slickness would prove profitable (Long Distance Voyager was the group's best selling record of the decade), but it gave them an antiseptic presentation. Like most bands linked to a previous age, the Moodies masked their identity crisis by embracing the technology of the new era. Aging gracefully wasn't an option in the Eighties.
The Tony Visconti-produced 1986 effort The Other Side of Life continued this trend toward studio sophistication. Programmed drums, programmed keyboards, and computer-generated editing made for a seamless release that left the human spirit somewhere on the cutting-room floor. Perhaps overcompensating for their obviously flat attempts at being real rock and rollers, John Lodge again tried his hand with “Rock and Roll Over You.” It served as an even bolder anthem than Starship's dubious claim that it had the ability to actually build a city on rock and roll.
The band has since taken its spot in the luxury boxes, performing at Red Rocks and delivering a commemorative multidisc set, Time Traveller, in 1994. Their most recent album, Strange Times, included plenty of information regarding T-shirts, mouse pads, and signed memorabilia. Much like Kiss, the Moody Blues had a solid marketing plan in place to make up for whatever waning enthusiasm the new material might receive.
Even odder are the amazing number of Websites dedicated to this relatively unproductive group. Seems there are still plenty of fans who wish to share those memories from all those years ago. 'Tis a shame, then, that there hasn't been more to cheer for after all this time. The lost chord, my friends, was lost for a reason and has no need to be found.