Tuesday, 25 December 2012
99 Voices In The Sky The Best Of - The Moody Blues
Purchased : August 1988
Tracks : Ride My See-Saw / Talking Out Of Turn / Driftwood / Never Comes The Day / I'm Just A Singer / Gemini Dream / The Voice / After You Came / Question / Veteran Cosmic Rocker / Isn't Life Strange ? / Nights In White Satin
This was also purchased from Britannia, along with the previous entry in a buy one get one half price promotion.
While I'd always loved "Nights In White Satin" I first became seriously interested in The Moody Blues around 1982 when bands like Tears For Fears and especially Talk Talk were being compared to them but hadn't acted on this curiosity until now. This compilation was originally issued in 1984. It's a rather odd selection which doesn't neatly reflect their success either in England or the USA. Licensing issues preclude the appearance of anything from their mid-sixties Decca period led by future Wings gooseberry Denny Laine ( and therefore their only chart-topper, "Go Now" ) but they were effectively a different band then. Two of their subsequent albums including 1983's "The Present" are completely unrepresented while 1981's "Long Distance Voyager" claims a full third of the LP. Most bizarrely of all "Voices In The Sky" the song itself , a UK Top 30 hit in 1968, doesn't appear.
It isn't sequenced chronologically but the order works for me because it saves the best stuff for Side Two; halfway through Side One I was thinking I'd made an awful mistake.
"Ride My See-Saw" was a Top 30 hit in 1968 taken from their third album "In Search Of The Lost Chord". Although its composer , bassist John Lodge, wasn't in the Denny Laine line-up there are still traces of the mid-sixties beat group sound in the driving rhythm and Searchers harmonies while Mike Pinder's keyboards are kept on a tight leash. The later elements are the complex four-part harmonies in the middle eight, Justin Hayward's Telecaster work and the exhortation to personal liberation in the lyrics. It was effectively the opening track on its parent LP and sounds like it rather than a standalone song.
There's then a big jump to the first track from "Long Distance Voyager" . "Talking Out Of Turn" is another Lodge composition . It's a dreary, soporific ballad about a relationship wrecked by a careless word which drowns in the glutinous synth sounds ( like Tony Banks at his worst ) provided by the departed Pinder's replacement Patrick Moraz. Producer Pip Williams then compounds the error with an unnecessary string arrangement. It's aural treacle.
Justin Hayward's "Driftwood" the lone track from their 1978 comeback album "Octave" ( the last to feature Pinder ) is better because less cluttered. It's a straightforward ballad with Hayward pleading not to be deserted; as Marcello commented on one of their earlier albums there's no one better at playing the little boy lost. It's exquisitely sung and his guitar work's pretty good too . I'd just knock a mark off for the cheesy sax from session man R A Martin which drops it into the MOR bracket.
"Never Comes The Day" comes from 1969's chart-topping "On The Threshold Of A Dream" and its failure to chart as a single illustrated the divergence between the two markets at the turn of the decade. Perhaps the Nirvana-anticipating quiet/loud dynamic confused the late sixties buyer. It starts with just Hayward on acoustic and Lodge ( a star throughout the song ) on the most limpid of fireside ballads but the humming swell from Pinder's mellotron heralds a change of gear and the entrance of Ray Thomas's harmonica and Graham Edge's drums for an upbeat chorus. It doesn't quite work for me but I can appreciate the craft in the arrangement.
"I'm Just A Singer" was the first song that I'd previously heard and a real Proustian rush for me as a record that was being played on Radio One when I first got into pop music at the beginning of 1973. It was the second single from 1972's "Seventh Sojourn" reaching number 36 ( 12 in the States ) and was the last release before their mid-70s hiatus. Even forty years on it's tremendously exciting. Edge claims the intro with a Cozy Powell-ish drum break gathering pace then sets a frantic tempo ( anticipating punk ) for the rest to follow. Lodge wrote the song and his is the dominant gruff voice in the four man harmony. By this point Pinder had replaced the Mellotron with the more sophisticated Chamberlin and he plays it as though locked in a duel with Hayward's searing guitar for dominance in the song. There are a couple of pauses ( for breath ?) in the song which only make it more thrilling. The lyrics are touchingly naive in their Bono-esque conviction that music can change the world but perhaps the title is actually subverting that idea. In this context it doesn't really matter.
"Gemini Dream" also stirs some memories; as the lead single from "Long Distance Voyager" it received a lot of airplay from Simon Bates in May 1981 when I was mired in ( ultimately fruitful ) O Level ( remember them ? ) revision. That wasn't enough to get it into the British charts ( 12 in the US ) at a time of quite exceptional competition. The sound is dominated by Moraz's pulsing synths fusing with Hayward's wailing guitar and Edge's rigid drum beat to create the template for ZZ Top's Eliminator. Over that you have a Hayward/Lodge composition seemingly celebrating their working relationship with some self-referential touches like the Mellotron-aping choral synths on the chorus and a surely intentional poke at fellow-Brummies ELO with its sudden lurches into a string passage. It's impressive but there's a slight air of smugness.
Side Two commences with its follow-up single "The Voice" a Hayward composition that set the tone for subsequent releases being an upbeat pop song incorporating acoustic guitar and melodic synth flourishes. Hayward's in that winsome juvenile mode again - the first line is "Won't you take me back to school ? " - and the lyric is an easy-to-mock exhortation to surrender to some unspecified spiritual force. It acquires great force from Hayward's conviction and the fabulous harmonies.
"After You Came" is the only track from 1971's "Every Good Boy Deserves A Favour" ( another number one ) and not a great advert for it. One suspects it was included to give its composer Graham Edge a cut of the royalties. The song is vaguely anti-materialist and ambitious enough with its complex vocal arrangement and frequent changes in tempo but there's a definite air of mutton dressed as lamb about it. It's the last disappointment before a parade of winners.
"Question" very nearly gave them a second number one -its runner-up status to Back Home was the precursor to the Vienna / Shaddup You Face chart debate - in 1970. Opening with a loose-wristed display of acoustic virtuosity from Hayward the frenetic strum continues through two angry and urgent verses soon backed up by Lodge's clever bassline and a wordless mellotron chorus before the music drops to the most sedate of romantic ballads. After two verses and a chorus, the guitar picks up pace again and Pinder's sudden portentous chords herd us back to the start again, nothing resolved. It was a commendably ambitious single and I suspect that if it hadn't been outgunned by Bohemian Rhapsody a few years later we'd hear it a lot more today.
"Veteran Cosmic Rocker" is the last selection from "Long Distance Voyager" written by the group's wildcard member Ray Thomas. While the title might suggest something gently self-mocking it is in fact an extraordinary blend of Abba, Scott Walker, Blancmange and Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac with an acerbic lyric about someone performing whilst off their head on spiked coke. Thomas's vocal is suitably theatrical but the real glory is the bizarre middle eight, the kaleidoscopic shifting of musical styles, blues harp, Indian sitar, Arabic scale etc. evoking the horrors of a bad trip.
"Isn't Life Strange?" was a Top 20 hit in 1972, an achingly sad meditation on life and love written by John Lodge where Mike Pinder prises the sound of a full orchestra out of the Chamberlin ( though Thomas does the flute ). Hayward and Lodge sing the funereally slow verses in querulous harmony before the others come in on the majestic tumbling chorus with Hayward's fuzz guitar ( perhaps someone heard Goodbye To Love ) a sixth voice. Only the near-contemporary Alone Again Naturally tops it as the supreme expression of seventies melancholia.
That just leaves us with "Nights In White Satin" their signature song, thrice a hit, umpteen times the featured record on Our Tune and a stonewall classic. I know some people loathe it as pompous and overblown and applaud The Dickies' 1979 demolition ( which provoked the original's third chart run in response ) . Perhaps they have never had the sort of long night of the soul for which this song , before and beyond Joy Division et al, is the perfect soundtrack, flute solo and all.
This blog will have to run for some while before we come back to The Moodies, this sating my curiosity for the next couple of decades while their critical stock sank below rock bottom ( Q and The Guardian were particularly vitriolic towards them in the nineties ). They are still going without Moraz ( fired ) and Thomas ( retired ) but you've got most of what you need right here.