Tag Archives: The Moody Blues

T.G.I.F. – Ten from 1969

"Set the Wayback Machine for 1969, Sherman..."

If the concept of how quickly time passes hadn’t already stunned me three days ago – realizing that it’s been almost thirty years since John Lennon was killed – an email from my friend Siege would have packed a bigger wallop. But looking at his list of albums that were released in 1969 made me think (1) “holy shit, that was forty years ago” and (2) “wow…that was a great year for music”. 

It was another transitional year for me – less AM and more FM, less singles and more albums, Woodstock, etc. Several artists’ debuts made an immediate impact – CSN and The Allman Brothers along with some on my list below. Some 60’s artists were soon to depart but left great statements like Abbey Road and Turtle Soup. Credence released three albums that year, and The Monkees were already up to Instant Replay. Others like Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye and The Kinks were shifting their priorities from singles to more thematic works. Bob Dylan released Nashville Skyline

Some artists who would become lifelong favorites were just getting started – Alice Cooper and Pretties For You, Fleetwood Mac with Then Play On, debuts from Yes and Warren Zevon and Mott the Hoople (which would soon see serious turntable time over the next couple of years from this soon-to-be disc jockey). The Moody Blues released two classics; supergroups were forming…I own or owned seventy-two titles on that list, and there are very few that I wouldn’t pull out and play right now. 

Any year in music is a pretty easy topic to research, and certainly the few years on either side of 1969 would also reveal a robust list of favorites and classics. But I took a trip through Siege’s tally and picked out ten that had particular impact on me then and still resonate now. I could easily shift the list on another day – great music being a subjective decision, after all – and your mileage may vary as well. 

But you’re here, so indulge me. Break one or more of these out and savor them; maybe you will relive some great moments of your own. And if you’re young enough to not have experienced these albums, take a plunge. Hell, I gave Death Cab For Cutie a shot, you owe me

So in no particular order… 

40 Years old and still kicking ass

In The Court of the Crimson King (King Crimson) — Still kicking today although they’ve been three or four totally different groups over the years. The album cover was only a mild tipoff compared to the psychedelic prog within; I’ve long argued that Ian McDonald was the MVP of this version of the band. An aural acid trip, an album truly worthy of adjectives like majestic and classic

Blind Faith  (Blind Faith) — Two thirds of Cream adds the bass player from Family and secret weapon Steve Winwood for a one-shot effort. Short and incomplete, its high points are timeless; great songwriting from Winwood and Eric Clapton, especially “Presence of the Lord” and “Can’t Find My Way Home”. 

Let It Bleed (Rolling Stones) — As the Stones weaned their way from Brian Jones and their blues based gameplan, as drugs and Jagger’s control-freak antics started to splinter a band into The Glimmer Twins and the other guys, as the music industry tripped headlong from pop singles into stranger days, the Stones might have fired their best shot across the bow. The bookend tracks (“Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) are career-defining moments, and they didn’t even put their hit single (“Honky Tonk Women”) on it. 

Odessa (Bee Gees) — In which a pop band – already firmly established with a few hit singles – decides to experiment and challenge themselves to move on to the next step. Oh, how I wish they would have stayed this course instead of donning those ice cream suits a few years later. I expound in detail here

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Neil Young) — Consider this a club sandwich, with the opening, closing and middle tracks – three stone cold classics – the bread supporting the tasty filling. Hot on the heels of his debut, this first dalliance with Crazy Horse still resonates, soon to be followed up by After The Gold Rush to form one of the best opening trifectas any artist ever managed. Name another song where a one-note guitar solo (“Cinnamon Girl”) is even half as thrilling. 

Dusty in Memphis (Dusty Springfield) — I’ll admit it, I would have been perfectly satisfied with “Son of a Preacher Man” had I not read a review that piqued my interest and sent me in search of the album. Oozing soul (and yes, sex) this was a great marriage of voice, performers and material. (That English bird? Really? Yep.) 

Hot Rats (Frank Zappa) — Little did I know at the time that my initial Frank Zappa fascination would be even stronger forty years later and sixteen years (!) past his death. Because I was a fan of The Mothers of Invention, I was willing to open my eyes to the jazz and fusion I experienced here, although I can’t imagine anyone not loving “Peaches en Regalia”. Timeless majesty. 

The Stooges (The Stooges) — I’ll credit one of my older friends – as well as Creem Magazine, most likely – for making me give this more than one listen. Stereos were getting more sophisticated and progressive rock bands were flaunting daredevil instrumental virtuosity, but the Stooges were salmon swimming upstream. The Stooges first seemed like demonic sludge; the sound made when someone opened the gates of Hell and gave them a broken megaphone to broadcast with. Of course, after the initial shock, I was converted…and remain so. 

Tommy (The Who) — An opera about a deaf, dumb and blind pinball player. Sure Pete – have another toke. But although others (The Kinks, The Pretty Things) already had done it, The Who get credit for creating the first rock opera. Forget the semantics; this remains an incredible musical statement, from hit singles (“Pinball Wizard”) to underrated killers (“Sensation”); even the instrumental breaks and transitions are glorious. Skip the theatre and film musicals and slap on a pair of headphones for the original “Amazing Journey” 

Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin) — I know now that they ripped off old blues riffs and repurposed them; I know now that the band was really just the last version of The Yardbirds with Jimmy Page taking control, and I know that a few years later they would get so self-indulgent that I would sell the vinyl at a used store out of anger. (Ah, the folly of youth). But this first record was a kick in the nuts – this band really hit the ground running and killed on every track. (Rock perfection:  the percussive instrumental “Black Mountain Side” lulling you into a trance and then “Communication Breakdown” interrupting the haze and ripping your jugular apart. Plant’s scream before Page’s solo still makes the hair stand up on every pore in my body.) 

Rock me baby.

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Rock’n’Roll Hall of Shame (Again)

The Mistake By The Lake

The Mistake By The Lake

I don’t know why I even bother getting agitated anymore. 

I don’t take it seriously, and it’s been a long time since I have gone out of my way to look for the list of nominees, let alone actually root for someone to make it in. It’s a sham, a political clusterfuck of a process, and certainly bears no resemblance to a recognition of the truly worthy. But the other day an email hit my mailbox listing some of the nominees, and well…here we go again.

Some of the finalists this year include The Stooges (again), and KISS (finally), two bands that have obviously made an impact on rock’n’roll, albeit in very different ways. Even The Hollies surfaced after being eligible for over two decades.

But Donna Summer? Disco-thumping, heavy-breathing Donna Summer? Are you kidding me? Sure, she sold a lot of records in the 70s, but so did Cheap Trick and Deep Purple. She might get in before them? They haven’t even hit the finalists list yet! Hall and Oates were way bigger than Donna Summer could ever dream of, with a long string of hit singles that dominated the charts, but I don’t see their name.

And L.L.Cool J? Why- because he stars in a new CSI spin-off show? I like the guy, but not only does his music have nothing to do with rock, there are tons of deserving artists with longer careers who sold more records – what’s the criteria here? And how are rap artists more rock than progressive rock veterans like Yes and King Crimson? Where are The Moody Blues and  Procol Harum?

And before you start tossing the race card at me, I’m not rushing to send Laura Nyro in there, either. At least she has been an influence on a number of rock artists, but until the day Carole King walks through that door, don’t talk to me about great female songwriter/performers. (I wouldn’t have voted Bonnie Raitt in that quickly – yes, she’s had a lengthy and brilliant career, but she’s far from a household name. John Hiatt is a far better songwriter and he’s not in; and if you want to talk underappreciated musical geniuses, where’s Rory Gallagher’s name on that wall?)

And I’m still appalled that bands like R.E.M. – worthy eventually – are in while earlier artists aren’t.  No J. Geils Band, Humble Pie or Johnny and Edgar Winter? All those record sales and The Guess Who, The Turtles and Tommy James are waiting? No Small Faces? Where the hell is Lou Reed?

Some of the elections are artists who also have success as producers, but Todd Rundgren and Rick Derringer have done both – where are their names on the ballot? And if the anything-but-rock Madonna is in because of cultural impact and huge record sales, why not The Monkees?

No idea who the final five will be, but since it’s the 25th Anniversary you can be sure that fanfare will trump honest voting (just ask The Dave Clark Five about that one) because they gotta sell those dinner tickets. Predictability? You’ll see a female artist or female fronted band, a disco or rap artist, a blast-from-the-early-days, a hugely famous artist/band, and one crapshoot. That’s how they roll in Cleveland…well, actually New York, where Jann Wenner and his cronies run the floating crap game. They need to uproot the damned thing and move it to Detroit where it belongs.

The absurdity can be summed up in five words: Alice Cooper isn’t in it.

Here’s a list of the current inductees. For a list of the truly worthy artists and a real Hall of Fame, do what I do – look at your record collection.

If not, enjoy your Eminem and Beyonce inductions. Maybe you can hang on until 2034 when Chickenfoot is eligible.

Without some of this kind of DNA, you ain't rock'n'roll

Without some of this kind of DNA, you ain't rock'n'roll

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New Album! Moody Blues

Preaching love to a sea of heads

Preaching love to a sea of heads

When Woodstock is discussed, one of the anecdotes that most often surfaces is how Crosby, Stills and Nash took the stage in front of a mammoth crowd in only their second live gig, and as per the famous quote, were “scared shitless“. Odd to think that a year later and an ocean away, a studio-oriented band like The Moody Blues must have had the opposite feeling their second time around at the Isle of Wight. Crammed in front of The Who’s stage gear to perform for a few hundred thousand people, heads as far as the eye could see, they were at once out of their element and in the moment.

For here were five musicians who despite their massive success, remained very isolated in their process. “All we did was music”, recalls Justin Hayward in one of the DVD’s interview segments, “we were just living the music we were playing every day. It was an expression of what was in our hearts and minds.” Certainly that was a vast change from their start as an r’n’b band playing “Bo Diddley” (an early clip with Ray Thomas playing harmonica is included as an example, although oddly no mention is made of their massive hit “Go Now”). Instead their complex musical arrangements spoke to the open, exploratory nature of the times. “None of us had ever seen a bale of cotton, let alone picked one” mused Grahame Edge. “Didn’t even know what smokestack lightning was“! Obviously reaching within for material worked out well in the long run.

Their performance in 1970 was extraordinary in that they were an album band whose set was largely unfamiliar to the crowd, and as a studio band stripped of overdubs and sweetening they relied on Mike Pinder’s mellotron to carry the load. Indeed the mellotron changed everything for the Moodies and gave them incredible freedom in or out of the studio; Pinder states that he was “the orchestra behind the drums, bass and guitar…the landscape of it all.” (There’s a short clip where Pinder demonstrates how the mellotron functions; I learned more in that thirty seconds than I had ever known before).

The quality of the performance is obviously dated – Hayward was surprised that any footage even existed – but director/producer Murray Lerner (who has been bringing several great films to market) does an excellent job stitching it all together. The first sections of the program mix recent interviews with some related footage before settling down into the performance itself. Sound and visuals don’t always sync – there are several sections where relevant footage is spliced in to cover gaps – but for the most part it’s a solid presentation considering the technical limitations of the time. The seventy-five minute DVD is shot in widescreen and boasts 5.1 sound that more than compensates. And what a visual time trip! Looking young and angelic, Hayward’s ballads are earnest and powerful; Ray Thomas is appropriately animated during “Legend Of A Mind (Timothy Leary’s Dead)” and the rock-oriented numbers like “Question” and “Ride My See Saw” thunder away thanks to John Lodge’s fluid lines and Graeme Edge’s thunder. The sweeping crowd shots remind one of how different the festivals were perceived and experienced in the days before corporate domination.

Thirty nine years later, the remaining members of the band still bring the music to the masses as a whole new generation turns on to their majestic sound. But with Threshold of a Dream, Eagle Vision has captured an excellent snapshot of the band approaching its artistic peak, unafraid to tinker with some arrangements. As the final track plays, a montage of clips from Montreaux, Color Me Pop and a recent US concert drive home the point that great music is timeless, after all.

And Then There Were Three

And Then There Were Three

Eagle Vision link for this title.

The Moody Blues official site

Moody Blues wiki.

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