By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
Their writing has all the sensitiveness an' feeling that makes music cool to listen to
you will probably call it contemporary blues--
it could be that if you want it to be
it doesn't matter just let it pass through you.
Those are just some of Donovan's groovy liner notes for the Moody Blues' first album, The Magnificent Moodies, released in 1965. Imagine the run-on sentences that might've spilled out of the Hurdy Gurdy Man's quill if he was asked to scratch liner notes for the follow-up, Days of Future Passed. He'd have been creaming in his caftan!
That album's back sleeve told a completely different tale: "They have extended the range of pop music and found the point where it becomes one with the world of the classics."
Visionary truth or pompous fluff, there's no denying the Moodies became a different band once guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge joined in 1966. The twosome replaced Denny Laine and Clint Warwick, who both left to pursue varying degrees of obscurity. At least Clint Warwick didn't have to play second fiddle to Linda McCartney in Wings.
Time Traveler, A&M's new, five-CD Moody retrospective, gives us all yet another reason to feel sorry for Denny Laine. The retrospective ignores Laine and the "Go Now" era entirely, instead preferring to start the saga with Hayward's and Lodge's earliest contributions--a pair of UK singles from 1967 never before released on these shores. The long journey through days of Moodies passed concludes with a bonus CD, eight previously unreleased performances from the band's highly successful 1992 Red Rocks concert.
There, as on the group's groundbreaking second album, the Moodies performed with a full orchestra, something the quartet will do in every city of the band's current North American jaunt. And for towns lacking a symphony, the Moodies' people will scrounge one up. (The Valley of the Sun's own Phoenix Symphony Orchestra couldn't make the upcoming Desert Sky gig, so local musicians were procured to form--ta-da--the Phoenix Festival Orchestra!)
There're a thousand, million questions about hate and death--and the Moodies--to ask John Lodge, who happily obliges via transatlantic phone. Lodge wrote many of the band's enduring hits, such as "Ride My See Saw," "Isn't Life Strange" and "I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band." For most of this particular Saturday afternoon, he has been holed up in the band's recording studio/headquarters in Surrey, England, no doubt working diligently on new songs addressing the eternal riddles confounding mankind since the dawn of time.
"I'm actually playing a CD-ROM game called Mist at the moment. I got sort of sidetracked," the truant Moody sheepishly confesses. "You're not given any information [in this game], it's brilliant. It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle with all the same-colored pieces." Ah, another day's useless energy spent.
Unlike playing Mist, Lodge found himself with plenty of guidelines to follow after joining the Moodies 28 years ago. Once upon a time, being a Moody Bluesman meant performing "Go Now," some James Brown covers and wearing what Lodge sneeringly refers to as "the Moody Blues uniform, all going to the same tailor, nothing to distinguish us except for our different-colored hair."
"It wasn't what any of us wanted to do at all. That's when we decided to live in Belgium and in Paris to write all new music. We threw away the suits, the identity clone kit, and started going onstage in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt."
With the new, less stylish wardrobe and the bulk of Days of Future Passed written, the band returned to swinging London to premire its new sound at the Marquee Club, once home to the Stones and the Who.
Juxtaposed against the Stones' self-serving pleasure-seeking ("I can't get no satisfaction") and the Who's self-destructive braggadocio ("Hope I die before I get old"), it's no wonder the Moody Blues' new incarnation as Five Men Pondering the Mysteries of the Universe met with considerable resistance from the Ready Steady Go crowd. To them, these guys sporting Vandykes, mustaches and stern, arched eyebrows looked less like rock stars than they did characters from Parker Brothers' Clue game. But more to the point, the music was different! As the kids on American Bandstand might have said off-camera, "It's got a good beat, but you can't dance to this shit!"
"A lot of the places we were playing were telling us, 'We don't want you back because you don't play dance music,'" says Lodge. "Most bands would play one song in a particular tempo all the way through and carry on with another song in that same tempo. Not only did we not do that, a lot of our songs had two different tempos." Those of you playing along at home, just try fruggin' to "Tuesday Afternoon" for the irrefutable proof.
Yet the band was ahead of its time by a few short months; soon underground psychedelic clubs and a burgeoning college circuit sprang up in the UK, primed for new, mind-expanding music. If, according to Lodge, "success is when opportunity meets preparedness," then the Moody Blues were prepared for a lot more than the four singles a year they were contracted to deliver to Decca Records. When the label asked if the "beat group" would record a classical piece with the London Festival Orchestra to be used as a stereo demonstration disc, everything suddenly fell into place.