Friday, 31 July 2009
♫ Welcome to another weave through the wonderful world of Alan’s Album Archives on the World Wide Web. This week we’ve been going hi-tech as a prelude to developing our site by adding a series of ‘listmania’ lists to online retailers Amazon. So the next time you hunt for one of our AAA accredited albums you should see our name come up on one of our four AAA lists. Several readers have been asking me where they can get their hands on the albums reviewed on this site so, much as I hate helping one conglomerate company over smaller retailers, this seemed the easiest way of giving everybody what they wanted. Please give us a ‘star rating’ if you happen to find one of our lists – it all helps plug this site! Meanwhile, on with the news (what little there is this week)...
♫ Kinks News: BBC4 are giving us a third repeat of the ‘Blues At The BBC’ compilation, featuring one of the earliest Kinks television recordings from 1964. The Kinks do a great version of ‘Got Love If You Want It’, with Ray Davies aping all the blues legends that had just appeared on the show before the young upstarts did.
♫ Moody Blues/ Pink Floyd News: BBC4 are repeating their nicely detailed jog through prog rock’s finest moments tonight between 9.45pm and 12.30am. As well as a repeat of the ‘prog rock at the BBC’ programme (which I missed first time round) and ‘prog rock Britannia’ (which I didn’t – lots on Jethro Tull I’m pleased to say and small sections on the Moodies and the Floyd) we get a 15 minute ‘sounds of the 70s’ this time around featuring a song by the Moody Blues (‘Question’ , I reckon, as that’s the most common Moodies clip from the series, although it could be the re-issue of ‘Nights In White Satin’ they were plugging in 1972). There’s also a repeat of ‘BBC’ and ‘Britannia’ (though sadly not ‘S.O.T.70s’) on Saturday, August 1st.
♫ Anniversaries: Happy birthday bonanzas this week (July 31st-August 6th) go to Jerry Garcia (guitarist with the Grateful Dead 1965-95) who would have been 67 had he not he not died tragically 14 years ago. Anniversaries of events this week include: The Beach Boys feature in the UK charts for the first time with third single ‘Surfin’ USA – in time they become more successful in Britain than they were in their American homeland (August 1st 1963); George Harrison’s much-talked about concert for Bangladesh finally takes place on August 1st 1971; the Beatles become the headline act at Liverpool’s Cavern Club for the first time (August 2nd 1961); The Who buy film lot Shepperton Studios for the sum of £350,000, but only use it for rehearsals and one well-remembered gig (the last with Keith Moon, recorded specially for the ‘Kids Are Alright’ documentary that came out months after his death); Almost two years to the day since their first headline gig, the Beatles play their last session at the Cavern Club, clocking up nearly 300 performances at the venue (amazingly it’s as late as August 3rd 1963 – the same period they released fourth single ‘From Me To You’); Wings are announced to the press on August 3rd 1971, just before their informal series of concerts up and down the UK’s university campuses; The ‘Beatles are bigger than Jesus’ storms really hits the fab four’s American tours in a big way when six of the countries’ biggest radio stations ban their singles (August 4th 1966); Pink Floyd perform the first of their mammoth concerts to promote ‘The Wall’ album (August 4th 1980); the Beatles release ‘Revolver’, one of the most influential and important records of all time, 43 years ago (August 5th); August 5th is a good day for records in fact – just a year later Pink Floyd release their debut LP ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’; The Small Faces release their debut single, the wonderfully ungrammatical ‘What’cha Gonna Do Bout It?’ (August 6th 1965) and finally Pink Floyd almost celebrate the 2nd anniversary of their ‘Wall’ shows with the premiere of the ‘Wall’ film on August 6th 1982.
♫ And now for this week’s top five: Now I don’t want to have an argument about this but when you get several talented people together in the same room, all vying for ideas under intense pressure, even groups as wonderful as the AAA ones can quickly find things getting out of hand. So here is a quick run down of the five biggest AAA ‘arguments’ currently available on record (although it’s worth pointing out that one of these is entirely musical and one of these is entirely false – more on that later – and shock horror, CSNY aren’t one of them!)
5) The Kinks ‘Hatred’ (‘Phobia’, 1993): Fittingly, for a loose concept album about how all of us have something irrational holding us back from greatness, The Kinks end their illustrious catalogue with a song about the falling out between the Davies brothers. The row on record here between Ray and Dave is deliberately over the top but both brothers admit there’s more of a grain to truth to lyrics like ‘You hate me and I hate you so at least we understand each other’ (even though Ray later claimed it was written as a ‘duet for a two-headed monster’ for a musical he was writing, he was fooling nobody with where he got his inspiration). The brothers reportedly had a big fight over the fact that Ray wrote it solo after promising Dave a co-write – so, not much acting going on that day. Classic line: ‘Hatred is the only thing that lasts forever but hatred is the only thing that keeps us together’
4) The Beach Boys ‘Cassius Love vs Sonny Wilson’ (‘Shut Down Volume Two’, 1964): Once again, we pity the Beach Boys. Delivering seven records a year to Capitol Records was never going to be easy so to lessen the burden all their pre-Pet Sounds albums contain at least one non-musical what-the-hell-is-going-on-number. This is failed attempt number five – a mock studio argument between Mike Love and Brian Wilson about who has the worst voice as their bemused fellow Beach Boys pretend that they’re concerned but in truth sound like they want to wash their hands of the whole affair. If stories are to be believed the real arguments were a lot less ‘pally’ than this one, but then that’s what you get for working with your brothers and cousins – at least there were only two of the Davies clan working together. The title, by the way, refers to a famous boxing match of the time that was about to take place – Cassius Clay is, of course, better known as Muhammed Ali, but the Beach Boys never actually resort to fisticuffs on this curious track. Gee, you can just hear what manager-dad Murray Wilson said when he played back the tapes for this track. Classic line: ‘At least I don’t sound like Mickey Mouse on helium!’
3) The Hollies ‘Yes I Will (I’ll Be True To You’) (‘At Abbey Road Volume One’, recorded 1965 released 1999): You can hear on this session recording the moment when childhood friends since the age of five Allan Clarke and Graham Nash start thinking about parting company. The band’s all cued in for yet another go at this song’s complicated harmonies when Clarkey calls for his microphone to be changed. Nash is fed up and wants to know why he didn’t think of that earlier and then, after 10 seconds of what seems to be heading into a blazing row is extinguished as the pair plus Tony Hicks rush headlong into some of the most exquisite harmonies on record. Sadly the tape doesn’t run to what the pair said to each other after the take but it’s perhaps no coincidence that this warm, loving ballad was recorded just two years before the pair’s big split. Classic Line: ‘So sit on a chair!’ ‘But where’s a chair?!’
2) John Lennon and Phil Spector ‘Conversation’ parts 1-3 (‘Lennon Anthology’, recorded 1974, released 2000): Two of the most influential and – it has to be said – frightening men ever to be in the same studio at the same time met for the third time during Lennon’s ill-fated first attempt at his ‘Rock And Roll’ LP. Shortly before running off with the tapes, legendary producer Phil Spector tries his best to keep control of the proceedings despite heckles and interruptions from a bunch of drunken musicians and a star who wants the last word as badly as he does. For my money, these three tracks are the highlight of the Lennon Anthology set, with Spector getting gradually wound up to fever pitch as the pair of musicians banter praise, insults and general annoyance at the world in general. You won’t be surprised that the pair never actually finished this record (Lennon re-recorded most of it himself the following year), although amazingly they did finish a song together – the gorgeous ‘Here We Go Again’, shelved until Lennon’s posthumous ‘Menlove Avenue’ album. The song the pair are working on, by the way, is ‘Just Because’, a song that will end up closing the album. Amazingly, it does get finished. Classic line: Spector: ‘What are you going to do? Play jazz with Jethro Tull at the Roxy? Or Elton John probably’ Lennon: ‘I refute – Elton’s a good friend of mine’ ‘Well, good – he’s got the same name as you only he spells it at the back and you spell it at front’ ‘But Elton’s going to die young – I’m going to be a 90-year-old guru’ ‘I make music – you make gurus – let’s go’ ‘Be careful Phil ‘cause I’m going to write your history...’
1) The Byrds ‘Hidden Track on Notorious Byrd Brothers’ (1968, re-released 2006): When The Byrds started their fifth album they were a quartet. When gthey finished they were a duo. Here’s why: in the most jaw-dropping tape since the infamous bootleg by the Troggs you can hear exactly why the band broke up. The group are trying to record David Crosby’s song ‘Dolphin’s Smile’ (as so often happens on this list,it’s one of the lightest, fluffiest, peace-loving songs he ever wrote). But drummer Michael Clarke won’t play ball – you can tell he hates this song and every time his fellow Byrds start asking him to play with a bit more, well, skill he gets crosser and crosser and less likely to comply. To be fair, Crosby does his best to control his temper, telling Clarke how great he can play most of the time which is why Cros knows he’s just goofing off this time around and producer Terry Melcher does his best to ease the whole situation from the control room, sounding as if it’s the third time today the band have self-destructed in his face. To be fair, Clarke just sounds as if he’s having an off day and wants to be left alone, not made to play music that’s 180 degrees away from what the Byrds started with. But somehow the argument inevitably escalates anyway – this is four very different people heading out in four very different directions. It’s a wonder this record got made at all. Classic line: it’s a close match between ‘How do you want me to play it again?’ ‘Try playing right!’ and the highly sympathetic ‘Oh poor baby – feeling misunderstood now are you?, ahhh poor diddums’.
Well, that’s all for another week – don’t start arguing with us if you’re missing out on what you want to see in ‘news and views’, drop us a line instead and we’ll see what we can do. Ciao for now!
The Blue Jays “The Blue Jays” (aka Justin Hayward and John Lodge) (1975)This sole album by the lesser-spotted Blue Jay has been meant many a different thing to many a different person down the years. For fans it offered hope that the Moodies split wasn't permanent and that the band could still work together; to others it represented a backwards step with now only two Moody Blues where there used to be five. While a strong seller and a respected album in its day (debuted at the Carnegie Hall indeed - even the Moodies didn't play there), fans have debated long and hard about where it sits in the band's canon: it's not quite a solo record, but not really a band one either. While regarded fondly by those who bought it at the time, it's since been hard to find (only twice on CD in fact, 17 years apart, both of which sensibly added the only other Blue Jays product - the single 'Blue Guitar' - as a bonus track; by contrast the Moodies albums have been out on CD at least seven times) and has for far too long been absent from those 'best albums of the 1970s that are slightly prog rocky but not so much it sets your teeth on edge' lists music magazines bring out every so often (you know the things: lots of Queen despote the fact their albums have dated worse than anybody's, less Pink Floyd than there ought to be, 10cc shamefully overlooked yet again and not much else of interest). For, you see, ‘Blue Jays’ is a Moody Blues album in all but name, uniting two of the band’s principle participants and the two who will – come 1981 at least – be dominating the lion’s share of the band’s sound. Fans have often speculated on how the 'next' Moody Blues album might have sounded had it come out earlier than 'Octave' in 1978: 'Blue Jays' is it; combining the sadness and themes of being 'caught adrift' as the last two 'band' records 'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour' and 'Seventh Sojourn' with the slightly more polished sound of 'Octave' and 'Long Distance Voyager' (except with an orchestras where the keyboards would normally be).
This Morning/Remember Me, My Friend/My Brother/You/Nights, Winters, Years//Saved By The Music/I Dreamed Last Night/Who Are You Now?/Maybe/When You Wake Up
The reason this record exists at all is down to one of those peculiar quirks of fate that took place during the Moody Blues’ six-year recording hiatus in the Mid-70s. Even though most of the stresses and strains in the later Moodies’ days came from keyboardist Mike Pinder (who by the early 70s had fallen in love with the American way of life and was tired of the way the band had become a franchise rather than a group of mates playing together), he was the first person that reluctant soloist Justin Hayward turned to for help with making an album. That in itself is significant: while the Moodies were the 'last great diplomatic band' with five writers and singers and a nice sprinkling of multi-instrumentalists, Pinder was the one who took Eric Burdon's call about the 'great new guitarist' he'd just heard about but been too late to audition for The New Animals and the first Moody that Justin ever met. While Ray and Graeme soon joined in when Justin and John started submitting songs to the group, Mike had been writing for a while (usually with Denny Laine as his writing partner) , about the same time Justin had his aborted attempt as a solo folk-singer. Pinder's mellotron was always a good foil for Justin's guitar: where the latter would sting, the former would soothe; where the latter would sigh, the former would growl. A collaboration between the two would have been fascinating and combining the best of this record with the best of Pinder's solo album 'The Promise' reveals the most sombre and mystical Moodies album of the lot. Officially the pair never got further than a few demos and some overall ideas, but what often gets lost is that Mike and Justin didn't just meet up for a rushed lunch and a chat about old times: they spent months together across 1974 working on this project (which seems like undue haste, actually, given that the Moodies had only just split in mid 1973). One wonders what they might have called it: Mike 'n' Justin' doesn't sound right really, though 'HP's Sauce' might have been quite tasty; the resulting name (created when bassist John Lodge joins in place of Pinder at the start of 1975) is very clever, hinting at the past (the 'blue' bit of the title) while playing on the pair's 'J' starting names.
The split came reluctantly and as protractedly as the future sessions for 'Octave'. Pinder loved Justin's company and had clearly had a lot to do with shaping the Moodies sound (quoted at length on this album, much more so than the next pair of John and Justin solo albums). But he'd moved on from the Moodies, living a new life in America with a new wife and a family on the way. More than anyone, Pinder had pushed for a breakup of the original band because he feared they were getting too 'big', that something special in their music had been 'lost' now that it was personal feelings shared with millions rather than a few dedicated fans. To try to resurrect the Moodies, even in half shares, so soon after the band split would have risked starting the whole shenanigan up again (Pinder also said 'no' to touring, which would have made the album hard to promote). Perhaps a little jealousy might have played a part too and Pinder really wanted to prove himself 'solo' - only natural, however genuinely friendly and supportive all five Moodies always were. It can’t have been easy for Pinder – he was the band’s de facto leader once Denny Laine left in 1966 and though the arrival of Hayward reversed the band’s fortunes, he certainly had the songwriting and singing talent to make the group big himself given time. Hayward was hired originally purely as a guitarist, perhaps with a few songs on the side to ease the load on Pinder; his ascent to stardom with two hit singles out of three across 1967 took Pinder by surprise as much as anybody. You might ask why consider a joint album at all then; but Justin would have been a hard person to say 'no' to. One of the most reluctant stars of the whole AAA bunch, Justin was really scared of going solo ('Forever Autumn' is still two years away at this point) and Mike would have been flattered than the person groomed by the media as the band's 'star' was coming to him for help. Hayward's company in America would have been a fun reminder of 'home' too; had Pinder been able to have the fun and creativity of recording this album and then not leasing it e might have been happy - but Justin had a career to think about and a band that might never come back together again.
Justin and longterm Moodies producer Tony Clarke then faced a dilemma: Hayward still wanted input from somebody and another member of the band - who he already knew inside out - was an obvious choice. But whose nose risked being put of joint by not being asked? In the end John Lodge was an obvious, practical replacement: the pair had joined the Moody Blues at virtually the same time and a bassist who can play a handful of other things is a more natural complement to a guitarist than a flautist or a drummer. Graeme was largely 'out' anyway, having formed his own band and working hard on their first solo album; Ray wasn't much further behind. John doesn't seem to have got very far working on his album (to be released as 'Natural Avenue' in 1977) though and of all five Moodies seems to be the one most enjoying the 'rest' after years of touring up until this point. While none of Lodge's songs for this album are that distinguished (they sound written in a hurry, to go along with Justin songs that had been shaped over months, as per his usual working style) the pair do sound good together across this album, their voices locked in harmony without the basses of Mike or Ray to get in the way. This is also a key turning point for the whole future of the band, with the Moodies becoming more and more about this growing partnership as the years go by, to the point in 1988 when they are the only Moodies to get songs on a Moody Blues album. Ironically the band's long-lasting and impressive democracy signs it's death warrant here, on a project that was only ever created because Justin didn't want to go solo!
That leaves 'The Blue Jays' very much as the 'missing link' of the Moodies’ sound between their last ‘original’ album in 1972 and their first reunion project in 1978. There are some changes, though these are subtler here than they will be on 'Octave'. 'Blue Jays' sees an orchestra replacing Pinder’s mellotron for the first time in seven odd years and much more emphasis on a ‘massive’ sound light years from the gutsy rock and roll of, say, ‘A Question Of Balance’. While undoubtedly a strong record, 'Blue Jays' is in many ways a curious one. Justin shines like never before in both a vocal, writing and guitar sense, while poor John very much plays second fiddle. At times the album suffers from the excesses that will often happen when this pair get together: Justin's songs become too serious, John's become too silly; Hayward's songs are epics with long running times and lots of wide open spaces; Lodge's songs are retro-rockers. While many of the Moodies' solo albums are impressively rounded despite representing only one point of view where there used to be five, this is the one Moodies 'solo' project where you long for that little something extra to make a great record stupendous: Ray Thomas' eccentric humour, Graeme Edge's brand of poetic realism, Mike Pinder's honest fervour, quiet beauty or seething rage (depending what mood he's in). Compared back to back with 'Seventh Sojourn' 'Blue Jays' is often in danger of becoming po-faced, lacking the 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock and Roll Band' moment to cut through the murk and laugh at all the pretentiousness. However 'Blue Jays' is also a very beautiful album, second perhaps only to 'Seventh Sojourn' in its use of gorgeous great wide expanses of melody and a natural inheritor of where the band might have gone for their eighth album (had they recorded it earlier than 1978). If I'd have been a fan in 1972 (which I probably was, in whatever my previous incarnation was) then I'd have been perfectly happy that the band hadn't 'lost' the essence of what made them great: the melody the musicianship and the ideas.
Talking of ideas, one reason 'Blue Jays' sounds a bit sombre is that it's quite an emotional record. This is another over-hang from the days of 'Seventh Sojourn' when the band were feeling a bit sorry for themselves and unsure quite what to do next. 'Blue Jays' is like an extended discussion of that idea, with the theme of 'loss' cropping up quite a few times. Unusually for John and Justin they sound quite bitter about it at times. Take the opening quartet of songs, for instance, which all fixate on someone the pair know well (called 'my brother' and 'my true friend' throughout) suddenly leaving, turning their backs on a close relationship. While the narrators sit around trying to offer crumbs of comfort and wisdom ('You will find an answer at your journey's end') and promising to 'wait' they also sound downright accusatory at times as if they've been let down badly ('You?...You?!?...YOU?!?!?!'). I'd love to know whether these three songs were written after the Moodies' first split or after Pinder left (the first ever Hayward-Lodge collaboration on 'You' suggests that this song at least was written for the Blue Jays not the Moodies; then again the strings-doing-a-typical-Pinder-mellotron-part on 'This Morning' suggests that wasn't). If so then it does seem like a 'final' goodbye: they haven't just been betrayed but worse they've been forgotten, despite all the times they shared and how close they were. 'This Morning' (a sort of sequel to the brilliant 'You Can Never Go Home') especially is one of the scariest Moodies related songs, the narrator waking up one day to discover himself alone and that 'every door you open closes on me', leading to a scary middle eight about how 'long is the road that takes you from home'. Justin has never sounded more lost; The Moodies have never sounded more apart.
Elsewhere Justin discovers another theme that will become his favourite (or at least his most successful) during the band's difficult 1980s. Album highlights 'I Dreamed Last Night' and 'Who Are You Now?' both imagine a 'lost love' (who comes to the narrator in a dream in the first song and simply by memory in the second) who went her separate ways and lived a separate life. Unlike 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere' and 'Your Wildest Dreams', however, there's no happy ending here - the pair aren't even in contact, Justin haunted by the clarity of the memory and how it moves him in 'Last Night' and scared that his soulmate my have changed beyond all recognition in 'Now'. In the first song Justin mentally reaches out after hearing her 'calling my name' and imagining her no longer 'lost' but 'in the arms of one whose found you'. In the second he asks for her to call out to him, crying out that if she could 'see' how much she means to him 'you'd reach out for me' and that without her he is incomplete, defined through her ('Because you are all there is to know about me'). While the Moodies were masters of vulnerability, both of these songs are hard to beat, the second especially goose-pimply in its just-woken-up-from-a-nightmare-late-at-night-vibe and it goes without saying that Justin is a master of the art-form, with two of his greatest ever vocals on songs that approach 'Nights In White Satin' for sheer emotional charge. While the rest of the songs are slightly less emotional (apart from the album's one happy moment, Lodge's rousing 'Saved By The Music' about how the Moodies rescued him from a life of certain drudgery) even most of these have a bittersweet feel that’s a logical culmination of the edgy apologicism of ‘Every Good Boy’ and ‘Seventh Sojourn’, yearning for the past in a way that no other Moodies record up until 1999’s ‘Strange Times’ ever does again. Overall 'Blue Jays' is a sad, mournful little album, desperate to put things right but never quite sure of how best to do that (this is all gone by both men's solo albums and the Moodies album 'Octave', interestingly, suggesting that the band adapted to their new circumstances a little easier once the first couple of years of being apart had passed).
I mean just look at that album cover. Any other band trying to create a new life for themselves after being ain a successful band would do everything they could to remind music fans who they were and why. Nowadays 'Blue Jays' would come with a handy sticker saying something dumb like the 'Guitar, bass and most distinctive hairstyles from The Moody Blues' or something like that. Instead we get a drawing of Justin and John, their backs to us, teeny tiny and dwarfed by the surroundings which look like the last remains of paradise. Behind them, closer to us, is a stone archway suggesting the pair are having one last look at their past before giving a 'final' goodbye and walking through it to new adventures the other side. A golden paradise exists on an island the far side of the picture, but it's surrounded by a moat and clearly a very long way away; by contrast all this side of the island has to offer is dying trees and rubble. This typically bold and striking Moodies cover is clearly meant to have something to do with the band situation (and almost certainly was drawn after hearing the music: it captures this record's foggy mournful defiance rather well); perhaps symbolically the next time the band get together for 'Octave' they are seen heading full profile through a doorway (but a modern one, not a fading archway), no longer 'hiding' from us.
Usually when I talk about an album feeling a little sorry for itself I use the words 'humble' or 'understated'. That's not actually true in this case: 'Blue Jays' is naturally very small and quiet but it's dressed up to the nines thanks to the first ever use of orchestra across a 'full' LP. Peter Knight is back to finish the job he started on 'Days Of Future Passed' in 1967, but this time he plays on practically every song and not just in between them as last time. This alone makes 'Blue Jays' is unique amongst the band's studio canon, extends the band 'sound' last heard on 'Seventh Sojourn' (while still full of 'wide open spaces' this is altogether a busier LP) and gives it a grandeur the Moodies have never had before. To be honest this is a bit of a mixed blessing: The Moodies were always grandiose enough without adding anything extra to the mix and songs like 'Nights, Winters, Years' are terribly over-the-top and self-conscious (the awful squeaky way the violins rise up from a rather good Justin Hayward guitar solo during the fade-out from 'You' is the single biggest 'yuk' factor in the band's canon since 'Floating'). However when Knight is at his subtlest and the songs just happen to feature violins rather than being all about the orchestra the effect is quite lovely: 'This Morning' and 'Remember Me My Friend' sound like the usual Moodies to a factor of about ten, while 'I Dreamed Last Night' is the hit single that never was but should have been. Whether the orchestra is 'better' than Pinder's mellotron or not is a moot point (the Moodies certainly lost their way quickly without it once Pinder leaves the band), but as a one-off experiment it's a definite success.
'Blue Jays' then is far from perfect and wasn't included in our 'main' core lists of 101 classics because, well, it's a second tier Moodies album: somewhere behind 'To Our Children's' 'EGBDF' and 'Seventh Sojourn', roughly equal with the 'nearly' records like 'In Search Of The Lost Chord' 'On The Threshold Of A Dream' and perhaps overlooked reunion record 'The Present'. There are a few 'filler' songs like 'Saved By The Music' and 'You' that drop the record down a peg or three and while a lovely song 'Nights, Winters, Years' has been butchered beyond comprehension by an orchestra that would have sounded too loud and overblown for a Kevin Kostner film score featuring him communing with nature/indians/water for four full hours. Still, what we do get is for the most part superb, with the Moodies’ lyricism and melodicism well matched with an orchestra that makes the whole thing sound grand and weighty and a bunch of session musicians who are having such a good time working together that nearly every track ends up in some jam session or other. Practically all the songs here have extended running times compared to normal, with nearly every piece passing the five-minute mark (the Moodies only really started doing this on previous LP ‘Seventh Sojourn’ as their other albums are comparatively short) and these tracks blend into each other with some style (extra marks to Tony Clarke, then, who is sorely missed on many later Moodies albums). In fact, in an alternate universe somewhere where the Moodies never got back together, the Blue Jays could have been the start of something really big. Actually, for all of six months, they were – that Carnegie Hall 'preview' was well attended and rapturously received and while none of the singles from the album did very much, follow-up 'Blue Guitar' (actually a solo Justin song cut with 10cc playing all the instruments) was a bona fide hit. Only the small matter of a Justin Hayward hit single (‘Forever Autumn’, recorded something like three years earlier but only released once Jeff Wayne’s mammoth ‘War Of The Worlds’ project had been completed), thawing relationships between the five Moodies and a growing demand for the band's return got in the way. However you treat this album - as the 'true' eighth Moody album, as a one-off album you once fell in love with despite never realising the Moodies connection or as mere collection filler you won't be disappointed: 'Blue Jays' is a pretty and a revealing record that represents possibly Justin's finest 40 minutes.
The album’s greatest stunner, in both my eyes/ ears and a few other people’s, is opening track  ‘This Morning’. Perhaps the most Moodies’ like track, thanks to this album’s rare use of a tinkling piano, this song builds from nothing and then takes it from there. Lyrically and musically, this song sounds like a nagging doubt eating away at Hayward, starting off as a tiny little thought (‘As the dawn is breaking on your future, my child...’) slowly realising that his long-time buddy and best pal might be serious this time that he’s never going to work with Hayward again. Like much of this album, its unremittingly grim and serious, with each new repercussion of this ‘betrayal’ hitting Hayward’s pained narrator like a hammer. He refuses to fight back, however, even ending the end of the opening epic two-minute build with the line ‘I Need You So’ and wondering for his betrayer’s sake if he’s doing the right thing for himself (‘which way will you go and who will be your guide?’). Like many a Moodies’ song, life is painted as a journey here, with two old friends taking different paths for the first time and its depiction of a life-changing event is truly moving even without knowing the little Moody story behind it. Even if you don’t know the story or care much for the Moodies, however, the sequence of events when someone walks out of your life is brilliantly depicted here. If life is made up of ever so many partings – this is the full range of implications of all of them right here, sounding like a restless, sleepless night of worry set to music. The irony of all this is that ‘This Morning’, more than any other song on this album, proves that Hayward and Lodge didn’t actually need Pinder to carry on at all. A multi-tracked Hayward turns in one of his best vocal performances here, too, ranging from over-anxious mother hen to hysterical lunatic as the song drags him further and further down a path he doesn’t want to travel. A word here, too, about pianist Kirk Duncan – himself a last-minute choice for the sessions after the Blue Jays’ original choice of keyboardist refused to leave America for, gulp, Birmingham – whose work is simply amazing on this track, shadowing all of the sprightly opening passages of acoustic guitar with big heavy crashing chords that echo the theme of claustrophobia that runs throughout the song.
 ‘Remember Me, My Friend’ carries on the theme, but this time it’s a collaboration between Hayward and Lodge, with the two authors swapping lines about the betrayal but in a much more relaxed style. The lyrics sound like the narrator(s) are coming to some sort of understanding about the whole situation, striving to be nice and promising to be there for their betrayer’s return, but the whole situation is still too raw and there’s more than a few nasty words in here (‘What can I say? You don’t have the words/nerve to say what’s on your mind’). This track isn’t quite up to the last breathless piece of angst, but its nagging chorus-line (‘You?...You?!...You!!!’) is still very memorable and it’s very easy to believe the album’s sleeve-notes that somewhere, lost in the vaults, is a stunning unedited nine-minute version of this song. In fact the best thing about this whole track is the ending, when the vocalists finally pause for breath and let the musicians run away with a little burn-out groove at the end of the song. One of only two Hayward/Lodge collaborations on the whole album, this is a song that’s surprisingly un-Moodies-ish, with the theme of betrayal and the oompah-groove sounding more like Jethro Tull than ‘Nights In White Satin’.
 ‘My Brother’ is, wait for it, a third song in a row on the theme of betrayal. Somehow you can’t manage any other group (except, maybe, CSNY) spending three tracks in a row on an important record talking about their relationships with each other. But then, the Moodies were more of a ‘brotherhood’ than most and the use of the words ‘brother’ and ‘my true friend’ both appear to be genuine here. It’s easy to imagine Hayward writing this song whilst on an aeroplane back to his family in Britain, wondering why he has to keep flying out to the Unites States just to keep his ever-fading friendship with Pinder alive. Hayward cleverly uses the geographical distances between the two men in this song as a metaphor for how far they have grown apart in their own lives and world views, with the pair ‘divided by an ocean’. If I’m right with this synopsis, Hayward even offers surprise at how the formerly steady and cautious Pinder could suddenly ‘up sticks’ and leave both his band and his home country without much of a discussion (it’s a bit like what happens with Nash when he leaves the Hollies for CSN – Allan Clarke’s rebuttal ‘My Life Is Over With You’ has exactly the same mix of pain, hurt and fondness of these songs here). Once more Lodge seems to be absent entirely from this track (except for a bass overdub perhaps), suggesting that its another track recorded while waiting for Pinder to make his mind up over whether to commit to this album or not. Musically it has perhaps the best tune of the three songs on this theme, complete with a wordless middle eight (ahh ahh ahh wooh wooh wooh) that sounds like crying and a distortion-heavy guitar sound and a tambourine both placed high in the mix that sound like time really is running out beat by beat.
 ‘You’ is Lodge’s own response to Hayward’s responses of betrayal and loss of friendship and the title alone sounds accusatory. However, this song is curiously titled – ‘you don’t even know my name’ is indeed the first line, but its ‘Remember Me My Friend’ that has the chorus of ‘You?...You?!... You!!’. It’s interesting to hear how similar this track is to both ‘My Friend’ and ‘My Brother’, accusing someone that ‘you don’t know how to walk my road...I believe that what is lost forever has brought the change in me’ which could almost be the tagline for the whole album. This song’s lyrics are much conciliatory, however, telling the un-named person in the song (but presumably Pinder) to ‘take all our love’ and acknowledge that his heart lies elsewhere (‘you’ve got to change the world I see’), albeit still with a sense of hurt and regret about the whole business. Lodge and Hayward trade lines on this song at long last, almost as if they’re cementing their own brotherhood now that Pinder has poled off to pastured new. The song has a very hummable melody and lots of interesting lyrics, but somehow there’s no urgency here and the plodding tempo robs this song of much of its muster and beauty. I’d love to hear a re-mixed version of this song, one without Hayward’s for-once perfunctory guitar parts and the clunky switches between chorus and verse – an acoustic version of this song might well have been the highlight of the entire album.
 ‘Nights, Winters, Years’ closes out the first side in suitably operatic style but, much as I admire the composition, this song demonstrates exactly why the Moody Blues did so well to avoid the orchestral trap laid out for them on ‘Days Of Future Passed’. Singing solo to orchestral accompaniment is never something that comes to rock and pop performers easily and for once Hayward is totally over-the-top by the end of this song, doing his best to make the whole thing sound operatic. The closing crashing orchestral chords by band friend Peter Knight (working with them for the first time since ‘Nights In White Satin’) is so completely at odds with everything this subtle, delicate album is that it just sounds horribly wrong. ‘Nights’ is obviously an attempt to recapture ‘;Satin’ (they even share the same opening word) and that song, too, ended with an orchestral climax but that one sounded natural (downright terrifying, even, given how much pathos Hayward put into his vocal on that song) – here it just sounds forced. Again, though, the problem’s with the recording, not the song – simple as it may be, it still successfully juxtaposes the long slow drag that’s the time when things in your life are going wrong and the glorious sunshine that passes by in the blink of an eye when things are going well. On another album this song of nostalgia might have fared better – coming at the exact mid-way point it’s just hopelessly mis-cast.
 ‘Saved By the Music’ is another ‘Johnsong’ but this time it’s the recording that (sort-of) rescues a dodgy song. More than any other Moodies, it’s Lodge who seem to yearn for the sort of languid orchestral epics that graced ‘Days Of Future Passed’ (though curiously again, Lodge came up with the two songs on that album that used the orchestra the least). That’s given us some right clunkers in the past – I know a lot of fans love ‘Isn’t Life Strange?’ but I’m certainly not one of them. Luckily, this song has some jazzy bits in-between the really slllooowww parts that are by far the best; the driving bass line is great and the seemingly improvised musical interplay between Hayward and Kirk Duncan at the end of the song might well be the best single minute on the whole album. But as a song, this is the poorest one here: ‘when you’re feeling down, the music will save you’ run the lyrics and that’s about all they say. For six whole minutes. Another song ‘saved by the music’, with great performances saving one of the dodgiest lyrics Lodge ever wrote.
 ‘I Dreamed Last Night’ is the next classic track from this album and is obviously this album’s shot at a hit single, being both catchy and deep, not to mention very memorable (bizarrely, though, the record company went with ‘Remember Me, My Friend’, a fine song but hardly a hit single). It continues the theme of loss and nostalgia present on the rest of this album, but this time it’s clearly a lost love that disappeared from the narrator’s life some time ago returning to him in his dreams (perhaps this other imminent loss was making Hayward think about some others in his past?) A pre-cursor to the future Moodies classic ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’, this is Hayward at his commercial best, delivering a classic melody-line with lyrics that sound very heartfelt but are easy to relate to. It’s hard not to sympathise with the narrator when he reveals quietly that he ‘dreamt I was hearing your voice/name’, desperately trying to hang on to the overwhelming emotions he feels upon waking up and soaring to fever pitch with the orchestra working overtime. Hayward’s vocal is again one of his best, yearning and romantic but sounding as if he really has just woken up and is in a daze in more ways than one, but once more we get Justin double-tracked instead of Lodge’s very capable harmonies. How much of his album did the bassist really contribute? And why wasn’t the whole project changed to a solo Hayward album when Pinder dropped out? – the guitarist can’t have been that averse to the idea as his first solo record ‘Songwriter’ came out two years later.
 ‘Who Are You Now?’ continues the theme, sounding like the narrator dreaming of his soul-mate from his past as he drops off to sleep. This song is a forgotten classic even for this album (it’s one of only two tracks from ‘Blue Jays’ not included on the Moody Blues box-set, for instance), with a triple-tracked Hayward at his most fragile (think ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ with less references to Camelot). The shortest song on this album by some margin, both Hayward’s acoustic playing and his spooky, echo-laden voice are spot on for this tale of lost first loves and again it’s easy to see where ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ took its theme from, what with the narrator staring out the window and hoping ‘you’ll reach out for me’. The cello solo in the middle, replacing the point where we’d normally get a Ray Thomas flute special, is the icing on the cake, adding to this track’s mysterious, intimate vibe. Of course, if Justin had been pondering the title question in the modern age, all he’d have to do would be to scan ‘facebook’ for his old loves – somehow that doesn’t sound quite as romantic.
 ‘Maybe’ is the third and final Lodge song and it’s another sweeping orchestral statement with Peter Knight at his most loud and brash. Which is odd because this is a ballad – a delicate Lodge song that echoes ‘Who Are You Now?’ with its ruminations on whether the narrator has done the right thing to let someone go. The lyrics end up being so confused they end up as broken English (‘Someone who feels, someone who needs, someone who sees, can’t find you!’) but that’s a compliment, not an insult – this is exactly how you do feel in times of trouble and can’t get your words to follow logical thought. Like Hayward, Lodge discusses here whether he was really light to let someone in his past go, especially as he seems to have never met her equal again and still thinks about her years on, but this song runs out of ideas somewhere round the middle and again drags in a way that this album’s other ballads don’t really seem to. Someone also really ought to tell Peter Knight that this is a sensitive ballad too – his chirpy strings would sound pretty nice on their own but they sound horribly out of kilter here.
Closer  ‘When You Wake Up’ is the other Hayward/Lodge collaboration on this album and it appears to sit outside this album to some extent, both because of the curious fade-up on a violin solo (suggesting that this track has been somehow running below the surface of the other tracks on this album but we couldn’t quite hear it) and the generally optimistic frame of mind. The only song here that’s really similar to the old Moodies mish-mash style (making epics from lots of little bits and pieces), the whole thing still makes for a fine farewell to the album, especially the return to dream-like imagery which hints that the whole of the last 35 minutes has just been a nightmare suffered by the authors (‘Was it true? Was it real? Was it just a dream?’) When the narrator ‘wakes up’ (and gets over his grief, possibly) he’ll find out that life will carry on, to a triumphant cry of ‘aaaaahhhh’ that sounds more like dwarves whistling their way to work than the tears it represented earlier. The whole album then ends on yet another drawn-out fade, with more classic Hayward guitar and a second sterling use of that piano seemingly going on for hours. Classic Moodies.
And that’s that. Ten tracks to ponder, all of them linked in a kind of Moodies-ish half concept about loss, betrayal and memories. In many ways it’s the duo’s most inventive album of all, paring back the tracks so that many times it’s just them and an orchestra and letting the melodies and – especially – the words stand out over the production and performances. But the one over-riding problem I have with this album – and the reason it’s not on our list proper – is that after 45 minutes worth this album begins to sound the same. Many of these songs continue the Moodies’ distinctive blend of slow and fast passages in the same track (think ‘Question’...if you hadn’t noticed it before, the best template of this style) which is fine once or twice across an album – desirable in fact, as you can never quite guess where an album’s going. But hearing the same formula over and over again across a whole album is terribly wearing – especially as I’ve just heard this album three times while reviewing it – and even the album’s best moments only truly sound great when heard alone.