Monday 30 September 2013

The Moody Blues "The Magnificent Moodies" (1965) (Album Review)

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The Moody Blues "The Magnificent Moodies" (1965)

I'll Go Crazy/Something You Got/Go Now/Can't Nobody Love You/I Don't Mind/I've Got A Dream//Let Me Go!/Stop!/Thank You Baby/It Ain't Necessarily So/True Story/Bye Bye Birdie

Dear AAA readers, one of the things I was excited to find out once this site began growing a little bit (we're up to 150,000 hits now by the way!) was which of our AAA artists would turn out to be the most popular in terms of average hits per album. Would it turn out to be a well-established act like The Beatles, Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones? A band with a smaller but fiercer following, like the Grateful Dead or Simon and Garfunkel? Or would it turn out to be someone less likely (chances are we're the only album reviews site ever to talk about quite a few of our records in-depth; sadly there aren't many takers for Lulu or Nils Lofgren out there). Well, as it turns out, the results have flabbergasted me completely: in terms of average hits per album, some usual suspects are doing quite well (Paul McCartney - the Wings albums in particular and The Kinks) but one artist is out way in front of everyone else: Denny Laine, about the last person I'd expect to have such a cult fanbase (I thought I was the only Laine lover out there!)

Now I'm not one to go against the flow and I'd love to bring you more because that's obviously what my audience seems to be craving - and who am I to cast aspersions when I consider Denny to be one of the 1960s and 70s' most under-rated writers and singers too - but the fact is there aren't all that more Denny Laine albums out there: I do have 'Japanese Tears' somewhere (a 1980 compilation of outtakes solo and Wings plus the A and B side of a contemporary single about Paul's week inside a Tokyo prison), but it's scattered across various Wings tapes in my collection that haven't seen the light of day in years (and the only time it ever came out on CD, about 1990, it predictably died a death and is now selling for small fortunes on Amazon - frankly its not worth the fiver I once paid for the vinyl record). I do also own '...Performs the hits of Wings', a live album made on the cheap for the Hallmark label, but even though it contains a pretty riveting re-working of 'Time To Hide', there aren't many nice things to say about it so I won't please me or you to write about it. The last Denny Laine album I own, 'Rave On', is a Buddy Holly covers project (made to celebrate the fact that Macca had just bought the rights to his back catalogue) and there's so much to say about AAA songs that I'll already be 103 by the time I've got through the albums I want to cover without having to research Buddy Holly's life and times (I'll pencil it in for when I'm 104 though). (One day I'll get my hands on 'Aaah...Laine!', the 1974 solo album that's meant to be really good, but frankly I've got more chance becoming one of the Spice Girls than I have getting my hands on that rarity).

So that leaves the glorious 'Reborn' CD (reviewed as part of News, Views and Music 123), seven studio Wings albums (six of which we've covered by now - and 'Speed Of Sound' won't be that far behind I promise) and this little curio, the first ever Moody Blues album. Now I know what quite a few of you are thinking: 'I don't remember seeing Denny Laine singing 'Nights In White Satin'. A few more of you are probably thinking 'I remember Denny singing 'Go Now' with somebody - but this line-up never made an album, surely?!' I know what most of the rest of you are thinking too: 'Gee, I wonder what a 1965 pre-psychedelia Moody Blues sounds like!' And the remaining few are probably thinking 'Gee, how did I get here when all I looked up was the phrase 'I wish the Spice Girls would Go Now!' Sorry about that - I hope you find a more interesting article to read soon! Denny Laine is indeed the lead singer, back in the days when Justin Hayward was still a folksinger thinking about applying for a job with the New Animals and John Lodge was still looking enviously on at his old mate Ray Thomas and wondering how his old 'El Riot and the Rebels' co-star had ended up in Birmingham's greatest beat band. That still leaves Ray, drummer Graeme Edge and Mike Pinder in the days when he used to play an upright piano not a mellotron, though.

So what could a pre-summer of love Moody Blues sound like? Well, the trouble is they sound like everyone else around in 1965, just with Brummy accents not scouse ones. Fans of the Hayward and Lodge eras tend to hate this album (the few of them that actually know of it anyway) because none of the trademark sounds are there: this is music that's heavily grounded and actually quite harsh-sounding even for 1965 (when most other AAA bands had already drifted into folk), a million miles and several solar systems away from next album 'Days Of Future Passed'. There's no mellotron, precious little guitar (Laine was the only guitarist in the band and he's often too busy singing to play - he doesn't play on all that many Wings songs either come to think of it) and the few harmonies on this record tend to be Denny and Mike together, not the full bodied sound usually associated with the Moody Blues. And as for the original songs, there's barely a reference to 'love' in the romantic sense, never mind in the 'universal' sense - lyrics about understanding mankind's purpose and his struggles to obtain it don't come in for another two years yet.

So is it any good? Well, yes - ish. Nothing on this album matches the best known song 'Go Now', a lot of the tracks here are anonymous American hits of the sort the Searchers covered rather than their lesser known, obscurer B-sides the likes of the Beatles and Hollies made their own and there's a sense of aimlessness that makes a lot of the fast songs sound too fast and the slow songs sound interminable. In short, the Moody Blues aren't yet a group - they're a promising pianist with a knack for writing hooks and are largely a back-up band for charismatic frontman Denny, who gets all the best moments on the record. That said, I've always been of the opinion that Laine was wasted in Wings, that in some parallel universe where Brian Epstein came from the Midlands and the Cavern Club was in Ronnie Scott's in Birmingham he would have ended up the star, not the runner-up to one. We're so used to hearing Denny as an empathetic harmoniser or as a quiet steady rock keeping a sometimes over-flashy band together so Paul McCartney can soar away to nirvana that its a shock to see and hear him as the star-to-be in his own right. Denny looks the part and sounds it even more, taking control of the recordings here so confidently it's hard to believe this album was his first real visit to a recording studio (by contrast, future stars Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas get one song each). The original songs, too, are promising: Laine and Pinder are a real songwriting team, sounding just enough like the American rock and roll songs the band cover on the rest of the album but with an added something new; 'True Story' (with the narrator sighingly admitting that the song indeed happened to him) and 'Stop!' (with its sudden, ear-catching full stop in the middle of every chorus) might be gimmicks, but they're clever gimmicks that in the context of 1965 were as revolutionary as anything around at the time. The music is quite unlike anything Pinder will write for the Moodies to come (as a general rule his are the most epic, out-there multi-suite songs once the band gets going circa 1968; here every song is written for a simple piano and guitar accompaniment), while the lyrics maintain Laine's Wings-era simplicity while surprising in just how many of them are about romance and broken hearts (by contrast none of his songs for Wings are what you'd call 'traditional' love or lost-love songs). Even some of the covers - such as Ray Thomas' first lead vocal on the Gershwin's 'It Ain't Necessarily So' and the frenetic closer 'Bye Bye Birdie' are as good as anything else a beat band are offering in 1965.

What's surprising when you look back on this album now is that it isn't just 11 re-treads of 'Go Now' and the original gathered together. 'Go Now' wasn't just the Moody Blues' biggest hit in the Denny Laine era, it was their only hit and was followed by a morale-sapping string of failures that didn't even chart (though the eccentric 'Boulevard De Madeleine' came closest just before Denny left). 'Go Now' is clearly an 'adult' song, dealing with major themes of betrayal, guilt and wanting to do the best by someone else while at the same time wanting selfishly to have them in your life forever. The song was striking for a pop combo in early 1965, picking up where The Animals had left off with 'The House Of The Rising Sun' as the 'new' sound of the day with an intensity few songs of the 1960s ever topped. However, none of the other songs here come close to matching that mood: these really are 'teenage' songs, designed to be about more frivolous and light-hearted matters and 'Go Now' sounds mighty odd when heard at the 'core' of this album as track three. If I was a record company executive, with the biggest hit for my studio for years, I'd have got the band recording mature ballads, not some of the fluff that fills up this album (the closest is 'Can't Nobody Love You?', but somehow the balladesque drama of the original seems to have been turned into out and out country by changing the arrangement to a bar-room piano and harmonica). The lack of any song with the power or panache of 'Go Now' must have really confused the fans who bought this album and few of them seem to have bothered to buy it in fact (it will turn out to be the Moodies' poorest selling studio album right up until 1983). That's a shame because even the fans who'd worn out their 45 copy of 'Go Now' would have found much to enjoy they probably weren't expecting.

One thing 'Go Now' probably did inspire, though, was the sheer amount of 'farewell' songs on this album. Even for 1965, there aren't half a lot of unhappy songs on this album (perhaps taking its cue from the 'Beatles For Sale' released at Christmas the year before - although by contrast 'Help!', released the same month, is quite a happy, bouncy sort of an album). Both the original and cover songs are about 'split-up' songs and telling a girl to go in no uncertain terms, veering from the sudden aggressive 'Stop!' to the pleaful 'Let Me Go' to the playful 'Bye Bye Birdie!' to the passive-aggressively moody (punintended unintended as it were) 'I Don't Mind'. Most of these songs are straightforward I-hate-you-and-you-hate-me songs, with the exception of the last which tries (but generally fails) to create another 'Go Now' by having the narrator pretending not to care while his heart is breaking. Interesting, another deeply unusual choice of song (for 1965 anyway), the old classic 'It Ain't Necessarily So' is also about looking beyond appearances for the truth; coincidentally this will become the defining theme of the future Moody Blues the world knows and loves. If the 1965-era Stones were angry, The Hollies worried, The Kinks confused and The Searchers effectively doing what the Moody Blues will end up doing (recording Phil Spector-esque epics about deep relationships, rule-breaking and morality issues of the day on their superb under-rated gem 'Take Me For What I'm Worth'), with the Beatles every shade in-between, then The Moody Blues are about sadness and heartbreak.

The main trouble is that this album simply doesn't sound as good as any of the Moodies' contemporaries. We've been rude about Decca here before (and their set up that saw all rock and roll albums recorded in the same way as classical music until at least 1967), but at least this grungy, raw sound suited bands like the Rolling Stones (who might have 'cleaned' up their sound entirely had they started on EMI and worked with George Martin) - even in this early era The Moody Blues were meant to be a 'polished' band more akin to the Beatles (or better still between the Beatles and the Stones, close to the Searchers' sound before they got 'folk-rock' and psychedelia in quick succession). They could be the most polished band that ever lived, in fact, but sadly it sounds on this album as if they're playing under a layer of mud in a train tunnel with the 4:30 from Settle to Carlisle train whistling past. Amazingly the sound seems to have got worse on CD, not better, thanks to the poor condition the master-tapes are in (if you're wondering why you haven't heard 'Go Now' on the radio or on a 'greatest hits' CD for a while when it used to be everywhere, that's because the original tapes for it are on the verge of falling apart and no one wants to be responsible for braking the tape entirely - yes the tape is on CD now but it was creaking back in the 1980s when the first CDs were manufactured so still sounds pretty rough). Not that the rest of the songs from this period sound much better: had someone told me that Denny Laine had recorded 'I Don't Want To Go On Without You' with a bucket on his head I'd had believed them (after being enough of an anaorak to ask what make, naturally). Even my old warped vinyl copy (which I bought minus the cover from a charity shop for 50p) plays better than my CD (Technically a copy of '16 Unforgettable Hits' rather than this album - and naturally it has a huge picture of Justin Hayward on the front instead of Denny Laine, but I bought it cheap so I'm not complaining much really, honest I'm not). As far as I'm concerned the sound quality of this album is the main thing holding the 1965 Moody Blues back from stardom, despite the one big hit -how different musical history might have been for both the Moodies and Wings had the band had enough big hits to encourage Denny to stay.

Big collectors should stick to the vinyl edition then - but the beauty of CDs are the extended running time that can add oodles of extras for no extra price (well, eventually, once everything has been around a few years anyway). There are no less than 16 of them with this album, turning it from a weight-watchers 30 minutes (only a fraction shy of making our 'five shortest AAA records' list) into a whopping 70. Many of these songs - all taken from A sides and B sides with the exception of 'People Gotta Go', a punkish outtakes that first came out on a various artists 'Beat Treasures' compilation - are better than the album, recorded when the band had more confidence and time to record their work. If you can listen out not only for 'Boulevard De Madeliene' (the closest to psychedelia Denny Laine ever came - and the stepping stone from 'his' era to the first Hayward-era single 'Love and Beauty'), but Denny's eccentric 'From The Bottom Of My Heart' and the greatest of the short run of Laine-Pinder songs, the finger-snapping 'And My Baby's Gone', are hidden gems that deserve to be better known by all. Interestingly, though, most of the unofficial (well, less official) repressings of this album take their lead from the American edition of this album, which substituted the original songs 'And My Baby's Gone' 'From The Bottom Of My Heart' 'I Don't Want To Go On Without You' and 'It's Easy Child' for 'Something You Got Baby' 'I Don't Mind' 'Stop' and 'Thank You Baby'; unusually for the days when the American record companies seemed to be messing up classic English rock albums un purpose, they actually got the better deal this time around.
Sadly there never was a second album for the Denny Laine era, as one flop 45 after another killed off more and more interest from Decca. As a result, it's hard to work out just how much worth this one lone album has. 'The Magnificent Moodies' doesn't quite deserve the adjective 'magnificent' - 'patchy' would be better, or 'Mediumly average' would be better, although 'The Mediumly good Moodies' probably wouldn't have gone too well. That said, its actually a better debut album than the first Hollies and Searchers albums and easily better than anything the Rolling Stones or The Small Faces were doing that year. The Moody Blues could have really grown into a band we'd have known and loved for a long time to come - well they did, of course, but there's precious little here except a co-writer, one familiar voice (ray's - Mike sounds oddly unlike himself on this album, as if he's trying to sound like Denny) and a distinctive drumming style to link the two. Fans of the 'Nights In White Satin' style Moody Blues really won't like this album very much at all, except in a ha-ha-ha-weren't-they-young? baby photographs sort of a way, but fans of mid-60s beat pop will find much to enjoy. And all you fans of Denny Laine out there - or even some of his fiercest critics - what you find on this CD might surprise you hugely and make you yearn for the days when Denny was easily the most important member of a band.

'I'll Go Crazy' is the opening track - in Britain at least - and is an odd choice to kick-off the Moodies' album career. A James Brown song, it would have suited the more gravel-voiced AAA stars (Roger Daltrey for one) or the more manic, charismatic ones (Steve Marriott), but Denny Laine has a voice so unlike Brown or either of these two that hearing a posh Brummie white version of the song sounds deeply wrong - much more so than most Merseybeat era covers that at least try to engage with the spirit of the original. Brown's songs are all about repetition and building up steam to a climax - by contrast Denny seems to be reading out a shopping list and the rest of the bound sound deeply bored, Pinder's high harmonies and Thomas' grumpy bass suggesting that the band are at the end of a long shift and want to go home. The song does liven up slightly when we hit the chorus: 'You've got to live for yourself, yourself and nobody else', but all of a sudden a shriek from Denny kills off even this cut riff and heads the band straight back into the one-note verse. Brown's original version of this song is one of his very best and one of his most popular, doing well to make #15 in the US charts back when most black artists didn't even make the top 100 (though best heard on his famous 'Live at the Apollo' set). The Moodies' version is tired filler, the band clearly not that familiar with the song (is it one of Denny's choices, as he's the only one with any enthusiasm for it here and even he doesn't have enough) and simply fills a big hole where another Laine-Pinder original should be. Whoever decided to make this album lowlight the opening song on the record should have at least had their heads looked at - the Americans got it right by cutting this song from the album all together!

'Something You Got Baby' isn't an awful lot better, to be honest, but the song is more suitable for the band. The Searchers' cover of this song (on fourth album 'Sounds Like Searchers' )is precision personified, a little bit too polished in the way the parts of the song run effortlessly together and the way the three-part harmonies are just so; by contrast The Moodies sound like enthusiastic amateurs playing wildly in the hope that everything will come together by the end. Denny is on great form, writing the neck out of the song, but the tempo is hopelessly slow, the harmonies sound under-rehearsed and the guitar solo is a crashing chaos of chords, the very sound of a gifted player winging it because he hasn't learnt the song yet. To be honest, my CD copy of this track makes Denny sound like he's drunk, but I'm willing to bet that's a quirk of the re-mastering rather than a reflection of the original performance. When you hear the Searchers version you feel that they've been playing this song man and boy for ten years and are now on take 84; by contrast the Moodies sound as if they are learning on their feet and only got hold of the record that morning. The original of this song was by writer Chris Kenner, a New Orleans soul singer best known for the instrumental 'Land Of A 1000 Dances', which might in fact have been a better choice for the Moodies in this period (even back in 1965 they tended to better with music that was exotic and slightly unearthly rather than powerful r and b). The song itself is average really - it's a better choice for a cover than Brown's more soul-driven material and has some sweet words that are basically 'Good Vibrations' five years early ('There's something you got baby, makes me work hard all day'). The Moodies also have the good sense to convert the song's irritatingly twee five-note-riff to Ray Thomas' flute (making its first appearance on record) rather than an orchestra. Indeed, I wish the band had used Ray's flute more: back in the pre-Jethro Tull days it was very unusual to see a flautist in a band and his playing really suits the few songs on this album where he decides to play, giving the Moodies a slightly 'sophisticated', classical air compared to the more r and b sounds around them. Sadly, though, 'Something You Got' is one of those irritatingly empty songs that never changes pace, tempo or mood and one where the listener knows exactly where the song is going to go from first note to last.

'Go Now' was always going to be one of the album highlights anyway, but it sounds ridiculously superior to the first two tracks on this album, the sound of a band who at last know what they're doing and can pitch their performance just right instead of hoping for the best. Legend has it that this was Linda McCartney's favourite song (till she discovered reggae at any rate) and I doubt she was the only person to feel that way in Britain at that time (that and the fact that the Moodies had been one of the Beatles' favourite choice of warm-up acts in the 60s helped get him the into Wings). Back in 1965 'Go Now' was a highly contemporary song - Bessie Banks first scored a hit with it as recently as 1964 (as the wife of co-writer Larry Banks she got dibs on the song but didn't really have the power or believability of Denny Laine) - but it sounds as if it belongs from a different era altogether, what with the gentlemanly ways of the narrator, whose lover has broken his heart but is anxious to see her leave before she seems him cry. Strangely Banks and Benneyt never had another hit record after writing this one - and its surprising that the Moody Blues didn't try (or were ordered by Decca to try) another song from the same writers. Out of all the songs on the album, it's easily the most polished and convincing, with Denny's vocal judged perfectly and the first real appearance of the stunning harmonies that are going to become a Moody Blues trademark. Listen out for Pinder's exciting piano break though: until this point only Gerry and the Pacemakers had successfully added a piano into a 'band' sound instead of a second rhythm guitarist but the effect works well - indeed, it's a shame that after these album sessions Pinder will rarely play the piano again on record. Noticeably, too, while 'Go Now' sounds nothing at all like the rest of the album, it is the closest thing here to the trademark Moodies sound to come: big, atmospheric, lush, orchestral-without-really-using-an-orchestra and with a lyric that leaves the reader to read between the lines about just why he wants his girl to leave. Easily the best thing on the album - and the best thing recorded by the Denny Laine era line-up of the band - for once the record buying public really did turn a band's best song into their biggest hit. In fact, you don't really want 'Go Now' to leave....

Especially as 'Can't Nobody Love You' is up next. In truth its one of the better cover songs on this album, but it seems to have been the record most designed to hit the same spot as 'Go Now' and it just doesn't quite have that song's panache. The song is ever so nearly a one-man show (Denny takes the lead vocal, plays the flamenco style guitar and plays the harmonica), with just Pinder's piano and Edge's rather clunky drumming to accompany him. Denny does his best to conjure up a romantic mood, but the song is just that shade too slow and slightly insincere compared to 'Go Now' and sandwiched together that just makes this second of only two attempt at a slow song on the album sounds even worse. That said, this is quite a revolutionary recording for the day - it lasts for 4.03 for one thing, back in the days when 'The House Of The Rising Sun' had only just set a precedent for songs passing the 4.00 barrier. Unfortunately, you can also see why so few recordings from this era ever lasted that long: there isn't really enough material here to satisfy a three minute song and, yes, you guessed it, this song badly needs a middle eight to keep it interesting. Still, on the positive side, at least the band sound like they know what they're doing on this one and the performance is a strong one, with Denny's pleading vocal particularly good.

Alas 'I Don't Mind' is another of the album's weakest tracks. Another James Brown cover, the same issues apply: the song is meant to be a slow builder, gradually building up steam and physically hurting the listener with its stop-start melody and construction. By comparison, The Moody Blues' version simply sounds as if they can't remember the notes and are grappling to keep the song going. Mike Pinder takes the lead vocal for this song - his first ever committed to tape - and he sounds quite different to the future Pinder we all know and love; slightly high and shrill, he sounds like a combination of James Brown himself and companion Denny Laine (Pinder's natural strong-but-fragile voice is a real gift for the future 'questioning' line-up of the band, but lacks Laine's and Thomas' quiet authority on this record). Pinder's piano playing is again terrific, however, and Graeme Edge finally has a song he can 'show off' on, where the percussion is an integral part of the arrangement (emphasising all the 'missing' notes) rather than getting in the way. At least you can see why the band chose this song - unlike 'I'll Go Crazy' which didn't suit them at all - as the song is well suited to a piano-led arrangement and has plenty of scope for backing harmonies (which feature Denny testing out his falsetto for the first time). Lyrically, too, this is kind of the 'soul' version of 'Go Now', the narrator confident he can wave his baby goodbye without too much sorrow because she surely can't resist his charms and will be back the next day (if the narrator of 'Go Now' was an old-fashioned Victorian gentleman, then this narrator is a Victorian scoundrel). Note too the opening words of the second verse: 'I Don't Mind, 'cause this is my song, I don't mind, goodbye, so long' - with a few tweaks this will end up becoming the much deeper and more spiritual 'My Song', a Pinder composition found on the Moody Blues album 'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour' in 1971.

Side one ends with 'I've Got A Dream', a Jeff Barry cover from the days when Barry was just another up-and-coming pop writer rather than one of the 'creators' of The Monkees (in his head, if no one elses). Like many a Barry song, its likeable and hummable without ever quite having the depth of the greatest pop songs of the era - anyone expecting a song about racial tolerance inspired by Martin Luther King's speech of the same name is going to be disappointed. In actual fact, it's probably Abba who stole this song for their own superior 'I Have A Dream' in 1976 as the two are very similar, the narrator basically using his drwam as the basis for a chat-up line in which he says his dream won't amount to very much without someone to share it with. As pop songs go in 1965, this is a minor treat: twinkling and bright, this is one of those songs that gets under your skin and even includes a magical middle eight (even 'Go Now' didn't have one of those!) Telling his girl that she might as well have a crack at making his dream come true (because the narrator can't 'throw it in the river' 'toss it in the sea' or 'keep it in a paper bag'), the song switches to a more downbeat minor key, making the switch back to the major key for the verses all the more effective, the narrator's enthusiasm sounding infectious. This song is much closer to the sort of things Denny will sing in his solo career and with Wings and he has just the right delicate touch for this song, double-tracking some harmonies that sound remarkably like his work with McCartney (although I'm not so sure about his extended 'wooooooh-ohhhhhhs' on the fade-out, which sound a tad too heavy for a song this shallow). The rest of the band sound quite at home here, too, with another piano-based riff and another rare use of Ray's flute-playing, although its notable that neither Ray nor Mike appear to sing on this track. All in all, one of the better songs on the album, even if this light and fluffy song is the antithesis of the drama and sophistication of 'Go Now'.

'Let Me Go!' ushers in a second side that's largely full of group originals and, like the other Laine-Pinder songs here, are much more suited to the band's unusual piano-and-flute backing. Dare I say it, most of the Pinder-Laine songs are better than any of the so-called professional writers' songs for the band ('Go Now' aside) and 'Let Me Go' is one of the best. Perhaps inspired by The Beatles' 'No Reply' from the year before, this narrator is left waiting for a phone-call from his beloved that never comes and she's never in when he calls her. The scenario, though it might be entirely innocent, is enough to inspire a marvellously brooding track, full of pathos and drama and highlighted by Ray Thomas' mournful flute playing which suits this song better than most. Again, though, this is Denny Laine's show and he's at his best when he's actually got something emotional to connect to. A catchy chorus makes for a nice bit of a contrast too, with its cry of 'let me go!' and an early instance of Moody Blues 'aaaaahs' in the background. The writers clearly wrote the song with the heartbreak of 'Go Now' in mind (the two songs even share the same sad, slow-walking pace tempo) but in actual fact this song is closer in feel to a future Moody Blues classic 'Nights In White Satin' (presumably Justin Hayward would have heard something of the band's earlier work when trying to write something for them and by most accounts this was one of the songs they were proudest of, with good reason).

'Stop!' is another original that isn't quite as strong but still has an interesting stop-start quality and a cute chord progression linking the verses and choruses that's one of the Merseybeat things ever written (even though the band actually came from the Midlands). Again, listen to the way that the piano is the heart of this sound and the guitar is at best a pretty little inconsequential sound over the top. It's unusual to hear the Moodies this brash and loud in any era - their cries of 'stop!' and Graeme Edge's drum crashes are central to the song, which does indeed come to a full stop when they reach this point - but the song suits them really well in this era when they have the deeper bass tones of Pinder and Thomas in the band rather than Hayward or Lodge. A cleverly constructed piece of pop, 'Stop!' has just about enough pathos in the lyrics to prevent the song from seeming too gimmicky as well and it's interesting to note that the song is addressed not to the narrator's missus (as lazier writers would have written it) but to another outsider whose been leading her on. Listen out for a curious production decision at around 1:55 when the song fades into the background and to all intents and purposes seems to be over, before Denny cuts back into this 'Please forget about us...' rejoinder at full volume. Was this is a deliberate decision, keeping in with the theme of the song about difficult goodbyes and stopping and starting relationships? or is it simply a production mistake that was never corrected? (I'd be mighty surprised had this song come out on EMI but somehow on Decca in the mid-60s I wouldn't be that surprised). Either way, the song doesn't quite have the legs of 'Let Me Go' but is a darn sight better than most of the cover songs on this album and another of the album highlights.

'Thank You Baby', a third straight Laine-Pinder song in a row, is probably the weakest of the three and the most retro song here, sounding more like it comes from 1962 than 1965, plus a 'show-awoah-aowah-woah' chorus that's more 1950s than 1960s. That said there's a lovely piano part again that's the most Pinder-like moment on the album, with a sudden rush of descending chords that come when you're least expecting it. I'm not sure Pinder's high falsetto harmony is quite as successful though (the band are really missing John Lodge at this point). The lyrics are quite sweet too, in fact this is the only happy narrator on the whole album, praising his beloved for all the times she'd stood by him and promising to stand by her. There's even a sense at unhappier times in the past, with Laine singing 'even though they're not that long ago, I saw my troubles grow, but with you by my side, we've seen them run and hide', which isn't quite 'Stand By Me' is perfectly acceptable 1965-era pop. Like 'Stop!', however, the one thing that stops this song from reaching the heights of the best songs here are the peculiar stop-start melody that's pretty uncomfortable to listen to for any period of time. The band also sound a little under-rehearsed here too, struggling a bit to all hit the notes whenever the song kicks back in again. Still, even this weakest of the Moody originals can hold its head up high in comparison to the rather anonymous cover songs on this album.

'It Ain't Necessarily So' is easily the best cover on the album after 'Go Now'. Ray Thomas' first ever lead vocal, it's a surprise he didn't get more on the album, because he's far more confident and able with his delivery than Pinder and even Laine most of the time. For its day this Gershwin song was a daring composition indeed, describing passages from the bible in term and saying how each of them are probably a pack of lies.The performance of this song is also one of the best on the album, all the band coming together for a song they clearly know well. Ray's vocal for this song is somewhere between Paul Robeson and Mick Jagger, switching tacks verse by verse to sound sincere and mocking, even if he doesn't quite hold the extended last note 'sooooooooooo' for as long as most cover versions of the song manage. The Moodies' new arrangement for piano makes the most of the song's doom-laden atmosphere and Denny turns in his best guitar solo of the album during the middle with a frenetic guitar solo that's more like Dave Davies than his usual, more laidback style. The harmonies need some work, though: unusually Denny doesn't seem to have the natural flair for harmony vocals we know he'll have in his Wings days just yet (he's much more used to singing lead in 1965) and Pinder's falsetto is still a tad on the grating side. Still, musically alone this cover song is fabulous and Ray Thomas' vocal is impressive. What a shame that he didn't get more vocals on this album - he was always underused in the Hayward-Lodge eras line-up anyway and its a shame to hear him sidelined even this early on (the Moodies did several TV appearances in this era and almost all of them have Denny hogging the camera while Ray taps a tambourine and goes 'aaaah' in the background, a sad waste of his talents).

'True Story' is the final Pinder-Laine song and another album highlight, even if there isn't much here to actually qualify as a 'true story'. Basically, the narrator is slightly worried about his 'baby' and both whether she's doing the right thing by him and whether he's doing the right thing by her - chances are every relationship in the history of the universe has had similar thoughts at some point. Denny's exhortations throughout the song that this is a 'true story' do add some drama to the song, though, and a nice gimmick that connects the audience more closely to their idols (if the 1950s were all about flashy superstars who were out of this world, then the 1960s were much more about superstars that were only really 'one of us' made good and still shared our problems; as a very general rule stars from the 60s are still more approachable from those than any other decade). The melody for this song is pretty funky, much closer to r and b than the more poppy original songs on the rest of the album, although there's still a very catchy chorus. So catchy in fact that it even makes Denny laugh during the second verse when he sings the very Beatlesy phrase 'Found me another one, love for her is gone...' - the fact that Decca left it in suggests how quickly this album was being churned out. There's also a rather curious ending that doesn't so much resolve itself as simply give up, coming to a dur-dur-dur-dur-dur full-stop. Overall, another fine song and proof that the Moodies were arguably better as songwriters than as cover merchants in this era.

The album ends on it's most frenetic moment, a noisy cover of the Willie Dixon number (yes, the blues singer who ended his career co-writing songs with the Grateful Dead) 'Bye Bye Burd', retitled 'Bye Bye Birdie' here presumably so white 60s teenagers would understand it a bit more. You get the sense that this is the Moodies letting their hair down and having a great deal of fun after the intensity of their usual material (especially if you see them perform this song in concert - 'Beat Club' is about the best, Pinder and Edge having a competition over whether they can hit piano and drums at exactly the same time!) This is clearly Laine's choice of song, though, and well suited to his voice and raw harmonica playing, which are clearly both being played live, Laine so close to switching between the two that he sometimes sings through his harmonica 'Dylan' style. Clearly intended to be a rousing finale in the same style as 'Twist and Shout' or any of the early Hollies albums (this piece is a dead ringer for 'Mickey's Monkey', although concerning a different animal), it's still notable that this song is another one about break-up and loss (had Denny just come out of a nasty relationship?) Quite unlike anything else the Moody Blues will ever record again, this is much closer to Denny's later style when he's 'rocking out', having a similar thump-thump riff to perhaps Denny's greatest single song 'Time To Hide'. The rest of the band don't sound all that convinced, especially Pinder who struggles to keep up and Thomas whose relegated to percussion, although Edge is having a whale of a time trying to sound like Keith Moon on the drums. As for bassist Clint Warwick, as with so much of this album he's mixed so low he's hard to hear (thanks again Decca!), although if you listen carefully he seems to nail this groove best of all the twelve songs, suggesting his heart lay more with noisy r and b than pop. A memorable end to this first album, even if it doesn't quite have the raw intensity of 'Twist and Shout' or the class of 'Money'.

What we have, then, is a debut album from a band who don't quite know what they want to be yet: loud rock and rollers, cute pop merchants, songwriters of original material with a bit of added edge about them or ballad merchants with a penchant for the dramatic. Few fans in 1965 could have guessed the direction the Moody Blues would take in just a couple of years' time, after dropping sales, line-up changes and an invitation to re-record Dvorak's New World Symphony will change their lives forever. In time the Moody Blues will become known as one of the most thoughtful and intelligent bands of them all. That intelligence is frustratingly missing from most of this album, which spends far too long on r and b cover auto-pilot (especially on the album's weaker first side), although there are signs of the majesty and control that the band will have in the years to come. Whilst 'Go Now' and 'It Ain't Necessarily So' are the only two covers that really add anything other bands weren't providing, the four original and exclusive songs are all far-reaching and thinking and show that, both seperately and apart, Denny Laine and Mike Pinder are going to become valued songwriters, already steering well ahead of most of their 12965 contemporaries. I'd love to have seen how this band would have developed had they scored just a little bit more interest from their singles to keep their album career afloat a little longer. Come 1966 would they still have been indulging their fun side with r and b shouters like 'Bye Bye Birdie?' Would they have finally have found a way of making the dramatic intensity of 'Go Now' work for them across a whole album? Would they have moved on to make their own 'Revolver'? Or would they have simply stuck to the disjointed and uneven quality of this album? Who knows. All we can tell you is that this is far from the best debut album ever made - and yet at the same time it's far from the worst (I'd take this album over both the first Hollies and Searchers albums - and its neck and neck between this record and 'The Rolling Stones' and 'The Kinks'). The trouble is, even though the original material is much closer to 1966, the musical style here (the piano, the harmonies, the cute 50s covers only a mum and dad could love) are already part of a dead world by mid-1965. What a surprise, then, that the Moodies will go on to be not just among the pack but leading it for most of the rest of the 1960s. Magnificent? Not quite. But garbage thrown together quickly that should be skipped over quickly so fans can hurry on to 'Days Of Future Passed'? Hmm, that ain't necessarily so either, even though many fans have done it down the years. A fascinating time capsule that's both ahead of and behind the times, full of the great and the ghastly, 'Magnificent Moodies' is still worth hearing - especially the 16 bonus tracks which would have made for an even more enjoyable second album in their own right. If nothing else, 'Magnificent Moodies' shows why Denny was once a great group leader, up there with the very best, not solely an impeccable number two.

A Now Complete List Of Moody Blues Related Articles At Alan’s Album Archives:

'The Magnificent Moodies' (1965)

'Days Of Future Passed' (1967)

'In Search Of The Lost Chord' (1968)

'On The Threshold Of A Dream' (1969)

'To Our Children's Children's Children' (1969)

‘A Question Of Balance’ (1970)

'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour' (1971)

'Seventh Sojourn' (1972)

'Blue Jays' (Hayward/Lodge) (1976)

'Songwriter' (Hayward) (1977)

'Long Distance Voyager' (1981)

'The Present' (1983)

'The Other Side Of This Life' (1986)

‘Keys To The Kingdom’ (1991)

'Strange Times' (1999)


Surviving TV Clips 1964-2015:

The Best Unreleased Recordings 1961-2009:

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967:

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2009:

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part One 1969-1977:

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two: 1979-2015

Essay: Why Being A Moodies Fan Means You Can Never Go Home

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