Monday, 27 June 2016

The Moody Blues: Unreleased Recordings 1961-2009






I'm afraid we don't have our bumper crop of usual 'unreleased songs' to give you this week. The Moody Blues were notoriously guarded over any songs they felt were imperfect and seem to have been wary of handing out in-work acetates, which is a shame because hearing The Moody Blues building up their classic 'original seven' albums piece by piece would surely be a fascinating process.  Though the Moody Blues were once a thriving source for bootlegs, most of it tends to be from individual concerts, most of which are now released officially anyway. The 'deluxe' CD re-issues from 2006-2008 rather stole our thunder too, with their occasionally un-glimpsed song or the fractionally longer edits that reveal new beginnings and ends later edited out to make the songs segue that bit more naturally. As a result our list is short and, in a couple of cases, rather desperate. However there is still a good CD's worth of material out there which you might not have heard ('Have You Heard?!') and, anyway, you're probably sick of our longer articles by now!
1.    Blues Stay Away ('The carpetbaggers' 1961)
Unless a whole treasure trove of tapes turn up to prove us wrong, it seems likely that the first time any of the Moodies were captured on tape was when John Lodge's wonderfully named school band 'The Carpetbaggers' decided to make a recording. The song is one of the then-sixteen-year-old John's very first efforts and though very derivative of early 60s ballads shows real promise. John doesn't appear to sing but the band harmonies are already this young group's most distinctive feature and the Hammond organ the distinctive sound. Cute!

2.    Down The Line (El Riot and The Rebels 1963) - lodge/thomas
John's been joined by Ray for his next band and made a more professional recording actually cut to 78 rpm disc this time, primarily so the band could hear what they sounded like on stage and most likely cut live at their favourite stomping ground, Birmingham's Streetley Youth Club. Ray is already a great frontman, growling his way through a funky Elvis-style version of Roy Orbison's 'Down The Line'. Hearing this is akin to hearing The Beatles' 'Star Club' tapes they made before they were famous and playing in a completely different adrenalin-fuelled rough-edged style. It's rather good too having sat through so many similar AAA pre-fame recordings, although you miss Justin on the lead guitar solo.

3.    Blue Moon (El Riot and The Rebels 1963)
Not quite as impressive is a gently revved up version of the Rogers and Hart standard 'Blue Moon'. Sounding not unlike the Travelling Wilburys' version (on 'Volume Three') it's the familiar syrupy ballad sung over a typical early 60s rock and roll beat and with a twinkle in the eye suggesting lead singer Ray isn't taking it too seriously.
4.    You Better Move On (BBC 1964)
Despite its length and endless repetitions, the 'Moody Blues Live At The BBC' set wasn't exactly complete. The Denny Laine era of the band recorded at least three songs that have survived the test of time including a very early recording from their first year together which never appeared on album. Arthur Alexander's 'You Better Move On' is similar to covers by rivals The Hollies and The Rolling Stones (the Moodies may well have learnt it from The Hollies, in fact, supporting them on tour in 1964). The pitching makes Denny sound awfully high but at least his guitar fits the part well and Mike Pinder throws in a great piano solo too. The harmonies are also exquisite, naturally, with a whole new 'oohed' backing vocal section that's quite inventive.
5.    Go Now (BBC 1965)
A year later the band are back to sing a rather strained sounding version of their big hit 'Go Now'. Denny sounds as if he's about to keel over during the opening peal 'We've already said...', the rest of the band miss their backing vocal cue and Mike is less sure of his piano solo than usual, but the band get through it and actually start cooking nicely by the second half of the song. Go now? They've only just started...

6.    It's Easy Child (BBC 1965)
Brian Matthew introduced the band as 'the highty talented team from Birmingham' on the radio show version of 'Top Of The Pops'. The band play a sprightly version of their live favourite that's a lot more chaotic than the studio version of the song. Graeme pounds the drums like he's knocking them with sledgehammers, the band make more of a play of the 'bom bom bom' notes bridging the verses together and Denny keeps throwing in wild ad libs 'Talk to me now and give me the beat!' However it's Pinder's brief piano solo that really gets the band going as he gives up trying to sound like a classical pianist and turns into Jerry Lee Lewis at the touch of a button.

1.    Forever To Be Alone (Justin Hayward demo c.1966)

Justin, meanwhile, was learning his trade as a solo folk act and preparing a series of demos for what will become the two singles released before he joined The Moody Blues. Most of the demos just sound like the records anyway - folky and acoustic without much production - but one of the better songs was abandoned after these demos and never released. Well sort of: most of this song is a slow-burning passionate ballad with Justin crooning, but then things get weird in the chorus. 'Where is the Eden that you dreamed of? How many thoughts have you denied? Then you can say you're lonely wo-ah, forever to be alone'. Though the words will be slightly changed and the melody quickly goes back to where it came this is, just for a second, the middle eight from the 1977 solo song and album title track 'Songwriter' where it refers to a 'Nights In White Satin' style pondering over what has happened to a former love. Fascinating and - as far as I know - the only case where Justin returned to an early song, cutting out the bits he didn't like and giving a particular guitar lick a new lick of paint. 

8.    Beautiful Dream (Live 'Bouton Rouge' 1968)
'Beautiful Dream' is a rare case of a band song that was played live but never seemingly recorded in the studio. A potential candidate for 'In Search Of The Lost Chord', we don't even know who wrote this song, which is shared at various times by Justin and John and later Mike and Ray though it's mainly the unique combination of John and Ray (though for all we know Graeme wrote it - the song is more his quirky style). It's an unusual song for The Moody Blues, starting with a scary 'doo-der-doo' riff played by the tandem before ending up in the mayhem from the end of 'Legend Of A Band' and ending up a rather badly sung falsetto harmonised piece. 'I've a beautiful dream!' runs the chorus (dreams being a major concern of the Denny Laine era band), but this song sounds more like a nightmare and about as heavy and tuneless as this era of the band ever get. 'Once again their minds are going to go - once again no one listens we're sure'.

9.    Coca-Cola Commercials (c.1965/1969)
It's time for a commercial break now and as we savour the delights of fizzy cold drinks we're in the company of that well known Capitalist commercialised money-making machine, erm The Moody Blues? Really? Yes - the band actually recorded five jingles for the soft drinks company at different times. First of all is a Denny Laine rocker that's actually rather good as he laments a lost love 'while drinking a coke to relax'.'You never get tired of this taste - it's working out fine, wo-ah woahhhh' he warbles in the early Moodies' signature sound. The other four were recorded with Judtin on lead in 1969 in between the band's third and fourth Justin 'n' John albums (was this the 'dream' they were on the threshold of perhaps?!) Over a sweeping, laidback melody with a mellotron sound playing that's really rather pretty and some gorgeous Moody harmonies Justin enjoys 'a holiday with coca-cola'. It's a bit of a breathless holiday filled with all sorts of activities including, yes, drinking coca-cola! Thirdly is a slightly faster edged song that finds Justin uncomfortably promising 'a ride on my pleasure machine into colours of yellow and green' while Mike's mellotron celebrates with a trumpetty fanfare. This is pure Moody Blues in their prime and frankly too good a song to waste on both those batty psychedelic words and an advertising jingle. 'I'll say sweet things to you' promises Justin, although not, you sense, quite as sweet as the drink.

10. Candle Of Life (Instrumental 1969)
A bit of a cheat, now, but we had to pad this article out somehow to get it vaguely in line with the other entries in this series. Back in the day The Moody Blues were prime candidates for quadrophonic sound played back through four speakers, not two. Some enterprising fans discovered how different the band sounded when two of those speakers were muted, with a whole bunch of them at Youtube at one time or another. This is one of the best, a fully instrumental version of John Lodge's gorgeous ballad which has never sounded more beautiful. The combination of piano, guitar, mellotron and tambourine sounds positively symphonic, while all four burst with such clarity even the DVD-audio versions (based on the same original quadrophonic mix) can't match. The Moody Blues don't get enough credit for what amazing players they were and this unsanctioned and unintended instrumental shows their talents off like never before (it's a shame this wasn't an extra on the 'Children's CD, in the same way that 'You and Me' was remixed into becoming an instrumental for 'Seventh Sojourn').

11. Oh! Susannah (Live c.1970)
You have to do something on stage to break up the tension sometimes don't you? Hence this one-off audience singalong started by Mike on his mellotron and quickly pounce on by all the others. Mike is having such fine he then plays the traditional banjo song in double-time!

12. Land Of Make Believe (Early Version 1972)
Another quadrophonic mix which is this lovely 'Seventh Sojourn' song with the vocals and flutes removed. Though again the song was never intended to be heard like this, it should have been - I'd never realised before just how many intricate layers went into the song, with the parts being added one by one before suddenly bursting into colour a third-in with a thick and heavy quad-tracked guitar part. Then suddenly in the middle out comes Pinder's gorgeous mellotron on 'flute' and 'choir' settings and it sounds like one of the most gorgeous sounds in the universe! Fab!

13. Remember Me, My Friend ('Blue Jays' Unedited Version 1976)
The Blue Jays (ie Justin and John) sound as if they're having a great ol' time making their one and only album together. Nearly every track on that record ends with a cooking jam session fading just as it sounds as if it could go on for hours. And here is proof that at least one of them did, with an early mix of the album's second track running for a full minute longer than released. The track should fade just as Justin is getting all squeaky and high-pitched: what happens next is that the band start playing faster and faster and suddenly John is hitting those comedy high-end bass parts and suddenly everyone is vamping on and on. They really should have put this version out - amazingly they're still not finished at the end of this mix which also fades, albeit just as the band are really beginning to run out of steam this time.

14. Blue World (Unreleased Disco Mix 1983)
Released only in night-clubs and never sol in the shops, a 7:17 remix of the originally 5:18 song, 'Blue World' sounds a little, well, odd. The opening instrumental part is looped before leading in with a ginormous edit straight to the killer second half of the chorus and only then hits the first verse a staggering 90 seconds in. The song largely 'behaves' itself after that, although there is an extra loop of the 'high-pitched' chorus just before the finale to keep you on your toes. Great song, dodgy version.

15. Burning Gas, Smoking Grass (Outtake 1983)
Ray's songs 'I Am' and 'Sorry' on 1983 album 'The Present' were a last minute substitute for an intended epic that wasn't quite working. Patrick Moraz' keyboards sounds like a car revving up before Ray tries to mould the sound of a 1950s car song to very 1960s hippie lyrics. Ray was clearly thinking of this song as a 'sequel' to his well received 'Veteran Cosmic Rocker', but the joke on this one is just a little obscure and the song isn't as light-hearted. It doesn't sound like anything else the band ever recorded and more like an extract from 'The Rocky Horror Show'. Still, this is the only Moody Blues studio outtake to never be granted an official release and as such should be treated with slight respect. It's actually rather better than most of the songs from the three albums that followed though it's not up to the standard of 'The Present', a great under-rated little album!

16. Gemini Dream (BBC 1987)
A late period radio session - oddly missing from the official BBC set given that its the band's biggest hit in the States - features a slightly different arrangement of 'Gemini Dream'. The track opens with such a long 'machine' style opening from Moraz you begin to wonder if he's forgotten the rest of the song before, a full two minutes in, the rest of the band appear on stage and they all start grooving. I've never been that fond of this song but this is about the best version of it around, with Moraz pinging several ghostly noises around his keyboards. The main band performance doesn't disappoint either, sounding sharper and funkier than normal, with Justin adding some more Chuck Berry style riffs than normal. In terms of releases, though, it's a case of long time no see - why not?

17. Tuesday Afternoon (BBC 1987)
Coming from the same show, 'Tuesday Afternoon' sounds a little more ordinary but is still a nice version with some added 'modern drumming' and a lot more guitar than we've heard for a while.
18. Your Wildest Dreams (BBC 1987)
The last in our trilogy, Moraz is working overtime on the keyboards again, not just playing the familiar introduction but lots of 'extra' bits as well, delaying the start until Justin finally pounces on a far more aggressive version of the guitar riff than normal. If the band ever get round to re-issuing 'The Other Side Of Life' album one day these would all make fine bonus tracks even if Justin's vocal is a little rough at times on this track.

19. I Know You're Out There Somewhere ('Punk' Version Tour Rehearsal 1988)
Talking of rough, The Moodies are clearly having a laff for this sped-up version of what was then their current hit filmed backstage during a soundcheck rehearsal. The song sounds rather good actually with Justin sounding like 'Oi!' as he yells 'I know you're out there somewhere, somewhere, somewhere...' in fast clipped syllables. For once Moraz is the calmest member of the band, struggling to keep the tune going.

20. I Know You're Out There Somewhere (Spanish Version 1988)'ive got to stop you sounding like a gringo'
Though a big hit in Spain, to date the rest of the world have never heard The Moody Blues' Spanish language version of their 1988 hit. Justin was given the lyrics to rehearse and reputedly spent ages getting his accent and pronunciation just right. He was looking forward to the day of the sessions  and certainly impressed his bandmates with his version of 'Al Fin Voya Encortrate'. However the translator at the sessions is said to have put his head in his hands and sighed 'how am I going to stop you sounding like a gringo?!' Justin sounds as good and smooth as ever to me but then I can't speak a word of Spanish and he could be singing double dutch for all I know! Oddly this is the only release any of the Moodies ever sang in a foreign language - almost all 60s bands were asked to at some time or another so you wonder how the band escaped?

21. Nights In White Satin (Spanish Version 1988)
The B-side was 'Noches De Blanco Saten', which sounds like the name of a heavy metal band. Justin sounds less comfortable on this one, perhaps because he's spent so many years singing it and the lines he's given to sing don't quite match up to the English version. Then again perhaps he's just put off with the very scrappy backing track he's given to work too - though the one for 'Somewhere' is just the record we all know and love, this one is a full re-make but not a particularly good one with some truly awful drumming!

22. Steppin' In A Slide Zone (Backed By Orchestra 2009)
Finally, we may have to update this list if the band ever get round to releasing a CD/DVD of their 2009 tours (the way they have with most of them) but the highlight of recent years has been the unexpected revival of 1978 'Octave' song 'Steppin' In A Slide Zone'. It's the last song you'd expect to go with an orchestra, all cod-heavy metal stylings and synth textures, but it actually works really well with a very lengthy introduction and the strings filling in where the synth lines would normally be. Though I'm more critical of the band's recent return to using orchestras in concert than most, this is a track where the extra dynamic of having a real live band on stage really works and makes 'Slide Zone' sound like a powerful and important piece of work rather than that noisy one I skip on the DVDs or get to make up a cup of tea during.


Which is what you want from a rarity or an unheard piece of work - a chance to re-evaluate what you thought you knew about how an album or a song was put together. Like an old friend given a makeover, it might not be a style they kept or wanted to keep for very long, but its another way of looking at them and all of the recordings on this list would make for a welcome 'rarities' set one day, along with any number of other recordings that as yet have never been leaked. One day, dear readers, all this shall be ours - yes one day...

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