Friday, 4 July 2008
The Moody Blues "To Our Children's Children" (1969) (Revised Review 2015)
Track Listing: Higher And Higher/ The Eyes Of A Child (Part i)/ Floating/ The Eyes Of A Child (Part ii)/ I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred/ Beyond/ Out And In// Gypsy/ Eternity Road/ Candle Of Life/ The Sun Is Still Shining/ I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million/ Watching And Waiting (UK and US tracklisting)
Billowingblasting bursting forth with the power of ten million...Max The Singing Dog sneezes! Man and dogkind with his flaming pyre have conquered the wayward breezes climbing to tranquility far above the sky The Moody Blues take off and fly as they ask us to ponder the question 'why?'...Moodier and moodier (and that's just your reviewer) we go groovier and groovier and groovier... (Killer guitar solo)...fade...'The Eyes Of A Canine' starts playing...
(Transmission begins): Everybody knew the name of The Moody Blues on our planet - the first earth band in space, though from a time even earlier than anyone had supposed. Now, in 2169, it was finally time to open the package left to us all those many moons ago by our earth visitors Justin Spaceward, John Lightyear, Ray Comet, Mike Planet and Graeme Edge Of The Known Universe. The cylindrical object with the curious cardboard sleeve featuring the first band in space had been delivered to us not once but thrice, thanks to a mistake with the space-portal time continuum caused by Dr Zeus' time experiments and his sponsors Alan's Anti-Gravity Archives (guess you'll all be up here soon). The first visitors to our dog planet was Leika, a Russian pup who we rescued from an archaic Earth vessel named Sputnik Two orbiting their planet in 1957. Her English cousin Max The Singing Dog followed in 1986 after stowing on board the American space shuttle 'Columbia' where he 'borrowed' Captain Robert 'Hoot' Gibson's entertainment system (a cassette copy of 'The Best Of The Moody Blues' and 'Days Of Future Passed'). The third time was when the band themselves came to visit our planet, swept up in the AAA time experiments of April 1st 2012. The visitors hadn't stayed long - just long enough to visit our caves and have their picture taken and sent back in their Earth timelines to become the inner sleeve of their next record ('A planet that wasn't Earth...their utopia?') The band had even left a copy of what they had been working on behind when they left, with the instructions that it was an album intended to be 'discovered' two hundred years after it had been recorded and lain to dust as an insight into man's hopes and fears in the year of the 'great space breakout' 1969. Many curious alien-dogs and clandusprods turned up to the unveiling including Leika herself, now approaching middle age at 210 earth years (or four and a half days on our world). The album did not disappoint: wonders of a lifetime, right there before our ears. A side-long suite dealt with the hope and joy of mankind finally breaking out from his tiny box to circle higher and higher into the universe, coming to terms with his place in a much bigger universe than his earth-bound selves ever realised and with so much left to explore and do. And then another side-long suite about their fears that mankind would just get things 'wrong' again and mess up the universe the way they had their own planet, trapped such a very long way from home watching and waiting from eternity road, homeless gypsies wishing they'd never left the earth. Was mankind ready? Would it ever be ready? Even though the album was recorded before Neil Armstrong ever claimed 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' (and released a mere four months after) that made for a pretty good motto for 'To Our Children's Children's Children'; that this latest milestone could be a great achievement and yet a huge mistake all at the same time. That it all depended on whether mankind was 'ready'. And back in 1969, with the moon landings created as part of a cold war race and funded in between wars in Vietnam and Korea and yet still made with honourable scientific intentions, nobody seemed quite sure whether mankind was early or not. But the days of future have now passed and the answer is... (Transmission ends, cut off by an advert for Alan's Album Archives Issue 93647583: Hologram Edition')
(And if you think it's a joke then that's alright think what you want to - I've said my piece and I leave it all up to you).
Neil Armstrong is there in space. He’s about to take the first step of any man on any outside phere beyond planet Earth. Buzz Aldrin and Edwin Collins are there in the module behind him. It looks like it should be the scene from a Moody Blues album cover: an impractical dream that mankind might one day aspire to. But no, they are here and now, the pinnacle of the 1960s hippie dream about reaching out into the stars.It’s a wonder they didn’t all start singing  ‘Tuesday Afternoon’ there and then about potentially life-changing events taking place on commonplace days (even though it was actually a Thursday). You can imagine Mike Pinder sat at home watching it all unfold, glued to his TV set, unable to believe his eyes as mankind finally stepped out of the threshold of a dream and did what he said he was going to do for a decade or more – go into space! Of course everyone alive in July 1969 was glued to the TV including the other four Moodies but for Mike it was truly special. You see before he ever got interested in music, before he was even knee-high to a mellotron, his great passion in life was space. He yearned to know what each of the stars up in the sky were like as he stared at them from his bedroom window and longed for mankind to reach there. He spent much of his time as a Moody with one eye up on the stars, pausing between rotten gigs in Hamburg or down the road in Birmingham to make his bandmates pause and look up at the sky, aware that big things were happening. How perfect that the moon landing should be happening on ‘his’ watch, at the end of one of The Moody Blues’ busiest years as they grew in following as they sang more and more about the alternative ways of the hippie. And a month before a gathering called Woodstock. Well, then, it was definite – the young, the youthful, the hippies, would surely inherit both the Earth and the Moon and finally live life the way it should always have been lived!
However, just to make it seem even more like a Moody Blues song, the method mankind had reached out into space was not the benevolent hippie utopia it might have been. It’s easy to forget that the only reason America even had a space programme was because Russia had one and they would have looked mighty thick at home if their cold war enemies had beaten them to it. So, instead of landing on the moon in a climate of peace and utopia clutching a token of peace, America got there purely to beat their rivals and make them look stupid, clutching an American flag. Huh, as if national borders even mattered anymore now that you were up in space and could see how tiny and insignificant the Earth was (the fact that it looked like a giant ‘whole’ that belonged together struck almost every single astronaut of both sides who ever made their way into space). It was as if mankind had learnt nothing during his time on this little rock he called Earth and that he was stepping out into space for the wrong reasons, to conquer it instead of exploring it. Any day now man was surely going to use the moon as a base for a rocket launch at the ‘other’ side of the world which, when you were standing on the moon, looked like it was part of the exact same planet. Talk about one step for man – and one giant leap backwards for mankind!
That contradiction was too perfect for The Moody Blues and with moon fever in the air they began to craft out what this next record would be even before the rocket was up in the air (sessions officially started in May 1969 and carried on through to September). Nobody ever records who suggested which Moodies theme but I will eat my mellotron if it wasn’t Mike who came up with this one after years of getting beaten up and called ‘Space Boy’ at school for his ability to name most of the stars (nobody is quite sure but they do remember producer Tony Clarke leaping on the idea at a band meeting and saying it was too perfect an idea not to use – it seems odd other bands didn’t use it too). As a post-script, its not generally known that The Moodies had their own other-wordly experience in 1966 when the Denny Laine and Clint Warwick lineup was on tour in 1966. Driving back from Manchester to their London flats around midnight they spotted a cigar-shaped ufo in the skies (at first mistaking the red glow as a radio tower). It was a stretch of road they all knew well, though, so they figured it was strange and stopped the van. The red ball of light got bigger and moved towards them, transforming into a square and Graeme (back in the days when his eyesight was perfect) even reckoned he could see aliens in the windows. Getting back to the van the band discovered that three hours had gone ‘missing’ and to this day they wonder, were they abducted that night? As a side trip future keyboard player Patrick Moraz too had his own brushes with UFOs too but long before he met the rest of the band – he was in fact a regular at the National UFO and Alien Agenda Conference in Phoenix. However this album is remarkably alien-free and is much more about humanity and Earth than it is in space.
Whoever came up with it, everyone embraced the concept – how perfect for its times and yet – as the title reveals – a perfectly timeless a subject matter to, with The Moodies trying to capture every feeling around in the middle of 1969 as man went to the moon. What most reviewers of this record miss is the fact that, for the bulk of the album, The Moody Blues did not know what the answer was going to be. Would this album be released at the end of the year as a celebration or a memorial? Would the American astronauts miss their target to die in the vacuum of space? Would they make it but then not be able to get back? Would Russian astronauts (who would surely follow any day now so the Americans thought – even though the USSR had abandoned the idea of flights to the moon as impractical and pointless years before and so would never actually try) merely find their lifeless bodies on the next mission? Not that they knew the phrase yet, but would it be a small step for man or a much bigger leap for mankind? We watch back that footage now perfectly secure that it was all going to be alright (where is it by the way and why isn’t it out on DVD? Well apparently Nasa have lost most of it even though its amongst the most precious film out there except for that edited down to a ‘highloights’ programme – another one for the conspiracy theorists). The odds against getting the astronauts back safely were awfully long, much longer than we were ever told at the time. Hedging their bets The Moodies found their songs naturally fell into two camps – one half were optimistic, joyous, full of the hippie can-do spirit that everything would work out fine and the other was scared, frightened that man had bitten off more than he could chew and scared as to what the result would be. That is maybe how the album got its title: the only people who knew what this period’s ultimate legacy (and thus the legacy of this album) would be the band’s grandchildren.
And as someone of that generation I can tell you that the answer is…confused. The immediate Apollo Eleven programme was a huge success of course. Man not only got to its satellite but back home again safe and sound while the pitctures they took are some of the greatest ever taken (especially showing the small Earth in the sky where the moon ‘should’ be for us), aiding the hippie dream no end with shots of our planet without borders or boundaries. Neil Armstrong had the perfect line for the event and the viewing figures for the landing made even those for The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show seem tiny by comparison. Why, back in Britain, The BBC even hired Pink Floyd to improvise music for the moon landing coverage and if that isn’t the single greatest moment of hippie-dom after Woodstock (and a month earlier) then I don’t know what is. However we also know what comes next – that people get complacent. Moon landings seem two a penny until they start going wrong and people remain glues to their television screens watching the unforgiving horror of space as man really did get too big for his boots. Ronald Reagan turned space into a warzone again, talking of ‘space wars’ and with missiles aimed at ourselves in a move that was as evil as it was stupid. The death of a teacher – picked to represent ‘us’ – in the Challenger space probe of 1984 brought it home: space was dangerous, so let’s not go there. We sit here now, the generation or two that were born after the moon landing, wondering if it ever really happened (a reason, surely, why there so many plausible conspiracy theories flying around that we didn’t – after all there was one hell of a lot riding on a successful landing). Mankind are the hapless under-dogs for whom nothing goes right aren’t we? Not the heroes of the hour who conquered the scariness of space? The same is true to some extent of the hippie movement, which all but disappeared by the start of the next decade (when the hippies were old enough to come of age, but still couldn’t change things with their elders further in power. Alatmont four months after Woodstock and five after the moon landing surely didn’t help). The Moody Blues albums are a time capsule of what might have been to us, not a record of what once was and which mankind was surely on the threshold of.
The brilliance of this record is that it isn't just a 'hey aren't we great?' album of songs about buying rock with 'the moon' right through (well, there is a little bit of that on side one) but an album that heads down as well as up. After all, this subject is so cerebral and Moodies: the ideas of exploration tinged with the dangers of mankind getting too big for his boots, the dream of discovery with memories of all left behind and the debate - then big in people's minds - over whether space exploration would lead to a greater unity between nations or another episode in the cold war. Typically The Moodies explore all these things expressing the joy and fear in tandem, so much so that it really does seem like a 'time capsule' of the troubled, turbulent yet triumphant year of 1969 in a way that none of their albums quite do. Mankind is at a crossroads and he knows it, caught halfway between wanting to experience the beauty of the world and wanting to 'play' at war (an attitude, so Mike warns us, will have us stuck 'back on Earth, waiting for rebirth'). By turns beautiful and frightening, daring and destructive, loving and lonely, it is in many ways the band's most 'complete' album.
Yet the album, curiously enough, didn't match the sales of the last two - the last three if you count the 1972 re-issue of 'Days Of Future Passed'. Kept off the #1 spot only by Beatles swansong 'Abbey Road' (where the fab four are pictured a little closer to home), 'To Our Children's took the longest of all seven Justin/John era albums to sell enough copies to go 'gold’ (though admittedly forty-four weeks on the charts - nearly a year - is not to be 'ten-million-butterfly-sneezed at'). Even the band's long-awaited tie-in Justin Hayward single (traditionally the first song the band would record first for an album as part of a superstition that it 'set the tone' following  'Nights In White Satin') 'Watching and Waiting' became the band's biggest flop since  'Love and Beauty'. I've always been puzzled about why this record didn't sell as well as the others - and why it always seems to get short shrift even now from newcomers discussing the band's back catalogue. Perhaps this album was just a little too of it's time to appeal to modern times - and yet by contrast fans of the time just didn't get to know it as well, given that the album is so lush and produced the band bailed out of ever performing any of the songs live with the sole exception of 'Gypsy'. However, note for the first or last time on this site, people have surely got it 'wrong' - 'To Our Children's Children's Children' is so much more than just an album about rockets and playing golf on the moon: it's potentially about one of the biggest subject matters there is, a record about mankind's eternal fight between light and darkness, between annihilation and eternity, between war and peace.
Released just four months after Apollo Eleven, this album jumps the gun a bit by seeing man exploring the whole solar system. Strangely many reviewers seem to miss this point: far from a concept album of 'moon songs' recorded in the haze of the successful apollo eleven mission, this is actually a record recorded before it about mankind's technological progression that will surely see him go further and yet how his spiritual progression doesn't always follow intact. Only the song 'Floating' even mentions the moon by name - instead this is an album less about Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins and more about their children’s children’s children, asking 'what happens next?' Here The Moody Blues wait with baited breath to see what mankind's next stage will be: does the next step on the journey lead to enlightenment, with mankind exploring the space as one, without need for divisions or prejudices (the most moving account of the original astronauts - and the moment that so caught the public mood - was the astronauts commenting on how they couldn't see any boundaries or borders on the Earth at all from space, an interesting comment for a team that were actually pawns in a game of cold war designed to beat the communist Russians at any cost; it's a very 'Moody' image and a shame, actually, that the bulk of the album had already been recoded before those comments were made and broadcast around the world). Or will man rush off in the name of colonisation, taking planets in 'their' name without really comprehending the idea that space and land are for everyone. The Moodies are in two minds about the whole experience and are quick to see through the initial joy of the occasion. On one of the most cleverly sequenced Moodies albums of them all side one is a celebration, a glorious summary of everything that makes the event such a special turning point in mankind's development, with hope and joy that man will learn from his lessons and embrace the new with 'the eyes of a child', not the warring hands of an overgrown adult. Side two is less sure: paranoid, isolated and cut off from the home planet it imagines a future for mankind lost amongst the stars because mankind doesn't yet have a strong enough identify to allow it to explore space for all the right reasons. Though both halves of the record are special, the second in particular is perhaps the strongest twenty minutes in the Moodies catalogue, a heartbreaking mood piece so far ahead of the jingoistic 'yeeha - take that Russia!' mood of almost every other artistic work based on the moon landings that year it hurts. The Moody Blues really did have their eye on the future when making these records, this one especially.
The Moody Blues intended from the first that this album would capture a particular moment in time when mankind was caught between the two extremes, when continuous wars were counterbalanced by 1960s revolution and where the future very much hung in the balance. Sadly, or perhaps thankfully, The Moody Blues weren't to know in 1969 that the moon landing would remain the crescendo of Nasa’s space programme, not just the ‘first step for mankind’ and that most of the questions asked on this album would still be asked near-fifty years on, with mankind as caught between the two extremes as ever (though things have improved since the first draft of this review, with explorations out to Pluto and successfully planting machines on comets, I'm sure I speak for all of us in being furious at how little progress has been made since the halcyon days of 1969 when man first landed on the moon; ironically warfare, the enemy of this album and most Moody works, was space exploration's greatest master, with Russia and America locked in a battle of being too afraid to let the other get 'ahead' and despite George Bush's typically dopey expression 'For Nasa space is still a top priority' a few years back (just pause on that sentence to reveal how dumb it really is!) you sense the pinnacle of our achievement in space won't be surpassed until arms races re-occur. NASA seems to be a top priority for American presidents no longer, which is why we’re struggling now to do what we did with relative easenearly fifty years ago. This is in stark contrast to the fortune-telling by all the albums on this list with sci-fi leanings, which without exception conservatively estimated that man would be setting off to colonise other planets by 1990 at the latest—nowadays we hold street parties if an un-manned capsule can get to the moon without breaking down irretrievably, a huge change in expectations which is highlighted by this Moodies album more than most. Typically, though, the Moodies guessed that too, ending the album with a man who lives to be a million and still never gets to achieve all he first dreamed of in his youth and a song about watching and waiting for...something that sounds like our flagship rockets that were meant to be the first of a whole series wondering what ever happened to all the others that were due to follow.
However, this being the Moodies, this album is only in part a space explorer’s travelogue – the rest of the album is more concerned with inner thoughts than outer space and is more in line with past records featuring the philosophical Midlanders’ more characteristic studies of the inner journey of man and debating his spiritual as well as his geographical growth. Touching on the idea that modern man has inherited his knowledge from his ancestors and will in turn pass on these facts to his successors (why this album’s packaging comes with cave scrawl rather than moon rocks), this album is perhaps the Moodies’ biggest and most all-encompassing concept album of all, as well as being one of their most eclectic, with lots of their grittiest rockers and most soothing ballads jostling for space with some truly off the wall experimentation. The album also has a feeling of triumph rare for the Moodies, expressing delight at our species being able to land man safely on the moon and only slightly questioning his commitment to space somewhere towards the end of the album’s second side. Nothing less than an appraisal of mankind’s journey from his caveman beginnings to the present and beyond, the album is also very much written with our species’ future conquests in mind, being effectively a record-shaped hippie time capsule about the hopes and fears of the late 60s. However, unlike many similar utopian albums of a similar vintage, the Moodies are also pretty realistic in guessing that all our species’ age-old problems will still be around come the year 2000-odd.
A lot has been said about the glowing optimism that greeted the world in 1967, but I’d stake a claim at 1969 actually being a better candidate – on the verge of a new decade, when the 60s children were about to come of age, having overcome the skirmishes and riots that characterised 1968 and with man on the moon and goodness knows what else round the corner there’s a brightness to records that year that wasn’t really heard before – and certainly hasn’t been heard since. Fittingly the Moodies, the most forward-looking peace-loving band of all (or on this list, at any rate), chose that watershed years to release two fine albums which remain amongst their optimistic and happy (the ever-popular ‘On The Threshold Of A Dream’ being t’other one), although Children’s more organised view of our future makes it win out by a nose. Yet having said that, like nearly all original Moodies albums ‘To Our Children’s’ is also quite hard-edged and frightfully dark and scary in places, being also far rockier than non-fans might imagine with the fivesome’s characteristic love-another lyrics dressed up in something much darker and shadowy than the band’s other mellotron-loving contemporaries. The instrumentation and epic landscapes on this album are also prime Moodies, packed full of sound effects, weird new inventions and a clarity that makes the whole thing sparkle. As with most things Moody and Blue, the whole album is a mood piece best heard in one go, with a production that’s second to none (especially on the recent re-mastered CDs) and some of the best segues and sound effects in rock.
It's also one of the band's most 'musical' albums. By now this line-up of the band have been together two years and know enough about what the others can bring to their own songs to make the most out of them, all fused through with Tony Clarke's production at its biggest which somehow never becomes over-cluttered. Mike Pinder's chamberlain is at an all-time peak here, flowing freely in between all the other parts and adding a ghostly, ethereal feel that haunts the album. Though Pinder's performances are quite often the standout amongst the band's albums, his playing here is particularly superb, in his element as he brightens the happier songs as the rocket goes up on side one with some twinkly lights and sounding like the epitome of being 2000 light years from home as the rocket goes down on side two. There are some of the Moodies' best band performances scattered across this album like lunar-confetti too: 'Higher and Higher' is the best way to start any album since Paul McCartney's 1-2-3-4 on 'Please Please Me', an ear-grabbing blast of furnace fire and noise as all hell breaks loose on the most chaotic and yet the most inhibitedly joyful song in the Moody canon (the band make a great impression of a rocket too - they did in fact get in touch with Nasa about using a 'real' recording bur rejected it for not sounding 'real' enough!) 'Beyond' too is a space-age jam that's like a space-age travel through a future  'House Of Four Doors', breaking off to play with different possibilities good and bad. However the greatest, most Moodies moment of all might well be the comparatively unsung masterpiece 'Candle Of Life' that is nothing short of a pocket symphony - a gorgeous merging of past harpsichord, present hippie lyrics and futuristic swathes of other-wordly chamberlain. 'So love everybody and make them your friends!' is the united cry of every time stream at once as mankind tries to reverse the feeling of 'falling slowly' from a peak in evolution.
Only The Moody Blues could have delivered this record, and only the Moody Blues at their peak could have executed it so well. While there as many favourite albums as there are Moody Blues fans and while 'Seventh Sojourn' still sneaks it for me (well, this album does include the rather gormless Ray Thomas novelty song 'Floating' amongst all the other peak material) this is nevertheless an album I would gladly pass down to my children's children's grandchildren as the near-pinnacle of what music can offer. In fact at times I get the sense the Moody Blues picked it all up from their collective subconscious anyway and from their grandfather's grandfather's great-grandfathers so accurate is it a portrayal of questions mankind has long asked himself across the eras (hence, perhaps, the caveman painting on the front cover, which has a surprisingly modern-looking hand poised to fill in the next blank to come after the 'hunting' images; as for the back cover - apparently taken on Zigorous Three - it's one of the greatest of all Moodies images and has been hanging on my wall across various houses and moves now: the band gathered around a primitive fire for warmth surrounded by a then-futuristic looking tape machine while outside the horizon contains two orange suns and what looks like a Dr Who gravel pit. The Moodies weren't really of this Earth were they?...) An album to offer comfort and hope and purpose back from death through to birth, at last you can conceive of the heavens flourishing on Earth...
Before we finish, back to Earth with a bump via a quick word about the 'deluxe' re-issue of the album. Personally I found this one amongst the weakest in the series, with a second disc full of a mere three slightly different edits (segued to within an inch of their life on the final version) and an eight track period concert recorded a mere five days after the one on 'Caught Live +5' only not quite as good. Though the band play a tighter set than on their first official live record, it remains a frightfully ground-bound concert given the lush beauty of the original album's contents and fans who want to know what the album sounded like live have only a rather grungy take on 'Gypsy' to go by as it’s the only song from their ‘new album’ the band actually get around to playing. Elsewhere we get some old friends sounding rough – by now  ‘The Sunset’ has become more like a Hammer Horror film than an oriental piece of positivity,  ‘Never Comes The Day’ overcooks itself far too early, an epic  ‘Have You Heard?’ suite played in full features some astonishing mellotron playing but is pointless when you can just listen to the original studio version already and the encores of  ‘Nights’ and  ‘Legend Of A Mind’ aren’t quite as bouncy as elsewhere. Mind you, The Moody Blues have just had six months off to make this album and stare into the vastness of space – of course they’re going to be a little cultre shocked to come out blinking and playing the same old material to a BBC radio audience. The three edits comprise a longer version of ‘Gypsy’ with a raucous false ending (one that makes Ray giggle at its sheer audacity), an alternate mix of Candle Of Life with longer intro and outro sections lost in the segue from ‘Etnerity Road’ and into ‘The Sun Is Still Shining’ and an alternate mix of that very track with an extra five seconds of the song’s opening note (!) These are all available on the deluxe CD re-issue of this album (you might like this set for the first two rarities – I’m not so sure about the third!)
Thrusting its way into space comes opening track  Higher and Higher, a rare but welcome song (as opposed to tone poem) from drummer Graeme Edge and narrated brilliantly by Mike Pinder, who turns in one of his best mock-Shakesperean monologue voices. This is the perfect opener as the track starts with the sound of a rocket taking off – not a sound effect as long supposed but a mashed up mellotron-and-feedback effect created especially for this album (I wonder if Nasa ever noticed the Moodies didn’t use their genuine sound effect in the end and whether they heard the album and went wow, this sounds better than I remember it!’) Taking a full ninety-seconds to get going, this song sums up both the Moodies’ more avant garde adventurism in the first half and their effortless melodicism in the second. Heard in the distance are those Moody harmonies at their best, an other-worldly brew that are captured perfectly halfway between angelic and demonic. Finally, after a very extended opening, the rocket launchers fall away and the rocket is on its own, sailing on one of the band’s best backing tracks of manic drumming, fiery guitar, gutsy bass and alien mellotron. There are a so many overdubs on this tarck and yet they’re all perfectly placed – the mellotron holds the weight, sliding upward note by note, as the drums keep the momentum and Justin’s many guitars all criss-cross over each other, the fire that dances round the rocket’s thrusters, sometimes hanging in space and sometimes soaring off to the bheavens, clear of misty shroud. The lyric, what there is of it, goes back right to our past, showing that our discovery of space travel is only the latest in a long line of logical inventions that came after the discovery of fire in our caveman past (and comparing the fire in a rocket to the never-extinguished flames of the technological progression of that first cave fire, keeping us safe from mammoths, a clever move). Touching on those first tentative steps at modifying and harnessing our planet, the Moodies then imagine mankind’s utopian future built with gadgets yet for now technology is mankind’s saviour not his hangman and the mood is joyous as the notes keep spiralling upwards to infinity (and beyond). Sound effects galore bounce off our speakers on one of the Moodies’ most gloriously messy productions for a sound which is, ahem, out of this world.
[81a] The Eyes Of A Child is one of John Lodge’s most exquisitely beautiful songs and makes full use of the band’s well-stocked instrument library with a particularly well-placed harp which he painstakingly learnt how to play during breaks from this album before getting Ray to overdub lots of ghostly flutes over the top. The song deals with a child’s eyes filled with wonder at the beauty of the earth, possibly looking back at their home planet from some far-off space station in the future and the theme is that, at the start of our next big adventure as a species, we are reminded of the first, greeting everything with wide-eyed curiosity and an impatience to get going. That’s the theme of the song in the conext of the album anyway but I wonder… John has also become a father for real with the birth of his daughter Emily and it clearly has a huge impact on his character (see  ‘Emily’s Song’). There are quite a few AAA songs about suddenly becoming fathers (or mothers in Grace Slick’s case) and realising not so much that you’re watching an off-spring go forth but that you’re reminded of yourself at that age, of how little you knew then and how much you’ve learnt since. Touching again on the innocence of childhood, this song features one of the best examples of four-part Moodies harmonies on this track (Lodge’s falsetto, Hayward’s tenor, Pinder’s baritone and Thomas’ bass). With the harp bouncing off the acoustic guitar part, it’s a wonderfully ethereal, fragile song that is one of several delicate Moody Blues ballads from this period where it sounds as if the beauty and wonder is too good to be true and about to break in two any minute. However, the use of triple-tracked flutes from Ray Thomas also gives this song a rather eerie feeling, as if we’re watching the ghost of our futures as they could have been rather than what will be (Thomas’ flute-playing isa never better than on this record and dominates the sound of almost all of these tracks for once, rather than just the ones written by Ray or his songwriting soulmate Justin Hayward, as per usual). As well as being a lovely song in its own right, Eyes Of A Child also harks back to the album’s main theme, with the ‘world spinning round’ being a new discovery to the infant and the way the narrator yearns for his child to be ‘a small part of the hope of a love that exists’ throughout his life, leading us to a better life than the wars of the 20th century that man seemed (falsely as it turned out) to be leaving behind in 1969. A very haunting and special track with a truly gorgeous melody, the way it slowly and painfully swells up from nothing into one of the loudest Moody tracks of all is truly magnificent; I just wish it had been given an extra couple of verses to make it truly sing instead of simply ending the way it does.
 Floating comes between the two songs and brings the album down to earth a bit: a big bad blot of a song that takes the easy way out of the album by commenting on the silliness of floating in space as if the song is a bad Disney cartoon (ie one post-the 1960s). With none of the subtle wit of most of Rays’ songs for the band, its nursery-rhyme tune is repetitive and irritating, so it’s a shame that the band waste their time turning in a rather fine arrangement on this song. Ray invites us up to ‘do as you please, with so much ease’ but there’s nothing on this song to get our teeth into as the narrator enjoys hurling himself throughout space without gravity and staring at Mars. Pinder’s mellotron bleeps do their best space impressions and Hayward’s guitar accompaniment is rarely better (there’s even a glockenspiel accompaniment that’s suddenly appeared on this track thanks to the re-mastering process – I’m sure it wasn’t here on my old CD copy!), really bringing out the subtleties of the tune which are overshadowed by the bombastic lyrics and vocals. Guessing wrongly that ‘you’ll all be up here soon’ to enjoy the glories of low lunar gravity, it’s also a rare piece of fortune-telling by the Moodies that went wrong, although sadly I bet the appearance of capitalism on the moon – ‘you’ll buy rock with ‘the moon’ right through’ - can’t be too far off! Legend has it that in the wake of this album people wrote off to the band in the 1970s, shocked at this bit of fotune-telling as Nasa revealed they had indeed taken samples of moon-rock and now that they had learnt everything some would be passed on to dignitaries (although I have my suspicions about this – given the amount of moon rocks out there they would have filled a fleet of rockets; also nobody thought to check the mon-rocks for radiation and there was a sudden scramble to return them from museums and schools in the 1990s after someone with a Geiger counter pointed out how dangerous they still were! Ray didn’t meant this at all though – he was making a dig at capitalism and how the moon would be turned into a market stall for visitors, a similar joke to his one about the ‘astral plane’ being a real plane on  ‘Legend Of A Mind’).
The 'Eyes Of A Child' idea is so good it even gets a rocking reprise with [81b] 'Part Two' though the mood here is more paranoid and less celebratory. After all, childhood cuts both ways – when you wander with curiosity and innocence you can be burned by things as often as enjoy them and your only way of learning is to get hurt. So it sounds here anyway on this frightened and paranoid track that this time starts manic and gets more intense from there. Even though the two have nothing in common except a basic melody (sped up greatly here) this song was indeed recorded in one go and only later split up into two parts when the band began tinkering with the album’s running order. Which is a shame I think – this paranoid track belongs on side two, not here. Without access to the master tapes you can only guess at the segue that must have originally taken place because, barring the subject matter, everything about this track has suddenly changed. Now angry and desperate, where before the track was loving and hopeful, this is the narrator suddenly realising that mankind’s future might be darker rather than brighter and wondering just exactly what sort of a frightening world his children might grow up in. Yet despite what it sounds like only the instrumentation has actually changed – speeded up and now played with one of the band’s heaviest rockingest performances, the words are still as optimistic before, although ominously throwing in an extra line about how ‘the web’ that’s woven today will dictate our futures. So that’s how phobias start then. Thanks evolution!
By contrast, Hayward’s two [83a] I Never Thought… songs are slight but pretty tunes, reflecting less glibly on what it would really mean to be in space for years on end and the isolation of being apart from your home planet and unable to contact anyone you know. Suggesting that mankind’s perception of time would be different in space than on Earth, the narrator is caught between awe and depression, wondering what on earth (or space) he would do with all that extra time on his hands – and reflecting on how marvellous it is that he’s alive at all. Commenting on his ancestors’ penchant for war - with age-old squabbles over land, power and materials now seeming suddenly insignificant in space - Hayward turns in one of his better couplets in this first ‘Hundred’ track, telling us that ‘an age ago my maker was refusing me the pleasure of the view’, but now petty human squabbles have been left behind with so many new worlds to explore. It’s a rare return to folk that has more in common with the acoustic singles Justin had been making before he joined the band, quiet and peaceful and full of tales of a life well lived. It’s a rare case of a happy Moody song too as the narraror reaches old age having gained his ‘freedom’. He is, however, lonely. As if to reflect the isolation felt by the narrator of the song, this track is remarkably free from the Moodies’ usual band camaraderie: Hayward may well be the only Moody on this track and those gorgeous counterpoint harmonies are actually Justin multi-tracked. Like earlier the Moodies got cold feet about their original version of this song, splicing off the last verse to form a separate, slightly faster-tempoed piece – with the narrator now aged a million years – to appear as the album’s penultimate track. The Moodies should have stuck to their original plans, however – what always used to sound like two annoyingly bitty and undeveloped tracks sounds like a substantial sombre ballad when played one into the other. Like many of the songs on side one, this minute-long track is so brief that it flies by without you really noticing, but the more you play the album the more you hear the promise in this track and wish the band had had the patience and courage to extend it a little bit.
In contrast to the muted, lyrical epic of the last track, next up is Graeme Edge making things a little bit spacey once more with his rocking instrumental  Beyond. Presumably started as a band jam but credited to Graeme to keep him up to speed with the writing credits and royalties (The Moody Blues weren’t just hippies by name and very fair in their split of their pies, at least in their original run) ‘Beyond’ is a rare glimpse into what multiple overdubbers do for fun between takes. Waves of Mike Pinder’s mellotron wash round the mix like a watercolour paintbrush as the rest of the band cook up a rather more traditional brew of guitars, bass and drums behind him playing the same nagging descending twelve note riff over and over. Again, if the band had let this song run in a traditional style it would have been great – but as it is the stop-start nature of the song, which keeps pausing for Pinder’s space-age effects every forty-five seconds or so, robs the rest of the song of its power, as if the Moodies have suddenly fallen down a black hole somewhere along the way (maybe that’s the idea, as mankind come across new and exotic things in space on their travels). The interstellar rumblings of Pinder’s mellotron set to ‘scary’ levels makes for a strange contrast with the rest of the song, where Pinder’s cheery riff suggests he’s re-set his instrument to ‘sunny’ and taken the band back out into the open air. The sort of clumsy jovial instrumental no band would ever try and get away with now, for its time it’s a fine adventurous exchange of ideas and a chance to show what a fine interplay the band had with each other – although on the downside, Edge’s drums are a little bit awkward and clumsy (strange seeing as how this jam is credited to him) and the song still desperately cries out for some words to these ears. Then again perhaps this track is just ‘beyond’ me.
No matter though,  Out and In has plenty of lyrics, encompassing nothing less than man’s great journey through time and space to date and in the future. Naturally it was written by the band’s big space advocate Mike who is in his element here after a lifetime of dreaming what it might be like to actually be out there amongst the stars. This song, teetering on the edge of side one’s bounce and side two’s melancholy, is the perfect chance to put down in music some of the issues that had been bothering him since childhood. What would it be like to be in space? Would mankind have a better idea of life on Earth if they could see how small the planet really was? How would humanity change if given the chance to wonder about in space? Which way will we go? Part celebration, part warning, Mike warns us not to treat space as a ‘joke’ while telling us how glorious exploration can be, full of ‘wonders of a lifetime right there before your eyes’. Interestingly though, more than even the others, Pinder's twin songs on the album are really more about man than they are about space. To get into outer space, he argues, we have to find inner space first, to make a journey ‘out and in’ (having just heard  ‘So Deep Within You’ again there may be some sexual undercurrent here too!) We can’t fly up in rockets with our national flags painted on the side – not with so much at stake out there for all of us that dwarfs our border problems so much. The lyrics reflect too on the curious fact that exploring space might make mankind realise how precious and unique he is and how much more he still has to explore in his inner self (although the track isn’t quite as pompous as that makes it sound). Mike’s mellotron is born for a song like this and it never sounds better anywhere than here, the sound of a warm humanity wail dying in the stark coldness of space and floating into nothingness. Behind him the band turn in one of their grittiest group performances here too, especially Justin whose ominous guitar-work on this track is exactly the warning shot this song needs and far out of the guitarist’s usual style, while Graeme’s slow stately drums suit this one and John’s bass darts just keep this song going, though Ray’s rattled tambourine is the standout star. It’s such a shame that the deluxe CD re-issues only started doing ‘backing tracks’ with the last CD in the series (‘Sebenth Sojourn’) because I’d love to hear this one without the vocals – I bet it sounds truly beautiful with the mellotron effectively doubling every word Pinder sings, rising and falling on the rocks or seas of the backing behind him. Pinder’s treated double-tracked vocals are impressive though, with the singer born for a song like this, in awe at the vastness of space before him, as signified by the loud cascading mellotron work which all but drowns him out of his own song. Some classic wordplay, one of Pinder’s better vocals and glorious otherworldly, almost choral sounds from the composer’s mellotron make this a 100% carat Moodies classic. Curiously original copies credited Mike and John with writing this song, making it the only Pinder-Lodge collaboration in the band's history, but CD re-issues all credit Mike alone (was this merely a mistake?)
Side two also begins strongly with  Gypsy, the latest in a long line of anguished Hayward rockers that are musically just as edgy and paranoid as their lyrics. Unable to tie itself to any real harmonics or harmonies, this song is all over the place and turning from section to section like the travelling figure of the title, always looking for a comfortable chord resolution that never comes. This song is the down-side of mankind’s travels into space without the glamour, for-seeing the day when man has turned his back on the sun that gave him life, this song finds a small band of homeless travellers struggling against their isolation as they drift off further into space. For that’s the price you pay for discovery (it also makes a neat complement to Justin’s later song  ‘You Can Never Go Home’). It’s also hinted that mankind’s problems might well follow him from Earth into space after all and that the joy of man’s scientific progress as heard in the song that opened the other side of the album will be short-lived. Note too that mankind has turned his back on the sun – realistically he’s surely floating on to our outer planets like Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto but in the context of the Moodies’ other work (where the sun brings light, especially on ‘Days Of Future Passed’) it also means that he’s turned his back on family and friends. Far from being in control, nature is too great and man suffers from all the dangers of space – isolation, coldness, ‘screaming for a future that could never be’. Just imagine for a second that the moon landings might have had a different outcome (as they so nearly did) and that Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins’ corpses would have been up there on the moon every time we looked up at the sky. Imagine too that, four months after that happened, you had brought this album on the day of release and played this song; it would have been too much as Hayward gets as accurate as he can about the effects of space without getting gruesome. However there aren’t actually that many lyrics – instead it’s the music that makes this track such a standout. We’re not used to hearing our Moody Blues raw and noisy, but this track is perfect, with a sarcastic guitar riff that could punctuate a spacesuit playing over and over with thick and heavy distortion, while Ray’s flute and Mike’s mellotron cry out in pain in the distance. For such a naturally elegant and beautiful band this is such an ugly track and the ‘aaaahs’, already something of a Moody trademark aren’t beautiful but blunt, screams of pain as mankind takes the wrong path. The result is a chilling song that works even better on the CD where it runs to its natural conclusion instead of segueing, breaking down as things get too intense for the band to stay on top of and collapsing on re-entry into the riff. It is perhaps the most daring moment on the band’s most daring album and another track that’s utterly first-class.
 Eternity Road is another worthy, mature song about isolation and one of Ray Thomas’ very best compositions for the band. The lyrics, harking back to the first track again by reflecting on the fact that man will always have something new to explore and spur him on, are now taking the opposite, depressive view that with something always out there for him to find, man might never be able to find the answers he has been looking for. Instead he’ll just be lost, left spinning down ‘eternity road’ with his needs always doomed to be unfulfilled. Though man thinks he can be free of his problems and start again anew, he really carries too much baggage with him from home and will never settle anywhere else. After all, rockets can only hold so much fuel and with endless space to explore the journey might never have an end at all. The lyrics also describe mankind’s energetic attempts to make his mark on the endless inky blackness of space, a vast emptiness that doesn’t seem to care one iota about mankind’s pioneering spirit or to offer him any breaks. The production on ‘Eternity Road’ sums up the spirit of the busy, yet strangely lethargic and weary sounding pioneers rather well and Ray’s double-tracked lead vocal on his song is both restless and resigned at the same time. Hayward’s high vocal harmony is simply glorious – these two very different singers who between them personify the rough and smooth elements within this band, often worked together and their distinctive voices work especially well here, somehow adding to the lonely, distant and cold effect of the song. The instrumental section of this song is a joy too: Ray’s folky and rather ghostly and dispassionate flute-playing contrasting well with Lodge’s pure rock and roll bass lines, Hayward’s bubbling guitar arpeggios and Pinder’s ethereal mellotron washes not to mention more lashings of percussion that shake him out of his revelrie. Another highly successful slab at making heavy philosophy sound both welcoming and distant, this is another great song that remains one of its composers greatest, deepest and most under-estimated works.
Ditto Lodge’s majestic  Candle Of Life, the album highlight even though this song perhaps has less to do with the album theme than the other tracks here. It’s a great song for any album though, a beautiful haunting ballad with a delightful tune and some typically thoughtful lyrics. In context, mankind yearns to search the deeper echelons of space because he is lonely, waiting for the time when he can escape his planet and hoping that the candle of life won’t burn out until he has found a new home. Out of context its man’s need to mate, to find a partner with whome they can spend the rest of their lives because life is too short to waste by being lonely. An unusually straightforward piano-based song with only two verses and a chorus (the whole song repeats itself again in the second half instead), the song is still no less epic than the other tracks on this album, reflecting on mankind’s struggle to do good in his short lifetime. Justin sings the lead vocal, as he does on a few of John’s songs, and sounds good here, his silky smooth tones hitting Lodge’s more worried harmony head on. It’s an early insight into the future ‘reunion’ sound with Mike, Ray and Graeme all silent. The band also change tack slightly here and make the vocals sound strangely lifeless, in contrast to the epic warm backing that surrounds this song and sounds as if it came from the soundtrack of some lush Hollywood film. A song about hidden feelings, it stays cool and dispassionate for the most part, one of Mike’s better colder mellotron figures skating round the vocalists and a hopeful piano riff as feelings ‘stay inside of you only’. However it all gives way in a scrumptious middle eight that suddenly explodes out of the speakers, a false dawn which calls for world peace now in order to have the option of inter-galactic travel in the future, accompanied by one of the most impressive uses of a key change (minor to major) in the Moodies’ back catalogue. The answer to a lonely life (or a lonely future as a species) is to work together offering up the message that runs through so many Moody Blues songs: ‘So love everybody and make them your friends!’ All the hope and optimism seem short-lived, however, as the song simply kicks back in again and repeats all the poignant questions raised in the song’s first-half once more. The result is another triumph, grand and stately and a little bit ompous but filled with so much longing at its heart.
Things at last get a bit lighter on this progressively dark and, err, moody second side with  The Sun Is Still Shining, one of the naturally downbeat passive-aggressive Pinder’s most pretty and heart-warming songs that sounds all the stranger for coming right in the middle of so much sadness. This one is about all the great things that could be waiting for mankind out in space and the fact that its never too late to make a second step once a first step has been made. Like  ‘The Sunset’ and  ‘Ommmmmm’ this song is clearly influenced by Eastern music and has a lovely riff which is doubled by the flute, mellotron and a final appearance by Justin’s sitar. Bouncy and cute, in an alternate universe Kylie Minogue is having a hit with it right now. However just as things get too frothy and float away on a cloud Pinder reminds us of our responsibilities and that we will have to make the break from planet Earth at some point in the future. ‘If you want to play, stay right back on Earth!’ he sings in his best schoolmasterly voice, a classic Moodies line which sadly loses its impact by the song’s second repeat, asking mankind to wait until he is unified before taking off into space again. The song then ends waiting, with a gorgeous sudden swell of the backing track that gets nearer and nearer as all the instruments play the riff over and over without getting its wings clipped the way so many of the album songs do. Hearing it again, its interesting how close this tune’s main riff is to ‘Beyond’ slowed down (which came first I wonder?) The result isn’t as good as the other album deep songs (and ‘Out and In’ might have been a better ‘fit’ at this point on a troubled album) but I like it all the same, with Mike’s ghostly double-tracked vocal another gem.
By now Justin has been waiting a while and sings [83b] ‘I Never Thought I’d Liv e To Be A Million’. A brief verse reprise of his earlier song, it loses impact when not heard as part of the song proper. At least this time the narrator has seen a lot with his life (or maybe its his species?) asking someone to ‘look at me’. In real life, of course, Justin still looks about forty.
Time for a nice quiet Hayward piece now and the singer duly obliges us with the playout  Watching and Waiting.  Nights In White Satin’s quieter, less dramatic and rather more self-pitying younger brother, it tries its best but still sounds like a lot of crying about nothing, without the intimacy or the emotional build-up brilliance of Nights. Much loved by Moodies fans for its ghostly quiet and stillness, this surprise flop single still ends up sounding like one of the lesser songs on the album despite its strong, graceful, lilting tune and beautiful mellotron opening. It also should never have been the single in a million years – its a slow burner this song, only painfully by increments moving towards the power-pop chorus we all know is coming. Somebody somewhere should have covered this song though: it’s a tailor-made vehicle for a female singer with a powerful voice and unusually the Moodies’ arrangement and recording isn’t what it could be (also, when Justin tries to rock out in the song’s peak, the song is unfortunately marred by some pretty bad distortion, even with the glories of CD re-mastering). Still, the song works double duty as both an out-of-context single with a lonely narrator pining for a soul-mate (‘Someone to understand me’) and as an album track with an equally lonely species pining for some intergalactic contact (Many of this song’s fans probably don’t believe that last controversial interpretation, but its possible: just check out that line about ‘don’t be alarmed by my fields and my forests, they’re here for only you to share’ which hints that the narrator of the song might be the Earth itself. Another line, ‘where I come from I can’t tell’, is evidence of a similar typically Moodies enigma, possibly suggesting our origins might lie out there somewhere in space and the earth is our species’ holiday home, not it’s cradle as long assumed. Hmm, is Earth really some sort of intergalactic Butlins?) Justin is desperate to meet the person he needs in his life and maybe she lives on some outer planet? He dreams too of a hippie idyll where he can be with his lover where ‘there’s lots of room for doing things that have always been denied’. Along with much of his generation, he likens himself to a mole that has been burrowing underground his whole life but who knows there is light out there somewhere if only he can scrabble to the surface quickly enough. A half hour after taking off with such aplomb on ‘Higher and Higher’ the band’s latest message to their fans is that the future is up to us, that there’s ‘no one there to stop us trying’. By the end of the song, though, Justin has given up being pro-active and slumps while the mellotron takes over, playing a sad and lonely fadeout. Impressive as this song may be, it doesn’t belong on this album somehow but exists outside it – a record that started with a literal bang needs a stronger ending than this as mankind waits on Earth, posied to take off into space again.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Hayward’s narrator has stopped crying buckets and the CD has stopped spinning. A spiritual journey that looks towards our future as well as our past, we still haven’t caught up with To Our Children’s Children’s Children yet in terms of either the album’s exotic music or its progress-in-space ideas. As a postscript, it makes perfect sense that The Moody Blues were literally the ‘first band in space’. The next voyage after Apollo Eleven chose to include a cassette recorder to break up the lengthy voyages and a cassette with ‘Days Of Future Passed’ on one side and a ‘Greatest Hits’ on the others went up into space in 1970. In 1971 it was the turn of ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’, picked by the crew of Apollo Fifteen for their mission, the fourth to land on the moon. This truly is s record that is out of this world and what fun it must have been to listen to it, hearing the sound of a rocket while actually in a rocket – and how scary to contemplate mankind’s future while staring down at planet Earth itself. This album wasn’t just for the crew though or even for their particular generation but for the ones to come later and it remains a glorious time capsule of what life was like in 1969, waiting for mankind’s next move into space. Alasd it was the band’s last guess, that we would ‘watch and wait’, that is the closest to fortune-telling across this album and the space programme is today part of our heritage rather than our future, with unmanned missions to further planets much cheaper and safer. If our future offspring ever take up to the stars again, though, there is only one soundtrack they will need – whatever they they make it in. To Our Children’s is one of those albums that really does seem to yearn for the stars and is perfect half-cautionary, half-celebratory soundtrack of our first tentative steps into space. It remains the band’s most rounded and accessible album, full of some of the greatest work they ever made and even when pitting thousands of centuries of civilisation against the vastness of space never comes up short. What an album!