Monday 16 April 2018

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

You can now buy 'New Horizons - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Moody Blues' in e-book form by clicking here!

Well done, you made it to the halfway part of the book (or halfway through our 'music' section at any rate!) We can't give you a prize to celebrate I'm afraid though you probably deserve one, but we can shake things up a bit by moving outside talking about our respective AAA bands' discography and moving on to what makes them stand out from their peers and offer something no other band can. In truth these essays kind of run across the whole book and you can read them in any order, but now we've reached the halfway point it's quite useful to take stock of where we've been and why before working out where we will go next. With The Moody Blues you’re pretty safe in the knowledge that where that path will be could be anywhere (though it’s probably not giving too much of the story yet to come away that the paths to travel get narrower from this point onwards). However the band were adamant that there was one path that could never be taken…
Some bands write for their very narrow audiences. Some stick to talking about their particular g-g-g-g-generation. Others appeal only to the lowest common denominator. Some, like The Spice Girls, can’t even do that right. And then there are other bands who aren’t interested in the here and now but the bigger picture. The Moody Blues’ biggest strength and weakness and what makes them stand out from everyone else is their sheer size, for even though the form it takes changes from album to album almost all of their songs (at least on the ‘seven wonders’ Justin ‘n’ John albums before the split) are about nothing less than the evolution of mankind. This story can be told in any order it seems: we cover the caveman grunting years on album six’s [93] ‘Procession’, take in as many musical forms as the band can cram into a six minute two part song suite in 1968 on [48] ‘The House Of Four Doors’ from album number two and zoom off into space and our unfolding possible futures on the whole of album four ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’. What rings true for all of these albums, though, is the question of what life is all for – why mankind was created, what paths he was meant to take and whether he has in fact learnt anything. To traverse in the Moodies universe (where thinking is always the [51] ‘best way to travel’) is to realize that the idea that mankind is always evolving is a con and that in many ways we are going backwards, losing our sense of self in a world full of materialistic greed and avarice and deception. The Moody Blueniverse is a world where anything can happen – and most of it bad, with the only things stable and unbreakable being love for one’s family (this band wrote more songs for their children than any other, from [96] ‘Emily’s Song’ to Ray’s solo tune ‘Adam and I’) and occasionally for a partner (endless love songs from [105] ‘For My Lady’ through to Justin’s solo hit ‘Forever Autumn’).
The Moodies’ journey for mankind is a road that isn’t just long and winding, it’s a labyrinth. In many ways their albums are also about a rite of passage that all of us in our modern age have to go through, to work out who we really are underneath all that 9-5 job pressure, financial restraints and a modern society that keeps up apart from really knowing one another. This is a road that seems to end in destruction, but The Moodies do have happy endings in there too.  also has the capacity to put things right if we all pull together ([98] ‘One More Time To Live’) and find what our true purpose in life is meant to be (most of ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’, which ends up with meditation as the closest to a life-changing answer on [55] ‘Om’ pronounced ‘Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm’), while ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ is split neatly down the middle (where you turn the record over) about whether out future will be great or ghastly. Like all the best groups, The Moodies never pretend to have all the questions (as a quick listen to [110] ‘Don’t Ask Me - I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’ will explain) but they are the group that perhaps asked more of these questions than any other, most of them ending with a question mark: [83} ‘How Is It (We Are Here?)’, [70] ‘Have You Heard?, [106] ‘Isn’t Life Strange?’, [39] ‘Forever Afternoon (A Tuesday?)’, most famously [82] ‘Question’ itself which is about exactly this sort of thing and never getting answers that seem to fit. They do however have one theme in common.
One thing you can never do on this strange life path is go backwards. Not for The Moody Blues is there a Kinks like nostalgia for days past. Never is there a sense of childlike wonder that can be found in Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd or mid period Beach Boys. Nowhere is there a nihilistic refusal to grow old the way The Who once snarled. Instead The Moody Blues see life as a chance to grow from nothing into…something. What that something is up to us, just as long as we appreciate that life is all about ch-ch-ch-ch-ange and a turn of the pa-a-a-a-age. You see, without experiences good and bad, we can’t grow – both us individually and mankind as a species in general. [100] ‘You Can Never Go Home’ laments this thought directly: Justin used to know what he was searching for (there’s a hint that it’s the fame, money and prestige that comes with being a famous musician) but once you reach that golden goal you discover that it’s just another illusion. The ‘prize’ that he gets for growing older and coping with situations he hates is that he becomes more and more confused as to what life is really all about. The middle eight of one of the Moodies’ most under-rated songs, though, is one of their greatest moments: ‘All lies, bye bye, never really knew me till today. Now I know I’m just another step along the way’. All that confusion and angst is turned on its head – suddenly this narrator has learnt responsibility and has started to think about the bigger picture, because if what he’s dreamed of getting his whole life can’t satisfy him what can? He will never be the same again as he was as a child.
Which is interesting because children crop up an awful lot in the Moody Blues’ canon. A quick aim at the stars aside, the journey into the stars on album four begins not with a summary of mankind’s glorious exploits (as Pink Floyd would have done) or a lament over the inevitable doom and disaster (as per The Kinks) but with [72] ‘The Eyes Of A Child’. Twice. Once in pure innocent mode – the other in something darker and scarier, as if the narrator is trying to shut his eyes again and un-see everything he has seen, but he can’t – once you’ve learnt something, you can’t unlearn it (at least not in a Moody Blues song).[96] ‘Emily’s Song’ has daddy John wishing he could travel down the road to childhood and innocence with his daughter, but sighs that ‘I cannot go’, that he’s seen too much of the adult world that can never be unseen. [135] ‘I’ll Be Level With You’ runs one reunion track where the drummer comes clean to the children who are, as yet, still babes in arms. Life is going to be one long struggle, but in the end will be worth it (he hopes). The childlike quality looms large in Moodies fare and usually through the eyes of their flautist Ray. After an album of things going wrong and mankind facing ‘Revolution! Confusion! Illusion!’ it’s a relief to wind up at the rabbit warren of [99] ‘Nice To Be Here’ and unwind after the dramas of space in [73] ‘Floating’, while Ray’s songs for his own son (‘Adam and I’) and grandson ([203] ‘My Little Lovely’) are full of longing to dive back down the rabbit hole into a free and innocent childhood world. But The Moody Blues as a whole are all about growing up and home is the one place your road will never take you – because life is chiefly about learning.
This is itself a chief source of many a Moodies Blues song – worrying about whether the life decision you took was the right one and whether you might not be better off on a different path. ‘Yesterday’s dreams are tomorrow’s sighs’ runs [37] ‘Another Morning’, ‘The children playing they seem so wise’. But that’s the trouble – they’re wise because they haven’t yet learnt how to regret, forgive and forget, in an endless cycle mankind can never break. [74a] ‘I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred’ laments Justin, wondering about all those missed opportunities and whether he made the most of his life. Half an album later and there he is, ruminating that [74b] ‘I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million’ and wondering still over everything left unsaid and undone since he was a hundred and still wondering where the time left. For the universe is vast and we are small insignificant fractions of it. The world is no place for confidence: the narrator of [84] ‘And The Tide Rushes In’ finds himself facing calamity every time he thinks he has life sorted, [155] ‘Going Nowhere’ about finding your life on pause after thinking you had found the right path and [136] ‘Driftwood’ about being afraid of being abandoned and lost. The Moodies world (a [152] ‘Blue World’ more often than not) is a place where things can often go wrong and there is always something left to learn. You can never go home and be the same person you once were.
This is particularly true in romantic terms. [43] ‘Nights In White Satin’ struck a chord with so many people not because it was sung with such passion (though it was) or because it made a particularly poignant finale to an album all about a typical day in the life of mankind (though it did that too) but because Justin Hayward admitted to being vulnerable, of struggling to work out whether he should run after the departing girl in his life because she’s the only one who’ll ever bring him happiness or whether she’s just another learning curve on his life’s path. He writes romantic letters because he feels love, but he realizes that he can never bring himself to send them. ‘Beauty I’ve always missed’ he sighs, regretting the romances that never quite clicked and the ones who turned out not to be the one after all. For the record Justin married his longterm girlfriend Ann in 1970 (when he was all of twenty-four) and they have what must surely be one of the longest lasting marriages in rock and yet over and over again the theme of the loves who got away keep cropping up in his work: [119] ‘Who Are You Now?’ (First Love Of Mine), [162] ‘Your Wildest Dreams’ and [171] ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’. The one that got away is what keeps this band up late at night and yet it’s a clock that can never be turned (except, of course, in music videos where anything can happen!) and you can never go home, ever.
Other songs have the band wondering where it all went wrong in a much wider generational sense. Just contrast the pure beauty and comfort of [68] ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ with its tales of castles and knights and good guys in charge with other later songs about life in the 1960s and 1970s (even if Camelot is itself a neat analogy, pictured here before Guinevere starts sleeping with Lancelot and things get complicated). [31] ‘Cities’ are full of smug smog and soot, the people treated like the open sewers they walk about, with the population so heavy with people that nobody cares about the individual anymore. [83] ‘How Is It We Are Here’ should be celebrating mankind’s biggest mining project, but knows in its heart that the answer to mankind’s problems lies not underground or in outer space as ‘To Our Children’s has it, but in ‘inner space’, from within. We, as a species, have what we have long dreamt of: creature comforts, robots to help us in our work, a life away from toiling in the fields and working merely to survive. But still we are unhappy, [90] ‘Melancholy Men’ who are [103] ‘Lost In A Lost World’ because mankind has lost the bigger picture. Instead of helping each other to help ourselves we’re in constant competition with each other, an endless cycle of [86] ‘The Tortoise and The Hare’ where everyone is chasing each other’s tail and where our precious time away from the rat race ([40] ‘Evening (Time To Get Away)’) is spent in such tired stupor that the band’s narrator can barely stir himself out of his armchair. We’ve lost focus, worrying about bills and jobs and keeping up with the Joneses, rather than exploring our inner souls, discovering who we are and working out why we are really here (a question The Moody Blues ask more times – and usually more musically – than anyone).
‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ (note the reference to great-grandchildren) is perhaps the ultimate Moodies album in terms of scope and theme. One day I’m going to write an extra feature for my website about the bigger themes that link all (or most) of the AAA bands and why the 1960s and to a lesser extent the 1970s musical landscapes turned out the way they did. Chief place will be the moon landings: what a perfect 1960s project, stretching out into pastures new and providing a clean slate for mankind in the future away from Earth boundaries. Mankind can do anything and be anyone, which is the long strange journey from Beatlemania to psychedelia in a nutshell. Only hang on a minute because even there the complications implicit in 1960s music runs deep: commissioned by a president who was assassinated, overseen by a president who ended up embroiled in lies and scandal, launched to a backdrop of cold war propaganda and nationalism at odds with interplanetary travel, the moon landings was one big leap for mankind but also proved how many more steps he would have to take to be a truly civilised species. Released the month of the Moon landings, ‘To Our Children’s reflects this, trying to sum up the contradictions for future generations. The band didn’t know when they were making it if there would even be a ‘happy ending’ or not, so they hedged their bets just in case Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins ended up martyrs adrift in lonely soul-less space. Mankind gets to have everything he dreamed of ([76] ‘Out and In’ must surely be unique in music circles, a love song to the universe that’s almost sexual; ‘floating free as a bird’ and [80] ‘the sun is still shining, while [75] ‘Beyond’ is a band jam that’s the epitome of excited curiosity), but at a price: lost without his home planet he’s a [77] ‘Gypsy’ in a ‘strange and distant land’, travelling [78] ‘Eternity Road’ looking for answers he will never finds and afraid that he’s alone in the universe after all, left [81] ‘Watching and Waiting’ with the weight of the universe on his shoulders as the only life that has survived and embraced the bigger picture. The album ends on a very down note indeed, but then so do many of the Moodies’ concepts: ‘Days Of Future Passed’ ends with the pained howl of [43] ‘Nights In White Satin’ the night before a morning of going through your life again and pretending the revelation of your life hasn’t just happened; ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ finds only meditation as its answer, a shortcut rather than an answer in and of itself, ‘On The Threshold Of A Dream’ goes round in circles asking [70] ‘Have You Heard?’ following a voyage where everything is different yet the same, the entire history of mankind on ‘EGBDF’ ends with Mike Pinder trying vainly to struggle with ‘all the thoughts inside my head’ on [101] ‘My Song’ and after the false ending of [109] ‘When You’re A Free Man’ (the Moodies’ most ironic title on a song about always being trapped) the final original Moodies album ends up with the band admitting that they haven’t got a clue about anything and have been in the dark as much as their fans ([110] ‘I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’)while ‘A Question Of Balance’ ends with, umm, eating an orange (no, me neither).
So what’ is the answer? Have The Moody Blues spent their entire career thinking about without discovering it? Well not completely. You see the other theme is living in ‘The Present’. No, not the album specifically, but embracing what you’re going through at any particular time in your life and making the most of every opportunity life hands you and to keep people in the present as much as you can, not the past. [113] ‘Remember Me, My Friend’ the Blue Jays urged old friends (maybe even old bandmates) as they tried to move on with their lives. [176] ‘Vintage Wine’ spends a lot of time remembering ‘1968 through to 69’ but it concludes that as fun and wonderful and indeed groovy as the past was, the present is the place to be. [190] ‘Never Blame The Rainbows For The Rain’ tries to put it more poetically (and would succeed were it not recorded with the worst 1980s synths imaginable – in 1991!), that you are a better person for what you’ve learnt and been through and you shouldn’t curse the glorious destination because the road that took you there was so tough. The one truly exuberant track in the Moodies catalogue (at least post the Denny Laine age) is about being given a second chance to be a child, but as an adult. [46] ‘Ride My See-Saw’, a song written by John in response to getting the job he always dreamed of after watching his old school chums go on to big success, is about getting a second chance when you thought you’d lost it – and making sure that you make the most of it this time (and us too – this is a song that invites the audience to play too). That’s the ‘real’ answer and destination for mankind. For if we are doomed to walk down unexplored and scary paths both personal universal, at the mercy of those greedier ghastlier and gloomier than we are, then we should realize that we are not alone in our endless struggles (the Moody Blues – and by association every Moodies fan – is experiencing similar struggles or they wouldn’t sing/listen to them so avidly because, wow, do the Moodies have a committed fanbase even by AAA standards), that we should give ourselves a break because life is hard, a pat on the back for getting through life this far, that we should make the most of the small moments when we’re allowed to be childish in a world that demands that we be grown up and responsible and corrupt far too often, that we should never stop asking why – and that we should allow ourselves to move on. Because even if we can never go home again, the places we end up are pretty interesting and exciting in their own right and who wants to be the same person forever? Now, after being a Moodies fan, I know that I am just another step along the way – and what’s more I feel better that this step is out of my hands.

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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