March Through Time: The Moody Blues

The Moody Blues’ career arc can be neatly divided into four distinct if unequal parts. The first is the r&b/pop era during which Denny Laine was a lead vocalist. The second is the one that listeners of a certain age remember fondly: the years of what even the band members call their “big six” albums. The third is the group’s MTV-era resurgence, and the fourth and final is the Moody Blues post-album nostalgia era.

Here’s my rundown of the merits of the band’s music, all of which was released during the first three of those eras.

  • Go Now: The Moody Blues #1 (1965) – If the early Moodies never did anything beyond their reading of “Go Now,” they’d be worthy or remembering. But there are many more beat-era gems to be found on this record. Just don’t go in expecting Mellotrons or orchestras.
  • Days of Future Passed (1967) – The classic, the template for everything that wold follow. Pop as program music; it still thrills.
  • In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) – Here, Mike Pinder’s Mellotron takes over for the London Festival Orchestra, yielding something closer to what the band could sound like onstage. Great songs, too.
  • On the Threshold of a Dream (1969) – Cranking out albums at a pace that today we’d consider rapid-fire – at least one per year – the group didn’t sacrifice quality
  • To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969) – This one fits in with the others but lacked a major hit single, so it’s sometimes overlooked. Still worthwhile and varied.
  • A Question of Balance (1970) – Lots of great deep cuts, and – in keeping with the title – well balanced in terms of contributions form all members of the group. Less complex arrangement-wise, but still filled with subtlety.
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971) – “The Story in Your Eyes” is among the Moodies’ best cuts, and it’s joined here by plenty of lesser-known yet worthwhile material.
  • Seventh Sojourn (1972) – Bassist John Lodge contributes the band’s hardest rocker, the classic “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” plus “Isn’t Life Strange.” But the delicate balance is maintained among the group as a whole.
  • This is the Moody Blues (1974) – A sort of best-of notable for a remarkably different (and arguably superior) mix of “Question.” It’s also programmed like a single work, with the tunes fading into one another.
  • Caught Live + 5 (1977) – As we’d discover on later archival releases, the prime-era Moodies were quite good live. But this thin document doesn’t show them in the best light. But it was the late ‘70s, and every group seemed to have to have its live album. That said, the five studio bonus cuts are quite good; they’rem ore than leftovers.
  • Octave (1978) – Very much out of step with prevailing musical trends at the time of its release, Octave nonetheless remains a criminally overlooked LP. It’s lush and romantic. And “Driftwood” ranks among Justin Hayward’s finest musical moments.
  • Long Distance Voyager (1981) – Three years – an eternity in the music business – wold pass before the group returned, and with its first personnel change in 14 years. Virtuoso keyboardist Patrick Moraz replaced Mike Pinder, and the band aimed for a more mainstream style. They hit the commercial bullseye.
  • The Present (1983) – The new approach didn’t work quite as well here; this record is solid but short on memorable songs.
  • The Other Side of Life (1986) – Ray Thomas was sidelined for this record, and many of the elements that made the group special were dialed back in favor of a more trendy character. Of course it was a massive success.
  • Sur la Mer (1988) – If you liked Other Side, you liked this. But fans of the “big six” were mystified and – daresay – disappointed. Save for a hit single, it’s weak sauce. And sadly, no Ray Thomas!
  • Keys of the Kingdom (1991) – I’m not sure who was listening to Moody Blues albums – at least new ones – in 1991. Not only have I never heard this record, I’ve never seen a copy.
  • Strange Times (1999) – For the band, most of the 1990s would be characterized by regular touring and release of several compilation and archival sets. Ray Thomas returned, but – like Kingdom – I don’t recall ever hearing any of this music.
  • December (2003) – The (apparently) obligatory Christmas album, and the final word from the band. A bit mawkish, as these things tend to be. Not terrible; also not necessary. And no Ray Thomas.