The Moody Blues. Brilliant songs meet ace musicians. High concept and innovative production techniques, plus a mellotron and lots of reverb. What's NOT to love?
Well, like many bands of their age they went in and out of favour. They were psychedelic darlings until such things became unfashionable...then they were clean-cut pop-rockers for the baby boomer generation. When THAT became unfashionable as well they just started touring around and making tons of money off their aging fans, which is NEVER fashionable.
When I was a little kid, digging through my parent's record collection, I was most attracted to their "On a Threshold of a Dream" album. The opening track was a nightmare of spooky keyboards and an evil-sounding robot, and the gatefold sleeve is still one of the creepiest covers I've ever seen, but the actual album...wow. The Moodies could take a concept, milk it just enough to get eight good songs out of it, and still leave enough time for an overwrought poem by Graeme Edge.
Unlike many other bands of that era their adult contemporary reinvention was a complete success. I was listening to "The Voice" at work today and was reminded of how damn GOOD it sounds, and also totally unconventional: a chorus that takes second-place to a soaring bridge, immediately followed by one of my favourite "musical moments"...a farty keyboard sound that breaks the song into separate segments. Other bands would have used a drum fill or a shouted "oh yeah," but this was MUCH more effective. In lesser hands it would have been terrible.
You can't hear the keyboard breaks in this 2005 live version, but you can at least tell that they're still an amazing band.
I feel stupid writing about The Moody Blues because it's sort of like writing about oxygen: some things have so permeated our musical culture that we no longer notice them. But sometimes you need to be reminded that breathing fresh air feels great, so therefore I encourage you to buy a cheap Moody Blues CD and listen to it like it was the first time.
Albums to buy: "On the Threshold of a Dream" feels like a juicy steak, slow-roasted over a hashish fire, full of contradictions, mismatched ideas, and all-out "wow" moments...not a single bad song on it. For something from their later period try "Long Distance Voyager," a perfect blend of rock and synthpop.
Albums to avoid: somebody's going to shoot me for saying this, but I have NEVER liked "Days of Future Passed." It's all twill and no hook, with the obvious exception of "Nights In White Satin."