Archives for posts with tag: Moody Blues

All right– I’m retroactively counting my previous blog “How the Hell are the Moody Blues Not in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?” as part one of my summerlong journey. One that begins in actuality in Birmingham with hopes of a brewery sponsorship. One huge hit followed by more than a few major misses.

It all began in May, 1964 like many groups of the day that succeeded and failed: one band splinters and then dissolves. Mike Pinder (keyboards), John Lodge (bass) and Ray Thomas (tambourine, flute, bad dancing) left “El Riot and the Rebels” only to disband when Lodge attended school and Pinder entered the Army (one has the feel of “Summer of ’69”: “Jimmy quit, Jody got married…”). Pinder and Thomas eventually reunited to form the “Krew Cats”. I don’t know which name is less irritating, but before long they were joined by Denny Laine (guitar) and Clint Warwick (bass) as well as a former band manager turned drummer Graeme Edge (sort of like the Rolling Stones Ian Stewart in reverse). Would they keep “Krew Cats”? Or maybe become the “Crew Kats”? The answer lay in the bottom of a pint of beer.

Mitchells & Butlers plc owns and operates over 1,500 restaurants and pubs across the United Kingdom…and is headquartered in Birmingham. No doubt the lads were well ahead of the curve in attempting to get M&B to sponsor the band–when you need an amp or a set of marracas you’ll likely do anything. While the proposed name “M&B Five” never gained traction with the brewery, M&B stayed as initials. Much like the kismet that delivered the Avengers character “Emma Peel” (casting directors were looking for and actress who appealed to men, aka “man appeal”/”M-appeal”), the blues-based group formed their name off the initials of the beer of the day= “The Moody Blues”.

Much like the multitude of struggling groups on the fringe of success the lads played clubs of all sorts honing their craft, hoping for the opportunity to trickle into London for an audition with a label. They signed with a management company that would release their recordings through Decca. Their first single, “Steal Your Heart Away” failed to chart…and sounds like much of what came out at the time. It was almost a demo reel for each band member to prove they could play guitar, bass, piano and drums and interweave harmony and lead vocals. While their debut would sound like a band playing a song, their followup would feel like a song being played by a band.

From Denny Laine’s naked vocal to the descending piano to the presence of full harmonies and band in the first 15 seconds, “Go Now!” has you hooked, avidly awaiting the next line. The Larry Banks-Milton Bennett penned tune is fairly straightforward…and the harmony chorus often feels like the solo verse and vice versa. Laine brings an over-the-top energy that remains restrained–instead of being too hot or too cold, his voice is just right here. The harmony vocals provides him the perfect sound to bounce off of…and Mike Pinder’s clean piano drives the song without taking away from the singing.

Go Now!” skyrocketed to #10 in the US charts and would claim the top spot from Georgie Fame’s “Yeh Yeh” in the UK before being nudged aside by the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (no truth to the rumor that Tom Cruise sings “Go Now!” in a scene that didn’t make the final cut of “Top Gun”). TV appearances followed where today’s youtube viewers think Ray Thomas is John Cleese from Monty Python. Naturally, a slapped together album of covers, filler and miscellaneous followed with the hit single as its centerpiece. The album failed to chart…as their #1 song was becoming a millstone instead of a milestone.

Instead of being a springboard, “Go Now!” turned out to be the gold standard that each successive single paled against. “I Don’t Want to Go on Without You” stalled at #33. “From the Bottom of My Heart” peaked at #22. “Everyday” (solid stop and go harmonies) crested at #44. “Stop!” (too herky-jerky) stopped at #88…in Canada. And “This Is My House (but Nobody Calls)” finally replied at #119 in the US. In a singles-dominated medium where yesterday’s news becomes lining for bird cages, the Moodies were becoming old hat overnight. “Life’s Not Life” was a fitting final attempt as Laine (who would eventually join Paul McCartney’s Wings and perform “Go Now” in concert with Paul & Linda) and Warwick went their own ways…leaving Pinder, Thomas and Edge looking to revamp the band’s lineup and perhaps reinvent their sound. And that’s when two Blue Jays flew in from out of nowhere.

 

Coming up Next– Finding harmonies…and meeting the mellotron.

They say disasters come in threes…and it’s true in this case of honoring impact and bodies of work.  I’ve long argued that the three biggest Hall of Fame omissions have been Marvin Miller, Ray Guy and the Moody Blues.  Miller led the MLB players union out from the wage slave era of the 60’s where players were bound to teams for perpetuity…changing the game for the better and worse. His advocacy created a ripple effect that wound up touching every pro sport.  Even if only on the strength of his super-cool mustache. Guy, despite having no facial hair while playing, simply set a new standard for punting in the NFL–they checked footballs for helium (?!) after one game–and brought an end to the pot-bellied punter era…he looked like he actually belonged in the Pro Bowl, as opposed to resembling a pro bowler.  The third omission may involve chemicals and/or mustaches. The Moody Blues remain on music’s fringe with their continued omission in Cleveland. This hurts especially with the news that Randy Newman is in the HOF.  “Short People”?  Toy Story?  How did he get in ahead of fellow nominee Deep Purple?  Hush…

 

This is a project I’ve long talked and joked about. Every time I’ve made a career transition I’ve mentioned putting the free time towards writing the highly anticipated book about the Moody Blues. This will hopefully be the summer of highly ignored blogs about the Moody Blues-who they were and why one should care?  Were they trying to be funny during the spoken word poems or were they just that high?  What made their albums incredible journeys and why do they deserve long-delayed recognition like being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Yes–one might be able to fathom the Moody Blues exclusion of the R&R HOF. It’s a subjective game. Until you realize that two inferior contemporaries, the Hollies and the Dave Clark 5 are enshrined. Really? I can break down the Moodies rightful inclusion on multiple fronts.

Versatility and Longevity– DC5 was hot for 3-5 years churning out derivative hit singles and fizzled as the 60’s came to a close. The Hollies hung in there through the mid-70’s. MB scored a #1 as an R&B band with “Go Now”… turned into a progressive rock band and enjoyed extended success with songs like “Nights in White Satin” (peaking at #2 in 1972)…and enjoyed a resurgence in the 80’s (Your Wildest Dreams reaching #10 on the charts–and #1 on the Adult Contemporary listings). That’s 20+ years of being relevant and dominating three musical regions.

Lyrics– DC5’s biggest hit? Arguably “Catch us if You Can”. They say “Catch us if You Can” 14 times in 1:56…and the song would have been even better if they just repeated catch us if you can throughout. The Hollies did write some of their songs but depended on a stable of writers to turn out some of their most memorable hits (“Bus Stop”, “Hey Aint Heavy, He’s my Brother”).  With the exception of “Go Now”, all of the Moody Blues major tunes were self-written. And wouldn’t you rather hear “Nights in White Satin” than “Catch us if You Can”? Don’t answer until you say the title 14 times in succession.

Matchups– the beauty is there are five members in each band. So we’ll break down the matchups- basketball style…giving 5 points for first, 3 for second and 1 for third…:

DRUMS– Although the Dave Clark 5 is named after drummer Dave Clark, I’m going with the Hollies Bobby Elliot for making his kit seem like it was the solo instrument more often than not (check out the bridge to “I Can’t Let Go”). MB’s Grahame Edge loses out although he was a presence in “Higher and Higher” and wrote most of their goofy poems.

BASS– MB’s John Lodge dominates not just because he locks in with Edge, but his value as a singer/songwriter creates matchup problems with the late Rick Huxley of DC5 and the Hollies Eric Haydock/Bernie Calvert platoon.

LEAD GUITAR– MB’s Justin Hawyard wrote and sang on most of the MB’s hits… and has DC5’s Lenny Davidson for lunch. Tony Hicks represents the Hollies (his middle verse in “Carrie Anne” plays off Nash and Clarke too well) but comes up short.

FLUTE/SAXOPHONE/HARMONICA– One can’t think of a DC5 song without the late Denis Peyton’s saxophone and his awkwardness playing the instrument on youtube. MB’s Ray Thomas helps “Nights in White Satin” reach that next level with his flute…has one heck of a voice and a killer mustache that would make Magnum jealous. Allen Clarke delivers the harmonica riff on “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother” and sings the bulk of the Hollies hits. He dances awkwardly (check out concert footage) but not nearly as bad as Thomas did during “Ride My See Saw” on Colour Me Pop (MANDATORY YOUTUBE). The two are exhibit A and B why you give every band member an instrument so they DON’T dance.

KEYBOARDS/RHYTHM GUITAR– Classic matchup between DC5 lead vocalist Mike Smith’s east-west sashaying and effortless smile, MB’s thoughtful and pensive Mike Pinder trying to create art while pioneering an instrument never used before (Mellotron) and Graham Nash’s filling in the gaps vocally with Clarke and Hicks. If Nash actually played the guitar he’d get the call–but we’re going to go three way tie.

So after doing the math, the Hollies win by a close margin over the Moody Blues 18-17 with the Dave Clark Five a distant third at 10.

 

Coming up in this unwelcome journey…roots in R&B…hits and many more misses…and the best re-cast ever.