Saturday Single No. 48

Originally posted December 29, 2007

It’s quite easy to ignore the Moody Blues these days. A quick look at their recent slate of releases, as compiled by All-Music Guide, makes the reader yawn: A live album in 2005, a Christmas release in 2003, an “authorized bootleg” and another live CD in 2000, mediocre studio albums in 1999 and 1991 bracketing another live album in 1993, and a Europe-only compilation in 1990 (it’s a mystery why that compilation is not listed on the same page as the other numerous compilations at AMG).

One has to go back to the 1980s to find a significant piece of work, an interesting statement when it’s made about a band that continues to record and perform. Sur La Mer, which came out in 1988, was pleasant but inconsequential. The album – the last Moody Blues album I was able to buy in a vinyl format – reached No. 38 on the Billboard chart. Its single, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” peaked at No. 40 during a thirteen-week stay in the Cash Box Top 100, and reached No. 30 on the Billboard chart. (The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard list of “Mainstream Rock Tracks,” the existence of which underlines the fragmentation of the radio audience more than anything else, and the album’s second single, “No More Lies,” went to No. 15 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart, another seemingly minor chart.)

So Sur La Mer was a minor success, especially when compared to what the Moody Blues regularly found up to that time: Starting with Days of Future Passed in 1968 through The Other Side of Life in 1986, the Moodies had thirteen consecutive albums reach the Billboard chart, six of them in the Top Ten and two – Seventh Sojourn and Long Distance Voyager – reach No. 1.

Despite that success, not everyone liked the Moody Blues. What riled the Moodies’ detractors most, it seems, was the scope of the group’s vision: The Moodies sounded as if they wanted to be important. In their most popular years – the late 1960s and early 1970s – the Moody Blues’ symphonic sound carried along with it lyrics that were mystical and philosophical, a marriage of words and music that some listeners found moving and meaningful and that others dismissed as excessively romantic balderdash.

The approach was a ornate one, to be sure, and when it didn’t work, it left the group easily open to ridicule and parody, as was the case – to me – with the final portions of 1968’s In Search of the Lost Chord and its closing tracks, “The Word” and “Om.” But when it worked, I found the approach thrilling. I’ve always loved the Wall of Sound that Phil Spector created and used on his singles and on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album, which came out in 1970. Sonically, the Moody Blues’ approach had much the same attraction. From 1970’s Question of Balance onward, through Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in 1971 and into 1972’s Seventh Sojourn, I loved the Moodies’ sound, and I went back to pick up on those albums I had missed.

Did I buy into the lyrics? I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes, to be sure, the lyrical content was a little thick and heavy, self-consciously strained in an effort to be poetic and meaningful. When they were, I shrugged. I don’t think I was a particularly demanding consumer. I liked the albums and listened to them frequently.

I likely was listening to Seventh Sojourn thirty-five years ago this week when it became the Moody Blues’ first No. 1 album. I’d gotten the record as a Christmas gift from Rick, and I recall playing it frequently during the week after Christmas. The record’s sound was a little less ornate and its lyrics a little less mystical than was the case on the group’s previous record, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. But the changes worked, I thought, as the group’s vision seemed to have shifted from cosmic exploration to social justice (love and romance were still subjects for exploration, as well; several of the eight tracks on Seventh Sojourn are nicely done love songs).

Seventh Sojourn turned out to be an album I love for a number of reasons. First, I do like the Moody Blues, and the album fit nicely into their body of work. Second, I believe it was the last Christmas gift Rick ever gave me; the next Christmas, I was in Denmark, and after I returned home, we’d grown away from each other a little. And although we’ve reconnected in recent years and see each other regularly, we don’t exchange gifts. Third, the music of our youth stays with us forever, and Seventh Sojourn came along in the middle of my second year of college. Fourth and last, some of the album’s concerns – fear and isolation, societal dislocation and more – remain valid concerns today. For all those reasons, the album remains high on the list of those I love.

So thirty-five years after Seventh Sojourn took over the No. 1 slot on the charts, the album’s opener, “Lost In A Lost World,” is today’s Saturday Single.


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