This is the first of two reviews that deal with generational differences. I promised both my father and my mother that I would review at least one album by one of their favorite artists who aren’t on my personal favorites list. My mother’s request comes first, to which she would respond, “As it should.”
Most of my pre-adult stories concerning music have focused on my father and his vast, eclectic collection containing every possible genre the human race has ever cooked up through its obsession with categorization. I haven’t written much about my mother’s influence on my musical tastes and perceptions, even though she’s clearly the musical genius in the family (and the most remarkable woman I’ve ever known).
The woman who taught her daughter how to smoke properly, fix her makeup in the European style and to conduct herself with class and grace is also an extraordinary flautist and incredibly nimble on the piano. She was classically trained in France and her parents had dreams of her becoming the female Jean-Pierre Rampal, and there is no doubt in my mind she could have pulled it off.
Instead, she came to the States, dropped out of music school and became a very sexy hippie chick full of joie de vivre and an intense commitment to human rights. She decided that the flute was a symbol of parental oppression and that she’d rather listen to music than have to blow in a hole ten hours a day. The flute stayed in its case for a dozen years before she decided to pick it up again and have some fun with it. Like Edith Piaf, elle ne regrette rien and has improvised a rich and often exciting life exploring her diverse passions: music, language, painting, social justice and sexuality.
Now you know where that part of me comes from.
My mother experiences music like no one else I’ve ever known. My dad’s like the rest of us: he sings, hums, grunts, wiggles his bony butt and occasionally breaks into spurts of air guitar. When my mother listens to music—even hard rock music—she closes her eyes and lets the music fill her soul. Occasionally you’ll see a smile or hear a small cry of delight or sense a faint undulation in the area of her hips, but not much more. While my parents’ tastes often intersect in the wide spectrum of music, my mother’s preferences encompass more of the classical, jazz and progressive rock side. She taught me to forget about Herbert von Karajan when it came to Schubert and go with Wolfgang Sawallisch; she’s the source of my appreciation for Miles Davis and John Coltrane; and she is a passionate defender of The Moody Blues, a band about which I have some ambivalence.
It’s not that I don’t like The Moodies. I love Justin Hayward and a have a permanent iPod playlist of all of his songs. As for the rest, it’s hit-and-miss:
- John Lodge: A great bass player with a pleasant natural voice, his falsetto drives me to distraction. Give me Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Frankie Valli or Lou Christie and I’m fine, but John Lodge’s falsetto is like fingers on the chalkboard to me. Why didn’t they just hire a long-haired, blonde Rod McKuen fan with a nice rack to hit the high notes?
- Ray Thomas: Like everyone else, I love “Legend of a Mind” but other than that, his songwriting is wildly inconsistent.
- Mike Pinder: I always call him Mike Ponderous. His voice usually gives me the creeps and his songs are full of silly philosophical meanderings that he tries to pass off as arcane wisdom. He’s boring.
- Graeme Edge: He’s a solid drummer but also the source of those early New Age spoken word pieces that define the naïve pretentiousness so common in that era of spiritual discovery (or reality avoidance, if you prefer).
Partial disagreement drives my mother crazy. She’s rather have total disagreement, because then she can dismiss you as an uncultured idiot not worth her time. But my mother has never done anything halfway, and she expects the same from her daughter. The fruit of her loins shall not be ambivalent! We debated the value of The Moody Blues for years, but I thought the argument had run its course until I’d passed through the 10,000-foot level on my flight to my new life in Paris. I opened my iPad, touched the Music app, scrolled through my playlists and found that ma chère mère had filled it with all seven core albums, from Days of Future Passed to Seventh Sojourn. When I arrived at CDG, I texted her the news of my safe arrival, to which she replied, “When can I expect the review?”
I’ve been obediently listening to the core seven on and off since I arrived in May. I narrowed it down to two possibilities: Days of Future Passed and To Our Children’s Children’s Children. I chose the latter because I had pleasant memories of some of the songs from childhood, but I reserve the right to review Days of Future Passed in the future. Hear that, mother?
To Our Children’s Children’s Children is the more balanced and unified work. The balance comes from the fact that John Lodge, Ray Thomas and even Mike Pinder stepped up to the plate and delivered some songs that rivaled Justin Hayward’s contributions. The only time that ever happened was on In Search of the Lost Chord, where Lodge and Thomas actually made the superior contributions. On most of their albums, it’s Justin Hayward-skip-skip-skip-Justin Hayward-skip-skip-skip . . . you get the idea. On To Our Children’s Children’s Children there are no skippers: all the songs work to some degree and flow together in the no-gap format better than (dare I say it?) Sgt. Pepper.
First we begin with one of Graeme Edge’s “poetic” contributions that usually drive me bananas. “Higher and Higher” opens with a rocket ship blasting off, establishing space travel in the context of human evolution as one of the themes that unite the album. Humanity had just witnessed Armstrong and Aldrin bouncing about on another world, so speculation on what this event symbolized was rampant. Graeme Edge’s view is Moodily-optimistic:
Vast vision must improve our sight
Perhaps at last we’ll see an end
To our home’s endless blight
And the beginning of the free.
Climb to tranquility, finding its real worth,
Conceiving the heaven, flourishing on earth.
Yawn. What saves the song for me is the music in the background. Justin Hayward plays like his fingers are on fire, Graeme Edge pounds the crap out of his kit and the full-spectrum panning creates a feeling of surround sound years before we knew what that phrase meant. Despite the drippy philosophy, “Higher and Higher” is the most exciting opener on any Moody Blues album.
The frantic sounds of “Higher and Higher” fade into angelic harp runs and a gentle, low-register flute riff from Ray Thomas that pave the way for John Lodge’s gentle vocal on “Eyes of a Child, Pt. 1.” The volume builds gradually as the verse proceeds and the Moodies begin to harmonize, something they generally do very well. The appearance of that damned falsetto makes my ears squint as if they’d sucked a lemon, but it’s only a brief distraction to the lovely melody and the gorgeous harmonies that make this piece such a warm and engaging experience.
The piece ends almost suddenly at the end of a harp run, replaced by a melodic high-register bass run and a dash of acoustic guitar, introducing the song “Floating.” I realize that it may be hard for my readers to imagine the leather-loving riding-crop-wielding sophisticate you know as The Alt Rock Chick as a playful little girl, but I used to be the sweetest little thing on earth! I loved my childhood and I took full advantage of it, running, laughing, playing tag and hopscotch, filling coloring books by the dozen and skipping along the streets to school as a way to stay warm in the fog. And of all the songs that played on the stereo during those years, “Floating” was my absolute favorite. Whenever it came on I would grab either my mother or my father to hold hands with me and pretend we were weightless while singing along with Ray Thomas. I still smile whenever I hear it, and the simple beauty of the melody and the ecstatic rise of the chorus fills me with sheer delight. Most songs for kids are pretty hokey, but “Floating” is a sincere expression of childhood joy.
The harmonic lines that end “Floating” fade into “Eyes of a Child, Pt. 2,” a rougher, rockier take of the song weakened only by that damned falsetto, which is really over the top here. Fortunately it fades into the first of a pair of tiny acoustic songs from Justin Hayward, “I Never Thought I’d Live to Be a Hundred.” God, I love this man’s voice . . . it’s so enveloping, especially in a quiet piece like this one where it’s simply Justin, a guitar and a splash of harmony. Absolute perfection!
Our song-ette ends in the burst of energy that announces the upbeat instrumental “Beyond,” a song that I consider the functional equivalent of The Beatles “Flying” on Magical Mystery Tour, though the Moodies make their piece more interesting than the rather lazy effort by the Fab Four. The main theme is divided by intervals of trippy sounds that no doubt thrilled the listening audiences of the time and continue to work today in the context of this album.
Now we fade into a combination of mellotron and a fine John Lodge bass riff as Mike Pinder makes his first contribution to the work, “Out and In.” Perhaps the overall mood of the other pieces tempered his generally ponderous nature, for this is one of his best contributions to the group’s oeuvre. While the mellotron is a bit overdone, I do like the glides that reflect the feeling of flying freely through space, and the syncopation in the bridge is a nice variation in the rhythm. The lyrics are early New Age, but I’ll give him a pass because the overall composition is pretty strong.
Until now the future seems like a pretty nice place to hang, but things turn terrifyingly dark with “Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time).” I mean, can you imagine anything more frightening than hurtling alone through the vastness of hostile space with no idea where you are or how to get home? Justin Hayward is one of the great lyrical poets of rock, but here he conjures up imagery closer to Munch’s The Scream:
A gypsy of a strange and distant time
Traveling in panic all direction blind
Aching for the warmth of a burning sun
Freezing in the emptiness of where he’d come from.
The complex synthesis of flute, mellotron, acoustic guitar, shots of electric guitar and high-anxiety bass in the arrangement creates both the feeling of uncontrolled movement through space fueled by the dreadful anxiety in the gypsy’s soul. It’s a knockout song and a brilliant shift in tone that enriches the entire listening experience.
“Gypsy” fades into Ray Thomas’ “Eternity Road,” which feels like a pale version of “Gypsy” in terms of theme, but it’s certainly a pleasant song that blends well with the other tracks. This in turn melts into “Candle of Life,” a nice song hampered by an overwrought arrangement and lyrics that fall short of child-like to descend into childishness. “So love everybody and make them your friend” is a line that sets my teeth on edge every time I hear it. So that’s the solution to all the world’s problems! How did I miss that? Next time I see a terrorist or a rapist I’ll love them and make them my friend! That’s the spirit!
One wouldn’t usually expect Mike Pinder to come to the rescue, but he brings us back into focus with the Indian-influenced “Sun Is Still Shining.” The lyrics aren’t a vast improvement, but the swaying groove of the main passage is ab-fab and I have to give John Lodge kudos for a mesmerizing, melodic performance on the bass. We then fade into “I Never Thought I’d Live to Be a Million,” a brief thirty-four seconds of sweetly plucked acoustic guitar and Justin’s superb voice.
I am so glad he decided to return for an encore. In “Watching and Waiting,” he explores a theme he would address with greater force in “Question” on the next album: the theme of breaking through the social and cultural restrictions that exist to control and limit the human spirit. On this album, he has the freedom to imagine a future where such things are completely unnecessary . . . you can let go . . . play . . . allow yourself to become who you are without the pressure of expectations:
‘Cos here there’s lot of room for doing
The thing you’ve always been denied
Look and gather all you want to
There’s no one here to stop you trying
The lush string-like sounds of the mellotron are used with great effect here; when I hear that music, I imagine a small child gazing up into a night sky filled with stars and stardust. The sheer beauty of the music combined with Justin Hayward’s gently encouraging tone chokes me up whenever I hear it. The line, “Watching and waiting for someone to understand me” perfectly expresses not only a fundamental wish of nearly every person who has breathed life, but also the human journey described in To Our Children’s Children’s Children: the endless struggle for the greater mutual understanding that we desperately need to achieve if we are to survive.
p. s. Maman, je t’aime et je suis désolé que je dusse être un peu de pute, mais je sais que tu aimes secrètement cette partie de moi . . . à bientôt!
[…] The Moody Blues – To Our Children’s Children’s Children […]
Hadn’t listened to the old Moodies records since pruning them out of my vinyl collection in the 1970s, but after going to a Justin Hayward show this year I bought a five-pack of CDs and sat through another long listen. This is the best review of any of those recordings that I have been able to find you. Thank you for a wonderful trip through this album and your idiosyncratic history with it. And maman’s.
This music I’ve known for 40+ years, it will always be in my heart. I have a different feeling about this group, moreso than anything other group. And Justin’s voice comes from a heavenly place.
I love his voice, too, and he’s one of the most underrated guitar players ever!
Nice Review. Originally On a threshold of a dream has been my favorite of the 7 But this album has overtaken it. beautiful Album it flows like not of their other albums.
[…] I mentioned in my review of To Our Children’s Children’s Children, my mother is the Moodies fan in the family. My father and I are of the same mind: we like some of […]
Much of your review rings true for me and I have a similar love/hate relationship with the Moody Blues’ catalog. That said, even with its flaws I have a great fondness for this album. It is indeed their most coherent offering, and it’s because of that cohesion there aren’t any hit songs. The songs really have to be listened to in sequence: they hang together.
In general Graeme Edge’s poetry sucks. Higher and Higher is an exception. Perhaps more accurately it has some passable lines (one brilliant) with great music. You quote what is indeed the dodgiest, most cheesy part, but I still go along with it as it establishes an ideal. The rest of the album engages with that ideal. The line about the butterfly sneezes is the brilliant one and covers a multitude of bad poetry sins.
The falsetto doesn’t bother me, but I also listen to a lot of Bob Dylan’s most whiny and grating vocalizations without a problem. But there are limits, some Dylan I just can’t go.
Eternity Road can be seen as a weak shadow of Gypsy, but I see it a bit as a reply. The Gypsy is all alone, then in Eternity Road “you’ll see us all around”. The traveler still has his burden but is no longer alone, whether these mysterious figures merely observe or in some way guide.
I believe the line in “Candle of Life” is “So love everybody and make them YOUR friend.” And it does indeed grate. Which frustrates me no end because I love the rest of the song. I recently read an interpretation of the line as a desperate warning to latch onto anyone and everyone to avoid the deep loneliness felt by the speaker in the song. When I take it that way, it’s a little easier to down the overwrought line.
“Sun Is Still Shining” works except for “But if you want to play/ Stay right back on earth/Waiting for rebirth.” It’s not as as bad as the Love Everybody line in “Candle of Life”, but seems like he didn’t get quite the right words for what he was trying to say. Always makes me step out of the song when that chorus pops up.
“Watching and Waiting” is lovely.
The fondness I mentioned earlier started when I was ten or eleven. My brother forgot to take this album along when he went to college (1976) . I liberated it when I discovered his error. Over the next few years I listened to it frequently, as I didn’t have ANY albums of my own. The themes of opportunity, hope, alienation, doubt, regret, and loneliness all registered strongly in my pre/early teen brain.
As I’ve grown older I occasionally go back to the album and find more layers in the lyrics or I layer more of my life into the lyrics (especially “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred/Million”). And I still enjoy the soaring, then meditative, music.
The mellotron and other sixties sounds have age upon them and do seem a bit much now, but if you’re going to be over the top, exploring the universe is a good excuse.
Sorry for basically writing my own review after your review.
Forgot to mention “Floating”. Your thought on it is mine. A beautiful, joyous take on childhood.
I love alt-reviews! I will be doing some more Moodies in the future, because I want to give Justin Hayward his due (and because my mother won’t let it go).
And thanks for catching the typo! Corrected!
[…] The Moody Blues, To Our Children’s Children’s Children […]
Love your review. TOCCC is my 2nd favorite album by the Moodies (aka The Justin Hayward Band), my first being their most psychedelic: Lost Chord. Sure, there are no “hits” on TOCCC, but most of the songs are very strong, and the album has a wonderful flow to it. And I’m convinced Graeme Edge’s “10,000 butterfly sneezes” is an inside joke!
Thank you! I think it’s an inside joke, too.
[…] Classic Music Review: To Our Children’s Children’s Children by The Moody Blues (altrockchick.com) […]
I was about to jump in with both feet to argue that Ride My See-Saw is far superior, not only a much better opener, but probably, along with Lovely To See You , the Moody Blues’ best rocker, when I double checked and saw that In Search of the Lost Chord actually opens with another song, Departure, one I’d completely forgotten about. As I think back now, I believe Departure was viewed as more of an intro to Ride My See-Saw. The two mesh together without interruption. Thus my false memory.
TOCCC was never big for me. “Chord,” with See-Saw, Legend, Livingston, was more prominent. But all the early Moody’s albums were in heavy rotation back in the psychedelic time period when they were released. People who did acid in their college dorms were listening to the MB.
As usual, ARC’s compelling review made me want to drop everything and listen to TOCCC. I did go sample the songs, to jog my memory, and now remember why this album was off-putting at the time. If I had to choose a word or two to describe it I’d use hokey and overwrought. In spots it nibbles around the edges of the golden groove, but unlike See-Saw, Legend, Lovely, and a few others, never hits the motherlode.
I agree that TOCCC is lacking the big songs, which may be why I feel it’s a more unified album than the rest. Yes, the Moodies opened most of their albums with introductory tracks I could do without . . . but I will say that the transition to “Lovely to See You Again” is a very exciting one. “Lost Chord” really loses me with “Om,” another generational issue.