When the Moody Blues Found Their ‘Lost Chord’

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The Moody Blues—originally the R&B/pop group that produced the top 10 hit “Go Now”—took a big leap with November 1967’s Days of Future Passed, an ambitious concept album that they made in collaboration with a full orchestra. Eight months later, they took another jump with In Search of the Lost Chord: perhaps realizing that touring with an orchestra wasn’t practical, they replaced it with Mellotrons played by members Mike Pinder and Justin Hayward, not to mention everything from flutes, saxes and harpsichords to cellos, sitars and tablas. “Although we’d used an orchestra on the previous record, we all felt that we should be self-reliant with our next work,” the group’s John Lodge later said. “So if we wanted to use a particular instrument on a track, one of us would figure out how to play it.”

The resulting album—which, like its predecessor, has been expanded into a lavish 50th anniversary set—didn’t sit any better with the critics than Days of Future Passed. Rolling Stone (no fan of the group in general) ultimately gave it one-and-a-half stars, where two stars mean recordings that “are failures” and one star signifies LPs that are “wastes of vital resources” that should interest “only masochists.”

What can you say? Maybe that half a century later,  the Moodys have sold 70 million records, are (finally) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and remain popular enough to have prompted the release of this anniversary box. That said, the critics got one thing right: some of the lyrics on this concept album—which focuses on spiritual and philosophical concerns—sound dated or downright puerile. But the lion’s share of the music holds up.

Related: We look back at Days of Future Passed

Let’s first address the stoned elephant in the room: if ever the Moodys made an LSD album, this was it. You don’t have to venture beyond the opening lines of the first track to sense that the drug has taken effect: the album begins with a spoken bit about “the sight of a touch or the scent of a sound” that dissolves into stoned laughter. By the second number, the Moodys are inviting you to “take this trip” and, in case you still haven’t caught on by the fifth track (“Legend of a Mind”), it pays tribute to Timothy Leary. (“He’ll take you up, he’ll bring you down…He flies so high, he swoops so low…he’ll bring you back the same day.”)

Moody Blues in the late ’60s

The lyrics, which contain references to mysticism and meditation as well as to drugs, sometimes border on the incomprehensible, such as in “The Word,” which offers these spoken lines: “This garden universe vibrates complete/Some, we get a sound so sweet/Vibrations reach on up to become light/And then through gamma, out of sight/…To know ultraviolet, infrared, and X-rays/Beauty to find in so many ways.” Verse like that will transport you back to 1968, leave you scratching your head, or both.

The good news, as noted earlier, is that much of the music is excellent. There are a few brief throwaways, such as the spoken “Departure” and “The Word” as well as “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume.” But Justin Hayward’s vocals on songs like the lilting “Voices in the Sky” are as captivating as his work on the earlier “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin.” The catchy, well-constructed “Legend of a Mind,” another standout, features a great flute-spiced instrumental interlude, and the two-part “House of Four Doors” is strong as well.

Songs like these sound better than ever on the album’s new 50th anniversary edition, which contains three CDs, two DVDs and a 76-page book that features notes, credits, period concert reviews, lyrics and photos of the group and assorted memorabilia. The CDs deliver a remastered version of the original album mix, a punchier new mix and a host of other goodies. Among them: five period singles (four versions of tracks from the LP, plus a Pinder B-side called “A Simple Game” that the Four Tops, of all people, later covered); a mono mix of “Legend of a Mind”; BBC Radio One live versions of four tracks from the album and “Tuesday Afternoon”; and alternate mixes of six songs.

Also here are several numbers from the Lost Chord sessions that remained unavailable until they were tacked onto a concert release, 1977’s Caught Live + Five: “King and Queen,” one of the Moodys’ most beautiful early creations; the antiwar “What Am I Doing Here”; and “Gimme a Little Something.”

The DVDs offer perhaps the strongest enticement for owners of the 1968 album to upgrade. One offers color and black-and-white videos, from BBC-TV and elsewhere, of seven of Lost Chord’s songs, plus four others, including “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin.” The audio-only other DVD, meanwhile, features a high-resolution 5.1 mix of the original record. Especially if you’ve been listening to this music on a scratchy vinyl LP for the last 50 years, you’re bound to find the surround-sound version to be, um, a real trip.

Listen to the classic “Ride My See-Saw,” a minor hit from the album but long a fan favorite

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  1. Brian
    #1 Brian 27 December, 2018, 01:27

    The reviewer must not have listened closely to Disc 4 (5.1 mix). Did he notice that the “spuknik” sound at the end of The Best Way to Travel was missing? Instead, in the surround channels you can hear Mike Pinder singing a verse of the song. By the third line, it is out of time with the rest of the music.

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  2. Brian
    #2 Brian 27 December, 2018, 01:29

    Another problem. On Disc 2, the Problem with The Best way to travel is repeated, as disc 2 is a 5.1 to stereo reduction mix. Also, Voices in the Sky is in Mono on Disc 2. Did the Moodies review this product before Universal put it out? I don’t think so.

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  3. John Rose
    #3 John Rose 24 October, 2019, 12:03

    I never thought of “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume” as any sort of throwaway. It is whimsical, and perhaps for that reason isn’t always taken very seriously. But it fits into the concept of the record as a whole. The album is a journey, as implied by the title. Among English schoolboys in the 1940’s and 50’s, the most well-known explorers would be the ill-fated David Livingstone, the equally ill-fated Robert Scott, and, for what he’s worth today, Christopher Columbus — all of whom are namechecked in the song — and none of whom actually found what they set out to discover. The song’s refrain of “we’re all looking for something” is something of a universal truth. The song points out that even these famous people — and by implication many others — are always in search of something bigger than themselves. Eventually the album seems to deliver the listener to the destination in the last 3 tracks, but “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume” is an essential step along the way.

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