Letters I've Written
My father’s LP collection these days sits lost and unloved in a plastic storage container in the loft of our old family home. Which is why the last time I travelled to visit I was on a mission to rescue one disc in particular. One which I remember him owning when I was very young but whose significance I never truly appreciated until later.
My father’s musical tastes were never that extensive or even that sophisticated if I am being honest. He’d be as much likely to listen to Mantovani as Abba. Which is why this one stands out as a remarkable oasis of cool.
I'm Just A Singer...
The Moody Blues are one of those curious British acts whose stature and reputation is far greater overseas than it ever was in their home country. For sure they had a huge fanbase, and their work over the years in receipt of its fair share of respect, but you rarely hear them mentioned in dispatches as one of the most legendary acts of their era, or have their sheer career longevity spoken of in the same glowing terms as many of their contemporaries.
But here in the video which accompanied their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, you get some idea of the reverence with which they are held in the States. A huge concert draw, creators of a famous run of big hit albums. And worthy inductees.
This wouldn’t be a piece by me if it didn’t include a random piece of statistical nerdery, so let’s try this on for size. The Moody Blues are unique in American chart history. They have enjoyed three Top 10 hits on the Hot 100 during their career. One in the 1960s, one in the 1970s and one in the 1980s. Which is a feat nobody else can boast.
Their 1980s hit came during what you might view as the final phase of the group’s active career. Phase 1 was the Denny Laine-led mid-60s first incarnation. Phase 2 was their late 60s/early 70s “core seven” phase during which time they produced their most famous albums, the run stretching from Days Of Future Passed through to Seventh Sojurn.
Phase 3 began in 1977 following their three-year hiatus from performing, the departure of Mike Pinder and his Mellotron meaning the group steadily pivoted towards a more lavish, sophisticated electropop sound. This was also thanks to the influence of producer Tony Visconti and it was his work on their 1986 album The Other Side Of Life which gave the veteran performers the aforementioned final Top 10 hit single, Your Wildest Dreams hitting Number 9 in America and briefly making them in heavy demand on MTV.
Yet towards the end of this period they also came damn close to a final, valedictory UK hit single. One which as far as I am concerned is one of the great lost hits of its time.
Return Again To You
Visconti was back in the chair for the group’s thirteenth album Sur La Mer, released in June 1988. The exquisite four-piece harmonies of the past were by now a distant memory, vocals now simply handled in equal measure by Justin Hayward and John Lodge in equal measure. But buried in the tracklisting was the pop epic I Know You’re Out There Somewhere, an extraordinary piece of work that belied the group’s veteran status and sounded for all the world like an act at the peak of their powers and destined to race up the charts.
It very nearly did as well, accelerating after a slow start to become the first Top 75 single for the Moody Blues in five years. It had the occasional spin on the more adult sections of the Radio One weekend schedule but frustratingly never quite found its way onto the daytime playlists. Number 52 was the track’s eventual peak, achieved in the last week of June and it is to date the Moody Blues’ last ever British chart entry.
Was it too far-fetched to imagine it could have been a hit? Just a few months earlier their fellow late-60s contemporaries The Bee Gees topped the charts once more with brand new material. In September 1988 The Hollies returned to the top with a re-release from that same era. You cannot help but think the Moodies missed out by a whisker. We might have been talking about their famous final hurrah, rather than lamenting just what might have been. And then we might also have been able to talk of them in terms of being one of the more legendary acts of their era, spanning the generations effortlessly. Instead, they just remain the guys who did Nights In White Satin. Which isn't even the best track on Days Of Future Passed.