There’s a new series of The Crown starting soon so a few weeks ago I thought I’d watch every episode again. It’s really very good – it’s a family drama, brilliantly acted, the sets are incredible and it’s really interesting social history. It may not be factually one hundred percent accurate but it does give an insight into the overwhelming sense of duty which pervades everything that the Royal Family does. I hadn’t realised the significance of the Suez crisis, not had I appreciated the horror of the Aberfan disaster. Yesterday I watched an episode in which The Duke Of Edinburgh is having a midlife crisis. It is the time of the moon landings in 1969 and he is bored by his role (presenting awards, visiting factories etc.) – he considers himself a man of action and talking about his feelings is exactly what he has been conditioned to avoid. He is jealous of the three astronauts because they have done something incredible and when he has the opportunity to meet them at Buckingham Palace he is nervous and excited. However, the anticipation of the meeting was more fulfilling than the reality as they fail to give him any insights into the meaning of life. He finally achieves peace by talking to some clergymen at the newly formed St George’s House in the grounds of Windsor Castle. Tobias Menzies gives a great performance – when he first goes to St. George’s House, he tells the clergy that he has “never heard such a load of pretentious, self-piteous nonsense” but by the end of the episode, he is talking to the newly appointed Dean and establishing the St. George’s House organisation which is a retreat for thinkers from different aspects of British society. Their website states that “It is a place where people from right across society who are in a position to make a difference might gather together to grapple with issues pertinent to our contemporary world. The House thrives on debate, discussion and dialogue as a way of nurturing wisdom which can be put to use in the wider world.” Which can only be a good thing, in my humble opinion.
I remember watching the moon landing and the first lunar walks. I remember watching all the Apollo missions from Apollo 8 onwards. I clearly remember the crew of Apollo 8 reading from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Day 1968 just before we set off, as a family, to the Northern most reaches of London from Kent to celebrate with my Dad’s three sisters. In 1968 and 1969, anything seemed possible. A peaceful revolution was in the air. It was the Sixties. One ground breaking event after another. The moon landings were just another move forward for humanity.
“To Our Children’s Children’s Children” was recorded between May and September 1969 and the moon landing was in July. The whole album is concerned with space travel, discovery and a better future for the human race. In order to create a dramatic opening sequence for the album, The Moody Blues contacted NASA and asked them for a recording of a Saturn rocket at lift off. However, when it arrived “it sounded like a damp squib” according to bass guitarist, John Lodge so they created their own effect.
In times of anxiety and worry, it’s nice to escape back to a simpler past where absurdity and pretentiousness were prevalent. The first track on this album “Higher And Higher” is a spoken poem with a very exciting lead guitar, frenetic pace and a deadly serious delivery. “Blasting, billowing, bursting forth with the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes. Man with his flaming pyre has conquered the wayward breezes. Climbing to tranquility, far above the cloud. Conceiving the heavens, clear of misty shroud”. Yes, indeed.
By 1969, I was fed up waiting for The Beatles new album to arrive and when “Abbey Road” finally arrived, I didn’t buy it. I had moved on to the second and third Moody Blues albums but after this album was released, I moved on to Van Morrison, Colosseum, Yes and Van Der Graaf Generator. I didn’t especially like it at the time but now, I think it’s fantastic. Within a few years I had sold all my Moody Blues albums in order to buy albums by The Eagles and Jackson Browne. Forty years later, I bought this CD and it is a comfort today to hear the soaring harmonies, the overblown mellotron, ridiculous lyrics and the ostentatious playing.
“The Eyes Of A Child” appears in part one (the second track on side one) and part two (the fourth track on side one), separated by a song written by Ray Thomas called “Floating” which includes lyrics such as “Floating free as a bird. Sixty foot leaps it’s so absurd. From up here you should see the view. Such a lot of space for me and you.” There’s a singalong chorus and if I’d never heard it before, it would be switched off within a couple of milliseconds. Now it’s as comforting as hearing “I’m A Gnu” from “Uncle Mac’s Children’s Favourites”.
“Eyes Of A Child”, written by John Lodge, describes the view on a journey into space as Earth disappears in the distance. The optimism is lovely. “With the eyes of a child you must come out and see that your world’s spinning ’round and through life you will be a small part of a hope of a love that exists. In the eyes of a child you will see.” As with the first song, the music is upbeat and is great progressive rock music with good lead guitar (and, obviously, flute and mellotron).
The last two tracks on Side One are the instrumental “Beyond” which, according to the sleevenotes, pushes a “Mark II Mellotron to its limits” and a lovely ballad called “Out And In”, written by Mike Pinder, which is more typical of The Moody Blues – swooping mellotron, restrained guitar, mellow vocals and lyrics such as “Gazing past the planets. Looking for total view.”
Side Two is less piecemeal with five strong songs. “Gypsy” starts with a flute, mellotron and some good electric guitar work. Justin Hayward wrote the song and sings it powerfully. It’s a bit of a nod to “Space Oddity” as he sings of a traveller who is lost in space, freezing in the emptiness, yearning for the warmth of a sun and “left without a hope of coming home.”
“Eternity Road” (another Ray Thomas song) describes the traveller from the previous song, searching for peace of mind (as well as a lost chord, I guess). There’s a great guitar solo from Justin Hayward.
“Candle Of Life” urges us to love everybody and make everyone our friend. This is what I mean about indulging in fantasy nonsense from my childhood. I still believe that we should love everybody and make everyone our friend. I don’t care that within a few years I was listening to a song about sitting in a park in Paris and bemoaning the fact that giving peace a chance was just a dream that some of us had.
“Sun Is Still Shining” extends this optimism, suggesting that everything can be better. the sun is shining and we should open our hearts. We are all part of the same universe.
“Nights In White Satin” had been a big hit for The Moody Blues and Justin Hayward was challenged to write another song as good. He felt that “Watching And Waiting” was one of his best songs and the group were certain that it would be a hit. However, the single failed to chart on its release. It was (and still is) unusual to put the most commercial and immediate song at the end of Side Two. Thematically, it makes sense to place it at the end because I interpret this as our traveller finding new life at the extreme ends of the universe. “Here there’s lots of room for doing the things you’ve always been denied. So look and gather all you want to There’s no one here to stop you trying.” Sounds like Trump supporters taking the law into their own hands. Damn! I wasn’t going to mention the election.
Today sees the introduction of the new search facility on this blog. You can search for album titles or artists or see how many times I’ve used the word “fantastic” or “misery”.