Recommended Albums #84

The Moody Blues: Caught Live +5 (1977)

On this strange hybrid release, issued shortly before the Moody Blues reunited for their 1978 Octave album, 14 of the 19 tracks are from a December 1969 show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The remaining five were previously unreleased studio recordings from 1967 and ’68.

The late-60’s Moodies simply couldn’t duplicate their complex, layered studio recordings in a live setting, Justin Hayward couldn’t play an acoustic guitar and electric at the same time. Later-era live releases such as A Night at Red Rocks more successfully did justice to the band’s symphonic sound.

But this 1969 show, recorded on a night when the band has admitted they were uh, high, is not exactly their crowning achievement.

What we’re concerned with here is the +5, the primary reason for a fan of the classic-era band to welcome this album, as I did in 1977.

The newly-reunited Moodies were about to embark on a new phase, in which Mellotron maestro Mike Pinder would only stick around long enough to record the Octave album. This new era would see the band’s sound “updated” first with ill-fitting saxophone, then later with the synthetic sounds of keyboardist Patrick Moraz bleeping, whirring and whizzing all over the next couple decades of Moody Blues music.

What contemporized their music and made it 80’s radio friendly–I mean it’s hard to argue with a number 1 album–seems like artistic desecration in retrospect. The Moody Blues aren’t supposed to sound current. At their best, they sounded like a band removed from time. Timeless.

A band that recorded with flute, harpsichord, cello, harp and, oh yeah a full orchestra wasn’t exactly trying to sound contemporary in the late 60’s.

At any rate, a year before before Octave–before the band made their artistic deal with the devil and began to slip into the slide zone–we got one last taste of the sound that defined them at their peak, by way of the belatedly-released “+5”.

Though there’s no “Nights in White Satin” among the studio tracks, all five songs (one each by Pinder and bassist John Lodge and three by Justin Hayward) are keepers. In fact, if the “+5” were “+10” it would make for an album worthy even of this band’s artistic peak.

Poppy and relatively succinct (none exceeds four minutes) most of these songs feature Lodge’s arcing falsetto crowning the layered vocal harmonies, drummer Graeme Edge adding the thunder of ominous timpani or stashing interesting fills into corners, Justin Hayward’s signature lead vocals and of course Mike Pinder’s mellotron, which more than any other single element gave classic Moody Blues music that mystical fairytale atmosphere.

If you liked “Voices in the Sky” from In Search of the Lost Chord, you’ll like “Gimme a Little Somethin'”, which combines Justin Hayward’s plaintive lead vocal, tasty Ray Thomas flute, Graeme Edge’s propulsive percussion, all underpinned by Mike Pindar’s mellotron, and ornamented by the aforementioned falsetto by Lodge, whose inventive bass playing is here, as always, the most overlooked aspect of this band’s sublime mix.

Pinder’s “Please Think About It” harkens to the band’s Denny Laine-fronted “Go Now” period–before Hayward and Lodge came on board–with Pinder playing a bluesy piano rather than mellotron.

But with Lodge again painting the ceiling with ethereal high notes above angelic harmonies, a trademark of the post-Laine period, the song bridges eras.

Hayward’s “Long Summer Days” sounds like it could have been a radio hit in 1967 and indeed was intended for single release that year. It actually predates the band’s landmark Days of Future Passed LP and is one of the first songs recorded with the band’s two “new” members, Hayward and Lodge.

“King and Queen” and “What Am I Doing Here” both date from 1968, and their lack of inclusion on the band’s In Search of the Lost Chord album illustrates just how many great songs Justin Hayward was churning out at the time.

Perhaps they were deemed not to fit the concept of the album, and it’s hard to argue with the choices of “Voices in the Sky”, “Visions of Paradise” and “The Actor”, the three Hayward songs that album did feature. Still, this pair of ’68 outtakes are both superb songs.

Lodge’s bass playing on “King and Queen” is inspired. The song is structured like Hayward’s great “Never Comes the Day”, beginning quietly and building in intensity as it progresses to a rousing chorus.

“What Am I Doing Here” inspires visions of Tolkien fantasy and indeed there are fan-made videos for this song on YouTube that connect the worlds of LOTR and the Moodies quite poignantly. Again Hayward’s wistful, melancholy lead vocal in the verses is complemented by Lodge’s eerie falsetto in the chorus.

This is the spellbinding sound of the Moody Blues on top of their creative, progressive game. Their brand of prog wasn’t about tricky time signatures, 16-minute songs, or even instrumental prowess. It was all about atmosphere and sonic beauty.

The five studio recordings from Caught Live +5 are not near the top of any Moody Blues streaming playlist. Released as they were, a decade late and tacked onto a live album, they were fated to be overlooked even by hardcore fans.

Then again, if you’re new to the band’s classic period, or looking for a deeper dive, these songs aren’t a bad place to start.

Random trivia: Caught Live +5 was one of the few 8-track tapes which maintained the exact playing order of the vinyl record, with no song breaks.

Listen to: “Gimme a Little Somethin'”

Listen to: “Please Think About It

Listen to: “Long Summer Days”

Listen to: “King and Queen”

Listen to: “What Am I Doing Here?”

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