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Monday, January 1, 2018

Dr. Wesley Britton and Star Trek Fan Reviews Moody Blues

Long Distance Voyagers: The Story of the Moody Blues 1965-1979
Author: Marc Cushman
Hardcover: 810 pages
Publisher: Jacob Brown Media Group; Unabridged edition (January 15, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0998866393
ISBN-13: 978-0998866390

Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton Originally for BookPleasures.com

I’ve begun most of my reviews of Marc Cushman’s exhaustive studies of his various subjects noting his propensity for TMI. Comparatively speaking, I wasn’t hit over the head with quite as much detail in his new history of the Moody Blues.  I think that’s because his indispensable three volume exploration of Star Trek (These are the Voyages) and then   his massive Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space series provided everything any fan would want about each and every nook and cranny of every televised episode of those shows.      For a rock band, there’s no need to delve into so many supporting cast players, script writers, production details, media reviews etc. etc.

Still, 800 pages, including around 100 or so full of research notes and other back-matter, makes for a hefty tome. But for Moody Blues fans who’ve had a 50 year drought waiting for a full-length appreciation of this often neglected but significant group, there’s really nothing to complain about. Especially when potential readers learn the first edition is also a limited edition with a somewhat slimmer mass-market paperback version scheduled for later in 2018.

Appropriately, Cushman devotes about 100 pages to the  “Mark One” incarnation of the band that included Denny Laine (vocals, guitar) and Clint Warwick (bass) along with mainstays Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals), Graeme Edge (drums) and Ray Thomas (vocals, harmonica, woodwinds.) For most of us, this was a band largely remembered as a one-hit wonder for the single, “Go Now.” But did you know of the many close associations this band had with The Beatles including having Brian Epstein managing the Moodies during his final year? Readers will also learn, likely more than they wanted to know, about the rock scene in the early ‘60s in British towns like Birmingham, especially all those groups who were only local favorites.  

Then, we have a detailed history of the “Mark Two” incarnation of the band without Laine or Warwick who had been replaced by Justin Hayward (guitar, vocals) and John Lodge (bass, vocals). Everything about the Moody Blues sound completely changed, notably Pinder’s use of the mellotron (an instrument Pinder introduced to the Beatles during their Sgt. Pepper period) giving the group an orchestral sound first heard on the concept album, Days of Future Passed, and the hits “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.” We learn about a rich investor named Derek McCormick who saw the Moody Blues as a wise investment and pumped in a much needed shot of cash while becoming their troublesome manager.   We also learn about the contributions of long-time producer, Tony Clarke and cover artist, Phil Travers.
For the bulk of the next three hundred pages or so, we get a very itemized analysis of the seven most important Moody Blues albums from Days of Future Passed (1967)  to Seventh Sojourn (1972). Here, the TMI material is clearly the many notes on chart positions not only internationally but in local U.S. markets.     Here, Cushman has a point to make, that national rankings in publications like Billboardor Cashbox didn’t always reflect how successful singles or albums were in more regional markets. Here, readers might see other matters that might be trimmed as with all the notes on tour dates and warm-up bands as well as repetitive contemporary reviews, even if they contribute to the cultural contexts the Moodies flourished in. In fact, perhaps 50% of the text in these sections is long strings of review reprints that might be better posted at a companion website rather in the book’s text.

Seventh Sojourn might have been a logical stopping point for a good volume one.  No, Cushman carries on with the Moodies discussing their unhappy first American tour, the formation and dissolution of Threshold Records, their responses to the many charges of “pretentiousness,” their hiatus in the ‘70s, the career of Denny Laine in Wings,  the Hayward/Lodge Blue Jays and other solo projects, the reunion of Octave (1978), the departure of Pinder and the introduction of his replacement, Patrick Moraz. Any wonder the book goes to 800 pages?

Despite the length, I think every serious Moody Blues fan will want this one.  Pretty much every fan of ‘60s and ‘70s music will want this one as well, especially as nearly every page presents information not readily available elsewhere.  More casual readers may prefer to wait for the edited version.  You don’t need to. The book is easily skimmed. And it’s a serious pleasure to read the story of a band that was all about the music with minimal personal conflicts or musical turf wars.  That was, and is, a rare thing.


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