In the mid-1960s, The Moody Blues released a series of experimental concept albums that defined psychedelic art rock. For their sixth album the group needed a new batch of songs that could be performed live more easily, so they sought to streamline their sound and get “back to basics” on 1970’s A Question of Balance. But “back to basics” is a relative term for The Moodies, who the year before had released a concept album about the moon landing called To Our Children’s Children’s Children. Considering that Children’s was the latest in a series that had started with the classic Days of Future Passed (1967), it was unlikely that the band would somehow pivot to Let It Bleed overnight.
But A Question of Balance was nonetheless a radical departure for The Moody Blues, and it is a deeply satisfying listening experience that focuses on top-notch songwriting and tight performances. The patented studio psychedelia of The Moodies and producer Tony Clarke is certainly present but considerably restrained, adding the perfect amount of depth and color to enhance the band’s performances without overpowering them. Lyrically the album continues to explore dramatic territory, with all five band members offering rich social commentary about the plight of mankind and the universe. Many of these themes are frighteningly relevant 47 years later, but there are also glimmers of hope and a good amount of soul-searching and introspection.
The album kicks off with “Question,” a magnificent Justin Hayward composition that veers from pounding rocker to tender ballad and back again. With a driving rhythm track — astonishingly nailed by the band in a single take — and a soaring orchestral arrangement, this song has become one of The Moodies’ most popular tunes and sets the tone for the album as a whole: epic and grand in its scope, but also efficient and engaging. Tracks like “Tortoise and the Hare,” “Dawning Is The Day,” and “Don’t You Feel Small” are steered by a tough Moodies rhythm section fueled by the orchestral/mellotron wind in their sails.
“Balance” is indeed the key word for this album. Although many of the lyrics present a darker view of humanity (“Will they save us in the end, we’re trembling on the brink…” and “Look at progress, then count the cost, we’ll spoil the seas with the rivers we’ve lost…,” etc.), The Moodies are still grasping for sunny ‘60s optimism (“Everywhere love is all around…,” “I’m looking for a miracle in my life…”). The last two songs on AQOB perhaps demonstrate this dichotomy the best. “Melancholy Man” is a slow-building dirge about a “life caught up in misery,” drenched in dark reverb and punctuated by thick synthesizers. But it is immediately followed by the album’s emotional closer, “The Balance,” which features a spoken narration about a man finding inner peace through compassion. The poetry is inspiring and never pretentious, and the entire piece is surprisingly moving.
Though the band were already highly regarded by fans and critics alike, A Question of Balance nevertheless proved to be a turning point for The Moody Blues as they went on to become one of the premiere live acts of their generation. They also continued their ambitious recording career (apart from a brief hiatus in the mid ’70s) that has allowed them to become, in hindsight, an important bridge between the early ‘60s beat-group-with-vocal-harmonies sound (Beatles/Hollies/Zombies) and the heady, textural soundscapes of Pink Floyd. This year The Moody Blues are touring to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Days of Future Passed, the landmark LP that put them on the map. But in many ways, AQOB was their true game-changer.
PS. You may also enjoy our posts on concept albums you may have missed and readers’ favorite concept albums. Plus, check out Take an “Odessey” With The Zombies and Making a Personal Connection to Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut.”
Photo courtesy of Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989.
I’ve been a Moody Blues fan since I heard them for the first time in 1969 when I was introduced to them. Ever since my fav album has been ‘To Our Childrens, Childrens Children and have bought all of their albums in LPs and then to CD. Love their way of using poetry and strings to put their songs to begin to open and I just really thought I’d see them inducted to the Rock Hall of Fame in my lifetime and their’s. I’ve been so happy to say I’ve seen them for 4 times here where I live in Dallas, TX. Excellent
Shame on the R&R Hall Deborah!!
Why are they not in the R&R Hall? For the directors of the hall in Cleveland…..SHAME on you. These guys are in their 70s and should be recognized before they depart this life!
Gopod book on their work – see
Yes they should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame absolutely. One of the first times I ever had that was handed down to me I believe was Every Good Boy Deserves favour. The story in your eyes is a masterpiece and influence to me greatly as I grew up to be a musician.
The Moody Blues is one of the finest bands of all time and should have been inducted many years ago. Their body of excellent work is huge; the variety of their work is considerable; the quality of their work is outstanding. Sure, their songs didn’t often get to the top of the charts, but that’s also true for many inductees.
More importantly, who will remember, or care about, songs such as “Cum on Feel the Noize” in 20 years, as opposed to “Nights in White Satin” and “The Story in Your Eyes” (as Michael mentions above), which are timeless, beautiful songs that will be remembered for generations. The Moody’s music was more complex and sophisticated — typical of art-rock — not mindlessly repetitive, pounding, and mind-numbing, such as dance music. You can enjoy it in the background or listen carefully and marvel at the genius behind it.
Don’t accuse me of being some uppity art-rock snob either. Although I love that music, along with progressive rock, I also love Black Sabbath, Cream, early Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, early Santana, Whitesnake, Van Halen, Deep Purple, AC/DC, and many other bands. And, I like very little classical music.
Does this not prove the point that the Moody Blues is a Rock and Roll band, even though they don’t sound like the Rolling Stones? Rock and Roll is a big tent, and with artists always experimenting, that tent is always expanding. We should neither be excluding certain genres from the Hall of Fame merely because they don’t sit in the middle of that tent, nor excluding bands because their member’s genius may make other inductees feel small in comparison.