The flautist and founding Moody Blues member Ray Thomas died on January 4th at age 76. He had been ill for some time [he had inoperable prostate cancer], so his death wasn’t unexpected [unlike other from the rock world the past couple of years], but that doesn’t make it any less sad. But after I heard of his passing, as is my wont I went back to the music. Instead of going back to the beginning, I went to my favorite Moody Blues album, Seventh Sojourn [released November 10, 1972 – the day I turned 10!]. The name is somewhat deceiving as this was the eighth album the Moody Blues released. It happens to be the seventh album released with this group of people [Justin Hayward (guitar), John Lodge (bass), Ray Thomas (flute/sax/harmonica), Mike Pinder (keyboards), and Graeme Edge (drums)]. Beginning with Days of Future Passed in 1967, the group did seven classic albums in five years, with supporting tours between them. Five straight years on the album-tour-album treadmill could and did get exhausting. Deep Purple was on a similar mind-frying schedule, and by the time they made Who Do We Think We Are in 1973, the band’s fatigue was obvious. Seventh Sojourn doesn’t exhibit the burnout shown by Deep Purple, but to be fair to Deep Purple the music of the Moody Blues was never as hard-driving as that of Deep Purple. In retrospect however, Seventh Sojourn does close a chapter though they probably didn’t know it at the time. There was a small [but not insignificant change] between Seventh Sojourn and the albums that came before it.
Lost in a Lost World [Pinder] - The lead-off song, Lost in a Lost World, is the first indication of change. The ubiquitous Mellotron was replaced by the Chamberlin. Both keyboard instruments are similar, but the Chamberlin was a more-reliable instrument. It didn’t break down in mid-performance like the Mellotron, it sounds a little different, but just enough to be noticeable. During either 1985 or 1986, I was making my monthly three-hour drive up to Fort Collins to see Carol. After I got past Denver I was in range of Boulder’s KBCO. That’s when I first heard Lost in a Lost World. This song was different than other Moody Blues songs that I could remember at the time. Instead of being hopeful, this one was full of despair. Mike Pinder wrote this one. His music, which is heavily Chamberlin-centric, conveyed the same mood as that of the vocals – despair. But the word that always comes to mind when I think of the music in this piece is “apocalyptic”. Lost in a Lost World is a dark piece, and a powerful one at that. It is a compelling listen. Once you hear it, you won’t forget it. I didn’t… The remastered CD has Pinder’s demo. It’s very good without the vocals.
New Horizons [Hayward] – Here’s what you’d expect from the Moody Blues – dreamy atmosphere, good guitar solos, and excellent vocals from Justin Hayward.
For My Lady [Thomas] – When I saw the Moody Blues with the Virginia Symphony in 1994/95-ish, Justin Hayward introduced this song by Ray Thomas as a “beautiful song”. Those in the know knew immediately which song he was talking about. This was only one of two lead vocals Ray Thomas sang that night. Since he didn’t sing lead that much, he was hailed like a conquering hero. The song is like a romantic sea chanty. Justin Hayward was right – it is a beautiful song. This is his only songwriting contribution to Seventh Sojourn. The one song that Ray Thomas wrote that is better than this one is Legend of a Mind.
Isn’t Life Strange [Lodge] – A strong ballad that is probably two minutes longer than it needs to, and at 6:10, this is the short version. The remastered CD includes the full version with a two- minute instrumental break. Back in the days of vinyl, this song came at the end of Side 1, making it a fairly strong side. Side 2 wasn’t as strong.
You and Me [Hayward/Edge] – This song begins Side 2. A good beginning, musically this sounds like a cross-between Lovely to See You and Question. Lyrically it references Vietnam with the first line “There's a leafless tree in Asia”…
The Land of Make-Believe [Hayward] – This song is an ode to peace, love, and hippie shit. Not bad, but not essential either. This song and the one that follows is a bit of a lull. I would classify this and When You're a Free Man as “filler.” They aren’t horrendous filler – they just aren’t very interesting.
When You're a Free Man [Pinder] – More peace, love, and hippie shit. Let's be God's Children ... And live in Perfect Peace…It is the second Moody Blues song with Timothy Leary in mind. He isn’t mentioned by name, though his wife Rosemary and their children are. The song addresses Timothy Leary’s self-imposed exile to Algeria and Switzerland to escape US justice for various drug offences –
You left your country for peace of mind
And something tells me you're doin' alright
How are the children and Rosemarie?
I long to see you and be in your company
I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band) [Lodge] – For many who saw the Moody Blues as truth-seeking gurus dispensing all kinds of knowledge about the meaning of life, John Lodge had a simple message for them – “don’t ask me because I’m just a singer.” This is a great song, by far the one with the fastest tempo of the eight songs on the album.
Island [Hayward] – There was an aborted follow-up to Seventh Sojourn. This song from that aborted album that’s included on the remastered re-release. I like it. It fits well with the rest of the Seventh Sojourn material.
When I saw the band with the orchestra, they played half of this album [New Horizons, For My Lady, Isn’t Life Strange, and I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)]. In the absence of Mike Pinder’s keyboards, these songs worked very well with the orchestra.
After this album and the year-long tour that followed, the Moody Blues went on hiatus until 1978. Seventh Sojourn capped a run of seven successful albums in five years. The album they recorded after their hiatus [Octave] was very underwhelming. The true comeback came in 1981 with Long Distance Voyager [Mike Pinder left the band before they finished Octave]. If you have the chance to get Seventh Sojourn, do it!