Tuesday, August 04, 2009

"Tuesday Afternoon" / The Moody Blues

I never gave the Moody Blues a chance, I'll admit it. When Days of Future Passed came out in 1967, my older brother and his friends couldn't stop talking about how it was the greatest album ever -- and I shut my mind tight like a steel trap. Maybe I was too young to get it (translation: too young to be taking the drugs you'd need), or maybe I was just unwilling to admit that my darling Beatles could be bypassed by more experimental bands. "Nights in White Satin" seemed humorless and pompous to me.

Of course, now when I hear "Nights in White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon," I'm totally manipulated by their rich swirl of sound -- it puts me straight back into the crazy soup of 1968. So when a friend gave me the soundtrack to the period film Bobby, this track wound up on my iPod. What's the harm in having a 1968 flashback every once in a while?

The trouble is . . . I don't think I ever listened properly to the lyrics. The other night I finally did -- and they are silly. Oh, not over-the-top silly, just wet-behind-the-ears silly. The setting is vaguely pastoral (emphasis on vague): "Tuesday afternoon," he begins -- that's specific, good so far. But then it gets lost: "I'm just beginning to see" (see what?) "Now I'm on my way" (way WHERE?) "It doesn't matter to me" (WHAT doesn't matter to you?) "Chasing the clouds away" (Who is chasing the clouds away -- and how?).

I know, I know, I'm being picky. These words should be listened to in the spirit intended, which is a questing heart on a journey of personal discovery. There should be a sense of mystery to it, a feeling of being on the verge of something momentous. "Something / Calls to me," he announces in verse two. "The trees are drawing me near" -- a visual image at last! But then Justin Hayward's vocal starts to go histrionic, with an urgent little slide: "Got to find out why / Those gentle voices I hear / Explain it all with a sigh." I suppose the gentle voices could be the wind, or some generalized murmur of nature, but I'm sorry, all I can imagine is overhearing a bunch of dippy hippies sitting in a grove mumbling about their mind-blowing philosophies.

Then the abrupt change of pace in the bridge perks me up for a moment; the song morphs suddenly into a jazzy shuffle, leaving behind the dreamy aural tapestry of the verse. Dare I hope for a thematic development? The singer for a moment seems to have a little more perspective: "I'm looking at myself, reflections of my mind / It's just the kind of day to leave myself behind." But despite the different tempo, there's no dramatic shift in the bridge, just more of the same hazy imagery: "So gently swaying through the fairyland of love, / If you'll just come with me and see the beauty of / Tuesday afternoon." And here comes the warbly synthesizers again -- watch out!

These lyrics aren't fatally bad, really. The Moody Blues could have gotten away with it if they'd done the song in a simple, folky style, like Donovan in his flower-child period, or even early Cat Stevens. But no, they had to layer on all those synthesizers and flutes and crashing cymbals etc. (That reedy waver in Hayward's voice doesn't help, either -- nowadays a producer would have done something to steady and fill out those vocals.) After all, that was their sound; lose that, and it wouldn't hardly be the Moody Blues. But the self-importance of that big dense sound promises so much more than the words deliver.

There are plenty of other reasons to dig this song. The Moody Blues pushed the frontiers of rock music, no question about it; the complex textures of this song, the instrumentation, the dense production, were all incredibly persuasive. I am, however, gratified to know that I never did believe in this band, not really. If I had, would I be able to pick this song apart like this?

Tuesday Afternoon sample


Anonymous said...

The Moody Blues were one of the first bands i was really into as a teenager. I have to say that this particular criticism re their lyrics never entered my mind. Now that you mention it, though... i guess you're right. Days of Future Passed was kind of a (very) loose concept album and the lyrics (fittingly?) match the weakness of the concept. I wouldn't say this applies to their lyrics, overall, though.

Holly A Hughes said...

I guess it just proves that everybody finds the music that matches their own predilections. I'm a lyrics person, so any band that didn't shine in that area hadn't a hope of winning me as a fan.

Having said that, who can explain my Paul McCartney addiction?

Anonymous said...

You have to cut them some slack on "Days of Future Passed". Their label wanted a record that showed the wonders of STEREO, (new at the time), and had considered having them do a rock version of Dvořák's New World Symphony. Instead they were allowed to go with the concept of 'a day in the life' of 'every man'.
Justin Hayward has said that the notes he sings for "Tuesday" mimic the way he used to call his dog, who was named, (you guessed it) Tuesday.
But I have to say I've always loved the album.
And that title: "Days of Future Passed" - suggests a little bit of time travel, doesn't it?
Well here's another clue for you all -
that very thing - time travel - has everything to do with your Paul McCartney addiction, I suspect. Some day when you're dreaming
deep in love; not a lot to say
Then you will remember
Things I said today ;-)