Proto-prog is the first wave of British progressive rock musicians who branched from psychedelia … that slightly predates the full-fledged prog era. Progressive rock evolved from … a strain of classical/symphonic rock led by the Nice (Keith Emerson’s band – ME), Procol Harum, and the Moody Blues. Proto-prog musicians harnessed modern classical and other genres usually outside of traditional rock influences, longer and more complicated compositions, interconnected songs as medley, and studio composition.
When the Moody Blues released their first single, “Go Now,” in 1964, they seemed like pretty much every other British Invasion band. It was a good song, well-played, well-sung (by Denny Laine who later joined Wings) which still holds up today. (Historical note – This song was originally written for and recorded by an American R&B artist named Bessie Banks. It was supposed to be her big breakthrough but the Moodies version clobbered it.)
By 1967, the Moodies had shifted gears and started going in the direction of early progressive or symphonic rock. They hit it big with an album called Days of Future Passed and its still popular song, “Nights In White Satin.” (Never really been a fan of that one, actually. Seems a bit overwrought.)
But that album was the first of what the Moody Blues fans consider their “core” or classic seven. (Days of Future Passed, In Search of the Lost Chord, On the Threshold of a Dream, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, A Question of Balance, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Seventh Sojourn.) These were all released between 1967 and 1972 or what one might refer to as the magic years for the number of great albums released.
But I want to focus here on To Our Children’s Children’s Children which was released in November of 1969. I’m pretty sure what got me thinking about the Moodies was when I posted about Justin Hayward’s rendition of “Forever Autumn.” Because until the other day, I had not listened to this album in years.
And I want to say that I found it every bit as enjoyable as I remember it being when I used to listen to it all the time. It is a lush, melodic concept album about space travel, bouncing around the moon and ultimately, isolation. The date of release is significant as it is only a couple of months after the US landed on the moon and one year after 2001: A Space Odyssey. I hear both influences in it.
In fact, if I were to break the album down, it might look something like this:
- 75% lush, melodic romanticism
- 5% mysticism
- 5% New Age bullshit
- 5% hippie lovefest
- 3% 2001: A Space Odyssey
- 2% Space Oddity
- 5% melodramatic bombast
This album gets a mixed reaction from Moodies fans but is still largely viewed positively. The naysayers decry the lack of any “hits.” Really? Did anybody listen to Dark Side of Moon or In the Court of the Crimson King or Kid A looking for fucking hits? Let the record company executives worry about pulling songs from concept albums out of context and trying to make hits out of them. It’s all “product” to many of them anyway.
To Our Children’s Children’s Children does what the best concept albums do when you listen to it – it washes over you. From “Higher and Higher,” with its sound of a rocket lifting off (simulated, because the NASA one sounded cheesy); to “Floating,” a joyous exploration of anti-gravity (little kids love this one); to the forlorn “Watching and Waiting,” the album creates a MOOD. That’s what it’s all about, not – as they used to say on American Bandstand – whether or not it’s got a great beat and I can dance to it.
I jokingly mentioned “Space Oddity” above. That song had actually been released earlier the same year with themes of isolation and loneliness. (And yes, we know Major Tom’s a junkie.) But there’s something about the thought of being alone in the vastness of space that appears to bring out those solitary feelings. The lyrics of the beautiful “Watching and Waiting” speak to this. But who is the “I” that speaks here?:
Watching and waiting
For a friend to play with
Why have I been alone so long
Mole he is burrowing his way to the sunlight
He knows there’s someone there so strong
Soon you will see me
Cos I’ll be all around you
But where I come from I can’t tell
But don’t be alarmed by my fields and my forests
They’re here for only you to share
Typically, in the long history of the Music Enthusiast (established 1839), I post three or four songs per album. In this case, I’m not going to do that but instead suggest that you put aside 45 or so minutes, find a quiet space, slap on some headphones. You may well not think this is prog-rock in the Yes or Crimson fashion with virtuosic musicianship and lightning-fast guitar runs. Just listen. Without prejudice.
After this album, the Moodies put out another fine record, A Question of Balance. They dropped some of the lush instrumentation and overdubbing so they could actually reproduce it on stage.
- Justin Hayward – vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, sitar
- John Lodge – vocals, bass guitar, harp, acoustic guitar
- Ray Thomas – vocals, flute, tambourine, bass flute, oboe
- Graeme Edge – drums, percussion
- Mike Pinder – vocals, Mellotron, piano, EMS VCS 3, Hammond organ, acoustic guitar, celesta, double bass