Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Higher and higher


This year brings the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July, an event celebrated thematically at the BBC Proms. That anniversary provides me with an opportunity to showcase an album which some - including this writer - consider to be one of the best prog rock albums of all time, yet which is still puzzlingly overlooked.

The Moody Blues had achieved outstanding success with their first three concept albums, Days of Future Passed (1968), In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) and On the Threshold of a Dream (1999). Their producer Tony Clarke, who was responsible not only for the outstanding sound of their most successful albums but also played in key role in shaping their creative concepts, was deeply interested in both philosophy and astronomy, and had a telescope on the roof of his house for stargazing. NASA staff were among the fans of the band and Tony Clarke had visited Cape Canaveral several times as a guest. So when recording of of the new album To Our Children's Children's Children started in May 1968 he proposed that "space...the final frontier should be the theme of the album.

The album's first track Higher and Higher depicts a rocket leaving its launching pad, although other interpretations can be put on the title in view of the band's anthem to Timothy Leary on In Search of the Lost Chord. That notwithstanding, their bassist John Lodge explained how the opening sound effect - listen via this link - was created:

We got in touch with NASA and said we'd like the sound of one of their rockets taking off so we could put it on the front of our album, which we were doing. And they sent us some sound over, but, actually, it wasn't very good. So, we got in the studio and spent a couple of days and made our own space sound of a rocket taking off and sent it back to NASA and said, 'Perhaps you'd like to use this on your future missions.
The Moody Blues' albums were a favourite of the NASA astronauts and To Our Children's Children's Children is featured in a playlist of 'Lunar Tunes' on the official NASA website. The band's pioneering 1967 album Days of Future Passed was played on board the Atlantis shuttle space craft by chief astronaut “Hoot” Gibson. He later presented the band with the actual recording of the album that he had carried on four shuttle trips. Band member Justin Hayward later wryly commented: “That was nice, and receiving it from NASA in the original cassette version, which I noticed they illegally recorded, made it even better somehow”.

Sources include Marc Cushman's encyclopedic history of the Moody Blues Long Distance Voyagers: Volume 1 (1965-1979). New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

No comments: