*I recall reading one of the myriad books about bad albums that helped me create the master list I’m using a couple of years ago and being just absolutely gratified to see Days of Future Passed on their list of the 50 worst albums of all time.
*My initial exposure to this album was not one designed to give me a deep and abiding affection for the album, I grant you, and so hopefully, I’ll start with a clean slate here.
*Anyway, at a job that I used to have, working the night shift in a hospital, one of my co-workers had burned a mixtape, or rather had a friend do it for him, since he didn’t even own a CD player.
*On this mixtape were a couple of things; I recall there being an absolutely obscene track featuring Donald Duck getting a handjob or something.
*There was also on the CD, and absolutely unquibblable with, In a Gadda Da Vida, which got no arguments from me.
*However, there was also the entirety of Days of Future Passed as a single track (the better to skip you, my dear!). This guy, he liked this mixtape. And, you know, I’ve made mixtapes almost that bizarre, so I don’t blame him.
*But did I mention that he didn’t own a CD player? So, where do you suppose he listened to this charming little artifact? At work, you suppose? You suppose correctly. Every night, at work, to be more specific. Occasionally, twice a night, once before lunch and once after.
*I disliked the Days of Future Passed section of the CD before I even knew what it was. I rightly pegged it as a sort of mid-sixties British psychedelic album and, as some may know, I don’t even particularly care for the Beatles when they do psychedelic. So, from sort of finding it annoyingly twee the first time I heard it to eventually loathing it I moved with some rapidity, over the two or three months that the guy was playing the CD.
*I will just say, as evidence of how much disdain I have for this album, that it had about the most hilarious test study of all time: I literally listened to Days of Future Passed and Donald Duck having an orgasm at least five times a week for some twelve weeks. And the Donald Duck orgasm track held up better.
*If asked to choose today, I would rather hear that little gasp of delight Donald gives out with at the climax than listen to even one track of Days of Future Passed again.
*The Moody Blues, setting the bar somewhere below duck sex.
*So, in case you don’t know the story behind this album, allow me to briefly sketch it for you.
*A bunch of pretentious idiots . . .
*Well, wait, I suppose I should maintain journalistic integrity for a while longer. The Moody Blues . . .
*CAN one retain journalistic integrity after talking about Donald Duck’s sex noises?
*Anyway, The Moody Blues had been a Brit R&B outfit, but some manpower shakeups had left them unsure of how to continue. Decca then came to them and requested that they create a rock version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The company wanted to put out a demonstration disc featuring both an orchestra and a pop band in order to demonstrate the incredible range of the company’s new recording technology.
*At some point, the Moody Blues convinced the executives to let them record their own songs; the Blues then recorded their songs, sending the recordings along to another individual who wrote and orchestrated the prologue, epilogue and the bridging sections and recorded them with the London Festival Orchestra.
*Decca was at first at a loss with what to do with the album, originally intended as a cheapo demo disc, since it had cost more to make than they had prepared for, so they released it in an attempt to recoup their losses. The album established the Moody Blues as leaders in their field, laid the foundation for prog-rock (and various other pernicious things), and is still considered to be the Moody Blues’ masterpiece.
*All of which would be a very inspiring story of art triumphing over long odds, if only the album didn’t suck so hard.
*Now, on to the album itself. I steel myself, attempt to clear my mind of all previous loathings and hatreds and tabula rasa, I begin anew to wrestle with a masterpiece!
*Hmm, so this isn’t too bad. This is actually quite pretty.
*Ah, then a minute and a half in, the orchestra whips into some of that annoying bouncy hippy hoppy happy Bambi-esque music and the album begins its descent.
*This is the first track, by the way, The Day Begins, which is entirely orchestral with only a brief poetry reading to remind you of how pretentious the album really is.
*Why do I hate this album? Allow me to quote directly: “Brave Helios, wake up your steeds! Bring the warmth the countryside needs!”
*If you need more than that, you and I will simply never see eye to eye about this album.
*It’s the sort of oh so precious pomposity that bugs all hell out of me about this album. It just screams I AM ART at you every time you turn around. It has pretensions to being some sort of great masterpiece and it can’t help but remind you of it repeatedly.
*Look at me, I called the sun ‘Helios!’ Look at me, the very first words on this album are “cold hearted orb.” Look at me, I have lush strings. Shut up.
*It is admittedly kind of hard to really put it into words, but it’s just a very self-conscious and pompous stance that just really grates on me. As I’ve said before, the Beatles didn’t really intend to change the world; neither did Elvis. Bob Dylan may have, but even he couldn’t have foreseen the ways that he would impact the world of music. All these people just simply showed up and did their thing. Others, like The Moody Blues, show up with a great ambition to create some towering artwork for the ages. And you can generally tell it.
*In my own writing, I certainly try to work intuitively and not at all to take to the sort of linguistic high wire feats that some writers do. My entire artistic philosophy is based on honesty and, to a lesser degree, simplicity. I like things that are complicated, but only when they need to be complicated. But there is nothing more painful than an artist trying really hard to say something profound; you’ll never say anything profound while you’re frigging trying. I don’t know why this is so hard.
*And the sort of ‘I am more avant garde than thou, hear the fruits of my classical education, my popular music is a descendent of the romantic composers’ implications of this album . . . they are nothing but a put on. And I hate put ons in art, unless they’re ironic, which this isn’t, being deadly, deadly serious. This is a variation of my argument against some sequences in Fantasia, if you’ve been unlucky enough to be around when I let fly with some of those. Yes, yes, you have a high falutin’ concept; yes, yes, you have the ability to stand about and speak in cultured accents; yes, yes, you have obviously been well educated. But are you really up to the task you’ve set yourself here? And the answer, as in Fantasia, so here, is no, of course you’re not.
*Bottom line, when I sit down to write or compose music or anything else, I had better not be thinking about posterity and crap or I’m going to create something unreadable or unlistenable, unless of course I really am the towering genius I think I am, but most likely I’m not, since, all things considered, we’ve really had very few towering geniuses over the history of mankind. I had better just be sitting down and thinking about honesty of emotion and of stripping away anything that I might try to impose on the inspiration that has already come and that is going to continue to come. You get into that space and you don’t care if you’re the only person who ever reads what you’ve written because you know you did it justice and you did it right. And that’s all that matters; you told the truth, you were true to your humanity and to your inspiration, you stripped yourself and just wrote what you felt was right and there is no such thing as ‘Art.’ That’s the place you need to be when you finish creating something.
*In On Writing, Stephen King talks about rereading your own work and he says, to paraphrase, that it’s not fun when you pick up your own work and think it’s terrible. However, he continues, it is far worse, in every way, to pick up your own work and think it brilliant. I agree. If you pick up your rough draft and are like, “This is amazing! I’m really incredible!” you’re in big trouble. You’re damned, basically, and you’ll never be anything as an artist, never anything.
*I say again, maybe some people are such geniuses that they are able to not worry about this and still create truly great, sincere, profound art. For me, this is what it takes; I have to move out of myself, past my personality and into the natural style and syntax and such that comes with that if I’m going to write anything worth reading. It’s all the inspiration. That’s all it is. You just follow it as you write.
*That is why, for instance, I got sidetracked on the very first track of this album and have been bloviating about things most people probably don’t care about for the past two pages. Oh, well; it has its price, this intuitive mode, but it’s the only one that works for me.
*Well, one more annoying thing about the first track and then we’ll move on. This album is rather idiotically often considered some sort of ‘classical’ masterpiece in the way that people respond to it as being a great sort of ‘classical’ album or whatever. But the real lie comes when you read the liner notes to the reissue where they talk about writing the poem that opens and closes the album and one of the band members let it slip that the first track really just sounded ‘empty’ and obviously needed more. Right, totally empty; only an entire orchestra. And these people are classicists? I think not.
*On to track two, Dawn: Dawn is a Feeling.
*Of particular note is the lyric, “This day will last a thousand years.” Actually, no, only about forty minutes. It only feels like a thousand years.
*I hope you know what I mean when I call this twee. You know sort of plinky piano and very ponderous vocals, syrupy orchestration. I mean, it might work with better songs. But this reminds me of Ocean Rain, another critically lauded album that I really hate. Particularly the vocals here are the same sort of echo-drenched, stentorian ‘voice of God’ kind of things.
*I should note that this reissue ‘sounds’ fantastic, just in terms of sound quality. The orchestra, in particular, does sound really great. The strings are just really deep and strong.
*Again, a shame it all sucks.
*I’ll posit that I have often heard a better album, but I have rarely heard an album better.
*I stole that, by the way.
*The third track, Morning: Another Morning (yes, they’re all titled in this absurd fashion; some are even worse) is perhaps the absolute worst. It’s just this sort of hideously bouncy, piping little ode to joy or whatever, all about how wonderful children are or something. I’m just having a sugar overload here. I mean, this is just awful.
*I honestly had begun this album by trying to clear my mind and just listen to the album as if I’d never heard it before. It had, after all, been at least three years. And I had some success for a while. But when the orchestra started its nails on chalkboard *TWEETEETWEETEETWEETDEEDEE* introduction to this song, I just got frigging mad.
*Bad art can often literally infuriate me. It’s like blasphemy, you know? I literally put my hand on my ear bud cord in preparation to just rip them out of my ears.
*This track features the lyric “Time seems to stand quite still,” which is certainly accurate. New theory: they actually knew that this was terrible and put little clues in like that for us smart people.
*Us smart people who would listen to the album three times in preparation to talk about how much we hate it.
*Bad Lyric Hall of Fame: “Watch children playing/they seem so wise.”
*Obviously, he’s never seen actual children playing. Actually, they act like complete fools.
*God, there’s an organ chording along with the whole tweeteetweet thing that just sets my teeth on edge. *BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP* ARGH!
*Track four is Lunch Break: Peak Hour. It, at least, has a driving beat. At their best, these guys are Animals-lite. Animals were, of course, Kinks-lite. Kinks were Beatles-lite. Beatles were Rolling Stones-lite. I’ve forgotten The Who, but I’m too tired to insert them between the Kinks and the Beatles.
*Also, the Monkees between the Animals and the Kinks. So, these guys are not tremendously high on the list.
*Since this is the most rocking song on the album, I think now is a good time to bring up one of the most pernicious myths propagated by this album. I’m talking about, of course, the myth that any time a rock band records with strings, they suck.
*Or as I termed it back during the time when I was hearing it every work day, “This album kind of supports the generally incorrect theory that you might as well cut off a rock band’s testicles as set them down by a string section.”
*Yeah, I used to say things like that at work.
*Anyway, I once had a music professor who said from the podium that once a rock group recorded an album with strings, they had nothing artistic left to say. So, Kashmir? Eleanor Rigby? S&M? Also, what’s wrong with going a little mellow? I mean an orchestra can rock out, as anyone who’s heard S&M can confirm. But then too, what’s wrong with an Eleanor Rigby every now and then?
*The key is to tap into something legitimately beautiful and melancholy, not just twee and maudlin. This one lands on the twee and maudlin side.
*How maudlin, you ask? Allow me to again quote directly: “Cotton frocks/and golden locks.”
*The next sound you hear will be that of the Absolute Knave going into a diabetic coma.
*So, next up, I can definitively prove that this is an awful album just by quoting directly the title of the next song.
*The Afternoon: Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)/Time to Get Away
*Your honor, I rest my case.
*I mean, how the hell do I know if it’s Tuesday. It’s your frigging album. You tell me, ya buncha hack bastards.
*Still not enough evidence for you? Okay, it’s eight minutes long. I rest my case again.
*Next up, it’s Evening: The Sun Set/Twilight Time.
*I once heard a great blooper where a guy on the radio was trying to say “twilight time,” and he accidentally said, “toilet time.” I don’t know what made me think of him just now.
*Okay, they try to conjure a weird sort of Kashmir vibe on this one. I say weird since Kashmir hadn’t been recorded yet. Regardless, it’s kind of like that Puff Daddy song in that it just makes you appreciate the real Kashmir.
* “Shadows on the ground/never make a sound.” You don’t say!
*More of that forced baritone crap.
*This song has a fine piano figure that comes in for the Twilight Time section. It’s probably the best actual music on the album. It gets buried in the wall of sound fairly quickly though.
*Yeah, so then it’s The Night: Nights in White Satin which I always confuse with A Whiter Shade of Pale.
*This is at least quiet for the first few minutes, but I confess to just finding this one pretty irritating too, though I do like the incredibly far away electric guitar that soars during the chorus. But, again, at seven minutes, its way, way too long. It’s not great anyway.
*I hate to set up some sort of Manichean worldview here (I’ll slip in a reference to Helios in the next paragraph maybe!), but while listening to Another Morning, it dawned upon me that really all people can be divided into the camp of people who would choose to listen to this album and the camp who wouldn’t.
*And . . . bridging that gap . . . I stand.
*No, seriously, I know some people consider this album a classic for all time. It routinely gets four and a half or five star ratings from critics. And while listening to Another Morning, I realized that I simply . . . do . . . not . . . understand . . . those . . . people.
*I mean, I can see both sides of the abortion debate; I’m a fiscal moderate; I can argue for excess in art as well as simplicity; I consider myself both a cynic and a romantic. I think I have a pretty far reaching ability to put myself in different headspaces; I’ve experienced enough far flung emotions to sort of halfway understand people, even people who do quite terrible things, like murder or rape or whatever. There’s a part of me that sort of understands their twisted humanity. Religious, political, philosophical differences, I can begin to understand.
*But, if you like Another Morning, or the poem that closes Nights in White Satin, or Peak Hour or Tuesday Afternoon . . . I simply cannot and will not ever understand what the hell is going on in your head. It is simply beyond me that anyone could listen to Another Morning without wanting to gouge their eardrums out. It absolutely baffles me that anyone can listen to the poetry readings without laughing derisively and rolling eyes dramatically. Days of Future Passed, I guess, a lot of people like a lot. And so I continue, forever an outcast from a large segment of my fellow humanity.
*This album is terrible. It had a profound and terrible impact on music. There is not a single song on the album that should be listened to all the way through. I hate it with a perfect hatred. Good sound quality though.
*Next time, the randomizer tells me, it’s . . . WHEELS OF FIRE? Okay, what nimrod put Wheel of frigging Fire on a list of bad albums? Well, we’ll find out next time when I listen to Wheels of Fire by Cream!