Moody Blues | A Question of Balance – 1970

Sounds like a reality TV show for accountants, but we lived it, man!

It makes me wonder, why is it that we never get an answer, when we’re knocking at the door?

Thanks to Jenny C-S for the request for this album. This brought together many memories and the smell of smoke.

For me this is more about when I spent time listening to this album rather than when it was released. In 1970 I was in Pennant Hills West Public School. This is one of Australia’s oldest surviving government schools, established in 1850. I don’t recall any music apart from being a member of both ‘The Lunch Time band’ and ‘The Stop-back singers’. I played the triangle. Not sure why I was in these bands. The stop-back singers may have been a clever ruse for after-school care (we watched the first lunar landing during one of these classes). I do remember that I was complimented for my creative playing. Not many children that age would play the melody line on ‘Laugh Kookaburra’ on the triangle. Just hitting it in time with the music was pretty boring.

I can vaguely remember a few friends from that time. There was one boy who lived in the Koala park a little way up the road. I can’t remember his name or what he looked like, but I would visit him after school and on weekends. Coolest place to live. He gave me a emu egg once and my mother had to show me how to blow the egg.

Memory is a strange thing. Walking to my car from North Sydney the last three weeks, I have seen a broken emu egg on the footpath. I have no idea of the story of this egg, just that it is broken shell and a rotting egg sac. After several days looking at the egg, the name McNamara came to mind. A quick Google search tonight shows that the Koala Park in West Pennant Hills has been in the McNamara family since it opened in the 1930’s.

It reminded immediately of Primary School of people I was with in 1970, but I can’t remember the faces of a couple I met at a party in Waverton a few months earlier despite the fantastic conversation on popular music now and then. What I can always remember is the lyrics of this album that I hadn’t heard since the early 1980’s.

The smell of smoke.

The primary olfactory cortex forms a direct link with the amygdala and the hippocampus. Only two synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the amygdala, which is involved in experiencing emotion and also in emotional memory and only three synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the hippocampus, which is implicated in memory. Maybe the smoke drifted across my synapses and confused the smell with certain memories.

This album smells of smoke for me. There was a dozen or so of us, the numbers would always change. Rarely taking anything stronger than a sweet black tea, we would chat and listen to albums. We could smell the smoke from this album’s cover. Or was it the smoke of Kathy H’s family fireplace.  ‘Ummagumma’, ‘Close to the Edge’, ‘Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends’. We would talk about life and religion and spirituality. It was one of those hugely special times in a life, a pause before other things.

It seems that during periods of my life the balance is dominated by the heart, or the body, or the head. During my early 20’s it was a time of the spirit. Wow, what a concept.

Several Moody Blues albums were concept albums. The album prior to this one, ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ was in response to the first lunar landing. ‘A Question of Balance’ was apparently in response to the Vietnam War. It’s sometimes hard to know how people will respond to things. The flow of these concepts would be broken by having to get up every 20 minutes and turn the album over. Still, it gave you time to put another log on the fire. Typical of concept albums, there is no gap between the songs.

This album begins with the track ‘Question’ and end with the track ‘The Balance’ and between these is some of the lushest prog pop music you could hear. There is something compelling and rousing about the acoustic guitar on the opening track. The whole album was designed to be able to played in full at concert, something they were incapable of doing with their previous albums.

The first 5 songs are from each of the 5 song-writers of the band, each providing a different voice for the singers. That may have been one of my problems further connecting with them, they didn’t have one coherent voice.

Looking back, I don’t know what to make of this band. They looked like mod rockers in the ’60s, pompous hippies in the ’70s and middle of the road Americans in the ’90s. I used to think that this was the band of the middle class hippies in danger of becoming a parody of themselves.

They were an evolving democracy. A 5 piece band, and really five different bands – with different members (only drummer Graeme Edge in all five configurations from 1964 until the present, flute player Ray Thomas left the band in 2002 was in five configurations). Hard to recall more than three bands where the flute player was one of the mainstays.

I’ve listened to this album a dozen times in the past few weeks for this post. I didn’t like it at all the first few times, thought it was dull music with laughable lyrics. After a while the old memories came back. What does it matter that people try to reach beyond their ability. It was the hope and spirit they were selling. I bought, and I hope that I will continue to buy that message.

Side One
“Question” (Justin Hayward) – 5:40
“How Is It (We Are Here)” (Mike Pinder) – 2:48
“And the Tide Rushes In” (Ray Thomas) – 2:57
“Don’t You Feel Small” (Graeme Edge) – 2:40
“Tortoise and the Hare” (John Lodge) – 3:23
Side Two
“It’s Up to You” (Hayward) – 3:11
“Minstrel’s Song” (Lodge) – 4:27
“Dawning is the Day” (Hayward) – 4:22
“Melancholy Man” (Pinder) – 5:49
“The Balance” (Edge, Thomas) – 3:33
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5 Responses to Moody Blues | A Question of Balance – 1970

  1. Pingback: A life in albums | michaelsprott

  2. Jennie Clarke-Smith says:

    Thank you, thank you! This album, as well as a few others, take me back to that special time when I was 17-19 yrs old, and exploring my emotions and spirit, and discovering what friendship is. You’re absolutely right about the smell of smoke (and other things!) – even use looking at the cover of this album takes me back to Kathy H’s loungeroom with the open fire, and friends gathered around, listening to music and discussing the deeper things in life. I still have the vinyl LP of this, but at the moment, nothing to play it on.
    Other smells take me in strange ways to other places and times – the smell of Kraft cheese slices (not the wrapped ones) takes me back to my grandma’s kitchen when I was 5 or 6, and I ‘see’ the black and white tiles on the floor and ancient fridge. Who knows why?!
    I still love the Prog Pop/Rock style, and the notion of a concept album is something that I can connect with. Even with classical/art music, I still connect more readily when the composer has a message or story that they want to communicate. Music with meaning, rather than music for music’s sake (although it also has a place).
    Thanks for allowing me to make a request for a review! As always, beautifully and thoughtfully written! I’m enjoying the journey through the years.

    • You are always welcome, Jen. Thanks for the request, always open for those.

      This whole thing is helping me piece together random memories, and that was a time of memories that I cherish.

      M

  3. Jules says:

    Hey Michael…did you feature on the Stopback Singers 1971 7″ vinyl record?…a 33rpm EP with 9 songs on it…can’t pick out the triangle…pretty amazing little disc. School choir…on a “Harmony Recording” label…from Harmony House on George St down near Circular Quay. Cheers, Jules

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