The Moody Blues
Photo: Nationaal Archief, Den Haag / Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile and Far Away: The Moody Blues’ ‘Long Distance Voyager’ at 40

The Moody Blues’ Long Distance Voyager revitalized their career, created a new generation of fans, and become an integral part of an early ’80s moment in pop-friendly prog rock.

Long Distance Voyager
The Moody Blues
Threshold
15 May 1981

Album Tracks

Fortunately, the Moody Blues backed up the hit songs on Long Distance Voyager with other strong tracks. “The Voice” and “Gemini Dream” are the first and third tracks; around them (as the second and fourth tracks), Lodge’s “Talking Out of Turn” and Hayward’s “In My World” offer lush ballads that nicely counterbalance the excitement of those singles. The subject of both tracks is romance, be it bitter (“Talking Out of Turn”) or sweet (“In My World”). Each of these expansive ballads is exactly the kind of dreamy reveries that are easy to get lost in now and again.

Side Two opens with Hayward’s “Meanwhile” (probably the lost gem of Long Distance Voyager). Over a wistful but upbeat tune, he laments a relationship gone wrong, noting, “I think I see where I went wrong / I think I see what’s going on” before speculating that “meanwhile and far away, as the night draws in / He’s holding her right now / I can feel it all begin”. While this was some deep romantic angst, it was mostly the dreamy “meanwhile and far away” imagery, along with Hayward’s enigmatic observation (“And the river’s running down / Down to the sea”), that stuck with listeners who were intrigued by “Meanwhile”.

Far less abstract is Graeme Edge’s “22,000 Days”, which had listeners scurrying to their calculators to determine that the titular number of days equals about 60 years (or an average lifetime, give or take a few years).  Puterbaugh made fun of that kind of specificity in his Rolling Stone review: “A pocket calculator can determine that most of us are stuck on this orb for that length of time, but to what fount of wisdom is this statistic intended to lead us? That in one lifetime we’ll eat 44,000 cheeseburgers?”. That is a funny line, but for those of us who were alive in 1981, it is sort of sobering now to consider how many days—and cheeseburgers—have now passed by us.

Another Lodge song, “Nervous”, hints at the feel of those yearning Bee Gees ballads (with an entirely different vocal style, of course) and is the one non-hit from Long Distance Voyager that was still sometimes included on latter-day Moody Blues concert setlists. It’s followed a final mini-suite of songs by Ray Thomas—”Painted Smile”/”Reflective Smile”/”Veteran Cosmic Rocker”—that reflect on lives largely lived onstage. “Veteran Cosmic Rocker”, in particular, is an update of an earlier Moody Blues song, “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band”. Naturally, the irony in “Veteran Cosmic Rocker” is that in 1981, Thomas still had decades of veteran cosmic rocking in him before he retired from the Moody Blues in 2001.    

Cover Art and the Voyager Connection

When you think of certain classic albums (Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon, Who’s Next, etc.), their iconic covers immediately spring to mind. The Long Distance Voyager cover and gatefold sleeve might not be as instantly recognizable as those examples, but it nonetheless makes a strong case for how graphics can shape an album-listening experience. It’s based on ‘Punch’, an 1840 painting by British artist Thomas Webster. Webster was not credited in the album’s liner notes, which simply attribute the cover to Arts Union Glasgow, but his painting of a crowd gathered to watch a puppet show with a musical accompanist in an Olde English village is used effectively to evoke the more pastoral aspects of the album. Open the gatefold sleeve and you’ll see that the printed lyrics to each song are accompanied by a thumbnail illustration of characters from the painting.

Of course, the album cover adds an element that Webster obviously did not include in his painting: just under the word “Voyager”, one of the two Voyager spacecraft glides by, apparently unnoticed by the villagers. The nod to Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, both of which were launched in 1977 with golden records that contained sounds and music of Earth, perfectly invokes the combination of old and new that the Moody Blues were chasing on Long Distance Voyager.

Post-Long Distance Voyager

Oddly, the Moody Blues follow-up to Long Distance Voyager, The Present, remains barely a blip in the band’s history. Released in September 1983, the album came and went quickly.

Coincidentally, I started college the very week The Present was released. With a copy of Murmur—the quirky new album by Athens, Georgia band R.E.M—in my dorm room from day 1, I missed The Present upon its release and never bothered to follow up on it or subsequent Moody Blues albums.  Eventually, though, R.E.M. would ultimately remind me of the Moody Blues, as it takes only a few listens of “Texarkana” (from R.E.M.’s breakthrough LP, 1990’s Out of Time) to hear it as a Moody Blues homage. Not just any Moody Blues, either, since “Texarkana” (despite being a bit countrified) is a straight-up tribute to the sounds of Long Distance Voyager.

Meanwhile and far away, 14,600 days since the release of Long Distance Voyager, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2—golden records presumably intact—have entered interstellar space (more than 20,000,000,000 kilometers from the nearest Olde English village). With it, The Moody Blues, in their own quaint way, created something a bit like the Voyagers spacecraft: a record that will always be out there, somewhere, waiting for someone new to discover it.

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