Music: Blue Jays (Justin Hayward & John Lodge, 1975)

Most people think of Seasonal Affective Disorder as a depression that strikes in the cold, overcast days of autumn and winter.  I guess I always have to be the rebel, because I like those kinds of days and I swear I experience that disorder when the days start getting warmer and longer.  I start feeling anxious.  No matter how much I may accomplish when this disorder strikes, I feel I’m never doing enough and that what I am doing is not good enough.

It’s times like these I find some measure of peace by curling up in a comforting album.  One such album is Blue Jays, a 1975 release by Justin Hayward and John Lodge while on a five-year hiatus from The Moody Blues.  I only discovered this album in the past year and was stunned to discover the best Moody Blues album isn’t a Moody Blues album.

But then I’m not much a fan of that band.  I can’t believe I used to like “Nights in White Satin” because that is one seriously garbage tune.  OK, I have a strange week spot in my heart for that poem at the end (“Breathe deep, the gathering gloom…”) and that is nearly as bombastic and pretentious as the song proper.

It seems to be a rule that every album must have a subpar track and, go figure, the worst one on this album is obviously trying to mine the same vein as the Moody’s most famous track.  “Nights Winters Years” isn’t as over-the-top as “Satin”, but that may not be in its favor.  It is like a watered-down version of the famous song, so it won’t please either fans or detractors of it.

Now that we have that in the way, let’s focus on the good tracks.  “This Morning” kicks off the album on sure footing, though it is a hair too melodramatic for my taste.  Still, it establishes a recurring theme through the album, and that is loss and trying to reestablish connections.  “This morning/I opened my eyes/I knew from the silence/that something was wrong.”

But the next song is where we get to the real meat of the album, the first of a ridiculously solid run of three five-star songs.  Seriously, these tracks, and a couple near the end, rival the very best of the Moody’s catalog.  

“Remember Me (My Friend)” talks about walking the earth and finding a friend.  The music evokes a feeling of wandering and of wonder, too.  Something about the tune and the production feel tastefully epic, channeling the feeling of how travel shakes a person up a bit.  Also, there’s a simple but beautiful sentiment in the chorus which resonates with me: “You don’t need to find the words to say what’s on your mind.” 

That feeling continues into the next number, “My Brother”.  The lyrics pretty much sum it up for me, “If you could cast a little light on someone, it’s not too soon/You took me halfway around the world/I’m running out of time and seasons.” 

“You” then kicks off with violins reminiscent of Spanish music.  We’re still on the road and still looking for a lost connection.  “You don’t even walk my road/Can’t find where you turned/Looked away and you were gone.”  There is a build-up to a soaring chorus that I can’t help but sing along to each time I hear it: “I/I believe/What is lost forever has brought a change in me.”

That side ends with “Nights Winters Years” before “Saved By the Music” serves as a palate-cleanser at the start of side two.  This is the most upbeat track on this set and the one which comes closest to rocking.  It doesn’t disrupt the flow of the album, but it does the job of waking us up after the last track on the other side nearly puts one to sleep.

The next couple of numbers, “I Dreamed Last Night” and “Who Are You Now”, are more in keeping with the gentle, low-key vibe of this collection.  Neither are among the strongest numbers here, in my opinion, though they are still solid tunes and I can understand if they resonate more strongly with some listeners than they do for me.

“Maybe” then pulls back even further, at one point being only organ and Hayward’s vocals.  This creates a startling contrast when it ramps up some orchestral bombast towards the end.

The album proper is then capped off perfectly with the gorgeous “When You Wake Up”.  As the tune stretches and soars, the themes of wandering and personal connections are reinforced: “As we drift a little further from the shore/like the sea evermore/I’m the ivy that clings round your door”.

Curiously, the CD and streaming versions add on another song after that one, “Blue Guitar.”  This was a originally a non-album single track, which was a odd thing to do, even in 1975.  I wouldn’t have thought you could top a perfect album closer with an even better closer, but that is what happens here.  Not that “Blue Guitar” is the stronger song, but it is a gentle return to ground after the swelling choruses of the prior song. 

One very unusual aspect of “Blue Guitar” is, though it was credited to Hayward and Lodge on its single release, Lodge is not on this track.  Instead, it is Hayward backed by 10CC.  This especially surprised me since the closing guitar single certainly sounded to these ears like something Lodge would have done.

Blue Jays isn’t a perfect album.  I wouldn’t even say it is one of my favorite albums, but I find myself returning to it more often than many works I claim to be among my favorites.  I rarely play it from beginning to end, but the second through fifth numbers, and the final three tracks, are stretches I almost always listen to in their entirely.  This is a soothing and reassuring collection of songs—an album I’m not sure I love, but I often find I need.