The Move

The Move split the difference between power-pop and art-rock. Assembling the finest rock musicians in Birmingham (from whence they got their name -- all of the musicians 'moved' from other bands), the Move acted like the Who onstage (smashing TV sets) and tried to ape the Beatles in the studio (smashing melodies), and from 1968-1972, scored several sizable hits in the U.K. while never cracking America. Led by eclectic eccentric Roy Wood, the Move dissolved after Jeff Lynne's offshoot, ELO, took priority over Lynne's original band. While Lynne racked up bombastic, ocassionally heavenly but 90% of the time drecky synth-pop hits with ELO, Wood split for a solo career that found brief success (in England at least) but gradually faded into obscurity. Today the Move are unjustly forgotten, not even have obtained the hip cult audience of, say, the Small Faces or the Zombies. Emerging as they did near the tail end of psychedelia and breaking up during the heyday of prog-rock, the Move's records are obviously stamped with their time, but are definitely too eccentric to really sound like anything else, before or since. And that's the adjective that keeps cropping up when I dwell upon Roy Wood's singular talents: eccentric. No, for all their quirkiness, the Move can't really be considered trailblazing innovators, though they are influential on a number of worthy bands (most notably Roxy Music, Todd Rundgren, and especially Cheap Trick; I can hear echoes of their twisted pop style in '80s bands such as XTC and the Dbs, too). The Move were far too eclectic to stick with one style and develop it to its logical endpoint; their totemic pole obviously was the Beatles' White Album. The Move's talent was finding odd intersections between genres, not creating any new ones of their own; perhaps this lack of groundbreaking historical importance causes them to get overlooked in the history books. Whatever, Roy Wood in his prime was an ace melodicist surpassed only in pure pop hookcraft by Lennon/McCartney themselves; his manic, sinister genius for offbeat pop was marred by two significant flaws -- first, as I said, he tended to overextend himself by plunging his chord-craft into too many directions at once; and secondly, he had nothing to say. Which doesn't just apply to his lyrics, which I can enjoy as harmless fun, but also his vision of pop -- or rather, lack of one; this elfin spritester of pop seemed to view rock'n'roll as a game to toy with all these neat tricks (Andy Partridge analogy, anyone?). Of course, the Move mercifully never went to the gruesome overproduction excesses of ELO (which was Jeff Lynne's vehicle, not Wood's), but their thumping hard rock's natural habitat was clearly the studio. The Move were gaudy and giddy, the most colorful and devilishly playful band of their era -- their appropriations of classical motifs were always done in a look-ain't-this-neat style, not the implied high seriousness of later, more dour art-rock bands. And they always placed their Beatlesque pop sense above all other considerations, which generally keeps them a good pace away from self-indulgence. The Move's splash of technicolor kaleidoscope, heavy pop-rock always keeps them interesting, even when they're boring (this sounds like a contradiction, but that's exactly the way I feel about their final album, Message From the Country).

The Official Move Home Page is worth stopping by if you're interested.

The Move (1968) ****

A delightful artifact of pop-art, post-mod psychedelia, the Move's debut roars with 13 songs of snazzy, hard rocking pop that reads like the hyperactive love child of Magical Mystery Tour and The Who Sell Out -- only the three perfunctory covers (Eddie Cochran, Moby Grape, and the Coasters -- Cochran's "Weekend," is good fun, but all three are unnecessary) mar an otherwise near-perfect album. The Move at this stage are presented at their most pop and accessible, bashing out one potential single after the other; it's hard to choose between the sugary goodies. The bizarre juxtaposition of lightweight bubblegummy and heavy apocalyptic elements stakes an entirely unique turf for the Move, ensuring that no other band would ever sound quite like them -- the anthemic opener, "Yellow Rainbow," combines that hippy-dippy image with the earth falling into the abyss. "Kilroy Was Here," employs such a corny lyrical conceit to supremely catchy affect, while "(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree," and "Flowers in the Rain," (I get'em confused sometimes) are the type of mid-'60s nursery rhyme singles that you catch yourself stupidly humming while your rational brain in vain tries to reject such bubblegum rot. The two message songs, "Walk On the Water," ("Please don't drink and drive") and "Useless Information," (about, you know, useless information like some old lady telling you about her operation and the weatherman telling you it's going to be cold in December), are better. The two orchestrated ballads, "Girl Outside," and "Mist on a Monday Morning," are lovely, but the cabaret lizard in lead singer Carl Wayne is already obvious. "Fire Brigade," remains a stunning whirligig single that obviously had the blinding effect of fresh sunlight upon a young Bryan Ferry. Another single, "Cherry Blossom Clinic," was hastily withdrawn at the last minute due to its controversial subject of mental insanity; it was vastly improved on the next album, as the version here is much too muddy (plus it's only 3 minutes long, without the cool coda of "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited"). All of the elements for rock stardom are here, and the Move were in England; but undoubtedly due to the fact that they only toured America once for three weeks, they went practically unheard on the other side of the Atlantic.

Shazam (1970)

Generally regarded as the band's album highlight, I'm very eager to track this down. Containing six lengthy tracks (in contrast to the debut's tight popcraft), the two tracks I've heard are very impressive: "Beautiful Daughter," shimmers with translucent beauty, while "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited," improves upon the original single and adds an extended instrumental coda that incorporates snatches of 18th-century religious chorales (I don't know much about classical music, but I believe that's Handel they're ripping off). All of the tracks are tied together with interviews with people on the street. Sigh -- they just don't make'em like that anymore....

Looking On (1971)

The departure of Carl Wayne for a career as a cabaret singer freed the Move to pursue a more hard rock direction; most fans don't seem to care for the results, and from the tracks I've heard, I can see why -- progressive heavy metal really wasn't the Move's forte. Still, "What," by new recruit Jeff Lynne (formerly of the Idle Race, the Move's chief Birmingham competition), remains a stunning post-psychedelic, gothic masterpiece, concerning the Star of Jesus once you make that out. The most famous track, however, is "Brontosaurus," which takes the Move's quirky production strategy of mixing the bass upfront completely over the top, with the bass guitar crushing with the lumbering stomp of the ancient reptile; certainly an odd method of tackling heavy metal boogie, but not unworthy of Led Zeppelin.

Message From the Country (1971) **1/2

Message From the Country is a hit-or-miss affair, splitting the songwriting evenly between Lynne and Wood (excepting drummer Ben Bevan's "Don't Mess Me Up," a generic '50s sock-hop throwaway). The best of the record consists of a bizarre gothic pop style that while doesn't knock me out, is always interesting, if not always engaging. The title track, with its convoluted Beach Boys harmonies on the bridge; the anthemic "Words of Aaron,"; the creepy "It Wasn't My Idea To Dance,"; and the sinisterly bouncy "The Minister," are fine examples of progressive pop, with one foot in post-Beatles art-rock but clinging tightly to catchy, traditional pop song structures. Unfortunately, there are also a number of boring (I mean, completely boring) genre exercises - Johnny Cash-style country ("Ben Crawley Steel Company"); lifeless balladry ("No Time"); music-hall silliness ("My Marge"); rollicking '50s-style rock (the rest). Perhaps the fact that the side project of ELO was diverting Wood and Lynne's energies is to blame for the lackluster results; all of the classic elements are there, and the record certainly has that unique Move vibe that ensures it will never quite sound like anything else, but the pizzazz is missing. And what use are the Move without that weird pixie magic?

The Best of the Move (1974) *****

Originally a double vinyl package now handily fit on one CD, the first disc consists of the Move's 1968 debut (never released in America), and the second of concurrent singles, A's & B's. The Move's '60s singles range from the really good to the flat-out brilliant; most of these were substantial British hits -- in the liner notes, drummer Bev Bevan notes that the Move had a string of #2 hits, but only one #1, "Blackberry Way," (their somber rejoinder to the Beatles' "Penny Lane,") because in a publicity coup, the Move threatened to break up if their next single didn't reach #1. It probably would've reached #1, anyway; one can envision a brigade of British schoolboys strolling, arms in stride, singing in unison, "Goodbye, Blackberry Way," at the end of a school semester. Their first single, 1967's "Night of Fear," contains the cleverest rip-off of the "1812 Overture," in pop music; which, as far as I'm aware, is the only example of Tchaikovsky-rock. Roy Wood penned equally impressive B-sides, as "Night of Fear"'s flip, "Disturbance," proves -- a hard rock ode to madness that ends with the screams of producer Tony Secunda pretending to go insane. "Wave the Flag and Stop the Train," is, as Bevan admits in the liner notes, a deliberate Monkees imitation (really! - the guitar line apes "Last Train To Clarksville), but "I Can Hear the Grass Grow," is the band's psychedelic peak, a monster of a single that pounds the repetitive title chant to bizarre, mantralike effect, riding the current of the Move's powerful, thumping rhythm section. The Move's most sonically key signature is the way they manipulate the mix so that the bass steps out into the forefront, creating a powerfully heavy, lumbering roar of a bottom that's balanced by Wood's high-pitched harmonies and song melodies on top. Two ballads written by Carl Wayne's associate Dave Morgan, "Something," and "This Time Tomorrow," are fine, though too cabaret in sensibility to really suit the heavy pop stylings of the Move. "Curly," possesses one of those insinuatingly catchy English folk-pop melodies that would have fit fine on Roy Wood's first solo album, and though the band denies it, it really does sound like it's an ode to Carl Wayne's pet pig. "Wild Tiger Woman," became one of the band's first real flops as a single (it charted, but not in the Top Ten); it's good, but is really a bit too hard-rocking and bombastic for pop single material. As Bevan points out, they realized in retrospect that they should have released the B-side, "Omnibus," as the A-side; it's clearly superior, with all the elements of a classic pop smash, even if (or because?) it's a blatant Hollies imitation. Fans of '60s Brit-pop should definitely check this collection out; the Move were a great singles band, and most of their best are contained here.

Great Move!: The Best of the Move (1994) ***

Basically, Message From the Country with five 1972 singles as bonus tracks (plus two more hidden tracks, one a radio promo). I've given this reissue an extra half star because the '72 singles blow the album tracks away. Again divided equally between Lynne and Wood compositions, there are two worthless pieces of dreck: "Down On the Bay," and "California Man," both later covered by Cheap Trick. I realize that the Move were Cheap Trick's second-biggest influence after the Fabs, but why did they have to cover the sucky Move songs? Granted, Trick's "California Man," is a dozen times better than the completely tepid Move original, but even improved by Cheap Trick, "California Man," still isn't very good. On the other hand, the other three singles are prime. "Tonight," and "Chinatown," are simply wonderful examples of Wood's pixie-esque pop-craft, and Lynne's "Do Ya," is a rock classic. I know, you're thinking of the stupid ELO version of "Do Ya," from which you'd never guess how great of a song "Do Ya," is. I mean, ELO took out the crunching guitars and replaced them with violins! And you thought Jeff Lynne only ruined other people's music - look at how he slaughtered his own song!

Roy Wood: Boulders (1973) ****

A neglected pop classic; if the rest of Wood's albums are this good, then he's well worth getting to know. As with the Move, Wood defines the term eclectic - only he really goes overboard with his White Album worship here. Let me go song by song to demonstrate just how all over the map this album is. Starting off with a chirpy slice of hyper gospel-pop, "Songs of Praise," Wood then follows with a fine piece of Beatlesque folky pop, "Wake Up." Then he gets down to business with a Move-style updated '50s rocker, "Rock Down Low." A pair of plaintive mid-tempo love ballads, "Nancy Sing Me a Song," and "Dear Elaine," end side one. The he kicks side two off with rolling Beatlesque fast pop of "All the Way Over the Hill/Irish Loafer and His Hen" which leads into the bizarre ballad, "Miss Clarke and the Computer." Wood electronically modulates his voice as he steps into the character of a robot who is afraid of being dismantled for screwing up on the job. "When Granma Plays the Banjo," sounds just as described, and I really don't like bluegrass. Finally, Wood ends the album with an inspired stroke: a three-song medley of three '50s rock styles -- Gene Vincent to the Everly Brothers to Little Eva, and they're all Wood originals. In sum, there's something here for everyone to like, even though you probably won't like all the styles that Wood tackles.

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