What one hears when listening to 1970's Looking On by The Move is the end of one band and the start of another. The album, the band's next-to-last release, contains the seeds of what would later become Electric Light Orchestra within it. And that makes some sense considering that this is the first Move release that Jeff Lynne is on.
Still, the album is a bit messy as it straddles genres but in the new edition, recently released by Cherry Red Records, one can hear some of the bravest music of the post-flower power era. The band here took some risks and sort of laid the groundwork for almost everything ELO would do later. If this is not exactly ELO Mach 1, it's darn close despite some bits that place it far outside the range of anything those chart-toppers would do later at the end of the Seventies.
The band was now a four-piece (Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, and Rick Price). Carl Wayne, such a huge part of The Move previously, had left by this time. The act was, by all accounts, Wood's project now but, as the liner notes explain, the genius didn't feel upstaged by the arrival of Lynne. Oddly, as those notes elaborate, Wood saw Lynne as an equal musically which gave him someone to bounce ideas off of and someone to compete with in a friendly way. Nowhere is this probably more apparent than on tracks like the title cut, all Wood flourishes from near-prog to jazz, and "Open Up Said The World At The Door" with its decided chamber pop touches, surely the work of composer Jeff Lynne. A listener is hearing 2 geniuses spar, basically.
Elsewhere, on the fab "When Alice Comes Back To The Farm" and "Brontosaurus", Roy Wood dabbles in what can only be called glam rock despite it being recorded a year or two before that genre really took off. Here, Wood amps things up, piles on layers of instrumentation, and adds a bit of Fifties riff-age to what are big, silly, and fun songs. Never one to take himself too seriously, Wood sounds like he's having a gas on both these seminal cuts and that's significant when one considers the era in which they were recorded with Vietnam raging, and po-faced singer-songwriters racing up the charts. Significantly, Wood placed a premium on rocking out on these 2 songs and a listener can thank him for that when so much else on this record -- "Turkish Tram Conductor Blues", for example, or even Lynne's sublime-and-unnerving "What?" -- tries so darn hard to be something else.
Still, don't let that remark fool you; even at their most serious, or most experimental, The Move were never plodding or dull like so very many of the prog pioneers operating in this same era. For all the near-classical breaks, or psuedo-jazz percolating throughout Looking On, the album remains a pleasure to listen to. Cherry Red Records has done the world a favor by reissuing this album in such a fine fashion, pairing the original record with a full bonus disc of radio sessions and interviews. The radio recordings here yield some real gems for a fan: Jeff Lynne's "Falling Forever" and 2 very Move-esque stabs at "She's A Woman" by The Beatles. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the proto-grunge version of "Brontosaurus" buried among those radio sessions. The cut, all Sabbath-ed up, is as far removed from the eventual Cheap Trick cover as possible and this run-through positively drips with bad intent.
Also of note from Cherry Red Records is the earlier Something Else From The Move, also recently reissued by the U.K. label. The original 1968 "mini-LP" has here been beefed up with a whole raft of bonus cuts and taken all together they show The Move to have been one of the very best bands of the era. Roaring through Move hits like "Fire Brigade" first, the group also tries their hand at some covers of classics of the time by Love, Janis Joplin, and The Byrds. The band would change a bit right after this, as we've seen, with the departure of Carl Wayne and this expanded version of Something Else From The Move serves as a sort of souvenir of the firepower of this band as a live unit. The studio releases -- singles and albums -- tended to showcase the more psychedelic chops of Wood and co. that placed the act in line with the other flower power giants of the era, yet it's worth remembering that this band was, like The Who, an awesome set of players as equally adept at rockers as they were at near-mod swings through r'n'b and rock standards.
Something Else From The Move and Looking On are both out now via Cherry Red Records.