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Lunar Ticks: Camel’s ‘Moonmadness’

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Camel Moonmadness Album Cover Web Optimised 820

When Camel settled in to record their fourth album, Moonmadness, across January and February 1976, they were coming off the back of two instrumental records that had attracted praise from both fans and critics alike. However, the group had yet to convert their plaudits into sales; their label, Decca, strongly suggested that this new record take a more commercial approach.

Camel conceded – to a point. Released on 26 March 1976, Moonmadness saw guitarist and flautist Andrew Latmier take up vocals for the first time since their self-titled debut, released in 1973. Additionally, Peter Bardens’ synth and keyboard work arguably paid more heed to melody than on previous outings, while the album’s song structures were that little bit more defined. It even spawned a single, ‘Another Night’/‘Lunar Sea’. The results spoke for themselves: Moonmadness peaked at No.15 in the UK chart – their highest ever placing.

Not that Camel were refashioning themselves as a pop act. For all the ear-catching ease of ‘Song Within A Song’, Moonmadness was still replete with prog rock motifs – not least ‘Song’’s mid-way shift into the synth stratosphere, or the free-form time signatures that define ‘Chord Change’. And then there was, of course, the ubiquitous concept that pinned it all together – though even here Camel eased back on the more highfalutin inspiration behind previous outing The Snow Goose. By loosely basing some of the songs on each individual member (Andrew Latimer for ‘Air Born’; Andy Ward for ‘Lunar Sea’; Peter Bardens for ‘Chord Change’; Doug Ferguson for ‘Another Night’), the group ensured they had a theme to work around while avoiding charges of over-intellectualising.

Camel Moonmadness (US Edition)

The US edition of the album featured alternative artwork

The solitary figure pictured on the front sleeve of the UK edition (the US pressing featured a Camel in a spacesuit) was perhaps a metaphor for the group at this time: out on their own, exploring unchartered territory. It also stands as a poignant goodbye to Camel’s original four-man line-up. By the time they sought to record Moonmadness’ follow-up, Rain Dances, bassist Doug Ferguson had moved on and the core group expanded to a five-piece, with additional musicians brought in for good measure (not least Brian Eno on one track).

Let Moonmadness stand as what it is, then: the final stratospheric flight of one of prog rock’s finest ensembles. An ending – and, perhaps, a beginning.

Purchase Moonmadness here.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Duncan

    December 18, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    “they were coming off the back of two instrumental records..”

    err.. nope..! Mirage wasn’t instrumental!

  2. Alan Bloor

    December 18, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Plus I’m sure it was Andy Latimer singing on Mirage too

  3. Steve Stav

    December 19, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Why is there no mention of the significant and masterful contribution of the former king crimson flautist / saxophonist Mel Collins? Was the information for this piece sourced directly from Andy Latimer? If so then it may explain this important anomaly, as it was well known in the industry at the time that Andy Latimer became jealous of Mel’s popularity with the fans, which influenced Mel’s eventual departure from the band. Brilliant album though. My fave was Lunar Sea. I remember the single having a live version of Lunar Sea on the B-Side.

    • Richard

      December 19, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      “Lunar Sea” was the very first song heard from Camel. It was heard on the radio, on a station that wasn’t, often, listened to. The stars may have been in alignment, because had I not been listening to that station, Camel would never have been heard. That one song made me an instant fan!

  4. Rob

    December 19, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Steve, there is no mention of Mel Collins, because he didn’t join Camel until the following album, Rain Dances. He didn’t play on Moonmadness. He has been arguably the arguably the premier saxophonist of progressive rock….but on some of the earlier Camel tunes live……such as Never Let Go, phenomenal Latimer guitar solos were replaced with Collins sax solos. The sax solos were very good……but a step down from the Latimer guitar of the original piece.

  5. Mark Dreyer

    October 5, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Brilliant record – really creates a mood and is very consistent in quality and style. often jazzy – very progressive. I was 15 when released – missed it entirely – plus Camel was not exactly Top 40 in the US. The album [and I own them all] that still gets the most airplay for me!

  6. Dave W

    December 7, 2016 at 11:58 am

    A friend introduced me to Camel when he bought their first album way back in 1973 and they have been one of my favourite bands ever since.

    A couple of months after Snow Goose was released I walked into a record shop and heard some instantly recognisable guitar work; “Is that Camel?” I asked the assistant. “Yes, it’s their new album, Moonmadness”. It’s still one of my top 3 favourite Camel albums!

    My thanks to all members of Camel, who have given me so much pleasure over the years.

  7. NeilGC

    March 7, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    The “solitary figure” on the LP sleeve was in fact two people, whose long hair had meaningfully merged into one.

  8. Bill Merriman

    March 8, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    They received so little radio air play in the states. But one day, I heard Remote Romance and thought, wow, that’s different. Pulled right into a shopping center that had a record shop. Bought I can see your house from here, and the rest is history. Since then have acquired everything produced by Camel. Flown from Chicago to San Francisco and NYC to see them. Please come back to the states someday!! The best Prog Rock band ever.

  9. Bill B

    August 16, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Poorly-researched – a missed opportunity.

  10. Tav Bash

    August 17, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    When Moonmadness was released I was a 16 year old fan of Camel in Tehran, Iran. There were about 4 of us friends that were into prog rock, enjoying Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, and other prog rock and electronic music. Moonmadness will always be my favorite album by Camel. Still listen to it quite often to this day..

    • kos

      October 7, 2018 at 1:10 am

      Moonmadness has always been, and is, my #1. All the way since 1976. Mirage already in stock.
      All moons in right positions – made it possible to travel, see&hear, Camel/Moonmadness Sept.17th 2018 in Royal Albert Hall.
      Uforgettable.

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