Power of Ten Billion Butterfly Sneezes – To Our Children’s Children’s Children by The Moody Blues

Adam Roberts @ 25-02-2009

The Adam Roberts Project

The Moody Blues‘ 1969 album To Our Childrens’ Childrens’ Children employs the full tidal panoply of 1960s hippy musical effects (guitars, full orchestra, a forty-strong choir going ‘ahh! ahh! ahh! ahh!’ in the background, the sounds of rockets launching and various galactic boingings, plus lyrics spoken ponderously rather than sung) to celebrate the Apollo 11 moon landing. And what a tremendous achievement for humanity it was. The moon landing, I mean. Not the Moody Blues’ album. The Moody Blues’ album is really very bad, a walnut-whirling, quintuple-choc, bathful-of-treacle, gag-reflex confection that embodies all the most sicky-sicky aspects of 1960s music. The opposite of an achievement. A zchievement, perhaps.

The Moody Blues - To Our Children's Children's ChildrenThis is an album that takes the listener, via the Apollo programme, on a tour of the future solar system up to the year 1,000,000. The main themes are love, peace, children, innocence, children, our children, hope and our children. It’s as if the various members of the band were in competition with one another to put in as many heartfelt references as possible to ‘the eyes of a child’ and ‘the innocence of our children’, to ‘the web of love and peace’ and to ‘the eyes of a child’ again. Track 2 is called “The Eyes of a Child”. So is track 4. Actually track 4 is called “The Eyes of a Child part 2” but it amounts to the same thing. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m a father. I consider my children’s eyes to be perfectly lovely, thank you very much. It’s just that I don’t think it likely that either the beauty of my child’s eyes or the cause of world peace will be materially improved by wibbly hippy meanderings of the calibre of, say, the chorus to track 10 “Candle of Life”:

So Love!
Everybody!
And Make Them!
Your Friend!
So Love!
Everybody!
And Make Them!
Your Friend!

Two things are going to strike the listener as he or she wades through the goo that is To Our Childrens’ Childrens’ Children. One, inevitably, concerns the name of the band itself. The Moody Blues. The Moody Blues? At some point one of the founding members must have been listening to Blind Lemon Jefferson or Robert Johnson or some other great Blues musician singing about their dirt-poverty, the misery and hopelessness of their existence, about selling their souls to the devil or being crossed-in-love and shooting down their rivals-and they must have thought to themselves: ‘blimey! he’s a bit moody.’

One word to that: no.

The second thing that strikes the listener is the frankly odd mathematical principle at work throughout the album. Track 12 is called “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million”. This is Our Childrens’ Childrens’ Children we’re talking about. Three generations, or an average life expectancy of over three hundred thousand years each. Is it that people in the future will live so long, or only that it will seem to be so long, because they’ll be listening to tar like this?

Then there’s the album’s first track, “Higher and Higher”, which begins with the sound of a Saturn V Launch. Then drummer Graeme Edge intones:

Blasting, billowing, bursting forth with the
Power of ten billion butterfly sneezes,
Man with his flaming pyre has conquered the wayward breezes.

Now every schoolchild knows that, breathing as they do through spiracles (those tiny holes in their flanks), butterflies don’t actually sneeze. But putting that on one side for a moment.

At launch a Saturn V rocket puts out about 35 million newtons of thrust. Dividing by ten billion gives us 0.0035 newtons per butterfly sneeze. This is the power to accelerate about a third of a gram (a paperclip, say) one metre per second squared, which I consider impressive sneezing power. You could probably flick a paperclip with your finger such that it accelerates at one metre per second squared. But you are much bigger than a butterfly. Butterflies vary in weight from 0.0003 to 3 grams. Even if we take a median figure the song is suggesting that a butterfly can accelerate something weighing, let’s say, a tenth of its own bodyweight simply by contracting its spiracles. Scaling up, this would be equivalent to a grown man sneezing so hard than an artificial leg flew off the table in front of him with the velocity of a greyhound out of the starting gate. Which, now that I come to think of it, is a suitable image with which to round-up this account of the Moody Blues 1969 SF album To Our Childrens’ Childrens’ Children.

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25 Responses to “Power of Ten Billion Butterfly Sneezes – To Our Children’s Children’s Children by The Moody Blues”

  1. David says:

    One small point: I think that if you actually listen to “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million” you’ll find that it’s the Earth speaking, and the Earth is rather more than one million years old. As regards “butterfly sneezes”, ever heard of poetic licence? Now if you’d complained about the dance that Graeme Edge does when this is performed live…

  2. Jack Deighton says:

    David put my points for me…..
    And “Gypsy” is an awesome song.

  3. Tunkah Wahkahn says:

    You, AdamDad, have absolutely NO IDEA what you are talking about. Are you blocked up? I feel sorry that you must try to exist on such a limited linear-brain thinking capacity. Chill, dude. You must be a very young father? Us Moody Blues fans “lived” the 60s. Maybe you should try extending your perceptions a bit farther out beyond the confines of your own forehead. Careful, now, science isn’t the ONLY method for activating the “wetware” in our brains! Relax, man. Clear your mind of such criticism, open it up without those preconceived notions, and give the album another chance. C’mon!

  4. Tom Marcinko says:

    I took my wife to a Moody Blues concert a few years ago.

    “Well,” she said, “they’re not afraid to wear puffy shirts.”

    You must realize that this sounded awesome in the days when we weren’t supposed to trust anybody over 30. Trust me, I’m over 30.

  5. The Moody Blues Rule! says:

    Adam Roberts sounds like a first grader trying to comprehend the theory of relativity. It is obvious that the immature “Adam Roberts Project” is a “zchievement” which needs to stick to very basic subjects like Dr. Seuss and Thomas the Train. The Moody Blues are way too advanced for his comprehension. The Moody Blues concept album To Our Children’s Children’s Children is a great work of musical art, and is way beyond Adam’s kindergarden skill level.

  6. Paul Raven says:

    Your anonymity makes your almost entirely ad hominem response that much more butt-sore and petulant in tone – good choice.

  7. Brandon Thomas says:

    I agree with Moody Blues Rules! response. Art is in the eye of the beholder, and To Our Children’s Children’s Children is a work of art that is beyond the capacity of Adam Robert’s simple mind. Adam Robert should stick with basic subject matter. He makes himself look idiotic.

  8. Paul Raven says:

    Irony is really lost on you people, isn’t it?

  9. John says:

    Lemme see….1969…..2009 if the babies from 1969 got married and gave birth in 1989(age 20), then those kds got married and gave birth in 2009(age 20) then this album is now finally timely!! it’s been a long wait!!! (I wonder if any of the moodies are great grandparents….YOW)

  10. Ted Santangelo says:

    Adam, I don’t know where to start. You have no concept or understanding of this album. It is absolutely perfect for it’s time and place. I hate to say it, but you sir, are a musical moron. If you can’t recognize the perfect and timely harmony of this collection, in relation to the period in which it exists, then there is nothing anyone can do to save you.

    Oh, and one more thing.

    idiot….. yes, you.

  11. Paul Raven says:

    Am I going to have to start labelling satirical posts, I wonder? You people argue like 15-year-old emo kids who’ve just heard someone knock My Chemical Romance.

  12. Nancy Zulu says:

    Full orchestra? 40 strong choir? I don’t believe it serves any earthly purpose to write a review of something you know absolutely nothing about. Perhaps if it appeared that you had even read the liner notes your critique may hold a little more validity, but you, sir, don’t even have a clue….

  13. Paul Raven says:

    FOR THE SAKE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD, DO YOU PEOPLE NOT RECOGNISE SATIRE WHEN YOU SEE IT? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT SATIRE *IS*?

  14. Nancy Zulu says:

    Of course we know. And good satire is great – refreshing. Satire not done well, however, is an affront to any human sensibility. If you can’t do it even reasonably well, you need a new career or hobby.

  15. Nancy Zulu says:

    Oh yeah; even (GOOD) satire has some factual basis.

  16. Paul Raven says:

    And the notion that The Moody Blues might have been just the teensiest bit pretentious isn’t factual enough, right? I really don’t see how ribbing an old hippie album is such a terrible affront to human sensibility, I’m afraid, but I guess it takes all sorts.

  17. Nancy Zulu says:

    Whether or not you are a fan of Moody Blues music is purely personal taste. It’s the bad journalism that is the affront to human sensibility.

  18. Carolyn says:

    Thank you Nancy Zulu! Really, when writing satire, would help to have your facts straight. If you didn’t like the album then fine, but at least get the technical specs correct.

  19. Paul Raven says:

    Hey! Hey, look! WE’RE RUNNING AROUND ON YOUR LAWN!

  20. The Dr. says:

    Well, mister Raven, I must say, you make a very good, though crude, point. These people do argue like “15-year-old emo kids.” I’m glad you recognized that. On the other hand, the intriguing question would be why they sound like that. Listen, the human race has so often come up short when trying to concoct a means for discursively identifying or justifying matters of aesthetics. People, if you like the Moody Blues (I do like them), you need to realize that unless you and your antithetical counterpart can agree on the method of discourse there can be no conclusion as to the value of their art. Furthermore, you have to realize that by accepting one linguistic standard for discourse or another, you inherently narrow the field of judgment to which you are subjecting said art. It is entirely conceivable, though unrealistic, that the entire album could be judged based on the loudest not in the song. This has an empirical basis and, in some context, might be useful. On the other hand, art is usually more complicated than that, and so we shortchange finding valid methods of argumentation and simply try to turn the statements: “The Moody Blues are good” or “The Moody Blues are bad,” into metaphysical truths. The philosopher John Wisdom, in his famous ‘garden analogy’, noted that this commonly happens with statements about the existence of God or the gods. If anyone reading this has a genuine interest, I would suggest they start by reading Wisdom. In so doing, one might get something useful out of this thread. Otherwise… well, probably not.

    -The Dr.-

  21. The Dr. says:

    Though I hate to leave two posts back to back, I have one more thing to say: I would appreciate that if someone attempts to debate me or something I have said, they do so more civilly than seems to have been the norm. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I’m not much older than 15, well 19 actually, and I usually act more mature than most of the you who have commented.

  22. URFUNNY says:

    I know plenty of butterflies and they do not sneeze. Calculate that!

  23. David says:

    I guess everybody responds in their own way to music.I was around when these albums were being made and they made a big impression on me.This one IS my favourite and,while I take on board all the ideas about space travel,children and love,for me it’s a deeply spiritual experience when I listen to it.The music really holds me in that way,but the lyrics also suggest to me the wider questions of man’s place in the universe and his futile but heartfelt struggle to understand it.It’s a personal thing but,after forty years,this album actually means more to me now,it’s stood the test of time and is very important to me.

  24. BobbyC says:

    Wow. Are you autistic or something…not as an insult but as an observation…anyone being that anal about an artfom either is…err…special or just a prig. This is ART, not literal…do you know the difference?

  25. Paul Raven says:

    Bobby, Adam Roberts has published over twenty novels, and is a professor of literature. I think it fair to presume he has a very good idea of what art is; the problem, it seems, is that it’s not the same as yours.