Archives for category: The Moody Blues

With the Moody Blues touring in celebration of their landmark album “Days of Future Passed”…we’ve been going through the archives.  

The fall of 1967 meant awaiting the Christmas offerings of the Beatles and Rolling Stonesto much disappointment. “Magical Mystery Tour” was merely an EP that served as a soundtrack to the Fab Four’s first misstep–a drug enduced home movie that shocked many and confused more on Boxing Day…while “Their Satanic Majesties Request” saw what happened when the Rolling Stones tried to imitate “Sgt. Pepper” instead of “Aftermath”–a psychedelic journey that never really began or ended with a Bill Wyman song to boot. Nobody expected greatness from a has-been band almost named after a brewery just a few years before. But that’s what they got with the Moody Blues “Days of Future Passed”.

A revamped lineup, a change of musical focus and consecutive singles that fail to chart is not the ideal way for a musical group to rebound from a two-year slump. Although neither “Fly Me High” nor “Love and Beauty” made a dent in the UK top 20, Deram Records thought they had something– guinea pigs. Recording at the time was making the move into stereo…and the label thought it would be great to have a demo of what stereo would sound like with classical and modern music. So naturally, they asked the Moody Blues to record and adaptation of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9. Kind of like an aspiring painter asked to reproduce something they saw in art class, but with different paints to show off a new canvas.

Fortunately for the group, they were writing quite a bit of new material while touring in Belgium…and were able to narrow the fruits of their creativity into a song cycle about “a day in the life”. Mike Pinder had sat in on one of the Sgt. Pepper sessions for that Beatles song–and perhaps that got things rolling. But it wasn’t just Pinder who contributed songs: Hayward, Lodge and Thomas also wrote while Graeme Edge composed the two poems that bookend the album:

“Cold hearted orb that rules the night…remove the colors from our sight. Red is grey and yellow white…but we decide which is right. And which is an illusion…”

The spoken word poems, however goofy-sounding at times (and depending on your mood they range from profound to downright ridiculous) hold key posts in the groups first five “core” albums (with grunting emerging in their sixth)…setting the table (In Search of the Lost Chord’s “Departure”) or providing a finishing statement (A Question of Balance’s “The Balance”). In Days similar verses open and end a journey through the day.

It was a marriage of rock and classical music like none other. Peter Knight directed the “London Festival Orchestra” to fill the gaps in between songs moving through different day parts. The opening track “Day Begins” touches on different melodies we’ll hear later on the album…and the orchestral pieces mesh perfectly with the songs. Credit producer Tony Clarke with fitting the two genres in tandem.

“Dawn is a Feeling” wakes up the listener to the possibilities of the day ahead…even sneaking in a subtle narcotic hint (“the smell of grass just makes you pass into a dream”)…Hayward and Pinder trading verses and bridges. Justin’s sunshiny pleasantness would provide the Yin to Mike’s soul-searching Yang over the next seven years. “Another Morning” offers the double-tracked voice of Ray Thomas (also known as the dancing machine in the group’s “Ride My See Saw” video”) and no question about it, the Moodies’ flautist vocally dances through whimsical lyrics “a palace is an orange box”…with the key line “time seems to stand quite still–in a child’s world it always will”. “Peak Hour” brings John Lodge into the mix with a up-tempo rocker that ends the first side that showcases Graeme Edge’s accelerating drum solo that instantly makes one think of his intro “I’m Just a Singer (in a rock and roll band)” five years later.

“Tuesday Afternoon” opens side two with the hypnotic combination of Mellotron/bass for the first few bars…and by the time Hayward’s vocal starts and the guitar and drums kick in, the listener is lost in an audio undertow. “Evening (Time to Get Away)” lets us know Lodge has a falsetto in his arsenal and isn’t afraid to use it. “Sunset/Twilight Time” juxtaposes Pinder and Thomas effectively. Booming drums with an Oriental flavor set the tone underneath Mike’s initial vocal…and then Ray’s flute answers the Mellotron in between the verses. After Hayward’s guitar plays the introductory note to “Twilight Time” Thomas’ fall away jumper of a vocal boasts the lyrical gem “an aerial display of a firefly brigade…dancing to tunes no one knew”.

The final song remains 46 years later the group’s signature tune…”Nights in White Satin”. Reportedly inspired when he received satin sheets as a gift, Justin Hayward captures the heart of chances not taken (“letters I’ve written, never meaning to send”)…before being given confidence from Pinder’s Mellotron to declare his feelings. Thomas’ flute enters side by side with Lodge’s bass and Hayward’s acoustic guitar as support during the bridge. A tidal wave of emotion crashes with each line…and for a guy who was only meaning to send letters, Hayward delivers “I love you” no fewer than 15 times before the orchestra kicks in. I hope he bought forever stamps.

“Nights in White Satin” would chart three separate times (#19 in 1967, #9 in 1972 and #14 in 1979) in the UK and reach #2 in the US in 1972 (topping the charts in Canada that year) while taking #1 in the “Cashbox Chart” (the ESPN/USA Today Poll to Billboard’s AP) the same year. “Nights” would serve as scene-setters for movies set in the 1960’s like “Bobby” and “A Bronx Tale” while showing up in “Deuce Bigelow: European Gigelo”. TV shows from “Fringe” to “Two and a Half Men” would use “Nights” for emphasis.

Titled “Days of Future Passed”–and often misspelled “Past”–by the record company (the last time that would happen for the Moodies)…the album would see moderate success in the homeland (#27) while taking off on this side of the Atlantic (#3 in the US and Canada)…and the Moodies would make more than a few trips to America over the next few years. The album’s success ended a two-year descent and gave the group a blueprint they’d go back to six more times over the next four years.

Coming Up Next–How did they lose the chord in the first place?

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With the Moody Blues touring and playing their 1967 landmark album “Days of Future Passed”, I’m returning to the archives for the first four parts of a summer-long series from 2013.  Eventually I’ll add pieces and bring us to the present…whether you like it or not.

 

1966 was an incredible year in music. The Beatles released their highly regarded Revolver while the Rolling Stones were spinning out singles like “19th Nervous Breakdown” and groups like Cream and the Jefferson Airplane were beginning to take flight.  Meanwhile, the Moody Blues were on their way to becoming insignificant one-hit wonders (GO NOW!, #1, 1965)–about to be devoured by the law of diminishing returns.  To add to their drifting into oblivion…the Moodies lost their rudder and sail as lead singer Denny Laine and bassist Clint Warwick fled the sinking ship.  As a last gasp the remaining trio reached into their past and future.

John Lodge had originally left the Moodies to attend technical college…but rejoined at this time as fill-in Rodney Clarke didn’t last long enough to merit a Wikipedia entry.  Lodge’s voice and songwriting would be an unexpected bonus to his bass playing:  he’d create and deliver band-defining songs from “Ride My See-Saw” to “Isn’t Live Strange”.  For a new lead guitarist, the band picked up a hand me down from the Animals:  Eric Burdon handed Mike Pinder a letter and demo from 20-year old Justin Hayward.  The sandy blonde songwriter had previously been a part of the “Wilde Three” and had done some solo work…and would go on to become the face and voice of the Moodies during their peak era of 1967-72.

Armed with two singer/songwriters, the band refined its sound.  R&B knockoffs wouldn’t work any more in a changing musical landscape.  The quintet grew together playing in Belgium–now focused on their own material.  The first fruit of their cross-pollination would be one step forward with “Fly Me High”…a Justin Hayward song that drives though the verses steadily before relying on John Lodge’s falsetto harmony in the bridges.  The kind of song where you enjoy the entire ride and are bummed when it’s over… thinking for sure you had one more verse to enjoy.  The B side would be a leftover from the Laine/Warwick days, “I Really Haven’t Got the Time”.  A song that feels like a Gerry and the Pacemakers derivative…only not as good. Thankfully, Mike Pinder’s next effort wouldn’t only be much better, but also feature a new instrument that would define the band.

“Love and Beauty” was the band’s next single…and in addition to featuring interwoven harmonies Mike Pinder swapped out his piano for the Mellotron. He discovered the instrument while an employee of Streetly Electronics. This keyboard instrument plays tape loops and gave bands the feel of an orchestra at times. It provided the perfect vessel for the band to take their listeners on seven remarkable journeys.


Coming up Next: One Incredible Day.

This year the Moody Blues are touring to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their landmark album “Days of Future Passed”.  I’m reposting a series from 2013 and continuing extensive coverage of the Moody Blues that nobody has asked for throughout this month.  Something to do before football season kicks off…at least.

 

 

It all began in May, 1964 like many groups of the day that succeeded and failed: one band splinters and then dissolves. Mike Pinder (keyboards), John Lodge (bass) and Ray Thomas (tambourine, flute, bad dancing) left “El Riot and the Rebels” only to disband when Lodge attended school and Pinder entered the Army (one has the feel of “Summer of ’69”: “Jimmy quit, Jody got married…”). Pinder and Thomas eventually reunited to form the “Krew Cats”. I don’t know which name is less irritating, but before long they were joined by Denny Laine (guitar) and Clint Warwick (bass) as well as a former band manager turned drummer Graeme Edge (sort of like the Rolling Stones Ian Stewart in reverse). Would they keep “Krew Cats”? Or maybe become the “Crew Kats”? The answer lay in the bottom of a pint of beer.

Mitchells & Butlers plc owns and operates over 1,500 restaurants and pubs across the United Kingdom…and is headquartered in Birmingham. No doubt the lads were well ahead of the curve in attempting to get M&B to sponsor the band–when you need an amp or a set of maracas you’ll likely do anything. While the proposed name “M&B Five” never gained traction with the brewery, M&B stayed as initials. Much like the kismet that delivered the Avengers character “Emma Peel” (casting directors were looking for and actress who appealed to men, aka “man appeal”/”M-appeal”), the blues-based group formed their name off the initials of the beer of the day= “The Moody Blues”.

Much like the multitude of struggling groups on the fringe of success the lads played clubs of all sorts honing their craft, hoping for the opportunity to trickle into London for an audition with a label. They signed with a management company that would release their recordings through Decca. Their first single, “Steal Your Heart Away” failed to chart…and sounds like much of what came out at the time. It was almost a demo reel for each band member to prove they could play guitar, bass, piano and drums and interweave harmony and lead vocals. While their debut would sound like a band playing a song, their followup would feel like a song being played by a band.

From Denny Laine’s naked vocal to the descending piano to the presence of full harmonies and band in the first 15 seconds, “Go Now!” has you hooked, avidly awaiting the next line. The Larry Banks-Milton Bennett penned tune is fairly straightforward…and the harmony chorus often feels like the solo verse and vice versa. Laine brings an over-the-top energy that remains restrained–instead of being too hot or too cold, his voice is just right here. The harmony vocals provides him the perfect sound to bounce off of…and Mike Pinder’s clean piano drives the song without taking away from the singing.

Go Now!” skyrocketed to #10 in the US charts and would claim the top spot from Georgie Fame’s “Yeh Yeh” in the UK before being nudged aside by the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (no truth to the rumor that Tom Cruise sings “Go Now!” in a scene that didn’t make the final cut of “Top Gun”). TV appearances followed where today’s youtube viewers think Ray Thomas is John Cleese from Monty Python. Naturally, a slapped together album of covers, filler and miscellaneous followed with the hit single as its centerpiece. The album failed to chart…as their #1 song was becoming a millstone instead of a milestone.

Instead of being a springboard, “Go Now!” turned out to be the gold standard that each successive single paled against. “I Don’t Want to Go on Without You” stalled at #33. “From the Bottom of My Heart” peaked at #22. “Everyday” (solid stop and go harmonies) crested at #44. “Stop!” (too herky-jerky) stopped at #88…in Canada. And “This Is My House (but Nobody Calls)” finally replied at #119 in the US. In a singles-dominated medium where yesterday’s news becomes lining for bird cages, the Moodies were becoming old hat overnight. “Life’s Not Life” was a fitting final attempt as Laine (who would eventually join Paul McCartney’s Wings and perform “Go Now” in concert with Paul & Linda) and Warwick went their own ways…leaving Pinder, Thomas and Edge looking to revamp the band’s lineup and perhaps reinvent their sound. And that’s when two Blue Jays flew in from out of nowhere.

 

Coming up Next– Finding harmonies…and meeting the Mellotron.