The Moody Blues
The Moody Blues
In the unstable world of rock and roll music, the lifetime of a band can usually be measured by the number of weeks they spend on the charts with a top ten single. The rare exceptions are the few groups that can consistently maintain a steady stream of hits, produce numerous top ten albums, and generate a devoted fan base. The Moody Blues have achieved all of this, while at the same time sustaining widespread commercial and critical success since 1965—all without compromising their dedication to a unique sound and trademark lyrics.
Formed in 1964 by Denny Laine, Clint Warwick, Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, and Graeme Edge in Birmingham, England, the Moody Blues began as a rhythm and blues band, their name adapted from the style of music they performed. They immediately rose to fame with the number one single “Go Now,” and seemed poised to become another British supergroup following on the heels of the wildly popular Beatles and Rolling Stones. Their place in musical history seemed assured when, in 1965, after seeing a live performance, the Beatles’
Members have included Graeme Edge, David Justin Hayward, Denny Laine, John Lodge, Patrick Moraz, Michael Pinder, Ray Thomas, Clint Warwick.
Group formed in Birmingham England, 1964; founding members Denny Laine and Clint Warwick left the group and were replaced by Justin Hayward and John Lodge, 1966; formed Threshold recording label, 1969; disbanded, 1974; reunited with Patrick Moraz replacing Mike Pinder on keyboards, 1977.
manager Brian Epstein signed the band and Coca-Cola enlisted them to sing on several radio commercials. The following year, “Go Now” was released in the United States, became a hit single, and The Magnificent Moodies, their first full album, was received favorably in Britain.
In late 1966, a major upheaval in the band’s lineup occurred as both Denny Laine (who later performed with Paul McCartney’s Wings) and Clint Warwick left the group; they were replaced by Justin Hayward and John Lodge. The new membership permanently altered the direction of the band, as they ended their relationship with Epstein, began recording with Decca Records, and fashioned a new sound that blended 1960s rock and roll elements with classical overtones.
The first release of the new lineup, the groundbreaking Days of Future Passed, produced two instant top ten hits—“Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon, “—and is often cited as their best album. The album’s sound was influenced by the experimentalism in instrumentation and lyrics that the Beatles had popularized with albums like Revolver and which other bands were beginning to mimic. Days of told Melody Maker that the label of sunrise to sunset in an almost operatic fashion. The album begins with an overture highlighting all of the main musical themes, is followed by recitation of poetry, and ends again with poetry. As the album progresses, several more traditional songs, like “The Day Begins,” “Peak Hour,” and “Evening,” are interspersed with musical interludes which serve to tie together the previous and next stage of the album/day. Days of Future Passed was one of the first popular music recordings to feature a classical performance, which was completed by the London Festival Orchestra and orchestrated by Peter Knight after the group had finished the main songs.
The album ends with one of the Moody Blues’ biggest hits and what quickly became their trademark song: “Nights in White Satin.” The song contains many romantic elements—which were to became an important part of the band’s image—combined with a complex set of lyrics. The word “nights” becomes a double entendre for the more mythic “knights.” “Tuesday Afternoon” also hit the charts immediately as well, and the album itself remained on the charts for two years after its release.
Days of Future Passed is an excellent example of a “concept” album, with its circular nature and narrative structure. The band also used elements from Days in their 1968 follow-up In Search of the Lost Chord. The latter album begins and ends with poetry, but this time the band wanted more control over the overall sound, so they decided to play each of the 30 featured instruments themselves. The result is a diverse production with a wide range of instrumentation, including 12-string guitar, harpsichord, tabla, flute, and mellotron. The mellotron, an early form of synthesizer, reproduced sampled music from a prerecorded magnetic tape and became a favorite instrument of keyboardist Mike Pinder, further defining the early sound of the Moody Blues. In Search of the Lost Chord was the tale of a band searching for their own identities both spiritually and musically; appropriately, after the release of the album the group decided to take a major developmental step.
Following the lead of the Beatles creation of Apple Records, the Moody Blues formed the Threshold label in 1969, not only for themselves but also as a venue for the promotion of new and rising talent. Justin Hayward told Melody MakerXhaX the label was born out of frustration and dissatisfaction: “After we’d completed each of our albums we found that we had so many ideas left over….we felt that we weren’t able to exercise sufficient control over our material.” Threshold still came under the wings of Decca, allowing the band to use Decca’s recording facilities and distribution network. In 1969 they released On the Threshold of a Dream and also To Our Children’s Children’s Children, which was the first album on the Threshold label.
The Moody Blues’ albums had all been received well, and the 1970 release A Question of Balance was no exception. By now the group had developed a full, rich characteristic sound that incorporated solid songwriting with cutting-edge instrumentation. Their songs varied thematically, but always presented a kind of philosophical exploration. Hayward told Melody Maker that these philosophies “are a lot of people’s opinions, not just our own. I think and hope that we are expressing what a lot of people feel.” The string of hits continued with 1971’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and 1972’s Seventh Sojourn, featuring the hits “The Story in Your Eyes,” “Isn’t Life Strange,” and “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock n’ Roll Band).”
After their rapid rise to fame, seven gold albums, and a long tour, the band separated in 1974. During the break, each band member recorded at least one solo album; Graeme Edge formed a new band; and John Lodgeand Justin Hayward collaborated for Blue Jays, a very well-received album. The band reunited in late 1977 and began recording 1978’s aptly named release Octave. The success of the album convinced them to embark upon a major tour, excepting Mike Pinder; the keyboardist and founding member declined and left the band. Pinder did not reappear on the music scene until 1993, when he released a solo recording, followed by a several children’s albums. Pinder was replaced by Patrick Moraz, formerly of the band Yes, who stayed with the group until 1991.
Although Pinder’s departure did have an effect on the Moody Blues, the band was fully recovered by the 1981 recording of Long Distance Voyager. The album became a huge hit, and the single “The Voice” introduced the Moody Blues to a new generation of listeners. Their rebirth was greeted with praise, but the 1983 follow-up The Present performed poorly on the charts. The group fired the producer of both albums, claiming a lack of support for their material on these efforts.
Subsequent releases, including The Other Side of Life (1986), Sur La Mer (1988), and Keys of the Kingdom (1991), brought the band around full circle by updating their sound and producing yet another string of popular singles. Billboard hits off these albums included “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” while the video from the latter won the Billboard Video of the Year Award. In 1992 the band recorded a live concert with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at the popular Red Rocks venue in Colorado. The recording was released a year later as A Night at Red Rocks, and the band followed with a well-attended tour of the United States in support of the recording.
The immense popularity of the Moody Blues has persisted over several generations of fans despite long periods of dormancy and personnel turnovers. Their longevity can be attributed to several factors, including solid songwriting techniques, unique and often progressive instrumentation, and a distinctive sound which they have never sacrificed in pursuit of trendiness. Throughout the years, the band’s simple approach to making music allowed them to remain true to themselves. As John Lodge told Guitar Player in 1995, “With everything we’ve written and recorded, we’ve wanted the music to last forever. We wanted to be proud of what we did years and years later …Of course, I don’t think any of us thought we’d still be talking about it 30 years later.”
The Magnificent Moodies, Polydor, 1966.
Go Now, 1966.
Days of Future Passed, Decca, 1967.
In Search of the Lost Chord, Decca, 1968.
On the Threshold of a Dream, Decca, 1969.
To Our Children’s Children’s Children, Threshold, 1969.
A Question of Balance, Threshold, 1970.
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Threshold, 1971.
Seventh Sojourn, Threshold, 1972.
Octave, Threshold, 1978.
Long Distance Voyager, Threshold, 1981.
The Present, Threshold, 1983.
The Other Side of Life, Polydor, 1986.
Sur La Mer, Polydor, 1988.
Keys of the Kingdom, Polydor, 1991.
(With the Colorado Symphony Orchestra) A Night at Red Rocks, Polydor, 1993.
Time Traveler, 4-cd box set greatest hits, Polygram, 1994.
Guitar Player, September 1995.
Melody Maker, January 21, 1967; October 19, 1968; November 1, 1969; February 7, 1970; July 15, 1978.
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