The History of The Albums – n°367
There are artists or bands that have changed the history of music forever, but remain far less known and renowned than their spiritual children, the importance is not to ignore it. Moody Blues is this kind of pioneer band, as generally many of the sixties generation that established significant foundations, thus drawing the Pop Rock we know today, simply by their innovative and creative vision. In the middle of a revolutionary period, the Moody Blues succeeded in the feat (see the miracle) of placing themselves next to visionaries and geniuses like the Beatles, Brian Wilson, Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd or Frank Zappa, that is to say in this high category of artists whose common qualifying adjective is based on this sufficiently explicit term: "Art". It is necessary to understand that 1967 is a year deeply marked by the psychedelic movements and also by the emergence of the Hard Rock as a prediction of the future, what makes of Moody Blues a true UFO, simply because it is a pop group mainly articulated around a sophisticated orchestration. Although Moody Blues is more logically classified as a Baroque Pop band, their singularity, their avant-garde vision and their genius have simply allowed the band to leave a crucial mark as one of the precursors of Progressive Rock, Symphonic Rock (and Symphonic Prog), Rock Opera and Progressive Pop. On the contrary, the Moody Blues participated in the conceptual, philosophical and spiritual evolution in the writing and composition of the songs, thus complexifying the work of structures of the latter. Their influences are therefore titanic (even if they are not the only ones responsible), including absolute examples like Yes, ELO, Genesis, Deep Purple, Supertramp, Queen, Jethro Tull, Alan Parsons, Barclay James Harvest, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Renaissance, Gentle Giant and even later with Arcade Fire or Radiohead.
However, the Moody Blues were doomed from the start but a real miracle happened. Let's travel to Birmingham in 1964 in the middle of the British Invasion and Beatlemania, at a time when the Rhythm and Blues, Merseybeat and Beat/Mod bands were multiplying like insects in England. Having tackled several different stage names, The Moody Blues was thus an R&B group trying to exist among a competition as fierce as unpredictable, thus trying to surf on a wave that one must know how to master. Initially composed of the quintet, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder, Graeme Edge, Denny Laine and Clint Warwick, the group was supported by personalities of the field in order to approach Decca Records with which they managed to find success with their second single Go Now, placing them at the first place of the UK charts (I recall in full Beatlemania period, which thus a huge performance). However, despite this enormous exposure, the Moody Blues failed to capitalize on their achievements with the commercial failure of their first solo album The Magnificent Moodies (1965), as well as the singles that were released afterwards. While music and the music industry were evolving at the speed of light at the time, not only were the Moody Blues struggling to survive, but the band was not showing any signs of renewal, stagnating and letting competing bands slip by. In 1966, it was Warwick who left the band, followed by Denny Laine, leaving a broken band in total agony, almost unable to perform live. Without giving up, the band relaunched itself at the end of 1966, temporarily settling in Belgium and welcoming the arrival of John Lodge who would become one of the leaders and architects of the Moody's future success. It was then that the band was forced to reinvent itself in order to pay off its debt to Decca, by imagining a symphonic and orchestral version of pop rock music, as Brian Wilson and the Beatles had already shown some ultra innovative examples.
The miracle of the Moody Blues revival occurred in 1967 when their label offered them a last chance to make up for it. Decca was then trying to develop classical music in stereo for the new Hi-Fi sector and one of the representatives of the label Hugh Mendl sees in Moody Blues the possibility of being able to carry out the rather insane project of allying the Pop Rock with the Classical music. It is thus under the Deram subsidiary that Moody Blues will begin to work on Days of Future Passed in May 1967, a conceptual album musically and thematically since it describes the day of a human and the philosophical aspect of this one. Despite some complications, the Moody Blues were joined by Peter Knight as conductor, producers/engineers Tony Clarke and Derek Varnals, and the London Festival Orchestra. The Moody Blues have retained much of their artistic freedom and although the project is ambitious, the chemistry between all the participants has worked. For that, each member of the Moody Blues knew how to pass a course by developing their creative possibility. This record is also marked by the fact that the band and orchestra recordings were separated and then assembled at the end. Contrary to the rumors that Days of Future Passed is based on Antonín Dvořák's "Symphony No. 9" adaptation, this concept is mostly based on the band's own compositions and more precisely around the major piece Nights In White Satin, released as a single 1 month before the album.
Days of Future Passed is thus articulated on 7 pieces which define important moments of a day, sometimes intersected with several distinct sub-parts per piece. Both its musical and conceptual approach is a first in the history of the album format for a popular band. In fact, it was such a UFO and so complex, that this album will become a flop that will take only a few years to get the success it deserved, as well as its notoriety. And it is here that we understand that Moody Blues are artists who do not give up their convictions. They accepted a last chance but refuse for all that to do without their own creativity. Besides having succeeded in a musical reconversion (because we were speaking about a dying R&B group), all the members of Moody passed a significant course, in particular in the writing, in the legendary use of the Mellotron by Mike Pinder and the flute by Ray Thomas. I can tell you that for a record recorded separately, the result is just incredible to the point that it sounds like it was done together. It is then that the Moody's compositions are combined with the one of the conductor Peter Knight as absolutely obvious links. Logically, Days of Future Passed starts explicitly with The Day Begins, with an instrumental worthy of a movie that also addresses the theme of Nights In White Satin. Never before has a "Pop Rock" album (even Pet Sounds or Sgt Pepper's) offered such a cinematic atmosphere, let alone one of this scale. It is an extremely tasty journey. The Day Begins closes with a poem written by Edge and performed by Pinder which makes things even richer. The album continues with Dawn, a first performance combining Pop Rock and classical music, where we feel very clearly the beginnings of Progressive Rock, notably by this theatrical way of taking the narration, or this structure which seems unfinished if we listen to it without the first song and without the following one.
Undeniably Moody Blues surfs on the psychedelic tendency by merging it with the Ba-roque Pop. One of the best examples can be found on the introduction of the B-side with The Afternoon (Forever Afternoon Tuesday) where the band perfectly manages to master their new sound on a mini rock symphony of 8 minutes. I tend to prefer the B-side since the Moody Blues offers unconventional song formats while being more brilliant. Of course, we all have our eyes on Nights In White Satin, one of the greatest songs of all time that sublimates everything else. It is impossible to describe how much this song releases strong emotions, I tremble every time I listen to it. And to think that Justin Hayward had written this song at the age of only 19 years ... Nights In White Satin is a monument that you can do only once. The orchestration is extraordinary, it does not stop evolving, showing in intensity, varying the crescendo, it seems sometimes that it is ready to explode. The melodies and the angelic writing of Hayward is so overwhelming that one has the impression that he is at the edge of the precipice facing a turning point of his life. This song masterfully encapsulates the unique and brilliant concept of Days of Future Passed, without which this project might never have gained the notoriety it deserves. Despite a less than convincing commercial result, Moody Blues will not only save their own skin, but they will also continue to make rock history with great albums until the mid 70's.