The Moody Blues:
Days of Future Passed

 

 

 

 

Written by Alan McCornack

For “History of Rock and Roll”

Grossmont College, Music 115, Section 8111

Word Count: 2587

Due May 1, 2009


Introduction: Before “Days of Future Passed”

 

The Moody Blues first began as an R&B band during the British Invasion days (May of 1964) in Birmingham, England. Apparently, the name “Moody Blues” is a veiled reference to Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” Founding members Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder decided to “go pro,” and recruited the best Birmingham musicians to form their new group, many of whom they had played with in local gigs. With Denny Laine singing lead vocals, they played local clubs and got enough notice from their soon-to-be manager Tony Secunda to land a Decca recording contract within six months of the formation of the group (1). The core members included Ray Thomas (vocals and flute), Clint Warwick on bass and vocals, and Graeme Edge on drums. They had their first chart-climbing song with “Go Now,” recorded in late 1964. This cover of a Bessie Banks R&B number went to # 1 in England. Their 1965 album “The Magnificent Moodies” included a cover of a James Brown song, perhaps trying to repeat that same success (2).

Like many bands of the Fifties and Sixties, they performed many “cover” tunes, playing in local pubs and clubs, and all were experienced musicians. In this regard, they were unremarkable in their beginning year or two, trying to make something “hit.” The band had quite a few months go by with great anticipation, grinding road trips, and no more hits after “Go Now.” Two members quit after their nightly pay plummeted. After nine months, they were labeled “one-hit wonders.” The departure of both Denny Laine and Clint Warwick in 1966 resulted in the need for new members to take their place. By early 1965, Mike Pinder had purchased a Mellotron (a tape-based machine that could reproduce almost any conceivable sound, from horns, organ or a choir all the way to a full orchestra). “Love and Beauty” was the first Moody Blues song recorded with the Mellotron (3).

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge weren’t merely replacements for departing members. Hayward’s crooning lead voice and growling guitar licks with John Lodges’ bass work were the perfect complement to the keyboard work of Mike Pinder. The sounds Hayward could wrest from his guitar provided the rock core of their material. All Moodies were capable singers, without exception. Pinder worked for a time for Streetly Electronics, the manufacturer of the Mellotron. His ability to fix the machine on the spot would save the day many times. The combination of wicked guitar licks and uplifting vocals, plus lush, orchestra-like accompaniment from the Mellotron, would soon become their signature sound (4).

Listening to May 1967’s recording of “Fly Me High,” though lacking a Mellotron, was an indication of the “mind-expanding” direction of the new Moodies. This was recorded about the time they stopped performing anything besides their own material. They also owed money to Decca, after receiving cash advances.

The idea for the “Days of Future Passed” album began with Decca record executives. They were looking for something to show off their new “Deramic Stereo” sound (presumably with a wider dynamic range). Originally, the idea was to remake Dvorak’s 9th Symphony. The band members quickly seized upon the idea (as a way to pay off their debt owed for studio time and cash advances), and in fact signed a contract to do just that, but couldn’t follow through. They realized, after being confronted by a disgruntled listener in a club, that they would never be successful as artists if they merely performed other artists work. With a backlog of fresh material they felt was ready to go, and with the help of producer Tony Clarke, and tacit consent of Engineer Derek Varnals, they proceeded to hijack the studio and bar the door from managerial interference. They began with two songs (one about morning, the other about night), and turned them into a song cycle, expanding the original material with new sections for each part of a working mans’ entire day (4).

Work with the London Festival Orchestra (actually 48 studio musicians plus talented conductor/arranger Peter Knight) in a frenzied one-week period had them recording the rock and orchestra parts separately, with musical scores being passed back and forth. United only during mixing, even the band members had little idea what the result would be until the Release Panel of Decca executives were assembled, reel to reel master tape copies were cued, and the speakers, on a stage, played the work from beginning to end. Afterwards, the band, their wives and girlfriends, and record executives sat in stunned silence. Decca executives, hard-pressed to try to fit the music into a category, reluctantly released it after a short delay (2, 4).

I am only able to pin down the date of their weeklong recording session to the two months that include September and October of 1967. The 11th of November, 1967 is the official release date for the album.


Discography (5)

 

Date

ALBUMS / Singles

1964 August

Lose Your Money

1964 November

Go Now!

1965 February

I Don't Want To Go On Without You

1965 May

From The Bottom Of My Heart

1965 July

THE MAGNIFICENT MOODIES

1965 July

GO NOW

1965 October

Everyday

1966 March

Stop!

1966 October

Boulevard de la Madeleine

1967 January

Life's Not Life

1967 May

Fly Me High

1967 August

Love And Beauty

1967 November

Nights In White Satin

1967 November

DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED

1968 July

Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon)

1968 July

Voices In The Sky

1968 July

IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD

1968 October

Ride My See-Saw

1969 April

Never Comes The Day

1969 April

ON THE THRESHOLD OF A DREAM

1969 October

Watching And Waiting

1969 November

TO OUR CHILDREN'S CHILDREN'S CHILDREN

1970 April

Question

1970 August

A QUESTION OF BALANCE

1971 July

EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR

1971 August

The Story In Your Eyes

1971

IN THE BEGINNING

1972 April

Isn't Life Strange

1972 November

SEVENTH SOJOURN

1972 December

I'm Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)

1974 November

THIS IS THE MOODY BLUES

1976

A DREAM

1977 April

CAUGHT LIVE + 5

1978 June

OCTAVE

1978 July

Steppin' In A Slide Zone

1978 October

Driftwood

1979 October

OUT OF THIS WORLD

1979

THE MOODY BLUES STORY

1981 May

LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER

1981 May

Gemini Dream

1981 July

The Voice

1981 November

Talking Out Of Turn

1983 August

Blue World

1983 August

Sitting At The Wheel

1983 August 23

THE PRESENT

1984 February

Under My Feet

1984 November

The Voice

1984 November 22

VOICES IN THE SKY

1985 September

THE MOODY BLUES COLLECTION

1986 March

Your Wildest Dreams

1986 May

THE OTHER SIDE OF LIFE

1986 August

The Other Side of Life

1987 October 26

PRELUDE

1987

SUPERSTAR CONCERT SERIES (March 2 1987)

1988 May

I Know You're Out There Somewhere

1988 June 6

SUR LA MER

1988 December

No More Lies

1988

Here Comes The Weekend

1989 November 21

THE STORY OF THE MOODY BLUES... LEGEND OF A BAND

1991 June

Say It With Love

1991 June 25

KEYS OF THE KINGDOM

1993 March 9

A NIGHT AT RED ROCKS WITH THE COLORADO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

1994 September?

TIME TRAVELLER

1997 January 28

THE VERY BEST OF THE MOODY BLUES

1998 October 20

ANTHOLOGY

1999 August 17

STRANGE TIMES

2000 March 7

THE BEST OF THE MOODY BLUES - THE MILLENIUM COLLECTION

2000 August 8

LIVE AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL 2000

2000 October 26

THE SINGLES+

2001 April 24

JOURNEY INTO AMAZING CAVES

2001 August 13

THE COLLECTION

2002 August 7

JOURNEY THROUGH TIME

2003 January 14

SAY IT WITH LOVE

2003 November 24

DECEMBER

2004 May 13

HISTORY

2005 March 1

GOLD

2007 February 27

COLLECTED

2007 April 17

LIVE AT THE BBC 1967-1970

 


The “Days of Future Passed” Album

 

Three things about this album were “firsts.” To begin with, it was recorded in stereo at a time when the mono versus stereo war was far from over. Staunch Republicans of that era probably believed that stereo was invented as a Communist plot to sell twice as many speakers to a gullible public. Almost all recordings were produced in Mono at least (for AM radio stations), and Stereo really hadn’t taken the lead yet in record sales, especially in England. American FM stations made the switch to stereo very quickly, and this helped popularize stereo records in the States. The decision to spotlight the added depth that stereo can give a recording, with the sound zooming (panning) from left to right and back again, was not merely novel, it was sort-of mind bending, with or without herbal or chemical enhancements.

The second “first” is that it is the first rock “concept” album, and basically chronicles a day in the life of an average guy (and ends the same way it began). Lastly, they were the first rock artists to fuse rock and classical music together. The combination of stereo, great work on the mixing boards, orchestration, and stark (Edge) poetry readings by Pinder, gives the production a depth and force that makes listening to the whole album a spiritual journey of the mind. Each song on the album blends seamlessly with the next, and each part of the day has its’ own rhythm. The drumming is inspired, done with finesse. Transitions from one distinct section to another are usually smoothed by orchestral strains.

The album begins with a long, slow fade-in of a gong. The first song is titled “The Day Begins.” After about thirty seconds of gradually getting louder, first strings, and then woodwinds play (with a triangle brightly jangling), followed by the horns introducing the first musical idea. Taken up by the strings, they lightheartedly expand the theme with help from woodwinds and horns, briefly touching on melodic themes from later songs (Tuesday Afternoon and Nights in White Satin). Stark poetry, written by Graeme Edge and read by Mike Pinder ushers in the idea of the sunrise being imminent. The first theme forms the backbone of “Dawn Is A Feeling.” The tone is light, and a piano accompanies the singer. The lyrics try to soothe the listener, salute the glory of the rising sun with a happy, gradually increasing tempo.

“LUNCH BREAK: Peak Hour” is track number four. Horns and strings repeat the “Dawn is a Feeling” melody, with orchestral strains and odd beeps that somehow evoke images of hurrying pedestrians amid the traffic and construction noises found in a busy city. The “Peak Hour” referred to is what we would call “Rush Hour” in the United States. All the hustle and bustle of activity of both lunch and commute are joined together, and an allusion to things never ever being completed is replaced by a call for introspection. I believe the line “I’ve found out, I’ve got time,” is gently suggesting we slow down a little and appreciate the moment for what it is.

The fifth track, “Tuesday Afternoon,” continues the section of the album with the busy pace of the mid-day. There is a wistful longing, and the lyrics speak of “the trees (are) drawing me near.” The tempo is set more by the bass player than the drummer, and the bass register plays a central role the song. The last three minutes, stripped from the radio version, the mood changes from alternating between energetic and mystical to sullen and brooding. “Toiling has bought too many tears,” he laments as the afternoon wears on. The lowering sun, and growing shadows, change the tone of this vaguely-worded song about love, leaving a feeling of work-weariness and a downturn in mood, and ends with a repeated chorus of “Evening, the time to get away….” I can imagine for the typical Englishman, this means a few drinks with friends in a pub before going home, but artfully remains unstated.

But the real gem of the album is the last track, “Nights in White Satin.” My opinion is that it is the finest love song ever written. Beginning with a flute introduction, it has a lamenting, fatalistic undercurrent in the lyrics, and even features the flute as a solo instrument. The orchestra and Mellotron are so well intermixed, it is hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. The song is a tour de force of musical talent, lyrical angst and improved recording technology. It ends with a gong being struck, and a long, slow fade. I can picture it segueing right back into that first song, and starting all over again.

Though unsure at first after a delayed release, everyone at Decca was reassured when first “Nights in White Satin,” and then soon after “Tuesday Afternoon” rocketed to Gold status in the pop charts of 1967. That album stayed on the charts for two whole years! They were the first of a notable number of groups to fuse Rock with Classical orchestration (Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Electric Light Orchestra, a.k.a. Jeff Lynne, certain Who and Pink Floyd productions, etc.).

With the Beatles churning out Psychedelic music (they used a Mellotron in “Strawberry Fields,”) the Moodies were suddenly in the right place in the right time to help satisfy what listeners wanted to hear. While Pink Floyd was still muddling around with early Psychedelia and primitive synthesizers, the Moody Blues were cranking out “symphonic rock” that was moving, not just in terms of beat, but also echoed the philosophy of ecological consciousness felt by the first Earth Day participants (April 22, 1970). This sentiment was expounded in the Moody Blues album “To Our Children’s Children,” released in 1969. Supposedly, this was a celebration of the U. S. landing on the Moon, but to anyone with ears, brought into question exactly what legacy we would leave to our descendents. Rachel Carlson’s “Silent Spring,” written in 1962, began to weigh heavily on the public consciousness about then. Ten years later, DDT would be banned in the U.S. of A. forever.

 

Conclusion

 

For me personally, being a “tweenager” at the time of the release of “Days of Future Passed,” it was both the beginning of my environmental consciousness and a musical awakening. I started buying albums, whenever I could afford them. When I couldn’t buy the songs I wanted, I’d make tapes from local FM stations, pouncing on the “Record” button within seconds when I heard a song I wanted. I scrounged up money for albums by collecting pop bottles. I also soon began collecting all glass bottles, hauling them to the recycling center, even though I got no money for them. I started “going green” before it was fashionable, in part due to the philosophy and spirit in the music of the Moodies. Ever since, I have been enamored of “music with a message.” Their music changed my world: Let’s save the earth, one bit at a time.

I would recommend this landmark musical work to anyone and everyone. Though some parts might vaguely remind you of “elevator music,” it is best appreciated by listening to the entire work from beginning to end. I am especially fond of the messages within the lyrics, and feel that the Moody Blues had a positive impact on the world during a time of great change and turmoil.

 

References:

 

(1): http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:aifrxqe5ldte~T1

(2): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moody_Blues

(2): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Pinder

(3): http://www.classicbands.com/moody.html

(4): Compilation, included in the booklet with the 5-disc set “Time Traveller,” 1994 Polydor Records.

(5): http://www.connollyco.com/discography/moody_blues/index.html

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