The Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed (Deram/Decca, 1967)

When The Moody Blues released Days of Future Passed in late 1967, they completed a remarkable transition. Days may have introduced the band's classic line-up and set the tone for everything they did afterward, but it was not actually their first album. The original Moodies line-up consisted of Denny Laine on guitar, Clint Warwick on bass, Ray Thomas on flute, Mike Pinder on keyboards, and Graeme Edge on drums. They recorded one album and had a major international hit with "Go Now," sung by Laine. But Laine and Warwick soon left (Laine would resurface in the seventies backing up Paul McCartney in Wings), and the rest of the band brought in guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge to take their places. They tried for a short time to be the same pop/blues combo they had been, but that style clearly wasn't working for them anymore. It was the mid-sixties, and things were changing. The Moody Blues decided a re-invention was in order.

The changes started with Mike Pinder purchasing a mellotron. An awkward keyboard that played tape recordings of other instruments when a key was pressed, the mellotron lost its standing to the far more flexible and portable synthesizer by the mid seventies. Its distinctive sound had a big impact on the psychedelic era, though, and nobody made more use of it than The Moody Blues. The band completely overhauled their live set, replacing the old set list with a song cycle based on the course of a day. Hayward, Lodge, Pinder, and Thomas each wrote two songs for it. A huge opportunity then presented itself to the band when their record label Decca wanted to test out its new stereo recording system by combining a rock band with an orchestra. The band convinced Decca to let them record their live show, and then passed the tapes on to conductor Peter Knight to arrange a score around each of the songs, which was then performed by the London Festival Orchestra.

The final pieces of the puzzle were fitted into place by drummer Graeme Edge. He felt that there was room for him to contribute something at the very beginning and very end of the album, and proceeded to write down lyrics. He originally intended for his bandmates to set his words to music, but producer Tony Clarke convinced him to leave his lyrics as they were, and simply recite them as poetry.

So Days of Future Passed is a rock concept album, complete with its own orchestral score and a little bit of poetry thrown in for good measure. The idea may sound crazy now, but no idea sounded too crazy in 1967. Young people were experimenting with everything and challenging all the old ways of looking at things, and the music followed suit. It wouldn't be too hard to dismiss much of the music of the time as drug-induced self-indulgence, but you could also argue that it was the most creative period in the first half-century of rock music. The Moody Blues embodied both extremes of the era. They could bog themselves down sometimes with ponderous New Age ramblings, but they could also make some really good music -- often at the same time. The most "out there" song on Days, for example, is the Ray Thomas-penned "Twilight Time," whose mostly monotonic melody evokes an Eastern chant. It's the kind of rock song that probably couldn't have been made in any other era, and yet it still works forty years later, and does not sound dated to me at all.

On Days and ever since, though, The Moody Blues' biggest asset has been the singing and songwriting of Justin Hayward. His two songs on Days of Future Passed were the album's two singles. "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)" exemplifies Hayward's folksy, melodic style, while also showcasing Pinder's mellotron. And of course, the song for which The Moody Blues are best known is the album's last song, "Nights in White Satin." Its haunting melody and emotional chorus have made it an enduring classic.

Otherwise, the remaining songs on Days hold up at least decently forty years later. The orchestral interludes sound like a novelty today, but they do tie the songs together well and certainly don't get in the album's way. You'd probably need to be at least a little bit interested in the sixties to appreciate Days of Future Passed, but it definitely ranks high among the list of albums from that era that are worth searching out.

Overall grade: A

reviewed by Scott

The original video for "Nights in White Satin"

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