Monday, 26 October 2015
The Moody Blues "Days Of Future Passed" (1967)
The Moody Blues "Days Of Future Passed" (1967)
The Day Begins/Dawn: Dawn Is A Feeling/The Morning: Another Morning/Lunch Break: Peak Hour/The Afternoon: Forever Afternoon (A Tuesday?) aka Tuesday Afternoon/(Evening) Time To Get Away/Evening: The Sun Set/Twilight Time/The Night: Nights In White Satin
"Cold hearted orb that rules the night, that ebbs and flows with what we write, is this album perfection or just a fright? And which of us is really right? And which is an illusion?"
or "Just what you want to be you will be in the end"
1) The Review Begins:
Fittingly for an album about the effects of time on mankind, the gap between The Moody Blues' first and second records seems like an aching, unfillable chasm rather than a mere two years (the sort of length between records that seems quite normal to modern audiences, if not a little on the short side). When we last left The Moody Blues (for those you reading these things in order anyway) things were looking very different: this quintet - who were very much led by Denny Laine - played R and B while clean-shaven, usually be-suited and with their hair length just the unfashionable side of short. By 1967 this quintet - who have very much been re-styled overnight as a democracy - played music that defied any label while wearing a wide variation of beards and moustaches, wore the most exotic clothes flower power had to offer and had their hair just the fashionable side of long. Though the 60s music scene was an ever changing world that altered seemingly by the week, The Moodies had gone through a particularly traumatic and life-changing dive from heroes (with their UK #1 and worldwide hit 'Go Now') to zeroes (six more singles were released by the Denny Laine era of the band - the best any of them made was #22 for 'From The Bottom Of My Heart I Love You'). Though some of the actual single choices had something to do with it (most of the good early Moody stuff ended up as album tracks and B-sides rather than A-sides), a main cause of this failure is probably that The Moody Blues were simply too rooted to the sounds of 1964 to survive into 1965 and beyond: of all the R and B cover bands around in the 1960s they were one of the most faithful - and therefore the most dated sounding once R and B stopped being the latest 'in sound'. Bassist Clint Warwick was the first to get fed up and cut his losses, deciding that as the band's only married member with small children he needed a more stable income; Denny Laine followed soon after, leaving to take up a promising looking career with Cream drummer Ginger Baker and various members of The Move (the only other Brummie band of the 1960s whose record sales matched the Moodies' own). Suddenly a once promising band everyone was talking about was down to a trio, without their lead guitarist singer and co-writer, their singles now failing to reach even the bottom end of the charts as the band clung stubbornly to their R and B roots.
By 1966 The Moody Blues had been reduced to playing the detested 'cabaret circuit' (a fate worse than disbanding for bands in the 1960s and considered the posh middle-class adult arena that was the anti-thesis to rock and roll), trying to carry on as if nothing had happened. Luckily for the remaining members - keyboard player Mike Pinder, flautist Ray Thomas and drummer Graeme Edge - their ideas for replacements were a masterstroke. Though a bassist named Rod Davis was the band's first choice (he did play with them for a few months before leaving when Denny did and later joined The Rockin' Berries), Ray nominated the only sensible suggestion: a bass player named John Lodge who'd played with him in Brummie band 'El Riot and The Rebels'. John had been desperate to be a part of the music scene and had been greatly disheartened when the Moodies 'supergroup' poached Ray away, breaking up their band and had been a frustrated student, trying to knuckle down to his studies when the lure of the Moody songs played on the radio kept reminding him of what might have been. The band also got lucky with Justin Hayward, the band's sole non-Midlander, who'd already made a couple of flop singles in 1966 and had been struggling with his own feelings of disappointment when he heard that Eric Burdon was putting together a new line-up of The 'New' Animals thanks to an advert in the Melody Maker. Eric was apologetic when he got Justin's demo tapes - he'd just hired Dean Restum who had more of the 'heavy' sound he was looking for - but he recognised Justin's talent and passed his audition tape along to Mike, an old friend from the two bands' days on tour together (The Animals and the early Moody Blues were very similar in style back in the day though Burdon's bunch had the bigger success; oddly both will sound similar again by the 'psychedelia years' though the New Animals were never as big as they should have been, Eric cutting his losses and forming the funk band 'War' - of which there never was a Moody Blues equivalent. Thank goodness). Justin could have said 'no', he could have pointed out the band's recent lack of success, pointed out that he had no prior experience of playing R and B, that he didn't sound anything like Denny Laine and as a blonde Southerner didn't even look like the rest of the largely brunette band. Thankfully he agreed to give the band a try - and gave the band a new direction just when they needed one most.
2) Dawn (There Is A Feeling):
Ironically for a band who'd had their biggest hit with a song called 'Go Now', The Moody Blues took a very long time to come to terms with the fact that their R and B days were over. It was, after all, the style their decreasingly small number of fans associated them with and still asked for (especially their one big hit). The band soldiered on for most of 1966 with the same style of songs they'd always done and a similar level of success. Even their first single of 1967 with Justin and John in the band, a moody Pinder song named 'Life's Not Life' very much in the old style, failed to chart. Things clearly had to change, with a famous and oft-mentioned turning point reversing the band's fortunes. The band were backstage at a gig, worrying over the lacklustre response to their usual setlist, when an audience member walked in and tore them off a strip. 'I don't make much money but I like to take my wife out for a treat once a week and tonight I really wasted my money - you guys are rubbish!' The band could have chosen to chalk this up to experience, of having merely played one of those occasionally rough gigs even the best bands have or of their uninvited visitor simply having cloth ears (It's the 1960s what's wrong with you? By my era's standards this is paradise and if you think the bands on the cabaret circuit were bad back then what on earth would you make of them now?) For all we know that same guy enjoyed telling every band at the same gig backstage the same thing and The Moodies were the only band who listened? (Nobody can quite remember or agree on where this gig was by the way - sometimes it's down South, sometimes it's a Midlands town close to home). Either way, the band didn't reject the comment out of hand - the one part of the story everyone agrees on is Graeme sighing 'he's right, you know, that bloke' and the others sadly nodding. Though the critics had been saying this for years by now, what really stung the band was that they'd been 'found out' for not being 'themselves': the early R and B Moody Blues had only really sounded good because of Denny's voice and Mike's thumped piano - with half of that formula now gone, the band seem to have woken up and wondered what they were doing.
A lesser band would have quit then and there but one of the band's key strengths had been their resilience: they'd built this band up the hard way and had spent too long honing it to let it die out (it speaks volumes that The Moody Blues soldiered on with their band name despite the fact that it was now a millstone around their necks, restricting them to what people remembered rather than the present: even 'The Animals' changed their name and they'd had far more success over a longer period). So they began writing with new purpose, with a large spurt of songwriting written on tour in October 1966. This in itself marked a major shift: till now the band had always put their cover songs first (despite some excellent under-rated songs written by Mike and Denny in the early days) and only Mike had considered himself an 'actual' writer, with Justin having had only the experience of his flop pair of singles and John, Graeme and Ray having never written a tune before. Against all odds, the band turned out to feature four writers and one poet in drummer Graeme, who surprised everybody by switching his heavy-handed drumming for a lightness of wordplay. This also happily coincided with a switch in the band's sound - most notably Mike Pinder's new purchase of a mellotron. Funnily enough the instrument was also a Midlands invention, invented by Streetly Electronics as a 'shortcut' for bands on a budget who couldn't afford a full orchestra, with the instrument working through rolls of tape looped round to play continuously at the press of a button. Mike was enough of a local boy to have worked there for a time in the early days of the band - his old employers were kind enough to sell him a secondhand model cheap in return for some free publicity. The instrument was the closest the 1960s ever came to a 'computer' in effect, though everything was still done in analogue back then - if somebody talked about a 'digital system' back in 1967 they probably meant the idea of Braille (or another writing system based on numbers). The 'new' must have toy of 1967, the signature sound of the mellotron alone transported the Moodies' sound back into the present day but better yet Mike proved to be the only real musician of the 1960s who understood the instrument and who worked hard to master it. Though other bands used the instrument as decoration - a bit of colourful icing to add to the rest of the mix - Pinder was the only musician who understood just how much texture he could get from the instrument if it weaved in out of the other's performances, an equal partner in the sound. Even now it's the signature sound everyone thinks of when they picture the band, with the mellotron officially consigned to the Moodies' attic ever since Pinder left the group in 1978. Though there's actually far less mellotron on 'Days Of Future Passed' compared to later Moodies albums (it's primarily heard on Mike's own song 'Dawn Is A Feeling' and Justin's 'Nights In White Satin'), where it's sound is largely replaced by the full orchestra, it makes just enough of an impression to have impressed most of the people who heard the album the first time round.
3) The Morning (More Than Just Another Album):
The Moody Blues released two singles in 1967 using their new 'formula', but whilst Justin's poppy 'Fly Me High' and Mike's breakthrough psychedelic song 'Love and Beauty' won the band more respect than their last few singles, they still hadn't dented the charts. Undeterred, they set about crafting a whole new stage act from their new material - in stages (back in 1967 most bands played two sets with a break for another act in between: the band would start with an 'old' set and later play the 'new'' with the mellotron wheeled out on stage). After a while the band realised that the new material was becoming more popular (you wonder what the guy who ticked the band off would have thought of it all - hopefully in some alternate time-stream he came backstage to tell the band they sounded great!) and the band's old songs got the push, never to return (not even 'Go Now', despite many a fan request over the years). Perhaps because of this idea of 'now' and 'then' and the gulf of years between when the band started and where they had now become, 'time' began to become a very important element in many of the band's songs. Sadly no one seem to remember (and no interviewer ever seems to ask) when the band chose to start turning these loose strands into a 'whole', but somehow somewhere the band ended up in May 1967 with a full 'concept album' - a setlist than ran for a full forty-five minutes from the beginning of a day to late at night. Though the band didn't as yet have the orchestra, and pieces were added and dropped as the idea developed (frustratingly none of them would ever be recorded, although 'Legend Of A Mind' is one song we know for a fact to be played in this period - whether as part of the concept or not) the band had a complete album - they just needed the chance to record it.
Enter another very lucky break for The Moody Blues.Record label Decca weren't at all keen for the band to make any album - they were barely prepared to let the band keep releasing singles given the poor returns on their investment. By this point in mid-1967 the band were officially £5000 in debt when they were given an ultimatum: record what we tell you to or 'else'. The 'what we tell you' had nothing to do with The Moody Blues: what Decca really wanted was an album 'demonstration' record which would show off a new discovery they'd made - a 'new' process of stereo separation that used a much wider spectrum of sound than they had ever managed before. They even came up with a new spin-off label, intended initially for the hi-fi buff market to show off this new technique called 'Deram'. Realising that the market was that bit specialist, they wanted it to appeal to as many people as possible, so came up with the idea of having a rock and roll band sound like an orchestra - and vice versa. Here the story deviates: most people are adamant that the Moody Blues were hired to make an entire translation of Dvorak's 'New World Symphony' using rock and roll instruments decorated with strings; other eye-witnesses claim that the work was meant to be a bit more general, with more of a 'gulf' between the two sides as a 'history of rock and roll' was heard song by song in between bursts of classical music. (For what it's worth, my guess - unsubstantiated by anyone else - is that the band were told to go away and do something general but someone (Peter Knight?) remarked that as their music was closest to Dvorak and his actually rather 60s-ish combination of spiritual 'negro' music and Eastern time signatures, they may as well start there is they really were going to make a classical crossover record. Despite the similarities though, you can tell from one listen that the idea would never have worked: apart from Ray's flute there is no similarity between the two palettes and the switch between breathy whisper and sudden crescendo - crucial to classical music and especially Dvoark - sounds stilted and boring when use in rock and roll; my working hypothesis after writing this many reviews to date is that you can only repeat something once per five minute song before you lose power). Either way, chances are nobody had thought about the idea that hard: this was after all only intended to be a 'demonstration' record made on the cheap that was never expected to sell many copies. If Decca had really wanted a big seller they'd have badgered The Rolling Stones or The Who into doing it, bands with much higher pedigrees at the time than The Moodies had.
4) Lunch Break: What Is This Album All About?
The Moody Blues hated the idea. In another lucky break, so did the arranger who had been 'chosen' for them: classical conductor Peter Knight, who was open enough after working in the rock and roll world to listen to what the band had to play. The band played him their new setlist: Clarke - like the rest of the world - had never heard anything like it and said the band ought to record that instead. He also set to work on his own orchestrations for the record, arguing that Decca couldn't really complain if they got both rock and roll and classical music heard together. In an even luckier break, the producer chosen for the task, Tony Clarke, also thought the 'new world' idea was stupid. Though producers in the 1960s almost always did what their record companies asked of them, Clarke was in a unique position: he'd just been 'fired' by Decca after his own string of losses and was serving out his notice so had nothing to lose by taking a risk (he'll be around for as long as The Moody Blues are in their 'first career' and becomes very much an 'extra' member of the band from here on in end, his importance to the band criminally under-rated). Oh and another extremely lucky break: despite the fact that all the early Decca rock and roll records (including 'The Magnificent Moodies' sound awful (the label notoriously treated rock and roll bands the same they taped orchestras, which led to the murky sound fellow label acts like The Rolling Stones made their own but other bands got laughed at) 'Deram's new system was the 'real deal'. Even the label's rivals, like EMI RCA Pye and Columbia (who'd all traditionally made better sounding records) couldn't touch it. Frankly any band who'd been the first to release a record that sounded this good would have been a minor 'star' - for a group like The Moody Blues who loved their sounds and took their time constructing them (even when given limited studio time) it made them heroes.
5) The Afternoon (Forever Timeless (Recorded On A Tuesday?):
Though there had been concept albums before 'Days Of Future Passed' ('Sgt Peppers' is the famous one, The Kinks' 'Face To Face' was the earliest intended psychedelic one and The Beach Boys' 'Shut Down Volume Two' is technically the first with a collection of songs about cars) and 'Days' wasn't even the most thoroughly thought out concept album out for Christmas 1967 (that was 'The Who Sell Out', released a mere three weeks after this record) it was nevertheless enough of a 'new idea' to catch people's attentions. A record that runs in chronological order from dawn to night, it's arguably the first concept album that needs to be heard in the intended order for the idea to 'work'. It helped too that there hadn't been any real contenders to this record's claim as the first full rock and roll/classical crossover, although Brian Wilson wasn't exactly a stranger to the concept (yet again we AAA-era curse the fact that 'Smile' never made it out as intended for yuletide 1966, when it would blown so many people out of the water and pushing bands on past new limits we might have been still in the rapture of psychedelia now; also I have my doubts about how successful a cross-over this truly was: you can't help but feel that fans expecting more Mantovani than Moody Blues would have been upset with their purchase, given how short many of Peter Knight's links actually are). Though orchestras don't seem an obvious addition if you want to make a rock and roll record 'hip', even this was good timing. The Beatles had been working with bigger and bigger orchestras in the last couple of years, gaining respect from small portions of the classical world with their work on 'Yesterday' and 'A Day In The Life'; Leonard Bernstein had also recently been hailing Brian Wilson as a bigger creative genius than anyone in the gradually stagnating classical world of the 1960s. The year 1967 was the year when, more than ever, rock and roll 'grew up' and became more than mere pop fodder for teenagers, but work written for those of the 1960s to come to terms with adult life and deeper meanings: if that meant occasionally using the 'sound' of your parent's work then so be it, as long as it was done the 'new' way, to enhance the 'realness' of the rock and roll world and to shape the mood rather than dictate it (no one had quite forgiven Elvis for his rock and roll with strings singles just yet). In other words, 'Days Of Future Passed' was the perfect album for its times: it was different in an era when being 'different' was enough to reward you bonus marks, sounded better than possibly any rock and roll record ever had before, pioneered the use of a concept album and the use of an orchestra back when both ideas were gloriously new and had two hit singles to boot. The album was an obvious seller surely: The Moody Blues at last discovered their true forte as craftsmen studio musicians (where they could 'perfect' each song for pretty much the first time) and were excited how good it sounded; Tony Clarke was convinced the band's music had an audience and Peter Knight, perhaps the world's most open to rock and roll man from the classical world after George Martin, was certain the record would be a big seller.
6) Evening (Time To Send The Album Away):
Decca however were furious: they didn't understand the record at all and were appalled that their instructions hadn't been followed. They still thought of rock and roll albums as something pop stars did to sell extra trash on top of singles and still considered rock and roll as separate three-minute pop entities. At first they refused to release the album - only Peter Knight's clout and enthusiasm persuaded them to give it a go, although the label didn't exactly go to town promoting what they considered a sure-fire disaster until the radio stations picked up on the two singles from the album, 'Tuesday Afternoon' and 'Nights In White Satin'. To be fair to the record label, though, when they eventually decided to go ahead they did things properly, with a member of their design team coming up with the very descriptive album title (The Moodies had never bothered to give their set list a name) and hiring a young artist named Phil Travers to design the bright and very 1967 album cover (he'll be along for the ride until the Moodies' 1973 split too; this isn't one of his best - actually it's about his worst - but is at least fitting for the album and the image Decca want to promote). Suddenly, without really intending any of it, The Moody Blues had been given their signature sound on a plate - and from here on in the band will become the darlings of the 1960s big thinkers who considered rock and roll on a par (if not, secretly, rather superior to) with their parent's classical records.
7) The Night (Album In White Satin?):
So much for the background and the circumstances, then, which make for a terrific story with one of the best 'behinds the scenes' of any AAA album ever made. But how has the actual music stood up today? Well, this is where I might lose many of you I'm afraid, dear Moody readers. You see, I'm in two minds about the whole record. The first thing to say it that I'm always amazed when this record is still talked about as the only Moody Blues record worth buying; though everyone always sticks the boot into sequel 'In Search Of The Lost Chord' for being of its time, this is the Justin/John era album that's dated the most. Though usually for me the more an album sounds like it belongs in 1967 rather than 2017 the better, 'Days' is the one album that isn't 'timeless', the record that's so busy throwing in period sounds it forgets to add in any actual, well, content that later fans can latch on to(admittedly, that said, the 1980s Moodies albums suffer from this a whole lot more). Now I 'live' in 1967 far more than I do in my own time-zone, so I should be less put off by the period trappings than most, but like 'Sgt Peppers' this album feels as if it's spent so long representing a particular point in time that it lacks the timeless commentary of a 'Revolver' or the eclecticism of a 'White Album'. Future Moody albums will teach us more about humanity and our relations to our fellow man than I ever learnt from any other source (be it school, Bible, youth club or the internet) - but this one just describes events rather than 'feels' or 'learns' them, with a few noble exceptions. Together with the orchestra - which is meant to 'link' the songs together but just ends up pushing them further and further apart - this is a curiously detached album which makes it hard for me to feel anything for and the Moody Blues, though one of the more intelligent bands on our pages, are one of the most 'feeling' bands of the era, wearing their hearts on their sleeves. To put it another way, much as I admire this album from afar, I'm not sure I'd have persevered with the next six records and fallen for the band so if this had remained their template to the end as it's also an album hard for me to love.
Those exceptions do of course cast a big shadow and add a massive amount to the Moodies canon: John's 'Peak Hour' (the best rocker the band ever did, though it's sadly slightly clumsily performed here) and Justin's 'Tuesday Afternoon' (the band's 'breakthrough' song with so much of their signature sound, made up of confusion and searching for direction) and 'Nights In White Satin' (which, admittedly, has more emotion in five minutes than most albums in fifty - although even this gorgeous song is nearly wrecked with the tacky orchestra overdubs on the album version) there's less here to get excited about composition-wise than any other John/Justin album (at least up till 'Long Distance Voyager'). Unlike most Moodies fans, I'm not even that keen on the poetry and this is Graeme's most pretentious, overblown poem of all his works which doesn't hold a candle to his actual songs and slows things down to a crawl (even if Mike reads it out well - if they ever do Alan's Album Archives on tape he's my first choice!) Writing this review has also reminded of just how good and overlooked Mike's contributions to the album are too, although they're very much the 'scene setters' rather than songs you keep coming back to.
Though I salute the concept, which is an excellent idea (trust the first concept album from 1967 to be about time - a concept that's been knocking on the door the whole decade long, from The Beatles' 'In My Life' to The Beach Boys' 'When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)' and beyond) , even this idea is muddled compared to later, similar Moodies concepts: this is, according to interviews of the time and most reviews since, the sound of a single working man in his life from dawn till dusk. But if that's true then this is a very odd man: he's gloriously happy when he wakes up, regrets becoming an adult as he walks somewhere (presumably to work), has the weirdest lunch hour ever (it sounds like a drug trip), searches for his soul in the afternoon, worries about becoming trapped in the evening, watches the sunset with more fright than a Hammer Horror film soundtrack, appears to walk back home in the twilight and ends up pouring out his pain for lost loves in the night. Is this really the same person? If so then I think they should see a doctor about their mood-swings quick, especially as nothing seems to concretely happen to set this off. A 'better' concept perhaps may have been to paint this as the picture of the 60s generation (yes them again) growing old and becoming increasingly aware of how limited the world around them is ('Peak Hour' is, in this context, the album's key song as the narrator 'wants to run out and tell...*them, they've got time'; it's a very Hollies song actually, in line with their 'drug trip' songs 'Look Through Any Window' and 'Elevated Observations', suggesting it's an English drug trip thing American pop stars, more upfront about offering advice to other people, never really had). However even this doesn't work: 'The Sun Set' should be the 'trapped' world of the new repetitive day, the heartbreak of 'Nights In White Satin' should be the 'trigger' for the change of 'Peak Hour' and the album should actually end where it begins. Even more clumsy is the decision to treat some times of day to one song and the others to two (making it very hard to track these songs down - in both the vinyl and CD age there are two cases where songs are banded together) which for some reason has the song '(Evening) Time To Get Away' appearing in the afternoon followed by a whole section subtitled 'Evening' (couldn't we have had two songs for twilight instead?)
The most disappointing part of the album, though, has to be the classical/rock and roll crossover. Though Peter Knight liked the genre better than most - and the album and, most likely, The Moody Blues post 1967 wouldn't have existed without him - he really doesn't know how to translate rock and roll into classical at all. His links between the albums are corny, far below the standard set by George Martin over in Abbey Road, and make even this album's standout feature (a magnificent set of eight Moody melodies) a curse: it's a wonder curious rock and roll fans who heard 'Nights' on the radio didn't fling this record across the room when 'The Day Begins' started up like some low budget lift music, with a sound so slow and cliched. I have a sneaking suspicion that this record made more curious classical listeners fall in love with rock and roll than ever did the other way round; while the Moodies are to some extent meeting in the middle here (only 'Peak Hour' comes close to traditional rock and roll), Knight isn't doing the same thing: he's gone all out to extremes. 'The Day Begins' medley of album sounds and the even more horrendous closing medley 'Late Night Lament' (u-credited on the original sleeve, though given a separate credit later so Graeme got his name on the album) are probably my two least favourite 'Moody Blues' songs (only technically featuring Mike anyway) until the band start having fun with synthesisers. Though 'Days Of Future Passed' always gets the credit as the best Moody Blues album and the best hybrid of rock and roll and classical, for me it's the worst: even the album's best moments sound all the worse for the syrupy strings and hard as everyone tries the two halves still feel as if they belong in an entirely different, alien worlds by the end of the record.
8) Late Lament (Summing Up):
However, at the same time, I can also see why this record was the success it became, especially in 1967. Though future Moody Blues records will mean that this album really isn't the best at what it does, this album was nevertheless the first at doing what it does and at the time of release really was unique. To some extent it's still unique now: though other albums (including Justin's guest appearance on Jeff Wayne's 'War Of The Worlds') will try to marry the two styles together and there are more classical versions of rock and roll albums out than there probably should be (plus the other way round; *shudder* I still have nightmares about what Tomita did to Gustav Holst's glorious 'Planet Suite') still no other album have quite stuck A to B in the same way this album does. There is something to be said for loving an album and praising it to the hilt simply because it broke so much new ground in one go because it doesn't sound like anything else, even if you don't actually love what it sounds like (to use the analogy of a later Moodies album, other albums took us further into spasce - but this was the record that got the furthest in one go, escaping Earth's rootsy R and B gravitational pull).
I stress too that once you forget the Peter Knight bits and the poetry the actual songs are rarely bad and frequently excellent, impressively so for four more or less new writers learning a whole new style who had barely spent any time in a recording studio before this and while some of the lyrics crash to the ground most of the melodies are out of this world. My guess is that this album did so well partly because it's the Moodies' prettiest album - although as a fan of lyrics above pretty much everything else I still find this album a notch below most of the others. I do love parts of this album: considering that this line-up of the band had only been together a short time and had barely spent any time in the studio together before these band performances are wonderfully tight. I really like the Moodies sound here, when the orchestra has gone home, which because of time restraints is a shade simpler and less dense than future records. Pinder's mellotron remains one of the great unions of man and instrument and Justin Hayward comes out of nowhere to become one of the greatest fully-formed songwriting voices in the country. 'Tuesday Afternoon' and 'Nights In White Satin' between them are the real success stories of this project, glorious pieces of work that point towards a glorious new world which are impressively far above what either writer or band had done up to here. Even the lesser songs - Ray is perhaps a shade behind the others for now, although he'll make up for that and how on the next LP, while John is only halfway there - are delivered with some excellent band performances, impressive given the limited budget and studio time.
Better yet all the band are used, with the Moodies a real democracy after so many nights out on the road so you get a better balance of mellotron, flute, guitar, bass and drums (occasionally, as with 'Sun Set', this pioneering combination of instruments will result in songs that sound so good it doesn't matter how oddly constructed they are as songs). The harmonies are also gorgeous even this early on: the sea of massed voices between Ray on 'Twilight Time' is one of the best uses of vocals and the crossover between Mike and Justin on 'Dawn Is A Feeling' is exquisitely handled too (sadly the band will stop this 'one-on-one' idea, so big a part of their early sound, after 'Ommm' from their next LP). Certainly 'Days Of Future Passed' is a lot better than the 'New World Symphony' played by rock and rollers would have been and there's no denying that the Moody Blues have at last found their 'sound' here, one that they can deliver better than anyone else. I remain, however, curious as to why this album remains as loved now as it was back then: other Moody albums retain their mystery, timelessness and appeal; this one may only take in a single cycle of a day but is the only one of the 'core seven' that sounds so stubbornly rooted to its time period. Though greeted as a career peak, in truth 'Days Of Future Passed' is just a stepping stone towards an even tighter and more original sound that's coming right around the corner, just as soon as the band ditch the orchestra and a concept that, while well intentioned, never quite works. Like many Moody Blues fans I discovered them through this work first; unlike many Moody Blues fans this record put me right off trying another of their albums until re-discovering the band through 'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour', a record that really does live up to The Moody Blues reputation as the thinking fans' band, a record where thankfully both orchestra and the cliches have gone.
9) Postcript (Back To The Future Passed):
Before we move on, a quick guide to what you can find on the CD re-issue - specifically the 'deluxe' edition released in 2006. This album is turned into a double-set thanks to the most generous helping of extra tracks in the series (nineteen in all). There are five alternate versions of album songs: the superior single take of 'Nights In White Satin', a different mix of 'Tuesday Afternoon' with a different Justin lead vocal, a near-enough-identical 'Dawn Is A Feeling' (which is at least welcome for cutting out the orchestra), a superior 'Sun Set' without the orchestra getting in the way (although ironically the idea worked better here than anywhere else on the album including - funnily enough - a very Dvorak use of strings) and a slightly more basic version of 'Twilight Time' that doesn't add much. There are also seven BBC radio sessions: a fantastic pumped up version of 'Peak Hour', a manic 'Twilight Time' and a slightly faceless 'Nights In White Satin', albeit still important simply for being the earliest recorded version of the song apart from the record. In addition there's a funky leftover from the R and B days exclusive to the set as Justin growls through 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' (another link between the Moody Blues and The Animals), rather fluffed versions of Justin's great A side 'Fly Me High' and even greater B-side 'Leave This Man Alone' that reveal how much the band were already struggling to re-create their music on stage and a slightly wonky take on Mike's A side 'Love and Beauty'. Better, if you don't have them, are the original versions of five songs collected from three separate singles released across 1967: as well as the excellent 'Fly Me High' 'Love and Beauty' and 'Leave This Man Alone' (classics all) are the fun farewell to the R and B era on Mike's 'Really Haven't Got The Time' and the curiously sour 'Cities', a depressing Justin Hayward protest song about the industrial revolution which made for an odd companion with 'Nights In White Satin'. Finally there are two outtakes, not actually recorded for the album but in the earlier sessions for these intended singles and first released on the 'Live+5' concert/outtakes set in 1977. Justin's 'LOng Summer Days' is another step in the right direction, with the feel of the 1967 Moodies played against the instruments of 1966 and another very Beatley tune. Mike's 'Please Think About It' meanwhile marks another fond farewell to R and B, which was probably rightly shelved in favour of the more progressive 'Love and Beauty' though it would have made a respectable B-side. Sadly what the CD doesn't include is the original mix of the album, as the master-tapes had deteriorated nearly beyond repair as early as the 1970s (Decca really didn't like this album did they?); the version in print since 1972 (when America fell in love with The Moody Blues big time and 'Nights' finally got to #1)is actual a 'reproduction', bounced across from the 'old' tapes at the last possible minute and subtly remixed in many different ways. This is probably the source of the 'Dawn Is A Feeling' and 'Twilight Time' above though all songs were different, with more abrupt gaps between band and orchestra, a full twenty seconds extra linking work into 'Peak Hour', a final chorus repeat of 'Evening' and a full harmony section that originally sang along with John for the second half of the song and a bizarre-sounding mis-synchronisation between orchestra and band at the end of 'Nights In White Satin'. Though the master-tapes are missing the whole album could, of course, have been sourced from a well-kept vinyl edition: there isn't exactly a shortage to choose from given how many copies this album sold. Even so, this is the album that 'cleaned up' the best in the CD age and strangely has a much 'warmer' tone to my ears despite being reproduced digitally.
'The Day Begins', with a struck gong that takes an absolute age to fade into the actual track (a full thirty-five seconds on my copy). Sadly it doesn't mean that breakfast is ready, just a lot more tossing and turning before the album finally 'wakes up' with a full six minutes of orchestral versions of the melody lines to come and a poem spoken in RBM (Received Brummie Pronunciation). These signature lines are taken, in order, from 'Dawn Is A Feeling' up to 1:30 (which sounds rather good, if a bit too much like film music), 'Another Morning' up to 2:15 (which sounds trite), a quick burst of 'Tuesday Afternoon' up to 2:43 (which sounds a bit sickly) and a sudden left-turn into 'Nights In White Satin' up to 4:05 (which sounds like an old friend being hit over the head with a series of violins and treacle). Perhaps thankfully, we get to skip 'Peak Hour' 'Evening' 'The Sun Set' and 'Twilight Time'. We do however get that poem, the one which most Moodies fans can recite backwards ('thgin eht selur taht bro wolley ho') about the sun coming up. Written without the slight tongue-in-cheekness of Graeme's future 'poetry' (which will be more self-deprecating on later albums thanks to screams, sound effects and being followed by 'Ride My See-Saw') it's all a bit too pompous: the sun is a 'yellow orb that rules the night', the sun 'pinpricks holes in a colourless sky', night time 'brings the fear of solitude' while 'Brave Helios' (the ancient Greek God of the sun) makes the sun's rays rise by 'waking' his 'steeds' (trivia note for you: Ray's nickname amongst his grandparents was 'our little Ray of sunshine' - is that where this album's obsession with sun comes from?) Though acceptable in the anything-goes spirit of 1967, this poem would have been laughed out of town in any other year for taking itself so seriously. The trouble, too, is that so much more could have been done to tie this into the album: the twist that 'Nights In White Satin' is about 'the fear of solitude' will have come as a surprise to everyone who knew the hit single version before the record and fits an analysis of its words quite well, but it's a single thrown away line in this poem, not a full verse. Similarly the 'sun' goes on this album from a symbol of inspiration to a scary beast who can bring about darkness on a whim between 'Dawn Is A Feeling' and 'The Sun Set', but the progression here is only hinted at. Also, Graeme's rhyming scheme is a little, well, lopsided: it runs AAAABCCDDEE (assuming 'solitude' and 'interlude' actually counts as a rhyme)FF. I have never come across a poetry form like it. This would not matter if the poem worked word-perfectly (rock and roll is the world's greatest art form because it breaks so many constricting rules - and one reason why the segues between two very different worlds on this album don't quite come off) but even before working this out I've always had the sense that the piece was lopsided somewhere. The problem is the line 'which is an illusion?' which in context if the cleverest line of the lot (it is remarkably hard to tell when darkness ends and morning begins when you're writing reviews at 5AM watching the sun come up) but ends up sending the whole structure out of whack. On the plus side, though Mike's gravelly dark voice has never sounded better - these poems sound better coming out of his mouth than Graeme's when the drummer 're-claims' his own works on future albums.Mike's 'Dawn Is A Feeling' is a pretty song. Though not quite as full of just-woken 'Oh what a beautiful morning' joy as you'd expect from the concept, it does nevertheless radiate with the thrill of being alive, bursting forth with the power of ten billion...mellotron parts. An early album invocation to see the world anew, it's ambiguous enough to suggest that the narrator might be asleep yet dreaming he's awake or having a drug trip ('You're not asleep!' Justin cries in the middle eight 'Open your mind!') Though the trail goes cold later, I'm convinced that this song at least was written about a generation rather than an individual on their daily journey: creator Mike arrives for the second half of the song to ask 'do you understand that all other this land is a feeling?' Things are becoming 'clear' in this world, with the idea that the dawn is merely a 'ceiling', the limit of what we understand as spirituality in 'our' world as the life-giver of heat is merely the closest we have to a 'God' in this dimension. There's even a drug-trip style reference to time speeding up and slowing down ('It's true, life flies faster than eyes could ever see') which works well with the album's concepts of time, although the closing offer - that this could last 'a thousand years if you want it too' is seemingly given at face value. This is the hippie dream wrapped up into a single song and like Pinder's previous 'Love and Beauty' demonstrates that he had a real knack of tapping into the dreams and fears of this period in time. Though many outsiders think that hippie songs are all the same and are all one-dimensional, this is a good example of a song that sets out a happy possible ending but makes sure that we all realise the alternative is too scary to contemplate. Together with the lovely wistful melody, it's one of the better songs on the album although compared to the rest it still sounds strangely unfinished (like Graeme, Mike is having problems with how many of his words should go where: the line 'In minds far and near, things are becoming clear...' needs to end 'der dee duh der der (optional extra 'der der der'), not 'with a meaning').
While Mike is forever labelled after this album's as the band's 'spiritual' member - and if you're feeling unkind Graeme as its most pretentious - Ray is sadly lumbered with the idea of being 'the cute, childish one' as early as his first ever song 'Another Morning'. In time Ray will become perhaps the most interesting of all the band's writers, with songs like 'And The Tide Rushes In' and 'For My lady' amongst the most complex and adventurous of the band's entire output. But alas he often ends up being pigeonholed as the writer of 'music hall ditties' like this one, which feature a silly clipped rhyming scheme (actually very hard to write) and a trite nursery rhyme riff. What's particularly grating about 'Another Morning' is that there is a fab song here waiting to break free: the middle eight where 'time seems to stand quite still' and the narrator stops telling us about the children prancing around him and thinks back to how many things have changed since he was one of them is a gorgeous moment. Suddenly this has stopped being a descriptive song and become an emotional one, tapping into another common form of drug trip awareness, petulance about growing up and becoming an adult ('Yesterday's dreams are tomorrow's sighs' is one of the best lines at summing up a whole genre of flower-power 'I sold out my childish self' era song heard in works by John Lennon and Syd Barrett; one of the side effects of taking hallucinogenic drugs is that you remember memories that are long-buried). However it's a fleeting moment in a three minute song that has so much of interest and intelligence to import to us but would much rather go back to playing and describing other children having fun, cutting Ray off just as he's going somewhere really good with this song. 'Nice To Be Here' from 1971's Moody record 'EGBDF', will return to a similar idea, sadly losing the sense of impending doom in adulthood but gaining a guitar solo played by a rabbit on a banjo with only one string.
Thankfully up next is 'Peak Hour', a song that you don't have to make any allowances for at all. Though the Peter Knight introduction is his weakest (and sounds lifted wholesale from 'Hancock's Half Hour' - the show only ever had eight incidental themes in the radio series and this one is 'All Back To Tony's (Fast)') and frustratingly the longest, the band performance when you get there is worth the wait. Mike swaps his usual mellotron streaks for simple stabbed chords of the sort he'd normally play in the piano, John finds a killer bass groove that's all over the shop but sounds as if it's always wrapping itself round the song like a big ribbon and Graeme's drumming is perfectly suited to this eccentric mini-masterpiece (though occasionally compared to Ringo's 'sensible shoes' style of drumming, he's actually closer in style to Keith Moon though the Moodies' songs give him less chance to strut his stuff that way than Moony got with The Who). Even the grating vocals work in context - this is an adrenalin rush set in a limited timeframe so of course it's going to sound messy. As with so many early Lodge songs, the lyrics aren't quite up to the music yet but do work in a surreal, obtuse way. Though at face value Lodge's narrator is a worker enjoying a lunch break and laughing at the people around him rushing around their busy lives, this too sounds like a drug trip with the manic energy of the worldly rush of the verses slowing down only for the gloriously slow middle eight ('It makes me want to run out and tell them they've got time!') Lodge is clearly having a go at the way the world is run ('Minds are subject to what should be done, problem solved time cannot be run') because, for whatever reason, he's discovered what seems for him to be another better way based on creativity and freedom. Of all the band in this era, he's the one who perhaps longed for success the most: the 'founding three' had enjoyed the fame and a modicum of respect, while Justin had made at least some head way with his own flop singles. John, though, has watched his school-friend have the success he'd always dreamed of and come closest of all the five of facing the prospect of taking up a 'real job'. For me, 'Peak Hour' - like 'Ride My See-Saw' to come the following year - is his thrill at suddenly finding that his life won't be as boring and grey as he'd always imagined. Even here, when The Moodies are still very much finding their feet, he can't contain the joy he feels at the pure limitlessness of his future. Fittingly, for a song that sounds partly written about the band and what it means to him, the Moodies turn in a cracking performance that's arguably one of their very best and just the right side of primitive. Though the concert versions of this song will be better yet (see 'Live+5' especially)'Peak Hour' remains an under-rated peak of the record and of the band's career as a whole.
Meanwhile, on side two, it's 'Tuesday Afternoon'. Assuming, for the moment, that the band didn't come up with every single time of day independently and that they vaguely discussed who got what, it would seem that Justin got the short straw. Who wants to write a song about an afternoon? Nothing happens, as a rule in afternoons - that's why the Spanish take siestas and concerts are nearly always played at night. However the glorious twist of this classic song is that Justin makes it clear that you can experience the glorious small moments that shape your life any time of the day - and any time of the week (the added fact that its a 'Tuesday' - the most ignored of the weekdays - is a neat touch). Though fans have come to know this song as 'Tuesday Afternoon' thanks to the power-pop chorus which repeats this line a lot and the name printed on the label of the single, the 'official' album name is 'Forever Afternoon (A Tuesday?)' This is an interesting deviation which perhaps hints at what the band were really after in this song: in the context of the album the morning brings routine and rules and the night brings solitude and loneliness, but the middle of the day - when the jobs and chores are done and the night hasn't yet arrived - can be anything. Justin uses a clever trick that will become one of his trademarks for the first time here, the sudden switch of gears just as you've settled into one mode of thought ('Question' is perhaps the most obvious example) which makes the song so much deeper than it could have been. The choruses are happy and free, Justin's narrator like Mike's and John's calling the world to 'see the beauty of' what he's seeing now that he's escapes the restrictions of ordinary life. But the verses take us somewhere very different: 'I'm just beginning to see...' Justin sings, while later 'The trees are drawing me near, I've got to find out why'. It's tempting to see this as another 'drug' song (a closeness to nature is another common side effect of hallucinogens) but like all the best drugs songs its not just about the technicolour world you're stepping into but the monochrome one you're leaving behind. Another sterling band performance, particularly Mike's double-time work on the saddest heartstring-tugging mellotron part you'll ever hear, twinned with a bouncy piano riff, also suggests another possible meaning behind the elliptic lyrics. This, more than any other track, has the band caught between their 'old' set and their 'new' one; the charming instrumental, where Justin soars on the word 'si-i-i-i-i-i-i-i'gh for what seems a glorious eternity and then the music hits in, is pure R and B for instance, whatever the trippy surroundings. Ray's perfectly timed flute solo also roots this song, even as its ending and the 'trip' sounds as if its fading away. This may only be a single non-eventful Tuesday Afternoon for most people but for the narrator it's a moment he's going to remember all his life long. I'd love to think that the moment in time it captures is actually the moment when Justin first realised what a great band The Moody Blues could be and is really about their renaissance as much as the world at large's. Whatever the inspiration for it, though, 'Tuesday Afternoon' is a classic singalong single that's the first to offer all the great Moody hallmarks (vocals, riff, production, worry and joy) which also works very well in the context of the album.
Alas 'Evening (Time To Get Away)' also starts a less favourable band tradition: the John Lodge ballad sung largely in falsetto that's at least half the speed of every other song on the album. Though the main riff (bah-bah be doodle doodle doo') is a great one, the rest of the song lacks the same standard of melody as the rest of the album. The lyrics also sound less inspired than most of the album, so much so that I've often wondered if this song was pieces together at the ;last minute when the band realised a) there was a whole 'evening' slot on the record they hadn't filled yet and b) John, still a newbie as a writer, was a song down on the others. If that's true then I sympathise: if Mike's 'Sun Set' and Justin's 'Nights In White Satin' were really in place then this is a pretty neat attempt at doing what those songs talk about (loss and unfulfilled potential) in a very different way (pure melodrama). John may well be talking about his 'other' self here - the one the Moodies didn't rescue in another time stream - where 'toiling has brought too many tears' and where working and money is the only way 'to have those things'. This can be summed up by the quick and rather mumbled line 'Turn round all those past years!' as John tries to tell his younger self not to worry - and not to work so hard at something that doesn't 'matter'. Had the song stopped at the verses it might have been another keeper, but this song is oddly constructed: the chorus is a single line tagged on the end of some verses but not others and we get the same middle eight twice which doesn't really fit at all ('Live all you people, you can't see where you're at'). This sounds to me like a leftover bit from 'Peak Hour' about the joys of having discovered a 'new' life; this song is more about the narrator's aggravation once the drugs/ moment of inspiration have worn off and he realises he's as trapped as everyone else. There's also a curious divide between what 'evening' means, which is another reason this song has always seemed rushed to me: in the verses John is still busy working even though it's evening - the downside, perhaps, of having goofed off all lunch hour - and yet the chorus plainly tells us that it's 'evening - time to get away'. This could of course be two separate parts of an evening, with Lodge going home mid-way through the evening, but that's not made clear and, anyway, the album's back sleeve still thinks it's the afternoon!
'The Sun Set' may not be the most immediately likeable song on the album, but it is the track I have found myself slowly returning to more than some of the others down years. Another song of Mike's, it's quite unlike anything the band will ever do again and the one song on the album that uses the orchestra well as an extra burst of noise rather than as an alien landscape. Though the Moody Blues often get lumbered in with all the 'sitar crowd', it's actually only this track and the next album's 'Omm' that go anywhere near this direction and this is all the more impressive given that everything here is played on the Moodies' own instruments, with some odd detuned Edge drums, Thomas' playful flute and Pinder's majestic ice-cold mellotron doing much of the work. Lyrically, it's a return to 'Dawn Is The Feeling' and the idea of the sun as the life-giver, now retreating out of view. However though the shadows fall over our own planet, mankind's eyes are directed upwards because of all the stars as if reminded what a small speck Earth is in a much bigger universe than we can understand. As with 'Peak Hour' Mike announces that 'I can see it all from this great height' as if his drug trip/moment of sudden inspiration has now caused him to hover above the Earth and this moment is met by a sudden switch to an uncomfortable minor key as his promise that 'the world still goes on through the ni-i-i-i-i-i-ght' is delivered more like a threat. It's an odd little song this one - I'm not surely I'd ever want to hear it outside the context of the album (though bizarrely it's the one non-Hayward song that lasted longest in the band's set lists from this album) and the curious funeral march tempo and lack of melody may put you off the song more than the other more melodic tracks here. The sudden switch back from psychedelia to pompous classical arrangement, with Peter Knight over-egging everything the band have just under-stated so well, is also enough to put you off this song for life. However, it's the song on the album that makes best use of all the themes that have come before, with throwbacks to 'Dawn Is A Feeling' 'Tuesday Morning' and 'Peak Hour' all woven together in true concept style.
In a way we don't need Ray's 'Twilight Time', a second song about the cold-hearted orb in the sky fading away and there's little lyrically that wasn't already said in 'The Sun Set'. However it's a much better constructed song than 'Another Morning', with a particularly good urgent riff, and another cracking band performances that elevates it above the ordinary. Pinder is enjoying turning his usual R and B plodding style on its head as the one earthly link in a suddenly much scarier world, while Ray's childish glee matches with Justin's terrified 'aaahs' to make a highly memorable sound. The lyrics find Ray once again in 'storytime' element, delivering a second 'Penny Lane' while the rest of the band are working on their own 'Strawberry Fields', and lots of random images are thrown together: 'An aerial display by the firefly brigade' 'building castles in the air' and 'bats taking to wing like puppets on strings'. At face image this is more like a documentary than a song and most of the lines are descriptions, not emotions -if David Attenborough ever decides to a series about 'English wildlife at night' this song is only missing the badgers and hedgehogs. And yet the music is clearly trying to make us scared out of our wits, with the song on the album that is most closely related to what trendy 60s music-lovers would have referred to as 'a bad trip'. The song's central hook is an ambiguous 'See what tomorrow brings', but the emphasis on this line - and the way it hovers in the air before crashing downwards the way Ray sings it - makes you re-evaluate everything you've just heard. With the sun gone it's time for the creatures of the Earth to make their own lights and live by their own dreams - so why don't we? Twilight time, traditional a 'magical' time of day when witches comes out to 'rule' over mankind should be 'our' time free to do what we want away from work. Alas, while the bats and nightingales find time to play, man's colourful fantasies of what he will do when he gets home keep 'disappearing from view'. As before, I have mixed feelings for this song, which is another song that doesn't work out that well out of context and rather runs out of ideas by the middle. However the sheer joy in the room as The Moodies go somewhere they've never been before is palpable and even Peter Knight is more on the ball than usual across the album with his orchestral 'links'.
And onto 'Nights In White Satin'. Amazingly, this song was one of the first Justin had written, back when he was a teenager living in a bedsit in Swindon (chances are the rest of the 'time' album was written around it because the band realised what a great song it could be - it's a wonder, actually, that he didn't try it first on his solo singles and suggests Justin was waiting for a 'bigger' and higher profile opportunity to release it). Unlike some Justin songs, which are so exquisitely crafted and articulate they sound as if a lot of time was spent on them, 'Nights' sounds as if it came out in one sudden surge of emotion. Justin rarely talks about his past but the fact that he's written so many songs around similar themes of loss and longing, almost all about past loves of his life who 'got away' (see the Blue Jays' 'Who You Are Now?' and the Moodies' own 'I now You're Out There Somewhere' for starters) suggests that there is at least a kernel of truth in this song. The opening line ('Nights In White Satin, never reaching the end') is set in a golden past, but as early as the second line Justin is back in the present, struggling to work out why the relationship struggled to work out, surrounded by 'letters I've written, never meaning to send'. The next lines hint that Justin is only now realising just how special that time in his life is ('Beauty I'd always missed with these eyes before') and though the song tries so hard to be quiet and polite and nicely brought up, he can't hold it in anymore as the song builds up to an orgasmic release of 'and I love you', over-used lines which have never sounded more 'real'. The second verse has Justin's narrator now caught in pangs of anxiety - everyone else he sees in the free 60s world is in a 'couple', some 'hand in hand' and he's never felt more isolated as 'just what I'm going through they can't understand'. Actually the song's success rate has long hinted that there are more of 'us' than there are of 'them' - the song's power comes from its ability to tap into a largely universal feeling and make it sound like a personal experience. Although the album this song inspired is in many ways the band's most pre-planned and written to order, 'Nights' succeeds because it isn't written to order: it's power lies in how simply it manages to put into words the overwhelming fear and desperation of having left a love disappear out of your life. Even though Justin softens the pill with the comforting through 'Just what you want to be you will be in the end', it's still not enough to dispel the feeling of doom which swells up and chokes him several times across the song.
Though there are other great Justin Hayward performances out there, this is still one of his very best and you can tell from the vocal how much this song still means to Justin, even if he was already with the girlfriend who would become his wife in 1970. He was also very much 'right' to leave the song until he had a backing band who could do the song justice and all the Moodies excel on this one. John's sad and simple bass lines desperately try to gee Justin up and on, but his action on behalf of the 'some try to tell me' brigade fall on deaf ears. Ray turns in the flute solo of the century, the calm in the storm after all that battering sea of emotion, mirroring the narrator's attempts to live out his life as normally as he can, but still hinting at the desperation within. Graeme's breakthrough on the drums comes as he realises that he will get more effect from only whalloping the drums for half the song, not through all of it and the rest of the song features some pretty natty cymbal work that builds and builds over the course of the song. Best of all, though, is Pinder's mellotron, a sad and aching sound that manages to express so much of what Justin's narrator is stumbling to say, drifting sad and lonely across a world that seems to have found its way and see-sawing violently against what everyone else in the band is playing. Even today the sound of his mellotron is striking despite the many copycat versions of it there were around in the rest of the 1960s - at the time, when only The Beatles and The Monkees had got round to using the sound and both in very different ways, it must have sounded breath-taking. Though Justin deserves his credit for writing the song, this is a band performance and a song that clearly united everyone in the group who were knocked out by its potential. In the context of the run of what the band had done up till now this song really sounded as if it came out of nowhere. So much so that for a long time a rumour went round that Justin hadn't really written this song at all, but that Decca had paid a fortune to launch the band with it after discovering the song sung in Italian by a band named 'Jelly Roll'. A copy of the single, which didn't sell that well, was even 'found' by some of the treasure-hunter music papers after a scoop and the cheeky so and sos had even written 'this is the original version of Nights In White Satin' on the label, apparently as a joke. However as you might have guessed, this wasn't actually true (otherwise the single would hardly have displayed the fact that it was the 'original' version of a song no one knew would be covered or such a hit): the record company simply meant that this was the 'original Italian version', after one of their Italian rivals quickly pounced on the song and did their own version. The fact that the song created such a fuss and - briefly - took in so many people is though a testament at what a giant leap forward this song is. Even after nearly a century of hearing this song nearly continually 'Nights In White Satin' has still retained it's magic, with a superb band performance of a gorgeous aching melody that goes so well with its carefully chosen words. 'Nights' was a big hit for a reason (although believe it or not the song only peaked at #19 on first release, the band's stock had fallen so low; it did rather better on re-issues in 1972 and 1979, proof of how 'timeless', rather than 1967-centred, this beautiful song is.
However there's a reason you should hang on to your Moodies compilations even if you buy up all these original albums, because 'Nights' is just part of the album's final track as heard on the LP. Though Peter Knight tries hard, his overblown version of the 'Nights' theme is hideous Hollywood music, far removed from the sincerity and the moment when the song comes crashing down on a parped brass note may well be the most misguided moment on the entire record. The song has already peaked, with Pinder's mellotron going places the orchestras never could - it doesn't need a sequel. Knight does, however, pick out a much stronger melody all round on the unbilled finale of the album fans have come to call 'Late Night Lament', painted with neat small brushstrokes rather than half a pound of oil paints. The poem itself is again by Edge and similar in style to 'The Day Begins', enunciated nicely by Pinder. Though clever in the way it slightly re-works the original (contrasting the lights entering the room with the light fading) and an improvement solely in the way it considers how different age groups re-act to the process (bedsitters, like Justin in 'Nights', fear that their lives will be the same and leave them forever trapped; OAPs 'wish they were young' - a remarkably unfashionable idea at the time) the choice of words is still a little flowery and the opening incantation to 'breathe deep the gathering gloom' seems out of place here at the end of the album (ditto the final lines about an 'illusion' actually, which is a theme the band never really got to the bottom of). As with 'The Day Begins', the Moodies have bitten off rather more than they can chew, though they deserve perhaps credit for trying the impossible. I still prefer to hear 'Nights' on a single, though, where it makes for a far more fitting finale on it's own.
Overall, then, 'Days Of Future Passed' is a curious hybrid of ideas that come off all too well and others that now sound horrifically dated and ill-conceived (I'd love to know what the band's re-actions were when Peter first played them his intended ideas - 'Erm, we were considering something a little less...fruity'). However it speaks volumes that it's the so-called respectable classical world that goes a bit too OTT at times, while the rock and rollers are very well behaved. Now that the days of future has passed, we know that The Moody Blues will go on to have a career that fulfils pretty much all the promise displayed on this album (though 'Nights' remains a pretty unbeatable song for the rest of the band's career). As a result there are better, greater, stronger albums in their catalogue with this album very much the weakest album of the 'core seven' to my tastes. Then again, no other Moodies album would have been able to cover so much ground if this album hadn't tried to do something this brave and pioneering and been so tremendously successful for around half the record. 'Days' is a success if only because it took so many risks and worked so hard to reverse the fortunes of a band who seemed to have come to the end of the road and the circumstances behind the making of it are part of a great story full of whacking coincidences and lucky developments that make it seem as if fate had always intended it to be this way (with one month making up for two years of serious bad luck and lost opportunities). There's a wonderful story that Ray and Mike met up for the first time in years around a decade ago and the first words out of Pinder's mouth was 'can you believe we actually did it? Two unknowns from Birmingham?' 'Future Passed' is the moment when the Moodies went from zeroes back to heroes and is a record that cast a long shadow over the rest of their career. Be warned though: this is far from the band's best, however many rapturous reviews and gushing comments always make out. It is, instead, the important first step on a dazzling career that will go to places this record can only dream of.