Moody Blues : Days of Future Passed :: A Look Back
February 22, 2009 by mark
A welcome reissue is the 2006 release of the first five Moody Blues records on CD complete with bonus tracks. Three of the five were issued as double disk sets, including their first LP release “Days of Future Passed”, originally released in England in Nov 1967.This LP hit the U.S. charts belatedly in April of 1968 and can be considered a classic example of a “sleeper”, eventually reaching Number 3 in the U.S. charts in 1972.
As the intent of the record was a stereo demonstration record, the cover has that ‘sound effects’ record cover look-what with its large white trim across the cover art. (A much better cover was made available in later releases sans the trim.) The watercolor painting of two large sideways faces- interspaced with impressions of the contents song lyrics-replete with a Gemini astronaut space walk, a tiny fetus, and a likewise tiny female nude still makes a pretty good album cover. (Subsequent Moody Blues covers would get better when the reins were handed to artist Phil Travers.)
The U.S. LP version added in the trim section a block in red print “including Nights in White Satin”. While a marketing decision, this song in 1968 was not the most identifiable song from the record in the U.S. market. That song would be the 45 “Tuesday Afternoon”, a song that more than any other brought the sound of the mellotron to the public. (To make matters more confusing, “Tuesday Afternoon” is identified on the record cover as “Forever Afternoon, Tuesday”. Imagine the confusion to the teenage kid (like me), after hearing the song on the transistor radio, trying to buy the Moody Blues album that has a song called “Tuesday Afternoon” on it.)
The booklet in the CD explain the details of how the Moody Blues, once a Birmingham based British Invasion group, responsible for the unforgettable hit 45 “Go Now” came to record this album. After follow-up songs failed to top charts in the competitive pop market, the lead singer of the group Denny Laine, called it quits. Remaining member and co-founder of the group, Mike Pinder was determined to continue on.
The Moody Blues
The Moody Blues original sound was one the few invasion bands (Animals, Zombies, Spencer Davis) that were based on the keyboard as the prime instrument as opposed to the guitar. “Go Now” was driven and hooked by Pinder’s piano. Subsequent follow-up singles and their first LP all were all underpinned by Pinder’s piano. All the original songs were Pinder compositions co-written with vocalist Denny Laine and most of these displayed piano roots as the source of composition.
In addition, the Moody Blues despite their inclination in covering r&b tunes, (the first English group to cover “Time is on My Side” before the Stones,) they were primarily a vocal group, featuring background harmony and vocals a’la the Beatles and the Hollies. Watching vintage live performances of the band performing “Go Now” demonstrates the adept background vocals sustained throughout the entire song. But by 1966 with the departure of lead singer and guitarist, Denny Laine, the group was in a stylistic limbo. So in the summer of 66 the band reformed primarily as a vocal group with two new numbers to continue with the name of Moody Blues . (The name was kept to maintain bookings.)
The result was the recruitment of two new, younger members; both experienced musicians, guitarist Justin Hayward age 20 and bassist John Lodge age 21.
(A period Coca-Cola full-page teen magazine ad circa 1967 shows the newly reformed Moody Blues in white shirts and ties, working on new numbers. Pictured is “Johnny Lodge” on bass and new guitarist Justin Hayward working an arrangement with Pinder behind “an electrified piano”. Each arrangement of course, benefited by a sip of Coke”.) Hayward in particular brought immediate vocal capabilities as well as an emerging, prolific songwriting talent. Pinder was impressed with Hayward’s pair of solo 45s he recorded as a teenager that despite lack of chart status, displayed some raw talent.
The infusion of the new talent would point to new creativity as evidenced on their first single with the new line up.
Fly Me High
A fresh poppy sound with a new vocalist Justin Hayward, highlighted with a bright acoustic 12-string intro soon met with a piano riff (echoing the Beatles “She’s A Woman”) and accentuated with a shaken tambourine and handclaps. Justin sings solo in the verse; an upright sounding piano in the background plays a honky tonk riff, and massed background vocals emerge in the chorus. The mid- section is the highlight of the song. The choral vocal harmonies demonstrate the strength of this new incarnation of the Moody Blues as a powerful vocal group, namely the high falsetto sections provided by John Lodge and accompanied by Ray Thomas. Thomas, a natural baritone, was able to contribute in any range necessary for the sake of harmony needed for the particular tune. The mid-section is repeated at the end, with drummer Graeme Edge’s high hat adding an effective percussive accompaniment. This track, as well as a live BBC recording is featured on the bonus disk on the CD.
In the summer of 1967, the release of the Beatles “Sgt Pepper” opened the door for the new Moody Blues. Following the Beatles lead, they sought to write and produce tight and bright song compositions inspired by Pepper, with emphasis on aural quality, and with large doses of romantic sentiments and eastern mysticism, Sealing the deal on the new direction was their record company assigning Tony Clarke as their producer. Clarke, with his expertise on reverb, mixes, overdubs, vocal mixes, was capable of producing the big sound the group was searching for on their records, as well as capturing a good sound from the recently acquired and obstinate and often harsh mellotron.
Days of Future Passed
One has to remember the context of how this album was materialized. Its purpose was a demonstration stereo disk from the Deram division of Decca records, utilizing the services of a group already on contract to the company. Thus the listener is exposed to long passages of orchestral interpretations by Peter Knight of the eight rock songs the Moody Blues brought to the sessions. This was a bit perplexing for a rock fan who slapped the phonograph needle on side one of the platter and being exposed to a long opening sequence of orchestral music (reminiscent of a soundtrack album) and a recited poem.But the confusion is lifted by the first song from the group, absent of orchestra. As far as introducing the new Moody Blues lineup on their debut album, you couldn’t do better than “Dawn is a Feeling”.
Dawn is a Feeling
“Dawn” introduces the mellotron on a Moody Blues LP and new vocalist Justin Hayward.The opening bar is a subtle blast of a mellotron and piano chord, repeated in a descending pattern. Piano arpeggios join in the right speaker accompanied by a shaker.
The song is a mature arrangement, miles ahead of the previous attempts by the group, what with its haunting, repetitive mellotron accompaniment. The lyrics are also perceptive; the phrase “each day is the first day of your life” could be coined from this tune. The composer, Mike Pinder, sings the middle eight section. As in earlier Moody Blues songs, the middle eight is introduced by a drum break.
A rickety tickety pop song from Ray Thomas with delightful lyrics describing a very English childhood. The lyrics hint to the original songs title, “In a Child’s World.” On this track singer Thomas is double tracked and background vocals are dominated by Hayward…The main riff has two double tracked flutes played by Thomas, with the mellotron imitating a squeeze box, underpinned by rhythm section of Edge and Lodge, with Hayward on acoustic 12 string. The ‘hen cackle’ sound in the opening sequence sounds like an electric guitar, but a live recording of this reveals this to be a mellotron.
This song, the first real rocker on the LP, is a neat piece of 1967 pop music with its dominating organ feel (done with mellotron), a James Bond/surf guitar solo, and its well developed choral arrangements. Written by bassist John Lodge, it reveals its origins as a bass riff. Of the four lead vocalists in the group, Lodge had the weakest voice, thus his songs were usually augmented by the other Moodies. Mixed by Tony Clarke, this would produce a unique sound that approximated one singular voice. This technique was used on subsequent Lodge compositions.The mellotron is set to organ in the “churchy” mid section featuring the Moodies demonstrating some polished choral harmonies. A short jam then ensues. Pinder jabs organ chords, drums and bass underpin the build up, and Hayward contributes a retro (even for 1967) surf guitar solo.
“Tuesday Afternoon” really introduced the true majestic sound of the mellotron to the general public, more so than the “Strawberry Fields”, which mainly featured its flute recreation in the songs introduction. The mellotron is recorded in the right and left speaker- the left speaker has the mellotron creating a rush of string sounds, and the right speaker alternates between the sound of an oboe and strings. The mellotron baths the songs in a warm lushness.
The song emulates Pepper’s “A Day In the Life” as the mid-section of “Tuesday Afternoon” resembles the “woke up, fell out of bed” section of “Day in the Life”. Hayward provides a youthful and exuberant vocal performance on this popular, melodic number. On close listening one detects that the guitar is a finger-picked acoustic 12 string, and the ending flute part mimics the earlier, almost hidden scat vocals in the mid-section.
Evening Time to get Away
The melancholy “Evening Time To Get Away” with 12 string acoustic and piano doubling the opening riff, is another strong composition. Unfortunately the CD version does not have the harmony vocals on the chorus, leaving singer John Lodge singing without accompaniment-not bad- but not the intent of the bands finished product. It seems that the master tapes of this track are no longer available. The original version should have been provided as one of the bonus tracks from the best audio source.
Pinder’s Eastern flavored “Sunset” also differs from the vinyl version. Absent is the piano in the instrumental section. This also should have been made available as a bonus track from the best source. Interesting to note that the bonus track version of the song is listed as the “alternate version without orchestra” Apparently those were real strings overdubbed on the CD version of this song. On CD the mellotron is audible, but when comparing the CD version to the LP version, the LP is clearly piano and mellotron-no strings.
A piano based rocker featuring thick reverbed double tracked Ray Thomas vocals with subtle mellotron backing. Ray Thomas had the strongest pipes in the band, but his thick accent was not the most pop friendly when compared to Denny Laine and replacement Justin Hayward, so Thomas was relegated to background chores and the occasional lead spotlight. With the new lineup he was again in this role, but with new emphasis of contributing original numbers, thus guaranteeing artistic expression and providing a pivotal role.
In addition, Thomas was the first rock musician to bring the flute into the rock milieu. As early as 1965 it can be heard on their Denny Laine period recordings. Each single member of the Moody Blues was to contribute at least two songs per album, with the prolific Hayward usually delivering three songs and the hit material. Thomas’s songs would alternate between whimsy and the mystical, and provided some of the groups best songs. As Thomas arrived at the recording sessions armed only with a melody, this allowed opportunity for the rest of the group to come up with arrangements. (One of the signature Moody Blues songs is Thomas’s ”Legend of A Mind”, which demonstrates a strong group arrangement.)
Nights in White Satin
“Nights” which became their signature song, had auspicious beginnings. After Hayward demo’d the new song to his unimpressed band mates, it was given another go; this time with Pinder coming up with the famous counter melody on the mellotron which defined the song. The middle eight flute solo section (with a medieval period feel) has been credited to Pinder and Thomas and this tucks in beautifully, and propels the song to a higher musical level. The minor to major ballad structure of the song can be heard in similar sounding pop songs such as Ben E. King’s, “I Who Have Nothing” and Love’s “Signed DC”.
Despite the elaborate production, the allure and heart of the song remains the very lonely vocals of a young Justin Hayward in the pathos of unrequited love. The superior ‘mono’ Nights is also available as a bonus track. Like “Cities” it lacks the sonics of the original 45, but this is still the definitive version- no strings, and a vast ending with thundering drums and shrieking vocals that make you feel like you are exiting a cave.
Turn this one up.