Sending Music Around The Moon With The Moody Blues
The early life and times of The Moody Blues is littered with strange parables, events that step outside of the ordinary and even a Playboy Vocal Group Of The Year Award. Beat that. Along the way they morphed from Merseybeat inspired rootsy RnB to symphonic classicism and a career that will have spanned a staggering 45 years during 2009 for the three remaining original members, Graeme Edge, John Lodge and Justin Hayward.
It’s a long way from the streets of Erdington in darkest Birmingham where the fantastically named El Riot And The Rebels were formed in the early ‘60s to emulate the inspirational music from the US RnB scene that had been introduced to the UK through import singles that flowed into Liverpool and eventually soaked up the country.
The core of El Riot consisted of Graeme Edge, Roy Thomas and Mike Pinder who, along with Denny Laine became The Moody Blues and were snapped up by Decca Records and ushered into the studio. Their second 45, a cover of the belting Bessie Banks’ single Go Now, became an instant hit and grainy footage of them performing live on Hullabaloo can still be seen on Youtube. It was 1964 and everything was black and white.
By 1966, Laine had departed and further upheavals resulted in a steady line up of the original trio plus guitarist and vocalist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge. Still under contract to Decca, the band’s post Go Now output had failed to ignite the charts and it was proposed that the band, who were developing their sound with flute and mellotron, prepare a rock version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony for the launch of Decca’s Deram imprint in an effort to display the possibilities of new sound recording and reproduction. They were given three weeks and free reign over the four track.
By stealth, the band persuaded arranger Tony Clarke that they should instead spend their studio time recording their song cycle Days Of Future Passed, a dreamy and ethereal set that pressed all the right emotional buttons and positively glowed with its sonic production. The Decca execs were not amused but the release and huge success of the glorious Nights In White Satin single ensured that everyone claimed it was their idea.
The Moody Blues had created a unique mellotron mood. Their evocative sound retained a pop edge but hinted at a pastoral prog vision that would be copied and exaggerated by many an inspired group from the following decade on. Days Of Future Passed was followed by In Search Of The Lost Chord and the band’s introspective examination of music, plus its penchant for storytelling was further developed. Success was assured.
The remainder of the ‘60s saw the Moody Blues sound flourish, culminating in 1969’s celebration of man landing on the moon, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, a grandiose gesture that was returned in some measure by Shuttle pilot Commander Robert ‘Hoot’ Gibson who, many years later in 1993, revealed that he had carried the Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed and Seventh Sojourn with him on his various space journeys, travelling ten million miles with the two albums.
Given their own label imprint, Threshold, The Moody Blues ended the ‘60s in a powerful, almost guru-like position for a rock band, something that was underlined by their Top Of The Pops debut of ‘Question’. The band were all in white which gave them the appearance of other worldly futurists. Indeed, the driving melody and evocative, socially aware lyrics contained a positive earth-friendly message that was almost revolutionary at a time when glam rock was rearing its ugly wedge heels.
’Question’ is a truly inspirational song and its status seems bizarrely pertinent to all kinds of mystical futurism. Indeed, Youtube even carries the song moulded to an abbreviated version of Lord Of The Rings. Complete with Moody Blues’ soundtrack, the mightily reduced epic seems to fit perfectly on this legendary yarn. ‘Question’ was a band in a unique place and the subsequent album A Question Of Balance was a musical nirvana, the trigger for ‘70s prog rock and The Moody Blues’ elevation to multi-platinum album sales and indeed a place on Hollywood’s Rock Walk Of Fame no less. Not bad for the Birmingham five. Not bad at all.