Popular Culture (Music) 20120427: The Moody Blues

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I am very fond of The Moody Blues, although regular readers know that I am at heart a fan of The Who.  This short (probably two or three installments) was suggested to me by my dear friend Steve.  He and go back to the eighth grade, and we still speak almost every day, sometimes more than once per day.

To digress, I am very impressed with modern high speed communication.  We live almost 900 miles apart from each other, yet can communicate by telephone for essentially no cost since we both have unlimited cellular minutes.  When we were in the eighth grade, a landline station to station call cost around 25 cents per minute, end we lived only around 15 miles apart at the time.  How things have changed!

In any event, The Moody Blues were one of the older bands from the UK, having formed on 19640504, with the lineup appearing after the fold.  Mark I was not horribly successful, but Mark II were spectacular.

The original band members were:

Graeme Edge (19410330, still with us), drums, and the only original member still with what passes as The Moody Blues now

Denny Laine (19441029, still with us), guitar and vocals, who later found great success with Sir Paul and Linda McCartney’s band Wings

Michael Pinder (19411227, still with us), keyboards

Ray Thomas (19411229, still with us), flute and vocals

Clint Warwick (actually Albert Eccles), (19400625 - 20040515), bass

Most of the members also wrote material for the band, and all of them did at least backing vocals.  The band originated in Birmingham, at the time a city dominated by heavy industry.  Birmingham is north of London, right in the middle of the Midlands.

They had some success in clubs, and some of the members had been in other club bands before forming The Moody Blues.  There is a very important connexion with one of those bands and Mark II that we shall examine later.  They got a contract with Decca (later to be the label for The Who) and released a single that did not chart.  I could not find “Steal Your Heart Away” on You Tube, and if anyone can find it elsewhere, please post it in the comments.

Their first album, on Decca, was called The Magnificent Moodies in the UK and Go Now - The Moody Blues #1, on London Records in the US.  It did not chart in either country, and the tracks are quite different in the two releases.  There was a single from that record that did chart, a song written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett called “Go Now”.

Denny Laine had lead vocals on this one.  Note how very much different it is from their later work.  It charted at #1 in the UK and at #10 in the US.

Here is a single written by Laine and Pinder that charted at #22 in the UK and at #93 is the US.  “From the Bottom of my Heart”, not being a cover, has a very early feel of the sound that we come to expect from The Moody Blues.  Lead vocals were by Laine (I think).  It was released sometime in 1965.

Decca did not give them the opportunity to record another album for a long time, and Laine and Warwick got tired of not having much success in the singles arena and left the band in 1966.  As a matter of fact, the band almost collapsed at the time, but then something miraculous happened:  Mark II!

Pinder and Thomas had played in a band with one John Lodge (19450720, still with us), and they contacted him to see if he would be willing to take the place of Warwick on bass.  At the same time, Justin Hayward (19461014, still with us) was recommended to the band by Eric Burdon (of The Animals fame).  Everything clicked, and in what I consider a rarity in pop music, a Mark II band was formed that was not worse, but much, much better than a Mark I band formed.

Here are two takes of Pinder’s “Really Haven’t Got the Time”, the first by a sort of mongrel Mark I lineup, and the second by the full Mark II.  Tell me which sounds more like The Moodies!

Pinder has lead vocals on this one.

OK, it still does sound like what we expect, but with Hayward and Lodge doing backing vocals it does seem to be much smoother than the Mark I lineup.

By then money was getting tight.  They owed Decca a lot, and their contract was ending.  Fortunately for us, one individual at Decca, Hugh Mendl, had the vision to see that this could be a great band.  He engineered a deal for The Moody Blues to migrate to Deram Records, owned by Decca, and make a more symphonic album.  After lots of legal and artistic hurdles were overcome, Days of Future Past was released late in 1967.  THIS is the sound that we all have come to expect.

The story behind the origin of this album is controversial and fractious, and I do not have enough information to sort it out completely,  One version is that Decca, through Deram, wanted the band to produce a version of Dvořák’s New World Symphony to showcase their version of stereophonic sound (remember, stereo was quite novel in 1967).  Another version is that the original agreement was for the band to write original material that simulated a such a piece.  If any of you out there have better information, please add it in the comments.

In any event, Days of Future Passed became one of the icons of progressive rock.  It is hauntingly beautiful in many places, and rocks wonderfully in others.  Mark I could have NEVER created such a piece; Hayward and Lodge were essential.  Released on 19671111, it charted at #27 in the UK, and at #3 in the US.  There is a caveat, though, because it did not chart in the US until 1972.

Here is the entire album.  The narratives are spoken by Pinder.  I ask that you come back to it later after you listen to selected tracks and make your comments, because it is quite long.

Probably my most favorite song from the album is “Tuesday Afternoon”, written by and sung by Hayward.  This song is remarkable in many respects, and we shall use it to illustrate a couple of unique contributions by The Moodies.

Right from the start, listen to the violin!  It is not a violin at all, but a Mellotron, a keyboard activated bank of tape players that can reproduce any sound.  Pinder worked for Streetly Electronics, the manufacturer of the Mellotron, and was one of the very few musicians that could keep one working properly.  He was probably using a MkII double manual since more of them than any other model had been made by the time that the album was released.

The Mellotron was, at the time, the only way to get polyphonic string sounds without having actual strings.  Whilst the Moog synthesizer was available, only one note at a time could be played.  With a Mellotron, entire chords could be played.  For years the Mellotron was the defining sound of The Moody Blues who used it more extensively than any other band with the possible exception of Yes.  Incidentally, Rick Wakeman had a Mellotron that utilized recordings of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The second thing is the quality of Hayward’s voice.  Denny Laine just could not have pulled this song off at all.  This, along with the Mellotron, is The Moody Blues.  Additionally, the writing is radically different from Mark I.  Mark I was basically concerned with American type R & B, and at the time The Who were much better at it.  Mark II did a complete shift, writing their own psychedelic material.  “Tuesday Afternoon” can be interpreted as the initial stages of the effects of taking LSD (“…I’m just beginning to see, now I’m on my way.”).

Here is a very nice true live performance.  Pinder appears to be playing a MkII, since it is a double manual instrument.

The other iconic song from this album is “Nights in White Satin”, also written by Hayward.  Here is the cut from the album.

Here is a live version from the wonderful Isle of Wight festival from 1970.  From the looks of it, Pinder is likely playing an M400 since is has a single manual.

My favorite album of theirs was their next one, In Search of the Lost Chord.  Released on Deram on 19680726, this record is remarkable in that every single note was played by the band themselves, with no orchestral backing like in the previous one and no session players either.  Look at the instruments played by each band member:

Graeme Edge - vocals, drums, piano, timpani, tambourine, tablas, spoken vocal

Justin Hayward - vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, 12-string guitar, sitar, harpsichord, piano, Mellotron, bass guitar, percussion, tablas

John Lodge - vocals, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, cello, tambourine, snare drum

Mike Pinder - vocals, Mellotron, piano, harpsichord, acoustic guitar, cello, autoharp, bass guitar, tambura, spoken vocal

Ray Thomas - vocals, C flute, alto flute, soprano saxophone, oboe, french horn, tambourine

What a remarkable variety of instruments to be played, and quite well, by only five people!

This album is just about as psychedelic as they come.  It charted at #5 in the UK and at #23 in the US, not too bad.  One thing that I really like about it was, since it was released when Star Trek was at its zenith, they do a tribute to the original sound for the warp engines revving on “Departure”.

Here is a wonderful live version of “Ride My Seesaw”.  The “Departure” piece was a recording (Hayward does not have a sitar), but the remainder appears to be quite real.

Another interesting fact about “Departure” is that it is, to the best of my knowledge, the only poem read by Graeme Edge himself, although he wrote most all the poetry for all of their albums.  Pinder usually read them.  By the way, “Ride My Seesaw” was written by Lodge.  It was also released as a single, where it charted at #42 in the UK and #61 in the US.

The Ray Thomas song “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume” was the third song on the album.  Eldest Son really liked that song when he was little, so I played it for him often.

Here is a mimed version of the album cut, but I include it because I always thought that they wore cool threads!

The Mellotron is really smooth in this one!

Lodge wrote the next song, “House of Four Doors”.

Here is a mimed version of the same song.  I know that it is the album cut because the cello is real, and Lodge has his bass here.  It does have a nice shot of Pinder’s Mk II Mellotron.

Thomas’s “Legend of a Mind” is next, and is one of the few rock songs to have part of the music in 3/4 time.

Here is a true, live version.

The first side of the record ends with “House of Four Doors, Part 2”, by Lodge.

I could not find a decent live version.

The Hayward piece “Voices in the Sky” starts the second side:

As you can tell, this was also released as a single.  It charted at #27 in the UK, but did not chart in the US.  Here is a video that I am sure is mimed.

“The Best Way to Travel”, a Pinder song, is certainly psychedelic in nature.  I like this song very much.  I thought that this video was appropriate:

I could not find a good live version.

Something important and wonderful has come up, so I shall have to finish this up next week.  Wish me good fortune!  It will likely be late before I can answer comments.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith


  1. receiving that special telephone call this evening?

  2. I very much appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,


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