Revisit The Moody Blues’ landmark album, ‘Days of Future Passed’

By David Beard

November 2012 marks the 45th anniversary of The Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed” album, an LP that introduced the music world to one orchestrated movement of a day in the life of one guy from dawn until dusk.

Initially released in November 1967, the album reached No. 27 on the U.K. album charts, and it resurfaced on the Billboard 200 five years later in the U.S., where it reached No. 3. Today, “Days of Future Passed” remains a groundbreaking album in its vision of combining album rock music with classical instrumentation. In March, The Moody Blues launched its 32-city 2012 U.S. tour titled “The Moody Blues: The Voyage Continues — Highway 45,” in conjunction with the landmark album’s 45th anniversary.

The Moody Blues circa 1970

The Moody Blues circa 1970 (clockwise from upper right): John Lodge, Graeme Edge, Ray Thomas, Justin Hayward and Mike Pinder. Photo: Chris Walter, Photofeatures International.

From Draughtsman to Drummer

Graeme Edge trained as a draughtsman but soon went into music full time. He got his start with The Silhouettes and The Blue Rhythm Band.

He then helped to form Gerry Levene and The Avengers, which recorded one single for Decca: “Dr. Feelgood”/“It’s Driving Me Wild,” and appeared on TV in “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” When that group collapsed in April 1964, Edge formed The R&B Preachers, which included Denny Laine and Clint Warwick.

After The R&B Preachers disbanded, Edge, Laine and Warwick linked up with Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder to form The M&B 5, which later became The Moody Blues.

Serendipity Strikes

In early 1965, Justin Hayward answered an advertisement for a guitar player in “The Melody Maker.” He soon found himself one-third of The Wilde Three with Marty Wilde and his wife, Joyce. In 1966, Hayward branched out on his own and recorded two self-penned solo singles — “London Is Behind Me”/“Day Must Come” for Pye Records and “I Can’t Face The World Without You”/“I’ll Be Here Tomorrow” for Parlophone, aka The Beatles’ original label.

Soon after the release of his solo singles, Hayward wrote to Eric Burdon of The Animals and sent him some compositions. Burdon passed the songs on to Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues, who, in the summer of 1966, recorded Hayward’s “Fly Me High” at the Decca Studios, engineered by Gus Dudgeon.

Within a few weeks, Hayward had written many other songs for the band, including the acclaimed “Nights in White Satin.”

Goldmine: What were your first impressions of John Lodge and Justin Hayward when they joined the group?
Graeme Edge: I knew John before he joined. He was, in fact, in the very original M&B 5 meetings, but because we were going to move down to London, and he still had a year of college (to go) … he stayed on to finish school, and we went down to London. The original plan was he was going to be in the band eventually anyway. He had worked for years with Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas. Clint Warwick joined us as a temporary position (bass player), but we got the hit (“Go Now”), so we couldn’t really ask him to hit the highway, because that wouldn’t have been fair. So he hung around until Denny Laine left, and we reorganized the band. The only new member was Justin. Boy, did we pull out a plum!!

GM: What were your first impressions of the group when you joined?
Justin Hayward:  I knew The Moodies and was most familiar with Mike Pinder’s hands because of the record, “Go Now.” The image I had of them was that piano riff and Mike playing the song. I knew that the band was a rhythm and blues band. I was really looking for an outlet for my own songs … I came to the group as a songwriter.  My purpose in coming to the band was that I might get my songs done by a good band. That was my rationale, then, really. I didn’t know The Moodies were even looking for somebody, because I had written to Eric Burdon and sent my songs to him, the call from Mike came completely out of the blue. I had to sort of rethink things very quickly. I was happy to go along with it. I’m not sure in truth that any of the five of us was confident that it would last more than a few months. There was no master plan at the beginning, or any plan at all. There was a promoter in Belgium who offered us some gigs, and that was as far as we thought.

GM: At the time, you had “London Is Behind Me.” Did you have “Fly Me High” at that time, too?
JH: I had “Fly Me High,” and I had quite a lot of things that I recorded in a publisher’s office in Denmark Street, and some things that I demoed up very badly, cheaply and quickly. I didn’t really have much else. I had a record on Pye, that they were gracious enough to release as a formality, and “London Is Behind Me” was one of them. I really wrote “London Is Behind Me” only to fit in with Lonnie Donegan’s band, because that was the kind of tempo that they liked. I knew that I’d be working on that particular session with those musicians, so I wrote something that was in character for their tempo. It wasn’t a reflection of my own feelings at the time; it was just something for that session. “Fly Me High” was the one that I came with that the other guys in The Moodies really listened to and could see some potential in.

GM: How much of the new sound was because of Justin?
GE: There were two major things that caused it. One was Justin, because he came from an English folk musical background … more than the straight 12-bar rock we came from; and the other was, of course, Mike Pinder and that magnificent (but dreadfully difficult) machine of his … the Mellotron. He worked at the factory where that was made (in Birmingham), and it was actually designed as a retrieval system for sound effects; the BBC were the most interested in it, the idea being they had all these tapes with (effects of) walking on gravel, a dog barking, car door slamming, etc. You could see the potential if you actually recorded instruments, because they used a black and white keyboard for access. If someone could read music, you could put C above E and know that was the rocket ship taking off. So you could retrieve the sounds by writing it like a musical form. Mike figured out to add horns, strings, bagpipes and all that sort of stuff behind it and turn it into a more natural musical instrument. That, along with Justin’s folk chord-structure background with the tonal variations available from the Mellotron, was what set us on the track that sort of ended up as “Days of Future Passed.”

GM: Mike was a master at the Mellotron, wasn’t he?
JH: He was a master. It was a sound effects machine with a few orchestral sounds. Mike took all the sound effects out and replaced it with duplicates of the orchestral sounds, and he managed to play it. You only had eight seconds when you pressed a note down, but Mike managed to do it. It was very unreliable and very heavy. I often used to wonder who was carrying it into a gig.  I was supposed to be one of the people that was carrying it, but I was making the noises … [ohhh, ohhh] and just doing it with my little finger. It was one of those odd illusions. The Mellotron was very, very unreliable, and the very first gig that we did for promoter Bill Graham — who was one of the main reasons why we came to America — we really let him down at the Fillmore East because the Mellotron broke down, and we had to carry on with just the four of us. Mike certainly got a great sound out of it. As amplifiers developed at that same time, I think it reached its peak around the time of the Isle Of Wight festival that we did in 1970. There was always a compromise: the stage Mellotron and the recorded Mellotron. We’d record a backing track, and then they’d bounce it between machines … Mike always adding another Mellotron track as they went, so it was multi-layered.

GM: Do you think your adaptability played a major role in the success of the new group sound?
JH: All I know is that the rhythm and blues wasn’t working. Quite frankly, we weren’t good enough at it. Denny Laine had a great R&B voice, and he was the voice of that previous lineup. When the five of us got together, we were like fish out of water … we were out of character.  Mike was writing some lovely stuff, but he was trying to fit it around the piano and a rhythm and blues feel, and it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t reflecting his own personality. We decided to throw away the blue suits on a Saturday night, and on Sunday morning we started again. As soon as we started doing our own material — originally I was the only guy writing with Mike — all of us got behind that material, and everything changed for us. Our audience was suddenly different. People started liking us for the right reasons. There was an honesty about our playing that was completely apparent.

“Cities” was another song that I had a long time before I joined The Moodies. That was something that I used to do in folk clubs on the big 12-string. If we had all known what we know today about B-sides in those days, I certainly wouldn’t have had the B-side as well as the A-side. We had nothing else … there was only “Fly Me High” and “Cities” that were the right kind of quality. “Fly Me High,” “Cities” and “Nights In White Satin” were with Tony Clarke, and that was a big changing point. Tony livened the whole thing up, and it sounded really good. There was pre-Mellotron and post-Mellotron. As soon as Mike got the Mellotron, my songs just seemed to work. Before that, Mike and I were trying to make songs work with the piano as some kind of rock group, which wasn’t what we were. The moment we got the Mellotron, everything just kind of opened up a wonderful door to a world of imagination and the landscape of our possibilities.

GM: It’s interesting that two tracks you wrote are not listed as tracks on the album (“Morning Glory” and “Late Lament”). Do you know what happened?
GE: It was a publishing screw-up. It was put right after the first initial pressing. Also, on the first pressing, there was not (really) much of an ego (in the band). There were no photographs of any of us, except the tops of our heads sitting at a meeting [on the back cover]; it was all very low key.

The reason for that was we had just come back from a Beatles tour. We were opening for the Beatles. We just saw what a life they led. We said, “No, no, no … That’s not for us.” They couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t get out of their hotel. They couldn’t go to a pub or a club. They were trapped in their hotel room every day. It was a bit scary. I’d step out of the hotel, and just because I was short with long hair … well, long hair then [laughs] … I’d be chased up the street, and I wasn’t even one of ’em! You get four or five of those 14- or 15-year-old girls … you get four or five of them hangin’ on you, you ain’t got a prayer. When they get a bit hysterical, they are strong creatures, so it was very scary. We were so terrified of that.

GM: Had you been writing poetry prior to the inception of the album?
GE: I had been writing poems for a long time. The first one I ever wrote, I was about 8. I wish I still had it, because it would be a nice little smile.  The master at school gave us (the task of) writing about what we would buy with the equivalent of $50. I wrote the whole thing in rhyme … I actually spent about $500, as well. I was going to do some wonderful thing with it, but I wrote it all in rhyme. When I read it out, the teacher asked to look at it. Then, when he looked at it, he asked me, “Do you read poetry?” I said, “No, not really.” He said, “Don’t you know that you’re supposed to stop the line with the rhyming word and start a new line?” I just wrote it down on the page — straight across. I didn’t know you were supposed to do it like that. [Laughs] I’ve always enjoyed and had a knack for language, and I’ve always been an avid reader. I’m probably more of a poet than a writer, because I’m too idle. You can get it done more quickly in a poem. You’ve got to be a lot smarter to write a book. [Laughs.]

Moody Blues Nights In White Satin on Deram

The Moody Blues' song "Nights In White Satin" is part of the landmark 1967 album "Days of Future Passed." However, the song was written well before the band ever considered doing "Days of Future Passed."

GM: What inspired those passages?
GE: “Nights In White Satin” was written before we ever thought about doing “Days of Future Passed;” it was written to go into the live show … whereas “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Twilight Time” were already written. We were working toward doing a day show (as part of our show), because none of us were very good at talking to an audience. None of us could crack jokes, or do any of that stuff. We were planning on trying to build a stage show where the music said it all, and we started to just play it all the way through until the end. That was the breeding ground of what did become “Days of Future Passed.”

Unfortunately, being musicians, there was a part of each day that we were not very much aware of, which was from dawn to about midday, because we were usually asleep. [Laughs.] We really didn’t have a lot of material for that. I remember I was sitting with the roadie. We had a Volkswagen van for the equipment, and a four-seated car for the guys … there was five of us. We used to have to take turns to ride with the roadie in the van. It was my turn, and I opened a pack of Players cigarettes, so I’d have something to write on. I was actually trying to write a lyric for a song so that the guys put music to it … to fill in that dawn gap. As part of the writing, it seemed obvious to go to evening as well. I dashed it off during the three-hour drive from London to Carlisle. Then, we were in the studios the next day, because we were doing gigs at night and recording during the day for “Days of Future Passed.” I gave it to everybody and said, “What do you think?” They all said, “It’s great work … great work, but there’s no way we can do music to that. It’s just too many words. You can’t sing that many words.” Tony Clarke said, “Wait a minute. Mike, go over there and just hit some chords … flow around and do some grand waves.” Mike did that, and he started reading it, and said, “We’ll do it that way, we’ll just put it in as a poem.” From that point on, it became a tradition, and gave people clues to the theme.

GM: Talk about the inspiration behind “Nights In White Satin.”
JH: I was the end of one big love affair and at the beginning of another.  When you’re just 20, as I was, that’s quite important in your life. A girlfriend had given me white satin sheets that were terribly impractical because I had quite a heavy beard growth, and it’s terribly unpleasant if you’re trying to sleep on satin. [Laughs.] It was a lovely romantic gesture, and that’s what I thought of it. I came home one night after a gig, and sat on the side of the bed, and a lot of these thoughts came out.
I do write letters never meaning to send. I find it a cathartic thing. If I have an issue with somebody or about something, I find it easier to write it down and get it out rather than turning it over in my mind. It’s a series of random thoughts and ideas from a very stoned 20-year-old young man who was desperately sad for himself over one love affair, and desperately excited by the next. That’s about it. I couldn’t say that I would write again. It’s a reflection of a person at that particular time.

GM: It seems to me that you and Mike were doing the majority of the writing. Mike wrote “Dawn Is A Feeling.” How did his songs influence you?
JH: Mike’s lovely song really turned me on. “Nights In White Satin” had been recorded quite a long time before it was for “Days of Future Passed.”  “Nights In White Satin” and “Dawn Is A Feeling” were the two key songs that gave us the idea of the story of a day in the life of one guy, and that’s what our stage show was about before “Days of Future Passed” was mentioned or thought about. So we had those two times of the day and the idea, then it was just a question of grubbing different times of the day to write about; it was quite frivolous, really … nothing really too serious. I just put my hand up for the afternoon. So I ended up with “Tuesday Afternoon,” and Ray Thomas wrote “Twilight Time.” “Tuesday Afternoon” was a very frivolous piece of writing for me. I was going back to my parents’ house in Wiltshire. I smoked a couple of joints, went out into a field with a guitar and sat there and wrote that song. It was just about searching for some kind of enlightenment or some kind of religious or psychedelic experience in life. I didn’t really mean it to be taken too seriously, but six months later, there it was: Our first single in America. Bang! You never expect to have to analyze these lyrics, or be questioned about them.

The Moody Blues Days of Future Passed album

GM: Do you think the album cover artwork lent itself to that analysis?  There are certainly a lot of visuals in that artwork that allude to a number of things.
JH: Yes, it absolutely does. I find that artwork quite difficult to look at, to be quite honest, because there’s so much going on. It was reduced in scale from David Anstey’s original picture. He was just thrown this idea, and we met him in a pub and told him about our songs, and he knocked that out, and they used it. It was all very quick and very cheap. I think, after that, we realized the potential of sleeves, because a lot of other bands were doing it, as well. We were very influenced at that time by a record called “The Zodiac” by a group of session musicians called Cosmic Sounds (released by Elektra Records in November 1967), which was a wonderful record … and Holst’s “The Planets” suites was something that turned us on, too, in a stoned, juvenile way.

I still find the sleeve for “Days of Future Passed” quite difficult to look at. We certainly turned that around on the next album.  We were lucky enough to have a chance to make another album, and from that point on, Phillip Travers, a staff artist in the art department at Decca, did our sleeves. When Decca found they could actually sell LPs instead of singles, they went completely overboard on us and just gave the studio time. The chairman famously said to us, “I don’t know what you’re doing, boys, just go on to doing it, because people love it!” It was fantastic!

GM: In the original packaging for the album, orchestral parts were credited to “Redwave/Knight.” Who came up with that name?
JH: Redwave was nothing. Redwave was a Michael Dacre-Barclay way to take a royalty from the publishing. To this day, anybody who was involved in that album walks around shaking his fists in the air. [Laughs.] We were on a minute percentage, because we had a debt to Decca, which we were supposed to be repaying by doing this demonstration stereo album for them. “Days of Future Passed” came out as a demonstration record, and then put it up to full price when they realized its potential, and that people were playing it.

GM: Do you think the “Days of Future Passed” sessions were instrumental in the group’s longtime musical ideas?
JH: I think they did, because it gave us the kind of identity that we had been searching for. We were never offered the orchestra again, although I remained friends with Peter — we all did. I worked with him on my solo things and on the “Blue Jays” LP. He was a friend until he died. To work with an orchestra, you’ve got to have someone between you and the orchestra. You’ve got to have the conductor or the arranger, and that’s a difficult job to do, and there’s only a certain kind of person who can do that well. I’ve just recently been working with Anne Dudley, who I’ve known for years, on some new things of mine, and we did some orchestra sessions in London. It was just marvelous. I’d go through all sorts of traumas if I were trying to write out all the pieces myself. Peter had that gift. The orchestra knew when they turned up for Peter Knight that the writing was going to be great quality.

What it did do is it made us realize, if we had the studio time, and you gave us the instruments … with a couple of hours, we could get enough of what we needed out of each orchestral instrument. By the time we were recording “On The Threshold of a Dream,” we were having every instrument of the orchestra delivered by Decca to the studio. We’d crash around, blow it and pluck it. We got some great sounds out of that stuff … just ourselves, because we had an hour or two to do it in.

GM: Discuss conductor Peter Knight’s contributions to the group’s success and overall sound for “Days of Future Passed.”
GE: He was a wonderful old guy, because we were asked to do a rock and roll version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” which is what they wanted us to do. Decca had this new Deramic Sound System, which was basically stereo. They wanted to do a sort of yin and yang music, like Gypsy strings, a brass band, rock and roll and an orchestra, to show that the system and equipment could handle a wide range of different music. We had these songs written already for our stage show we were putting together.

GM: What was the most difficult part of the building of the album?
JH: The most difficult thing was really for Peter Knight, because the original idea was for us to play a version of Dvorak, and for Peter to play the real Dvorak. In actual fact, the idea for turning it around came from Michael Dacre-Barclay, who used to do special projects for Decca … take a quick royalty and bugger off. I have to give him credit for turning it around with Peter. We played Peter some of our songs — just to be friendly — and he said, “I feel it’s better if you do your songs, and then I orchestrate the bits in between.” So we recorded our things very quickly, in a series of three days of three or four sessions. If you look at The Moodies’ total time on the album, it’s not that great.

GE: We’d be in the studio. We’d put together one, maybe two songs using quarter-inch tape. Send the tapes over to Peter. Go to bed. Get up. Drive to the gig that night … play that gig. Go back to the studio, etc. Peter did his music, leave us his ideas, etc. We’d record all night, go to bed at dawn. We saw him now and then, but we weren’t working together, because we were on different times.

JH: Peter orchestrated the pieces in between and did the orchestra live.  They made a tape of Peter counting in bits of silence, and then he played to that count. It’s quite bizarre the way the thing was done. The orchestra was recorded in one three-hour session — a run through and then one take. I was in the studio. I wasn’t invited in to the control room. Those were the days when the artist was certainly “not” invited into the control room for an opinion. But I was there at the Peter Knight session, and it was quite wonderful.

GE: Peter was a wonderful guy for taking the project on. He was very well established at the company, so he didn’t have to do it. But he was a music man, and when we told him what we had … he said, “Yeah, I much rather do that than rehash Dvorak.” So he did it, bless him.

GM: Discuss the members’ contributions on “Days of Future Passed.”
JH: I think John was just learning and feeling his way in the album. “Peak Hour” is a little gem that I love to this day. It’s such a simple little piece of writing. It took John a few albums, in that he relied a lot on the jam sessions happening in the studio. For Mike and I, it was almost like school. I had to have everything done before I went into the studio … I had to have everything done. For John, Ray and Graeme, because they hadn’t been writers before, came at it from a very different point of view. They would let things happen in the studio and then work on them. That was my experience with the other guys’ contributions. I used to love working on Ray’s stuff, because I could just make up the chords. I’d say, “What about this?” and he’d say, “That sounds great!” I could have said a completely different chord and he’d say, “That sounds great!” That was the beauty of it. We all came from a different starting point. Mike was a fantastic pub pianist. He could sit there and entertain people for hours and hours. I came from folk clubs and constructing songs for publishing. The others came at it from a completely different point of view, and that’s what made the whole thing interesting. Each one of us had different things to bring to an album.

GE: Ray is a wonderful, natural tenor. He’s a Welsh guy. What a surprise! The Welsh are very famous for their tenors. He had a very pure … very powerful voice. He also has a very a whimsical way of writing. “Breezes cool, away from school, cowboys fighting out a duel …” He brought both a very good voice and a whimsical clown. Justin has the wonderful love songs and chord structures that he brought to it. John, of course, his big thing amongst us was rocker. He just loves to get down and stick the bass halfway around his hip, floating away, and sing rock songs.  Mike didn’t have a very good voice, but he used it so emotionally and so emotively that it came across in his songs so good. He was kind of ethereal and semi-religious aspect of the diamond.  They were all facets of a diamond, those four guys — and five with Tony Clarke.

Moody Blues video for In Your Wildest Dreams

The Moody Blues' video for "In Your Wildest Dreams" helped the band reach a new generation of music lovers via MTV.

GM: It ended up being an honest extension of each individual. The group stuck to what it found in one another.  That’s quite remarkable.
JH: I think so. The tragedy was that it didn’t continue. I worship Mike’s songs. His were the songs that moved me. But you can’t plan your life around other people, and they have an annoying habit of not being what you want them to be. When I was parted from him, it was a great loss. I still feel his loss and his voice in the band, because he was the prime mover in the whole thing.  The way we turned out is just the way we turned out … there’s no sort of plan or anything like that. I thought we’d have a real problem when he left, but we survived. The greatest thing that happened after that — for me — was Tony Visconti. To have hit records again in the ’80s — to be on MTV and all of that kind of stuff when you’re 40 — is just fantastic! I could actually look at it, not be stoned and enjoy it, which was wonderful.

GM: How would you describe “Days of Future Passed” to an unfamiliar person?
GE: I’d just have to say that it’s orchestral rock. Classical — in the music term, not classic meaning very old rock — performed by a bunch of guys who were too stupid to know that we weren’t supposed to be able to do it. Who would have thought, 45 years later, and “Nights In White Satin” still gets applauded for a good two minutes; it’s so gratifying. As my father said, “Beats working for a living.” [Laughs.]

JH: I would say that it’s a little work of art that’s trying to express things that are not on the surface … and that evolved. It was the meeting of a classical orchestra and a rock group, seamlessly. That’s what’s lovely about it. It jars when other people do it. I’ve never heard anybody do it as well as it was done on “Days of Future Passed.” I can’t say as well as we did it, because we didn’t do it. It was Peter Knight, Tony Clarke, the whole band and engineer Derek Varnals recorded it so beautifully for us. We had these simple songs, and the Mellotron made it segue so beautifully. It’s a little gem of a record, and it shouldn’t be discounted.

GM: Are there any plans for a new studio album?
JH: Wouldn’t that be nice? The truth is, I don’t know. I’ve been recording a lot of material — a lot. What will happen to that probably depends on who pays for it. That’s the bottom line.

GE: Always ready, but it’s really hard now. Everybody’s doing them in their front room now. There are no big record companies anymore. You never know what will turn up next … if somebody comes along with a good idea and a good plan, I know we’d love to release another album.

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