We look back on Ray Thomas’ work with the Moody Blues and solo songs. He retired from the group in 2003 and Norda Mullen has been providing flute, guitar and vocals since then. She shares kind words about her mentor.
By Warren Kurtz
In Concert at the Pier – Summer 1987, photo by Patti Ouderkick, Getty Images
On January 4, we lost Moody Blues founding member Ray Thomas. Last year, Moody Blues bassist John Lodge told Goldmine, “Norda Mullen, who has been with the Moody Blues since Ray retired in 2003, plays flute and is really great. She has a great classical background.” Late last month Norda Mullen visited her Moody Blues mentor for a final time. She shared their photo together and told Goldmine, “I am not sure if this was his last photo, but my heart is broken nonetheless. It was taken two weeks ago. I am so fortunate to have had his blessings in filling his shoes. I’m not sure that I even get close, but it was an honor trying, though.”
Norda Mullen and Ray Thomas, photo courtesy of Norda Mullen
The 1967 album “Days of Future Passed” gave the British band, with the U.S. Top 10 1965 single “Go Now,” a change of style with Justin Hayward and John Lodge being key replacements in the quintet along with original members Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge and Mike Pinder. This mix of a rock band and an orchestra gave the Moody Blues a new foundation. In February of 1968, the album’s first single, “Nights in White Satin,” included a one minute beautiful flute instrumental break from Ray Thomas. At that time, the single stalled at number 103 and would do extremely better when reissued in 1972.
The Moody Blues
Flip side: Another Morning
A side: Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon)
Top 100 debut: July 20, 1968
Peak position: 24
The album’s second single was “Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon).” Like its predecessor, “Nights in White Satin,” it was written and sung by the group’s new guitarist Justin Hayward. It’s flip side was Ray Thomas’ “Another Morning.” His flute provided a bouncing gallop and his lyrics offered the observation, “Time seems to stand quite still. In a child’s world it always will.” The single brought the group back to the Top 40 for a final time in the ‘60s.
More albums continued for the band that decade. Ray Thomas sang about the psychedelic psychologist Timothy Leary in “Legend of a Mind.” He brought a shade of dark moodiness to “Dear Diary.”
In 1970, the group returned to the Top 40 with “Question,” from the album “A Question of Balance.” On that album, Ray Thomas captured a rich vocal folk sound, similar to what we would later hear mid-decade from Roger Whittaker on “And the Tide Rushes In.” The lyrics featured water imagery where dreams, like sand castles, were washed away.
1972 was a stellar year for the group. Their seventh album with this classic lineup was released, named “Seventh Sojourn.” The first single, John Lodge’s “Isn’t Life Strange,” made the Top 40 as “The Story in Your Eyes” from the album “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” did the prior year. FM radio was strong and growing throughout the U.S. in the early ‘70s. Many Moody Blues songs from prior years were receiving FM airplay, especially “Nights in White Satin.” This led to the rerelease of the single that peaked at 103 in 1968, with the same label, catalog number, and non-album flip side, “Cities.” In 1972, this single, with Ray Thomas’ minute long flute solo, became the group’s highest charting single, reaching number two and going gold.
The Moody Blues
Flip side: For My Lady
A side: I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)
Top 100 debut: February 3, 1973
Peak position: 12
The release of a second single from the “Seventh Sojourn” album was postponed until early 1973, after “Nights in White Satin” had faded from AM radio. The album’s closing number, John Lodge’s “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” was selected. The flip side was Ray Thomas’ “For My Lady.” It began with his flute blending to an accordion simulated keyboard part for the nautical feel of a sailor’s shanty, carrying on the water theme first heard on “And the Tide Rushes In.” With a dramatic storytelling delivery, sung with Robert Goulet-like depth, Ray Thomas revealed, “My boat sails stormy seas, battles oceans filled with tears. At last my port’s in view, now that I’ve discovered you.” A live orchestral version of this love song was featured on the 1993’s album “A Night at Red Rocks.”
In the mid-‘70s, all of the members of the Moody Blues released solo albums. The first of two from Ray Thomas was “From Mighty Oaks.” Side Two of the album began with the single “Love is the Key,” which combined love, life and ecology. Next was the love song, “You Make Me Feel Alright,” followed by “Adam and I” about a father and son’s journey in life. “I Wish We Could Fly” was the powerful finale with Richard Hewson’s powerful orchestral arrangement.
In 1978, the Moody Blues returned with their studio album “Octave” and Ray Thomas continued to record six more albums with the group through 1999’s “Strange Times.” Beginning with “Days of Future Passed” in the ‘60s, every Moody Blues studio album charted in the Top 100 in the U.S. with five albums reaching the Top 5, including two number ones.
The Moody Blues are on tour this month in the southern U.S.
The Moody Blues will be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14 in Cleveland.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR radio as part of “Moments to Remember.”