By Lee Zimmerman
When bassist John Lodge and guitarist Justin Hayward joined The Moody Blues in late 1966, the band’s dynamic changed dramatically. The band opted to abandon the blues and R&B standards that had been its stock in trade to shift direction toward a sound that was strictly British in its bearing.
“For me, I thought it was very difficult to sing about the blues from the Delta when I’d never even been to America,” Lodge recalls. “There was no affinity there, really. In England at that time, there were so many bands doing cover versions of everything. So I suggested that we just ignore all that and get rid of the suits we wore on stage, get rid of everything and become who we were ... ”
Who The Moody Blues were — or, more precisely, who they became — qualified the band as one of Britain’s most imaginative ensembles, one whose penchant for creative concepts and psychedelic sensibilities began with “Days of Future Passed,” an album that ranks alongside “Sgt. Pepper,” “In the Court of the Crimson King,” “Tommy” and other game-changing standard bearers of late 1960s British rock.
Goldmine had an opportunity to talk to Lodge via telephone from Barbados, where The Moodies were taking in final rehearsals and a bit of R&R prior to the launch of the band’s latest American tour. We asked the veteran bassist to share his reflections and recollections about the album that put The Moodies on the map.
Goldmine: Considering the traditional course The Moody Blues had previously pursued, wasn’t it a bit risky to opt for such a drastic change in direction, especially in light of the fact that the band had achieved some measure of success up until that time?
John Lodge: We all knew it was going nowhere. We got some new songs together, and it became a matter of ‘Let’s pursue this, let’s just ride it out and be totally different. Let’s just be ourselves. We’ve copied everyone else. Now let’s do some English blues, some English things and make it about us.’ And that was the best thing we ever did, because “Days of Future Passed” came out of that.
GM: Is it true that the album actually took root from your stage show?
JL: Before the heady days of album sales, we began by performing live. Once we began writing original material, we introduced the songs in concert. “Days of Future Passed” actually came from our live stage show, which we developed into an album.
GM: What was the thought process behind the concept for “Days of Future Passed?” How did you envision it?
JL: It was about a day ... just a typical day. What are the things you do in a day? What is a typical day? What you do in one day repeats itself, repeats itself, repeats itself ... There’s maybe a few different experiences, but basically that one particular day will generally repeat itself over and over again.
GM: So whose idea was it to make that the concept?
JL: It actually grew out of an idea from the record company. The record company wanted us to take the melodies of Dvorak’s New World Symphony and put lyrics to it and make what they called a sampler album. They were exploring stereo, and they were exploring full frequency sound at that time. Decca Records in the U.K. had a hardware department making turntables and amplifiers, but they didn’t have the records to go with it to explore stereo for frequency sound. So they asked if we would be interested, and of course we said yes, and instead of using Dvorak’s New World Symphony, we started writing this stage show, which evolved into “Days of Future Passed.”
GM: Was the record company aware that you were diverging from the original mandate?
JL: No, they didn’t, and it was quite a strange situation, because once we finished with the album and we got the record company to come and listen, they had no idea at all what we had recorded. They had no idea what to do with it, and consequently, they moved away from it, moved away from the whole idea as though it was never going to work. But we had two people there who were really fabulous — a guy who was head of the classical department at Decca Records called Hugh Mendle, and Walt McGuire, the vice president of London Records in New York was actually in London at the time. Both those people knew exactly what we were trying to do. And they became our mentors really and they supported it all the way. Beautiful men ... great music men.
GM: What was the initial reaction to the album?
JL: Afterward, there was a certain amount of negativity from people who said, ‘Well, yeah, it’s basically just an orchestra album,’ because we had used the London Symphony Orchestra. So we said, ‘OK then, what we should do then, just to quell these people on the next album, is to play every instrument ourselves. Even if we can’t play it, we’ll get a book and learn how to play it.’ So that’s what we did with “In Search of the Lost Chord.” We played every instrument ourselves, and that was great fun, because we explored a lot of the instruments in the orchestra that way. Once we started working with orchestras, we could understand what the orchestra was about.
GM: How did the idea of using spoken word narration come about? It started with “Days of Future Passed,” but became a continuing thread throughout your successive albums.
JL: We thought it would be really good to knit the album together, and we thought that would be the best way of doing it. Graeme is wonderful with poetry, and we thought it was perfect. We could compose music to Graeme’s poetry and Graeme could sum up the whole album. (Affects a deep, dramatic voice) “Breathe deep the gathering gloom ...” There you go.
GM: Do you think if it was released today “Days of Future Passed” would be equally as successful?
JL: These days, the record industry is in a bit of a quagmire, not knowing where to go, and when you write a whole album, it’s something very, very personal. So when you’re actually putting something out there and leaving it in the arms of people who are not going to give it their full attention and full efforts, it’s a bit disheartening, to be honest. When you find people like the Hugh Mendles and the Walt McGuires — people who were totally committed to us — you’re able to create something that’s very precious and hand it over to someone else who thinks it’s very precious, and who’s then going to do the utmost to make sure everyone in the world hears it. So it’s a strange scenario that doesn’t quite work that way these days.
You have to have the physical distribution. Otherwise, you have people who might download one song, two songs off the album. The whole thing about the Moody Blues, for me, anyway, is that each album is a concept, and you shouldn’t really take any little piece of it and say ‘That’s The Moody Blues.’ The whole of it is the Moody Blues.