By Christopher Rendine
Perhaps one of the most overlooked and underrated masterpieces in the annals of rock history is the Moody Blues “Days of Future Passed”.
Released five months after The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” this LP eventually became synonymous with two extracted singles, “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights In White Satin”.
However, the true impact of this groundbreaking contribution may not have been fully realized, except by some dedicated Moody Blues listeners.
After the release of the band’s debut LP (“The Magnificent Moodies” in Britian and “Go Now” in America), guitarist Denny Laine and bassist Clint Warwick departed the band in 1966 to be replaced by Justin Hayward and John Lodge respectively. So, in essence, “Days of Future Passed” would be the debut of this incarnation of the band. This lineup would become the most popular, and it remained intact until Mike Pinder’s departure in 1978.
Prior to recording, The Moody Blues had begun writing songs designed for an elaborate stage production idea. At the same time, the band’s record label, Deram, had built a new recording system called the “Deramic Sound System,” which was designed to present an all-around sound listening experience coupled with clean and rich recording. The Moody Blues were chosen to showcase it. The initial idea was to have the band record a rock version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” Attempts to fulfill this obligation failed as the band simply could not provide the songs. However, producer Tony Clarke and engineer Derek Varnals were very impressed with the band’s material and decided to take a calculated risk. Enter the London Festival Orchestra conducted by Peter Knight. The idea was to orchestrate the band’s work and also provide bridges between the songs. The result was the progressive, concept album titled “Days of Future Passed”.
Initially, Deram was puzzled by this recording and was unsure how to market it. The album was released in the U.K. in November 1967, based on the success of the single “Nights In White Satin.” It was released in America in April 1968. The concept of the album centers on the isolation of one day in the life of the everyman (presumably a Tuesday in the summer) from dawn to night. The Moody Blues and the London Festival Orchestra created such an articulate blending of rock melodies and classical orchestrations that it is almost impossible to ascertain whether this is a rock album with classical interjections, or vice versa. However, the most important aspects of this amazing contribution may have well been overlooked.
In addition to the lush orchestration and outstanding rock melodies, the album also introduced Graeme Edge’s poetic, spoken overture and epilogue; a structured concept; brass instruments; harp; various forms of percussion, including xylophone, triangle and gongs; a host of other various instruments; and a new keyboard invention called the Mellotron. This recording also features the five part, choir-like vocal harmony of The Moody Blues, which would become a trademark of their unmistakeably unique sound for many years to come.
The album’s cover art itself is a collage-type painting containing many colorful images, that upon close inspection, reveals a spaceship, an hourglass, a woman’s facial features, a few facial profiles, knights on horseback, a solar eclipse and many other references to times past and future. In both musical and visual terms, this LP was ahead of its time.
When discussing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in “The Beatles Anthology,” John Lennon stated: “The only concept of Pepper is in the opening song and the reprise! It really doesn’t go anywhere. All the other songs could’ve been on any other album.” So, for all intents and purposes, “Days of Future Passed” is the first genuine concept album in rock history, as every song relates to a central topic and the storyline builds from beginning to end in a very progressive fashion — an amazing accomplishment when one considers that this was only the second studio effort for Pinder, Edge, and Thomas and the very first for Hayward and Lodge, predating The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” by almost two years! Other than The Beatles, perhaps the only other rock band capable of this type of groundbreaking recording in 1967 was Procol Harum.
Another often overlooked aspect of “Days of Future Passed” is that it was the first rock album to incorporate a classical orchestra for its entirety, not just at certain points.
Possibly due to its release on the heels of The Beatles’ monumental “Sgt. Pepper” or because the rock audience in 1967 was not yet ready for the first classical/rock-fusion album, this brilliant suite of music has never really been accorded the recognition it deserves; it remains synonymous with only two radio-friendly hits.
With the birth of the compact disc (and all the enhancements that followed), the listener can now experience “Days of Future Passed” exactly how the Moody Blues and Peter Knight intended — a 41-minute, 47-second uninterrupted journey through one, single day in the life of the everyman. “Days of Future Passed” is filled with emotion, sonically well crafted and still sounds as rich and crisp as the day of its initial release.
Perhaps in the near future, this wonderful recording will be given its just due and be recognized as the pivotal stepping stone where rock music turned the corner from the two to three minute pop gem and expanded into conceptual territory. Hopefully, “Days of Future” will no longer be passed over!
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