Des Moines prepares for a ‘Night in White Satin’10/2/2013
In a time when rock-n-roll was making large, exploratory steps away from the three-chord riffs of its 1950’s birth and branching out into harder rock and psychedelic sounds, The Moody Blues stepped up in 1967 and released the revolutionary album “Days of Future Past,” simultaneously giving birth to the prog rock genre.
After releasing a debut album as a middling R-and-B outfit, the Moody Blues took a large step in a very different direction for “Days…” and released a concept album that was orchestral, cinematic and wildly different from what anyone outside of Abby Road was doing at the time. As with many strokes of genius — regardless of medium — the band’s goals for the project were fairly humble.
“For ‘Days of Future Passed,’ I thought we were making an arty little album, and that’s about it,” confessed guitarist Justin Hayward in an interview. “I thought, ‘It’ll never be listened to by anyone else, but I might get invited to some arty cocktail parties with some intellectuals.’ That’s about as far as I thought.”
The result grew into something much more than that. Though not an immediate critical and cultural success, “Days of Future Passed” slowly gained worldwide appreciation, and by 1972, it had set The Moody Blues down a sonic path that they would follow for the next four decades, with “Nights in White Satin” particularly becoming the band’s signature song.
But when you’ve established yourself with a hit of that magnitude — especially in the days before iTunes and YouTube — the pressure to make it happen again can be burdensome. It’s something that Hayward especially wrestled with at the time, and perhaps to some degree still does.
“If I knew what made ‘Nights…’ what it was…” he said, trailing off. “…You can imagine from the age of 20, when I wrote it, for the next five years people said, ‘Can’t you just write another one of them?’ “
But if the band struggled at all with living up to the sound it had created, it never once resented it. Today, “Days of Future Passed” (and “Nights” in particular) holds a special place in the band’s live shows.
“(‘Nights’ is) one of those handful of songs that nobody in the group would ever (get tired of playing),” said Hayward. “Because that’s your, ‘Get yourself out of trouble song,’ you know what I mean? If the whole gig is kind of collapsing, when you get to that song, you know it’s gonna work. You can go anywhere in the world and do that.”
The group’s output of new music dwindled throughout the 1990s before eventually stopping entirely in the new century. It’s not for a lack of creative energy, Hayward insists, but because the band’s priorities have shifted over time.
“I can’t see (new music) on the horizon,” he said. “I think if there’s something new with the Moodies, it’ll be a live event and maybe something new within that live recording.
“What’s nice is that there’s three of us still left from that 1966 group. To have the chance to look back at a fantastic catalog and revisit and play, almost for the first time, songs that we only played for one or two days in the studio. All those records, up until 1990, they were songs that we just did for a couple of days — ‘Ooh, that’s great!’ — then you’d forget it and never play it again.
“That’s what we’re enjoying: bringing new, old material to the stage. It’s very satisfying and very nice.” CV