Friday, November 10, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed

It was today in 1967 that The Moody Blues' seminal album, Days of Future Passed, was released in the United Kingdom. It would be released in the United States the following day. Days of Future Passed has since become regarded as one of the essential albums of 1967 and one of the most influential as well.

In some ways the release of Days of Future Passed must have seemed like a surprise to many in 1967, as it was unlike almost all of The Moody Blues' previous work. Founded in 1964 in Birmingham, The Moody Blues were originally a Merseybeat band with a strong infusion of rhythm and blues throw in for good measure. They would have a smash hit with the song "Go Now", which went all the way to number one in the United Kingdom and to number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Unfortunately, The Moody Blues' following singles would not be nearly as successful. Original members Clint Warwick and Denny Laine eventually left the band. At the time a second album, Look Out, was planned. It would never be released.

Clint Warwick and Denny Laine would eventually be replaced by guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge. It was not long afterwards that The Moody Blues decided to move away from their rhythm and blues influenced Merseybeat sound to performing their own, original material. The first single released by the new configuration of The Moody Blues (Justin Hayward and John Lodge along with original members Graeme Edge, Mike Pinder, and Ray Thomas) was "Fly Me High"/"I Really Haven't Got the Time", but it would be their following single, "Love and Beauty"/ "Leave This Man Alone", that would truly signal the band's new direction. The song "Love and Beauty" featured Mike Pinder's mellotron, which gave it a slight symphonic sound.

Unfortunately, at the time The Moody Blues' contract with Decca Records was nearly at an end. The band still owed the label several thousands of pounds in advances, and had never produced a promised second album. Fortunately Decca A&R manager Hugh Mendl still supported the band. He had been pivotal in establishing Decca's new subsidiary label Deram Records and was able to get The Moody Blues a deal to record on the new label. It is from here that stories vary a bit as to what happened next. The Moody Blues claim that they were offered a chance to record a rock version of Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony to demonstrate the company's Deramic Stereo Sound audio format, for which their debt to Decca would be forgiven in return. The Moody Blues insisted on total artistic control and instead decided to focus on what would become the album Days of Future Passed. This account is disputed by recording engineer Derek Varnals (who worked on Days of Future Passed), who has maintained there were no plans to record the New World Symphony in 1967 and that there was no talk of recording it until the Seventies.

Regardless of how it came about, Days of Future Passed would prove to be different from anything The Moody Blues, or most other bands at the time, had ever done. For one thing, it was one of rock music's earliest concept albums. Days of Future Passed centred on the day in the life of an average man. For another thing, it blended the music of The Moody Blues with the music of the London Festival Orchestra, which at the time was Decca Records' house orchestra. The album began with an overture ("The Day Begins") composed by composer-director-arranger Peter Knight. Mr. Knight also composed orchestral interludes that linked the various songs on the album, drawing inspiration from the themes in the songs by The Moody Blues. The album's climactic song, "Nights in White Satin" by Justin Hayward, would be the only song on the album recorded with the full London Festival Orchestra. In fact, "Nights in White Satin" would take five days alone to finish.

Following its release, Days of Future Passed  would prove extremely successful. The album's first single, "Nights in White Satin", reached no. 19 in the United Kingdom, This in turn propelled the album to number 27 on the British album chart. Initially Days of Future Passed did relatively well in the United States, but not nearly as well as it had in the United Kingdom. "Nights in White Satin" peaked at no, 19 on the Billboard Hot 100, while "Tuesday Afternoon [titled Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)" on the album] reached no. 24.  Upon its re-release in the United States Days of Future Passed would surpass even the success it had in Britain in 1967. In 1972 the album peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard album chart. What is more, it remained on the Billboard album chart for two years. "Nights in White Satin" also did well upon its re-release in the States, peaking at no. 2 in 1972.

Ultimately Days of Future Passed would prove to a pivotal album for The Moody Blues. It would provide the template for all of their albums to come. Their following albums, from 1968's In Search of the Lost Chord to 1999's Strange Days, would owe something to Days of Future Passed. It would also prove to be a very influential album. It was one of the earliest concept albums in the history of rock music, released only a few months after The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and about a month before The Who's The Who Sell Out. Alongside works of The Nice, Pink Floyd, and Procol Harum, Days of Future Passed is considered one of the primogenitors of progressive rock. While the use of symphonic instruments go all the way back through such bands The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones to early rock 'n' roller Buddy Holly, Days of Future Passed and other works released in 1967 marked a much extensive use of them in rock music. For that reason, Days of Future Passed is one of the first examples of symphonic rock. It would be The Moody Blues' work on Days of Future Passed that would lead to such diverse bands as the Alan Parsons Project, the Electric Light Orchestra, Jethro Tull, and Queen.

Days of Future Passed was a remarkable album released in a year notable for remarkable albums. It would prove extremely influential, so much so that its influence can still be felt to this day. It seems likely its influence will continue to be felt for as long as there is rock music.

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