Who’d have thunk that a little blues band that broke up after only one charting song would be heading toward the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame fifty years later. The Moodies gave up their R&B focus but helped pioneer a new ethereal rock sound coupled with smartly written lyrical journeys and songscapes. The end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 has been bittersweet with their RRHOF announcement and the death of founding member Ray Thomas.
In the Beginning…
The first iteration of the band, which included Denny Laine (who would later go on to be a member of Wings), mixed original tunes with cover versions of R&B songs. After an international hit with “Go Now”, and several charting singles, the band broke up in the 1966, with the remaining members recruiting Justin Hayward and John Lodge to fill the ranks. After a few recording efforts the struggling group was asked by their record company to consider working with an orchestra for a concept album. The idea was to showcase new recording technology, not any kind of musical breakthrough. Now working with producer Tony Clarke, the Moodies took the idea and like a perfectly orchestrated kick return, took the musical football and ran it in for the score. The album that emerged from the recording sessions was Days of Future Passed, with the classic songs, “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon”.
From 1968 to 1972, the Moodies produced In Search of the Lost Chord, On the Threshold of a Dream, To Our Children’s Childrens’ Children, A Question of Balance, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and Seventh Sojourn. Six classic albums in five years. Amazing.
Tired and wanting off the road, the members of the band worked on solo projects although none were as popular as a group album. Hayward and Lodge worked together as The Blue Jays on what was the most successful of the solo works. Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder released solo albums, while Graeme Edge started a band with Adrian Gurvitz and released two albums. The Moodies regrouped in 1978 to release Octave, only to have keyboardist Mike Pinder leave the group. This signals the end of the classic, and most successful period. Mike Pinder relocated to California where he has lived a quiet life, releasing music and enjoying his sons’ musical careers.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Moodies continued to record and tour, scoring a few hits, and producing some finely received live albums. Patrick Moraz (Yes) filled in on keyboards until an acrimonious departure and lawsuit. In the 1980s, Ray Thomas’ contributions to the group decreased and he officially retired in the 1990s. Their last album of all original Moody Blues material was Strange Days, released in 1999. Hayward and Lodge have released solo albums, with Hayward the busiest of the Moodies, releasing numerous solo CDs and touring whenever the group was not on the road.
Hayward, Lodge and Edge tour relentlessly, augmented by musicians who can flesh out the symphonic and intricately textured songs, particularly those from the classic period. Popular on oldies cruises and filling medium sized venues across the world, the Moodies show no signs of stopping any time soon as each of the remaining members are in their 70’s. During a recent stop in Kansas City, I saw them perform, covering a selection of well-worn songs from throughout their career. Their sound was polished and professional, aided by a very effective backup group of musicians. Occasionally, they opened up the songs a bit for solos but never drifted too far from the recorded versions. Fans happily sang along with many of the songs, wore their newly purchased concert t-shirts and celebrated days of future passed.
Just months before their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and days after his 76th birthday, founding member Ray Thomas passed away. Fans like myself were hoping for a reunion at the RRHOF induction and one last chance to hear members of the classic lineup.
In the mid 1960s, a new instrument called the Mellotron began to surface on recordings. It was a keyboard device that used tapes of recorded instruments to produce an orchestral effect. The machine was clunky and took a lot of maintenance to get the desired sound. The Beatles were often credited with introducing the device to popular music and it was quickly adopted by some of the groups that were identified with leading the wave of “progressive rock” like Yes, Genesis and King Crimson. Members of the Moodies did not ever see themselves in the “prog rock” category, rather they were sometimes experimental but never departed from more conventional songwriting.
After their hiatus in 1972, their record label released This is The Moody Blues, a two album set of their material, a “best of” collection. It is a fabulous collection, mastered to blend together as some songs segue into others, as it if is one related work. While it contains their most familiar work, and some album cuts, there are many good songs not represented on the collection. In the past decade their record company has released remastered versions of their albums, many with additional tracks, demos, live cuts, and the base albums in 5.1 stereo. I will not venture into the quality of remastered sound, each of us has their own views. As we have all discovered, remastering does not always improve sound quality, sometimes it compresses and reduces range.
Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues was at the threshold of using this instrument to affect string-like sounds conveying spacey, moody atmosphere to augment songs that broke the bounds of three minute pop tunes. The Mellotron could reproduce some of the orchestral sounds from Days of Future Passed and serve as a defining part of their evolving sound. Mike Pinder is affectionately known to many as The “Mellotronman” because of his long history with it, having worked for a manufacturer of the instrument in the early 1960s. The Mellotron was phased out by perfection of the synthesizer, but it remains tied to the rise of art-rock, classical-rock and progressive-rock as musicians strove to find new and atmospheric sounds.