A new instalment of our series of classic hit singles from a long time a go. This one features The Moody Blues, a band, who's latest chart success is from 1978 in The Netherlands, that is still active to this day.
Over the past three years I've been buying the LPs of The Moody Blues second hand, when I run into them for a fair price that is. I can't really tell why that is. I guess I just wanted to have them. When I came home with a few somewhere this winter, I had made a note to myself to write a little on those albums, but let's face it: it just costs too much time to write on full albums. As since then I started a series on singles by bands that I liked as a kid, let's add Moody Blues to that series.
First, who are The Moody Blues and secondly my relationship with the band. Then I will delve into the hit singles the band scored in The Netherlands (and a few more).
The Moody Blues is a band from the U.K. formed in Birmingham in 1964. A band I never saw play live and never will I can add. It's not worth it to pay that much money for. There are three The Moody Blues in the period I will be writing on. The first was active until 1967, with Danny Laine in the band, who later rose to Wings fame and from 1967 onward with Justin Hayward as most capturing front person, although nearly all members shared song writing duties. The third is with Patrick Moraz on keyboards, replacing original keyboardist Mike Pinder from 1978 onwards.
I came on board with the single 'Ride My See Saw' in 1968. My first self-owned single is 'The Story In Your Eyes'. My favourite song at the time 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock And Roll Band'. My first album was the comeback album from 1978, which I did not like. Only the single struck a chord. In the 1980s I taped most of the albums from a dorm mate I was in love with, who had the most classic albums, but I didn't really like them. My favourite remained 'Long Distance Voyager' from 1981 that I had bought on cassette then. Come 2020 I have one "classic" LP left to go, 'Question Of Balance', from 1970, with the only number 1 hit the Moody Blues scored in The Netherlands, 'Question', on it.
Having said that all, let's take a look at those hits.
The beginning of Go Now! is already so special. The vocal part before the band kicks in. It is Danny Laine singing. I can't remember when I heard the song first. Consciously most likely in the mid 70s. As far as I know I have always liked the song. The melancholy mood is so special, the piano part outstanding, Laine's singing totally fitting. Go Now! was a global hit single and rightly so. The oohs and aahs already showed what the backing vocalists of the Moody Blues were capable of. Of course a trait that would help the band tremendously later on. The bass player and lead singer of this Moody Blues were replaced by John Lodge and Justin Hayward. Together with the songwriting skills of Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder, the result would be even more stunning than Go Now! is.
Although the band released seven singles after Go Now! (and one before) and despite that in later years 'Boulevard de la Madeleine' received some attention, it was Nights In White Satin that became the next hit in the Netherlands. It is fair to state that Nights In White Satin is THE the Moody Blues song of all time. It is the song that till this day is most heard and played. When I listen to it now, probably for the 1000th time, I can only state that it is THE Moody Blues song. Why? Simply because there's no denying that the recording captures all the emotions in exactly the right way. The orchestra behind the band, the ethereally high vocals of Ray Thomas in combination with Justin Hayward's under cooled lead vocal.
In a way Nights In White Satin is a very basic song. Listening to it though, I can't keep that up. Simply because everything is done right in this song. How long I know the song, I have no way of telling. Chances are just about as long as it is old. What I do know is that I have always profoundly liked it. A song that is a part of my DNA so to say.
On the other hand, it never made me curious enough to buy the album when I started to buy stacks of albums from the late 70s onwards. The Moody Blues, then had become a band of the past. Most likely I bought the cd in the late 90s. The single is always a pleasure to hear. Each and every time again.
Later in 1968 the band scored a more minor hit, but the first one I do remember. A totally different beast from the hits above. Ride My See-Saw is the other side of The Moody Blues. An up tempo song and with multiple lead singers harmonising for 100%. Ride My See-Saw has this tempo with a pumping bass driving the song onwards, including a strong guitar riff and solo. I'm not afraid to state that this is the side of the band that I like best. It is the drive that appeals to me, including the singing, that just goes on and on. Far from the Justin Hayward ballads in other words, but there's a place for them in my life, as you just read in the above. Here it is the tempo and drive that is so strong. Go now!, The Moody Blues. Ride My See-Saw was written by bass player John Lodge, which perhaps explains why the song is so much energy driven. That said, the guitar work by Hayward is equally great. He really excels here. Great song and I always thought so.
Question has always been a sort of mystery to me. The incredible up tempo part, just thinking about having to play guitar in this tempo makes my arm lame, that is set aside for the dreamy middle part, before the song returns to its beginning. When younger I couldn't wait before the end started again, today I recognise how far ahead The Moody Blues was of what was to come in symphonic and progrock. Justin Hayward had provided the band with another global hit single, and number 1 in my country. Quite a feat in my opinion as this is not your every day song as I notice once again while listening to the song. Graeme Edge has a real role in this song. The pounding of the drums outside of the regular rhythm, underscoring the lyric line, "while we're knocking on your door" is outstanding, a detail setting the song apart from almost all others. The same goes for the orchestra pounding in the intro and let me not forget John Lodge's bass runs. It all spells a hit in my ears, but far from an obvious one.
If I had to guess who wrote The Story In Your Eyes, I would have answered John Lodge, but no, it is that balladeer Justin Hayward. The sweet flowing melody of the song gives it away of course really. The Story In Your Eyes may have the same drive as Ride My See-Saw, the melody flows so much easier. Let alone the lead guitar that rips away as if there is no tomorrow. The song starts with a great riff and acoustic guitar and a fantastic bass run. Hayward shows to be an extremely accomplished guitarist, while I always associate him with soft-voiced ballads and lots of blow-waved blond hair. Somewhere beneath that exterior is a great rocker. Man, does this song rip. As I already wrote, this was my first The Moody Blues single and I still think it is great 49 years down the line. This is rock and roll of an extremely high level.
Listening closer I hear a lot of elements Golden Earring was playing at the time as well. 'She Flies On Strange Wings', released about the same time has the same elements. Both songs still score high on my list of early 70s hits still worthwhile to play regularly. I truly love this song.
Like Ride My See-Saw, the final hit single of the second The Moody Blues era was penned by John Lodge. In a way it reminds of the songs Paul Kantner wrote for Jefferson Airplane and Starship. Massive songs where all in the band go full out, musically and vocally.
What makes I'm Just A Singer In A Rock And Roll Band special is the great guitar work of Justin Hayward and the great changes the song holds. This song has such tremendous power and drive. Every time I hear it I'm fully charged. The band goes full out for the whole of the ride, including the total rock and roll cliché ending. Graeme Edge shows what he is made of as a rock drummer alright.
My guess is that John Lodge's voice may not be strong enough to carry the song solely. Hence all the overdubs and band mates joining in. Together they become a force supported by the scorching speed-march tempo the band delivers. Talking of rock songs, the title of this one fully delivers on it.
The band never disbanded formally but things became quiet for years. Solo albums, duo albums, Mike Pinder leaving the band during the recording of 'Octave'. In 1978 band returned to the Dutch charts for a final time.
Where ballads go, I have always thought Had To Fall In Love is one of the most beautiful ones. The sweet melody, the melancholy mood as if the moment in the future when love has passed, has already been fully captured and recognised as such in the very moment of falling in love. The singing is Justin Hayward harmonising with himself in an extremely successful way.
I'm surprised to find out that the song was not released as a single in the U.K. and the U.S. Here 'Steppin' In A Slide Show' was the hit single, the B-side in my country.
The Netherlands made do with Had To fall In Love and to my ears that was the best decision possible. Had To Fall In Love is simply one of the most beautiful ballads ever. It allows for the great harmonies this band was capable of. The addition of the ultra melancholy harmonica does the rest. Sentimental? No, these appear to be true feelings from the depth of Justin Hayward's soul. His band mates filled that mood in for 100%.
Okay, this was the final hit of The Moody Blues but I'm adding two more songs as these should have been hits, and not just tips. Just like the album they were drawn from deserves a lot of attention. 'Long Distance Voyager' was my first The Moody Blues album and I still like it a lot.
Listening to Gemini Dream 39 years after its release, I notice two things: a) the song has a distinct disco touch and b) The Moody Blues clearly had listened to ELO. In other words someone had convinced the band that it had to move with its times. In the U.S. it certainly worked as the song stopped just below the top 10.
At the time I liked the song, while only being a moderate ELO fan. I had not heard the connection then either. Now I do, immediately. What I notice is that the song obviously has a great flow. It places it firmly in its time because of the references to then popular music. Something a song like 'Had To Fall In Love' does not. As this is nostalgia, I'm fully o.k. with it in 2020. That does not go for the whole album, I think, although it holds fantastic songs.
In The Voice new keyboard player Patrick Moraz, who had played in Yes for one album, gets prominence. The Voice is much more The Moody Blues with that drive and pace propelling the song forward. At the same time more modern sounds have crept into the whole. Despite that the single is undeniably The Moody Blues. That great singing the band is capable of is present in all its force. The little melodies all around the vocal give the song permanent little extras. Hayward rips away on his guitar a little in the solo, making The Voice again one of the better The Moody Blues singles.
(I never knew 'Talking Out Of Turn' had been released as a single as well. A beautiful ballad that is.)
With The Voice and 'Long Distance Voyager' my relationship with The Moody Blues ended. I never heard one of the albums that came after it. The band is still around with three of its members, including one founding member, present.
The hardest thing is coming up with a top 5 out of this list. Except for Gemini Dream they all deserve a spot here truth be told. So I better get to work.
4. Had To Fall In Love
3. The Story On Your Eyes
2. Nights In White Satin
1. I'm Just A Singer In A Rock And Roll Band
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