Dear Bob – Justin of the Moodies here.
My friend Chris sent me your piece below.
Thank you so much for your kind thoughts – they are clearly from the heart – as was the album in 1967/68 when we made it. (and thanks to Dave too!) It was a magic time for us all.
I’m forever grateful to the US FM Radio jocks who spread the word in the land of my heroes. Music set us free, and of course, life without it is unimaginable…
Love your writing – and I do wish you well.
P.s. Check out Bettye LaVette’s version of ‘Nights In White Satin’. I was 19 when I wrote it, but 64 when I heard it for the first time – through Bettye!
DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED
You must own this album.
So you know “Nights In White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon”… Imagine a whole suite built around them, imagine extended versions, imagine rock music with the dreamy, take you away and let your mind drift feeling of the best classical music.
Performed with the London Festival Orchestra, which didn’t really exist, which was really a congregation of studio musicians, “Days Of Future Passed” is the children’s concert you wish your parents took you to.
Did your ‘rents do that? Take you to classical shows on Sunday afternoons? Dress you up in a jacket and tie so you could fidget away, yet find passages that entranced you?
Maybe that was a relic of the sixties.
But this is my classical music. Soaring, meaningful, touching my heart.
As for “Tuesday Afternoon,” ironically it’s got the same feel as that other Tuesday song, “Ruby Tuesday.” Well, not exactly. But both are midweek… Not the relaxation of the weekend or the intensity of the school or work day, but an afternoon after your work is done when you’re lying on your bed reading “Cat’s Cradle” in your own private cocoon.
“Tuesday Afternoon” is better than all the material of half the acts in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. And it’s not a one hit wonder. It’s got movements, it’s got feel, it’s got beautiful vocals… Imagine if those “Idol” and “Voice” winners could actually write. Then again, the Moodies never oversang. They gave it just enough.
As for “Nights In White Satin”… It’s majestic, it’s heartfelt, it’s like an afternoon in New England staring out the window at the cold grey winter.
ON THE THRESHOLD OF A DREAM
It had a gatefold cover. And a white lyric booklet. You weren’t buying product, but art. More than a statement, Moody Blues albums were a religion, the latest edition of the Talmud delivered to your stereo.
“Lovely To See You” is one of those tracks you love to play first thing in the morning. Did you ever do that? Cue up an album on the stereo, crank it and jump in the shower? Let it continue to play as you dressed and ate breakfast? Yup, once upon a time, we didn’t start our day with Starbucks, certainly not talk radio or “The Today Show,” but music.
And what’s great about “Lovely To See You,” about this whole album, all of the Moodies’ work, it saw no need to be HIP! That’s the most important thing today. You don’t want to appear normal, you need attitude, you need to stand out. And it’s all external, as opposed to internal. Ergo the focus on fashion, ergo the stardom of Kim Kardashian. There were no Kardashians or Hiltons in the sixties. We wouldn’t have it. Depth was key. What did you have to say!
“Send Me No Wine”… It’s more country than Taylor Swift’s new music. You see the classic rock artists were not narrowly focused, they had tons of influences and evidenced them. The breadth of material on the hit parade was positively staggering.
“Never Comes The Day”… I love this subtle, quiet stuff. Today music is an assault. Then again, with the success of Mumford and the Lumineers maybe that era is changing. Everything back then wasn’t made for radio, certainly not Top Forty radio, with its fast-talking jocks and upbeat music with a ton of beats per minute. Do kids today know that not all music has to be fast, irrelevant and in your face?
“Lazy Day”… Listen to that sound!
Instead of checking with the gatekeepers what kind of music to make, the Moodies got deeper into their oeuvre. Read the “Billboard” hits of 1969 and you’ll find none that sound like the stuff on “On The Threshold Of A Dream”… But that didn’t mean it was unsuccessful, financially or critically. You built your own audience, which supported you. That’s what’s happening again today, except the music makers keep complaining that radio won’t spin their records and I won’t write about them. You don’t need help from gatekeepers, but your fans. It’s a one to one connection.
“Are You Sitting Comfortably”… Listen to that acoustic guitar! That vocal! That mellotron! That flute!
TO OUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN’S CHILDREN
How many albums did this band have before I got into them?
I mean I loved “Days Of Future Passed,” but I didn’t get back into them until “A Question Of Balance,” and there were three records in between!
“Legend Of A Mind” got me into “In Search Of The Lost Chord.” And I loved the dreaminess of “On The Threshold Of A Dream,” but there was a third one too?
I got into “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” last, but I distinctly remember lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, stoned on the dope of yore, which was anything but one hit, with this album in my mind. It was “Candle Of Life”…
Something you can’t hide
Says you’re lonely
This is why I loved music. It spoke to me. Someone alienated, who didn’t feel he fit into the mainstream. Who wasn’t on the football team and didn’t care, who didn’t need to be the most popular kid in school to have an identity.
Oh, we all wanted to be popular. But sometime in the late sixties, there was a bifurcation. It started in 1967, with the advent of FM underground radio, and blossomed in 1968. There was a schism. The old power hierarchy didn’t apply. Suddenly, the kids with long hair, who didn’t play sports but played records, took power from the usual suspects.
Not only was there a youthquake stealing power from the establishment, our parents and the old men, within the baby boomers there was a cadre of free-thinkers who grabbed all the power and ran with it.
And it was all driven by music. Music was the fuel. The beacon.
Something there outside
Says we’re only
In the hands of time
Funny being a teenager. You’ve got too much time. You’re bored. You dig deeper into… You get into trouble.
It’s different today. If you’re bored today, you’re deaf, dumb and blind. There’s endless stimulation. Those lost in the past want to save the album format, not realizing the era has changed. We had time to listen to albums, we had nothing but time. And the music spoke to us. Today, if your music is not spectacular, we don’t care. Makers may hate it, but unless you’ve got a string of fantastic songs, we just can’t bother.
Burn slowly the candle of life
Ain’t that how it goes. You’re young, you’re at loose ends. You don’t know who you are, where you’re going, you want to hurry up and be an adult. And then when you finally grow up, you want to put on the brakes.
Back in the day, we had our favorite side. And it was the second side of “To Our Children’s Children’s Children.” I got stuck on it, and rarely played side one. Only when I was overly familiar with side two and wanted more did I flip the album.
“Candle Of Life” is the third song on side two.
The opener is “Gypsy.” It’s dark and meaningful, almost Doors-like in its intro.
Even better is the follow-up, “Eternity Road.”
Traveling eternity road
What will you find there
It’s so weird how things have flip-flopped. That was the number one quest in the sixties and seventies, finding yourself. Now the number one goal is making money. Then again, there was a huge middle class, education was relatively cheap, we could afford to ask the larger questions of life, as did our favorite musicians.
“Sun Is Still Shining,” the fourth cut on side two, was written by Mike Pinder. Yes, everybody in the Moody Blues wrote! How different from today, when NOBODY in the band can write a damn song. So they rely on professional songwriters, and what is absent is the vision, the heart of the individual. That’s why our music meant so much to us. It came straight from the writers to us. They wrote it, played it and sometimes even produced it. They didn’t want to dilute it. It was absolutely crucial to get it exactly right.
“Sun Is Still Shining” is far from the Top Forty, yet it’s incredibly hooky!
And when I finally got to the first side, I found “Eyes Of A Child” and “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred.”
“Eyes Of A Child” you occasionally hear on the radio, it’s well-known, but “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred” and its reprise, “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million,” are the apotheosis of the ethos of the Moody Blues. Today they’d call this music too precious, but it didn’t sound that way at all to us way back when. It was just honest. And real. Artifice was anathema in what is now known as classic rock.
And that’s what the Moody Blues are.
And maybe the fact that there was never another band that sounded like them, and it was about their albums more than their singles, that history has been rewritten by the hipsters, who believe if you weren’t loud and aggressive, and if you knew how to play your instruments, you were mainstream and disposable. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The Moody Blues’ music is forever.
Too bad Jann Wenner and the nitwits at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame don’t know it yet.
But this music is timeless.
Sometime in the future, when we’re all dead and gone, some teenager will find this and become enamored of it, the word will spread, because when you’ve got talent and speak truth, you leave your mark, your creations live forever, just waiting for a new discovery.
“Nights In White Satin” is on Bettye LaVette’s album “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook.”
I don’t know why it’s not on Spotify. Probably ignorance. Another label lost in the past thinking if they employ scarcity, they’ll make more money, when truly it only leads to obscurity.
But through the magic of YouTube, you can hear Ms. LaVette’s version of “Nights In White Satin” here: