What does a music band do when it lacks critical and commercial success, is in financial debt with their record label, and whose members are leaving? They reinvent themselves with one of the earliest “concept” albums in the history of rock & roll and were able to successfully combine rock music with orchestral interludes, poetry, and ballads.
The Moody Blues came out with their second album Days of Future Passed on November 10, 1967. Their debut album released in 1965 was a decent success. In 1966 two members left and in came Justin Hayward (Lead Guitar, Songwriter, Vocals) and John Lodge (Bass Guitar, Vocals). Meanwhile, their record company Decca Records wanted to demonstrate a new recording technology called “Deramic Sound” and they asked The Moody Blues to record an adaptation of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No.9.
Unknown to the record company, the band had started work on the concept of a Day in the life of an everyday man, with songs and music arranged according to the time of the day. The final ingredient was the “London Festival Orchestra”: these were house musicians employed by Decca Records. Peter Knight, the conductor of the Orchestra played a key role in composing and arranging the orchestral interludes which act as the crucial links between the various tracks.
The album kicks off with “The Day Begins / Morning Glory.” It is a beautiful composition combining both orchestral elements and rock music. It ends with Mike Pinder reciting a poem written by Graeme Edge. The poem seems a bit dated now with phrases like “Cold-hearted orb” or “Brave Helios,” but this first composition provides an overview of the entire album’s musical content.
Next is “Dawn is a feeling.” A lovely song written by Pinder and performed by Justin Hayward. It is an entreaty to all humans to live more mindfully, in the present moment. He sings “You look around you, Things they astound you, So breathe in deep, You’re not asleep, Open your mind.” And if we do that “each day will last a thousand years.”
“Another Morning” written and performed by Ray Thomas, is about a child’s world and will make you nostalgic about childhood with all the references to balloons, kites, and lunchtime at school. The music also plays its part by reminding listeners of the typical hustle and bustle of preparing and leaving for school. We all know that children can immerse themselves in the moment – “time seems to stand quite still, in a child’s world it always will.” Can we connect to our inner child and relive those dreams again?
We have reached the “Lunch Break / Peak Hour.” The intro gives the feeling of a typical busy lunchtime, which leads to the first rock music section with pounding drums & guitar joining in. Sung by John Lodge, it is the first proper rock song of this album with excellent drum work and good vocals.
After “Peak Hour,” we reach “The Afternoon” – the first section called “Tuesday Afternoon” was written, composed, and sung by Hayward and is a genuine classic. Overall, it is one of the best tracks on the album. Hayward is brilliant in vocals & melody and music by all the band members combines very well including the Mellotron played by Pinder. It fades into “Evening” which talks about the painful wait for the clock to strike 5:00 pm so that folks can get away from work. We all know the feeling, but I felt that the song would have been better by avoiding falsetto singing and lowering the melodrama. The two songs comprising “The Afternoon” convey very contrasting emotions, in one Hayward sings about beauty and chasing the clouds away while in the second Lodge sings about boredom at the workplace.
“The Evening” continues to build into “The Sunset / Twilight time.” “The Sunset” is composed and performed by Pinder and has an excellent rhythm with a great melody. The orchestra then leads to “Twilight Time,” written and sung by Ray Thomas. A song with layered vocals and pounding piano work; sets the mood for the finale.
“The Night” is the climax. “Nights in White Satin,” the first part, is a masterpiece from start to finish – the slow beginning by the Orchestra, the seamless fading into drums & bass, Haywards’ lovely, sensitive delivery of the song, the haunting flute melody by Ray Thomas. The Orchestra carries the tune, and the song ends in a great crescendo. Looking back, it seems amazing that Hayward was only nineteen when he wrote and performed this song. “Late Lament,” the second part, recited by Pinder closes the circle of the day.
A Seminal Album
Days of Future Passed is a landmark album that saved The Moody Blues’ career, gave us the creative genius that is Justin Hayward, and inspired other rock bands to take risks, experiment with ballads, orchestra, psychedelia, poetry & progressive rock. Despite a few weak songs and some pretentious poetry, I would recommend this album to all Rock & Roll fans particularly the first-time listeners as an original concept album that converts a mundane day into an inspiring and imaginative view of the life all around us.