Days of Future Passed

The Moody Blues

Tracks: 1—The Day Begins; 2—Dawn: Dawn is a Feeling; 3—The Morning: Another Morning; 4—Lunch Break: Peak Hour; 5—The Afternoon: Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?) and (Evening) Time to Get Away; 6—Evening: The Sunset and Twilight Time; 7—The Night: Nights in White Satin and Late Lament.

Tags: Progressive Rock, Concept Album, Rock

Release Date: November 10, 1967

Rating: ★★★★☆

Only the second album released by the “Moodies” (as they were familiarly known), this exemplary mix of ballads, poetry, and rock orchestra remains one of the defining collections for both the group and the genesis of what became known as progressive rock. Both singles from this album, “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” and “Nights in White Satin”, became anthems of their time that are still covered and re-covered fifty years later. Recorded in what was called “Deramic Sound” (created by the Deram record label), this album was one of the first released in true stereo.

Two years prior, a struggling, white R&B band released an album called The Magnificent Moodies in 1965. Two members dropped out in 1966, making room for multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge who, with original members Ray Thomas, Graham Edge, and Mike Pinder (the unforgettable baritone narrator of the poetry on this and future albums), made up the five defining members of a defining genre who gathered to create this album.

For perspective, forgive my crushing the pre-history of rock’n’roll into a ridiculously inadequate few statements. Prior to this time, “rock’n’roll” was epitomized by what might be called “the malt shop sound” of Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, et al. The Beatles were bringing “rockabilly” into the light, and until this time, no one had created an original, cohesive, and above all artistically complex structure to rock music. The latter half of the sixties saw the first use of orchestral scoring that combined modern and classical styles. The term “rock orchestra” came into being, and several bands (including The Beatles) began using the technique well into the mid-seventies. The influence on major albums such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (March 1973) is evident; even though orchestras may not have been included in the works, the emotionally lavish and musically rich content is felt to this day. Rock music was moving from simple to complex homophony, from voice supported by simple chords to voice supported by full-scale instrumental texture.

To be considered “program music” in the strictest sense, this album would need to be about a specific day. Instead, the songs and poems speak to feelings brought up by the parts of the day and, in various ways, represents the various stages of life from birth to old age. The beginning poem (ending with the words, “Brave Helios, wake up your steeds / bring the warmth the countryside needs”) segues into the song “Dawn is a Feeling”, which sets the stage for the remainder of the album. The song “Another Morning” brings the refrain of “Time seems to stand quite still / In a child’s world, it always will” as each verse paints simple, playful pictures of children playing their various games.

The day reaches midday, as life reaches a point of personal responsibility. “Peak Hour” speaks to the young adult’s need to make things happen, always busy: “Minds are subject to what should be done / Problems solved, time cannot be won” as the bridge exhorts them to “take a step back out / and look in.” In Justin Hayward’s “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)”, the mid-life temptation to look at everything differently, to remember something simpler, to understand one’s life, returns in the refrain of “I’m just beginning to see / Now I’m on my way.” When finally we reach “(Evening) Time to Get Away”, the realization of how much has been spent “Working, living it brings / Only way to have those things / Toiling has brought too many tears / Turn round all those past years.” “The Sunset” brings its melancholy discoveries that are both frightening and hopeful. Standing between day and night, in the waning years of life, we reach “Twilight Time, to dream awhile / In veils of deepening blue / As fantasy strides over colorful skies / Of form disappearing from view…”

In the most famous song of the album, “Nights in White Satin” is “a love song to all women,” according to an interview with Justin Hayward, who wrote the piece when he was only 19 years old. This most powerful anthem to love appears to have been sparked in part during the transition between the end of one love affair and the beginning of another; further inspiration, according to stories rising around the song, came from the gift of satin sheets from one of the two women in question (no one seems to know which). Using the life analogy, with this song representing the last moments of longing before leaving, the lyrics take on a far more existential meaning: “Nights in white satin, never reaching the end / Letters I’ve written, never meaning to send; / Beauty I’ve always missed with these eyes before / Just what the truth is, I can’t say anymore…”

The songs, the album, and even ProgRock in general, have been panned as “saccharine” by the jaded pop music critics of its time. Only in later years, with greater perspective on the genre and this vanguard recording, has the brilliance of lyrics, voice, and sound been understood as a huge leap forward in rock music. It is a progression similar to that of baroque music (1600-1750) to classical (1750-1820) to romantic (1820-1910), when music moved from more strictly defined forms and constructs to a deeply personal, expressive mode. In another blog, perhaps this can be demonstrated by comparing a Bach fugue to one of Debussy’s portraits (perhaps “The Engulfed Cathedral” or “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”). In the past, this process took a few centuries; in contemporary times, it took only a few decades.

The Moody Blues went on to produce six more albums 1967-1974, after which they went on hiatus for several years. Their reunion in 1977 saw their eighth album, Octave, and after Mike Pinder’s departure and bringing in French keyboardist Patrick Moraz, four more albums came out. All show growth and change, but they never forgot their ProgRock roots, and the world is richer for it.

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