Birmingham band The Moody Blues have one of the most misleading names in popular music. It fit to start with – their early repertoire was based on American blues, and their cover of Bessie Banks’ ‘Go Now’ topped the UK charts in early 1965. They played on the Ed Sullivan Show and toured with The Beatles, but broke up in 1966 after diminishing returns.
That’s where the “Blues” comes from, and the “Moody” comes from an old song, “Mood Indigo.” We wanted anything with the initials “M.B.” because that was the name of a local brewery we were trying to hit up for some cash. It didn’t work.Mike Pinder, Los Angeles Times, 1997
The Moody Blues reformed a month later but without original front-man Denny Laine, who’d later resurface in Wings with Paul McCartney. Instead, drummer Graeme Edge, flautist Ray Thomas, and keyboardist Mike Pinder were joined by new recruits Justin Hayward and John Lodge, who steered the group toward a new sound. Mike Pinder had obtained a state of the art Mellotron keyboard which enabled the band to recreate orchestral textures without an orchestra.
I was working for the company that made them–it was only two miles from my house in Birmingham. I read a job ad for someone with electronics and musical experience. I got to be the guy at the end of the line that checked them out. For me, it was like Indiana Jones finding the Holy Grail.Mike Pinder, Los Angeles Times, 1997
The classic lineup enjoyed prolonged success between 1967 and 1972, with a series of high-charting albums known by fans as the Core Seven. Most of the below cuts are taken from that era. Apologies to ‘Tuesday Afternoon’ and ‘New Horizons’, both cut from the list late in the process, as well as the group’s only UK #1 ‘Go Now’.
10 Best Moody Blues Songs
#10 – Candle of Life
from To Our Children’s Children’s Children, 1969, written by John Lodge
For my money, 1969’s To Our Children’s Children’s Children is the group’s most consistent album. The group shine with the detailed and pretty arrangements and all of the writers provide top-tier material – there wasn’t room for Pinder’s ‘Out and In’ or Hayward’s ‘I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred’. ‘Candle of Life’ was never a single, but it was a b-side of the 1970 single ‘Question’. It’s also part of a great sequence of songs that opens side two – ‘Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time)’, ‘Eternity Road’, and ‘Candle of Life’.
#9 – Your Wildest Dreams
from The Other Side of Life, 1986, written by Justin Hayward
A lot of legacy rock acts from the 1960s and 1970s struggled to adapt to the new technologies of the 1980s. The Moody Blues, however, adapted well with hits like ‘Gemini Dream’ and ‘The Voice’ from 1981’s US #1 album Long Distance Voyager. My favourite Moody Blues’ 1980s hit comes from later in the decade. ‘Your Wildest Dreams’ has a 1980s sheen, but there’s a great song underneath with strong harmonies and a gorgeous lead vocal from Hayward. ‘Your Wildest Dreams’ was the group’s biggest hit in the US since the re-release of ‘Nights in White Satin’ in 1972.
Most of “Wildest Dreams” – 90% of it – is Tony Visconti, my DX7, and a guitar synth. The piece at the beginning of “Wildest Dreams” that sounds like a sort of Theremin … that’s a guitar synth. All of that is. So it was just another way of exploring musical avenues. Tony Visconti was very much into that and the first person who really turned the band on to programming in a serious way. And he was very, very good at it, so I enjoyed every moment of that.Justin Hayward, interview on Songfacts
#8 – Have You Heard (Part 1)/The Voyage/Have You Heard (Part 2)
from On The Threshold of a Dream, 1969, written by Mike Pinder
1969’s A Threshold of a Dream closes with a suite of three Mike Pinder songs – the instrumental ‘The Voyage’ is framed by two brief songs entitled ‘Have Your Heard?’. Pinder’s vocals sound great when he hits the questioning high notes, while his Mellotron orchestrations, a key part of the group’s sound, are central here. The three-track suite is preserved on the popular 1974 compilation This Is The Moody Blues, so it makes sense to include it as one track here.
#7 – Watching And Waiting
from To Our Children’s Children’s Children, 1969, written by Justin Hayward and Ray Thomas
‘Watching and Waiting’ was the closing track on To Our Children’s Children’s Children. It recalls the lush and romantic sweep of ‘Nights in White Satin’, although it wasn’t a successful single. It’s an excellent song, but perhaps out of step in 1969 as music moved towards tougher and more rootsy sounds like Led Zeppelin and The Band.
I think To Our Children’s Children’s Children  is the one Moodies album that didn’t come across on the radio. It didn’t jump; it was soft, it was quiet.https://justinhayward.com/blogs/news/how-the-hell-did-we-do-this-moody-blues-frontman-justin-hayward-looks-back
#6 – Question
from A Question of Balance, 1970, written by Justin Hayward
To Our Children’s Children Children is my favourite Moody Blues’ album, but it also feels out of step for 1969 – its lush orchestration would have fitted better earlier in the decade. The band stripped down their sound for their next record, A Question of Balance, making music that was easier to recreate live. The frantic acoustic strum, coupled with the topical lyrics, are more in tune with the times – it’s not surprising that it’s the group’s second-highest charting single in the UK, reaching #2. The pretty middle section, where the Mellotron and harmonies take over, is pure Moody Blues.
#5 – Eternity Road
from To Our Children’s Children’s Children, 1969, written by Ray Thomas
‘Eternity Road’ is the third pick from the second side of To Our Children’s Children’s Children on this list and not the last. It features great playing from Hayward – the spidery rhythm guitar parts work well against Thomas’ portentous vocals and the Mellotron. Thomas took the opening line from an incident in his childhood.
I was born in 1941 and during the war I was taken down the air raid shelter. There was our family and two other families who were our neighbours. Sometimes the Luftwaffe were all over us before even the sirens came off. Every night my grandmother would go “Hark” and her friend Mrs Ackland, next-door, would go “Listen”. Mrs James lived on the other side would then go “Here he comes.” So they became known as “Hark”, “Listen” and “Here he comes.” So that stuck in my head so that’s how I started “Eternity Road”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternity_Road_(song)
#4 – I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)
from Seventh Sojourn, 1972, written by John Lodge
The final album of the Core Seven provided bassist John Lodge with the chance to shine. He wrote both of the album’s singles, and it’s his nimble bass that’s at the centre of ‘I’m Just A Singer’. The song was an attempt to deflate the mysticism around the band, Lodge’s statement that he wasn’t any kind of guru. Along with the next track on the list, ‘I’m Just A Singer’ has a tougher sound and faster tempo than most of The Moody Blues’ output.
#3 – The Story In Your Eyes
from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 1971, written by Justin Hayward
Every Good Boy Deserve is my least favourite album from The Moody Blues’ prime – it feels a little flat like the group was running out of gas after a triumphant series of records. But Hayward’s ‘The Story In Your Eyes’ is a terrific lead-off track – it emphasises the rock aspects of the band with Lodge’s busy bass part underpinning multiple guitar parts from Hayward.
#2 – Nights in White Satin
from Days of Future Passed, 1967, written by Justin Hayward
‘Nights in White Satin’ was an ideal release to introduce the new lineup of The Moody Blues. Like Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, it was a grand psychedelic single with classical tinges. Hayward wrote the song at the age of 19, about a girlfriend’s gift of satin sheets. The orchestration is a mixture of the London Festival Orchestra and Mike Pinder’s mellotron. ‘Nights in White Satin’ wasn’t a big hit originally – it just scraped into the UK top twenty, and didn’t make the US top 100. But it paved the way for a commercially successful run of albums – after Days of Future Passed, the next six Moody Blues albums all charted in the UK top 5.
#1 – Gypsy (Of A Strange and Distant Time)
from To Our Children’s Children’s Children, 1969, written by Justin Hayward
‘Gypsy’ was never a single but it became a live staple and fan favourite. It was probably a missed opportunity not to release it to radio because it showcases the classic lineup’s strengths. It’s both pretty and rocking – a great guitar riff and some excellent harmonies.
I wrote a Moody Blues Core Seven album ranking a couple of days before Ray Thomas passed. It makes sense to mark Graeme Edge’s passing with a song ranking. Let me know if I missed your favourite Moody Blues songs.
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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