The Moody Blues
are a British rock band originally from Birmingham, England. Founding members Michael Pinder and Ray Thomas performed an initially rhythm and blues-based sound in Birmingham in 1964 along with Graeme Edge and others, and were later joined by John Lodge and Justin Hayward as they inspired and evolved the progressive rock style. Among their innovations was a fusion with classical music, most notably in their seminal 1967 album Days of Future Passed
The band has had numerous hit albums in the UK, US, and worldwide, and has seen several additional musicians come and go, and they remain active even as of 2006, with UK and US tours scheduled.
Founding and early history
The Moody Blues formed in the early 1960s in Erdington, Birmingham, England. Ray Thomas, John Lodge, and Michael Pinder had been members of El Riot & the Rebels, a regionally-popular band. They disbanded when Lodge, the youngest member, went to technical college and Pinder joined the army. Pinder then rejoined Thomas to form the Krew Cats and enjoyed moderate success. The pair recruited Denny Laine, Graeme Edge and Clint Warwick, and the five appeared as the Moody Blues for the first time in Birmingham in 1964. The name developed from a planned sponsorship from the M&B Brewery and was also a subtle reference to the Duke Ellington song, "Mood Indigo".
Soon, the band obtained a London-based management company, 'Ridgepride', formed by ex-Decca A&R man Alex Murray (Alex Wharton), who helped them land a recording contract with Decca Records in the spring of 1964. They released a single, "Steal Your Heart Away" that year which made it onto the charts. But it was their second single, "Go Now" (released later that year), which really launched their career, being promoted on TV with the first ever purpose-made promo film (predating The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever/ Penny Lane" by approximately 2 years), produced and directed by Wharton. The single became a huge hit in the United Kingdom (where it remains their only Number 1 single to date) and in the United States where it reached #10.
Wharton left the management firm and, after a series of unsuccessful singles, Warwick and Laine departed the group. They were replaced by Pinder and Thomas' El Riot bandmate, John Lodge, and Justin Hayward, formerly of The Wilde Three, in 1966. The band soon realised that their original style of American blues covers and novelty tunes was not working for them and decided to develop an original style. Their new style, featuring the symphonic sounds of the mellotron and Ray Thomas' flute, was to be developed in a concept album revolving around a day in the life of everyman.
Deram Records contract and founding of signature style
The Moody Blues' contract with Decca Records was set to expire and they owed the label several thousands of pounds in advances. However, Deram Records (a London/Decca imprint) chose the band to make a LP in order to promote Deramic Stereo and the group was to be forgiven its debt to the label to make a rock and roll version of Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony. The Moody Blues agreed but insisted that they be given artistic freedom and be left without supervision. They then convinced Peter Knight, who had been assigned to arrange and conduct the orchestral interludes, to collaborate on a recording of their stage show instead. Deram executives were initially sceptical about the hybrid style of the resulting concept album, Days of Future Passed (1967). However, it was to become one of the most successful commercial releases of all time. Decca producer Tony Clarke was chosen to produce the album and the Moodies carried on a durable working relationship with Clarke who would end up producing all of their albums and singles for the next eleven years.
The album plus two singles, "Nights in White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon", became massively popular, as was the 1968 follow-up LP, In Search of the Lost Chord. Also included on this album is the song "Legend of a Mind," a song written by Ray Thomas in tribute to LSD guru Timothy Leary which encompassed a masterful flute solo performed by Thomas. Justin Hayward began playing sitar and incorporating it into Moody Blues music, having been inspired by George Harrison. The band's music continued to become more complex and symphonic, resulting in 1969's To Our Children's Children's Children - a concept album based around the band's celebration of the first moon landing. The album reportedly even went to the moon on Apollo space missions. The album closes with the fan-favorite 'Watching and Waiting'.
Although the Moodies had by now defined a somewhat psychedelic style and helped to define the progressive rock (then also known as 'art rock') sound, the group decided for a while to record only albums that could be played in concert, losing some of their full-blown sound for their next album, A Question of Balance (1970). This album, reaching #3 in the American charts and #1 in the British charts, was indicative of the band's growing success in America. Justin Hayward began an artful exploration of guitar tone through the use of numerous effects pedals and fuzz-boxes, and developed for himself a very melodic buzzing guitar-solo sound. For their next two albums, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971) and Seventh Sojourn (1972) (that reached #1 in both the UK and the US), the band returned to their signature orchestral sound which, while difficult to reproduce in concert, had become their trademark.
The Moodies were also among the pioneers of the idea that a successful rock band could promote itself through its own label, following the Beatles' creation of Apple Records. After their On the Threshold of a Dream album (1969), they created Threshold Records, prompted in part by disputes with London/Deram over album design costs (their gatefold record jackets and expensive cover art were not popular with company executives). Threshold functioned by producing new albums and delivering them to London/Decca who acted as distributor. The group attempted to build Threshold into a major label by developing new talent - most notably the UK hard rock band Trapeze and the Portland, Oregon classical-acoustic sextet Providence - but these efforts proved unsuccessful and the Moodies eventually returned to more traditional recording contracts. However, they did lay the groundwork for other major acts to set up similar personal labels and distribution deals including The Rolling Stones' own label and Led Zeppelin's Swan Song.
Hiatus, solo work
In 1973, the group took an extended break — originally announced as a permanent break-up — to recuperate from a heavy touring schedule.
Hayward and Lodge released a duo album, the very successful Blue Jays (1975), and the members each released solo albums.
Edge produced two, Kick Off Your Muddy Boots (1975) and Paradise Ballroom (1976); Hayward elegantly composed Songwriter (1977), and Night Flight (1980), which would in later years be followed up by Moving Mountains (1985), The View From The Hill (1996), and Live In San Juan Capistrano (1998). Lodge released Natural Avenue (1977); Pinder produced The Promise (1976); and Thomas also two, From Mighty Oaks (1975) and Hopes, Wishes and Dreams (1976).
In 1977, the group decided to record together again. By then Pinder had married and started a family in California, so for their reunion recording the band decamped there with producer Clarke. By all accounts, the sessions had moments of tension and difficulty, but by autumn 1978 Octave was released. Pinder, citing his young family, excused himself from any tour commitments and was replaced by former Yes keyboardist, Patrick Moraz. In spite of these difficulties, the album sold well and produced the hits "Steppin' In A Slide Zone", written by Lodge and "Driftwood", written by Hayward.
The band toured in 1979 and by 1980 was ready to record again, this time bringing in producer Pip Williams. Moraz was retained as the band's permanent keyboardist, though Pinder had understood that he would continue to record even if not tour with the band. Pinder attempted legal measures to prevent the new Moody Blues album from reaching the public without his contribution, but he was not successful. Released in 1981, Long Distance Voyager was a colossal success, reaching #1 on Billboard and top 5 in the UK. The album yielded two hits, "The Voice," written by Hayward, and "Gemini Dream," written by Hayward and Lodge. By now, the mellotron had been set aside as their primary synthesizer and the band embraced a more modern, less symphonic approach.
The Present (1983), again produced by Williams, proved less successful than its predecessor, though it did spawn a UK chart hit in "Blue World". Videos were also produced for 'Blue World' and 'Sitting At the Wheel'.
In 1986 they enjoyed renewed success with their album The Other Side of Life and in particular with the track, "Your Wildest Dreams" - a Top 40 hit which garnered a Billboard Video of the Year award after being frequently featured on MTV.
They performed live at the charity event concert "Heartbeat '86" which raised money for the Birmingham Children's Hospital. The band played four songs, and later provided backup with Electric Light Orchestra for George Harrison.
The Moodies continued their early video-generation success with Sur La Mer
(1988) and its video/single, "I Know You're Out There Somewhere", a sequel to "Your Wildest Dreams". Their sound took on a quite polished and technical quality as Moraz and newly-hired producer Tony Visconti began utilising modern sequencers, synthesizers and drum machines. During this time, Justin Hayward and John Lodge wrote and sang on most of the songs as the band came under pressure from the new record company, PolyGram Records, to promote those it deemed to be the two more commercial looking and sounding members. Ray Thomas was playing a diminished role in the studio. There seemed to be no room for his ethereal flute within these new songs awash in high-tech 80's production. He provided some backing vocals for both The Other Side of Life and Sur La Mer, but according to Visconti, his vocal tracks were never mixed into the final version of the latter album.1990s, new millennium, and present
The Moody Blues in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California in 2005. PhotoArt by Dwight McCann / Chumash Casino Resort / www.DwightMcCann.com
The band had begun to reinforce their concert sound in the later 1980s with the addition of a second keyboardist, Bias Boshell, as well as female backing singers. As they began work in 1990 for their new studio album, Patrick Moraz made some comments in an article in Keyboard magazine regarding his dissatisfaction with his role in the Moodies and he was dimissed before completing work on the album. Bias Boshell and Paul Bliss were brought in to play keyboards on the remaining tracks. Keys of the Kingdom (1991) had modest commercial success. It featured the new single "Say It with Love" and its follow-up "Bless the Wings" as well as a new flute masterpiece by Ray Thomas entitled "Celtic Sonant". Tony Visconti produced some of the tracks, as did Christopher Neil and Alan Tarney.
For touring purposes, the band decided not to hire a permanent replacement in the keyboard chair but instead to tour as a quartet with extra hired musicians. However, keyboardist Paul Bliss has consistently fulfilled keyboard duties with the band on-stage since 1991 - succesfully recreating the Mike Pinder and Patrick Moraz sound live with the Moody Blues. They remained among the highest-earning concert acts, and a series of video and audio versions of their Night at Red Rocks concert enjoyed great success, particularly as a fund-raiser for American public television where it had been first broadcast.
Their first studio album in eight years, Strange Times (1999), proved to be the first Moodies album in almost two decades to be more than moderately received by UK critics; released by Universal Music Group, it made the UK top 10. It was recorded in a studio in Recco, Italy, at Hayward's suggestion, and was produced by the Moodies themselves - attesting to their 3 decades of recording experience. This album was the first to feature Danilo Madonia as an arranger and electric organist. Madonia would go on to play keyboards on all future Moodies studio tracks, including on the follow-up album, "December". "Strange Times" was also the first album since 1970 to include a new poem by Graeme Edge, in an effort to partially recreate their "concept" album sound of the late 60s/early 70s. It became clear to fans that Thomas' interest in the group was waning as he only provided one song for the new CD that, while highly whimsical, was less than two-minutes in length.
Also in 1999, The Moody Blues appeared in one episode of "The Simpsons" called "Viva Ned Flanders".
In 2000, the band released "Hall of Fame," a live concert from Royal Albert Hall.
In 2001, an IMAX film was released, entitled "Journey into Amazing Caves", which featured two new songs written and performed by the Moody Blues. The soundtrack also featured Justin Hayward performing vocals and playing guitar throughout. One of these songs, entitled "Water," is the first Moody Blues instrumental studio recording since "Hole in the World" from "The Present" album.
The new millennium saw the Moody Blues reducing their touring schedule. In 2002, founding member Ray Thomas retired from the group, leaving Hayward, Lodge and Edge to continue without him. Flautist Norda Mullen has been a versatile player on-stage and in the studio in Thomas' stead. In 2003, they released, with the absence of Thomas, a Christmas-themed album entitled December. The songs included originals and covers such as John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)".
In 2004, Clint Warwick, the original bass player for the Moody Blues, died of liver disease.
The remaining Moody Blues trio have continued to tour over the years. The Moody Blues will tour the UK, US and Europe again throughout late 2006. In addition, Hayward took part in the first UK tour of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds in April 2006 with a proposed DVD release of the show in November 2006 and a second tour in November 2007.
In March of 2006, the first five of the band's 'Core 7' albums were re-released in Super Audio CD format with Deluxe Editions, featuring bonus songs and some rare previously unreleased tracks by the group. Justin Hayward, who took charge of the remixing of the five albums, plans to do the same with remaining two as well.
Since Pink Floyd's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Moody Blues (along with Yes) are at the head of the list of progressive rock groups which have not yet been inducted and consistently top opinion polls of acts who the public feel should be inducted.