“Nights In White Satin”
All that was left to begin the production was to find an orchestra. Fortunately Decca had its own anonymous session musicians from its many classical albums, which temporarily became the fictitious London Festival Orchestra. The Moodies had all their songs in place so conductor/arranger Peter Knight wove original neoclassical interludes between the stage numbers. To successfully capture the rich tones of the orchestra, microphone placement was key. Bassist John Lodge told Uncut how it benefited the album:
Every instrument on that record has its own space. Nothing gets in the way of anything else. Because everything has its own space, everything sounds bigger. I think that’s what gives it its lushness, and the dynamics. Your imagination takes over. Your brain is filling in the picture. It was like we were recording in CinemaScope. We used to talk about that. ‘How wide is the colour on this song?’
The album still needed a fitting beginning and ending. Drummer Graeme Edge explained to Classicbands.com:
The morning section seemed a bit empty, so I wrote what eventually became “Morning Glory” and “Late Lament.” To avoid being distracted, I sat in our Volkswagen van and wrote it on the inside of a torn-open Players 20 cigarette packet. I tried to write some words for someone else to put music to, as a song, but poetry has a rhythm and meter which is difficult to turn into a song. So our producer [Tony Clarke] said, ‘well, that’s great the way it is. Just put it down as a poem.’
Pinder was tapped to recite the two poems, with the melancholy “Late Lament” spoken at the end of “Nights”. Hayward remembered it was a no-brainer to have Pinder speaking on the album:
I loved that spoken word, because Pinder had such a beautiful voice…You could tell by the girls that fell for him – you could hear it. “007 Pinder” we used to call him because he could just do it with a few words. But I thought it worked really well.
Cold-hearted orb that rules the night
Removes the colours from our sight
Red is grey is yellow white
But we decide which is right
And which is an illusion
Knight’s soulful arrangement combines with tender flourishes from the symphony to give the end of the evening (and album) its sense of completeness. Strings swirl upwards as the orchestra builds to a dramatic crescendo. Edge’s gong peals out, fading into nothing. Another day has ended. Yet, if the listener restarts the album from side one, the sound of the gong slowly rises from nothing to full dawning. A new day begins with “Morning Glory”.
Pinprick holes in a colorless sky
Let insipid figures of light pass by
The mighty light of ten thousand suns
Challenges infinity and is soon gone
Nighttime, to some a brief interlude
To others the fear of solitude
Brave Helios, wake up your steeds
Bring the warmth the countryside needs
The album only took a few days to record since The Moodies recorded their songs independently from the orchestra. By week’s end, the record was ready for an audience. Hayward remembered the big reveal to the record execs:
We were so excited about this album…We put some speakers up in the studio and invite [sic] our friends and the people from Decca down. We turned the lights out and played “Days of Future Passed” from the beginning to the end. It was like a concert in the dark. Then it finished, the lights went on and you could see a smile on everyone’s face as though something magic had happened. I can still get that feeling now. We knew it was right – I’m not talking about commercial success, I’m talking about what the Moody Blues wanted, a culmination of what we’d done for a year.
Not everyone in the studio was smiling. Decca was an old, well-established label, and the directors wanted Dvořák. Fortunately, the US version of Decca (ironically named London Records) and producer Mendl heard hit potential and pushed the parent label for the album’s release as-is. Begrudgingly, Decca agreed. The Moodies felt confident that “Nights” and Days would be breakouts, but UK buyers were a bit ‘meh’ about the single-–only reaching #29 on the November 1967 charts. It was even worse in the US. “Nights” didn’t even make it on the Hot 100. Rolling Stone gave The Moodies a tepid review, saying their music “is constantly marred by one of the most startlingly saccharine conceptions of ‘beauty’ and ‘mysticism’ that any rock group has ever affected.” Naturally, “Nights” charted at #6 in Belgium. Why didn’t it chart higher in other places? Part of the problem lay in the default template that pop songs on the radio couldn’t be longer than three minutes. Lodge explained to Classicbands:
The record company weren’t sure where to market it, because we didn’t have any gaps between the tracks so the disc jockeys couldn’t easily play one track. ‘Nights In White Satin’ was six minutes long, so that wasn’t going to be a single as far as they could see, especially in America. So it went against all the rules of ‘pop music’.
“Tuesday Afternoon” didn’t chart in the UK at all. Hayward began to feel that the album and band would be relegated to avant-garde London art parties. However, another blessing of good timing was waiting in the wings. Eight weeks after the album’s release, The Moodies were performing at a music convention in Cannes, France. Hayward related what happened next to SuperSeventies:
The Supremes were due to go on. The show was supposed to be an hour of live Eurovision television, and something happened. The Supremes’ backing track didn’t turn up, and it was complicated by the fact that something was wrong with the entire tape system. Everybody that was miming had a problem. So the producer of the show came rushing around saying, “We need an act to play live.” Nobody was prepared to do that. None of the American acts could work without their backing band, but we said we’d do it. We went on and wound up with forty-five minutes of live Eurovision time. “Nights in White Satin” was one of the songs we performed. The next week it was Number 1 [In France], that fast.
Still, the US market proved hard to crack but times were changing. Just a few months earlier, The Doors had released the 7:06 album cut of “Light My Fire”. LA DJ Dave Diamond was one of the first to play the full version on the air, which helped boost the song to #1. Longer running songs from other acts suddenly made their way onto station playlists, sometimes used for ulterior purposes. Edge remembered:
We were about the [sic] release another single, ‘Voices In The Sky’, when the American record company got in touch and said, hold off a minute, you’ve got a ‘breakout’ – a local city hit. It was going absolutely crazy in Seattle and had started to spread. Many years later, we discovered the DJ who started it all. He was on 12 till 4am – the graveyard shift. He told us that he wanted to go smoke his bong, so he went down the authorised playlist and picked the longest record he was allowed to play – ‘Nights In White Satin’.
“Nights” was re-released in 1972 and this time went to #2 on the Hot 100 and #9 in the UK. Days reached #3 on the Billboard 200 and sold over a million copies. In retrospect, Rolling Stone added Days to its list of most essential albums of 1967.
Sadly, Hayward didn’t receive any royalties from “Nights” or Days due to his onerous contract as a teen with Donegan. In fact, Hayward didn’t get paid for any songwriting work until he was 25. Fortunately, The Moodies’ success continued into the new decade with Hayward writing 20 of the band’s 27 post-1967 singles. By the late 1970s, The Moody Blues had released several popular albums like In Search of the Lost Chord and Seventh Sojourn. Hayward’s song “Forever Autumn” for a musical adaptation of War of the Worlds reached the UK top five in 1978. By 1980, the group changed their sound into a modern, synthpop style with more emphasis on synthesizers than Mellotron. A strained relationship with Pinder led to his departure and introduction of Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz of Yes. 1981’s Long Distance Voyager became a #1 smash with both “The Voice” and “Gemini Dreams” reaching the Top 20. The release of The Other Side Of Life with “Your Wildest Dreams” in 1986 was another big seller earning The Moody Blues the honor of having a Top Ten single in three successive decades. The release of Sur la Mer in 1988 was the last of their Top 40 singles with “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere”. Flautist Ray Thomas passed away at age 76 in January, 2018. Shortly afterwards, The Moody Blues were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Occasionally, the band still reunites with Hayward, Edge and Lodge to play cruises or tour dates. Their latest studio album December is their 16th. The Moodies have sold 70 million albums worldwide and have 18 platinum and gold LP’s.
The Moody Blues are pioneers of the progressive rock format with experimental ideas like longer, more philosophical songs, the creative use of orchestral music, mixed time-signatures, and instrument proficiency. This would later open the doors to future musical odysseys with rock bands like Yes, Genesis, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Pink Floyd. Also, most pop albums up to this point had a brief pause or empty space between tracks to signal the end of one song and the beginning of a new one. The Days concept album however became an orchestral pop ‘suite’ of songs – crossfading from one scene to another along a central theme without a silence buffer. Another innovation of Days was the successful fusion of symphony with rock- adding a level of sophistication and a lusher audio palette that record buyers had not heard before. Did DSS pay off for Decca? Sort of. As production costs declined, stereo player purchases were easier to finance by the general public. Still, Days was often sold at a discount to attract new HiFi buyers. 8-track recorders quickly swept through the recording industry, leaving the 4-track DSS system obsolete and abandoned by 1969. Deram continued its experimental artist lineup into the late 70s, including signing David Bowie to his first album deal.
Over 50 years after its initial release, Days and “Nights” still influence music and culture today. It charted three times in the UK and sold several million copies. Astronaut ‘Hoot’ Gibson brought Days with him on the Atlantis shuttle space craft for numerous missions and it became a favorite of fellow NASA astronauts. Popular films Casino and A Bronx Tale feature “Nights” in important scenes. The Moodies even voiced themselves in the “Viva Ned Flanders” episode of The Simpsons. The Mellotron became a niche instrument that outlived the fear and distrust of the music unions. It caught on with creative acts like Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and Stevie Wonder- who liked the way the Mellotron could sweeten or add color to their albums. Its distinctive sound made a comeback in the mid 90s with Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” to name a few. Thanks to today’s technology, you can squeeze a heavy Mellotron machine into a cheap, software plug-in for computer based audio workstations. Also, symphonic rock has become a thriving sub-genre with many standouts such as Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Eldorado by ELO and Metallica’s S&M album with the San Francisco Symphony.
The Guardian wrote that The Moody Blues are psychedelia’s forgotten heroes and “sang of real emotions, such as loneliness and love, and trying to find one’s place in the world. And they presented their distinctive brand of everyman existentialism with infinitely more joie de vivre than, say, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, ELP or King Crimson.” On the eve of their Rock Hall induction, Rolling Stone asked Edge what makes “Nights” such a timeless song:
I think it’s the joy, the spirit that makes it [resonate]. It’s not spiritual, but from the spirit – uplifting joy and happiness. It’s a young boy discovering that he loves somebody for the first time and he just wants to shout it out from the hills – and shout it out again!
Cause I love you
Yes, I love you
Oh how I love you!