On This Day (November 10)…Rock Meets Classic and is Never Again the Same

Cold-hearted orb that rules the night
Removes the colours from our sight
Red is gray and yellow, white
But we decide which is right
And which is an illusion…

Opening words of Days of Future Passed recited by Mike Pinder. Retrieved from here.

The Moody Blues released “Days of Future Passed” in the United Kingdom on this day in 1967.

Image result for days of future passed
The album’s cover. Retrieved from here.

While the Moody Blues are today known as one of the preeminent progressive rock bands, they had begun their life as a R&B-influenced act, but found little traction and quickly changed directions. The usual story is that the group’s label, Decca Records, suggested they record a take on Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”, with the band and an orchestra under the baton of conductor Peter Knight taking turns playing. All of this was intended as a demonstration of the high audio quality of stereo recording rather than recording in mono.

According to the band, at some point during the project, the producer of the project, Michael Barclay, suggested the group write their own music instead, with Knight writing orchestral interludes. As a result, Days of Future Passed was born. It is worth noting that engineer Derek Varnals disputes the story that Dvorak was ever a part of the genesis of this legendary album.

The album tells the story of a day in the life, as well as of a lifetime itself. A varied set of styles and moods are present on the album, showing off the band’s versatility.

“I say it was a series of lucky accidents, but in truth, I thought we were making a nice little arty album that might get played at cocktail parties or something like that. I never realized it would have a wider appeal.”

Justin Hayward about Days of Future Passed. Retrieved from here.

The album quickly became a best-seller, with “Nights in White Satin”, the final song on the album, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart by 1972. In the UK, its peak position was at 9. The album as a whole reached 3 on Billboard and 27 on the UK charts, a very respectable set of positions; it eventually received platinum certification in the US. Critical reception at the time was a bit chillier, though in retrospect the album has been regarded more warmly.

Days of Future Passed claims to “have extended the range of pop music,” finding “the point where it becomes one with the world of the classics.” This is pure nonsense.

Jim Miller with regard to the album. Retrieved from here.

Besides receiving great commercial success and retroactive critical acclaim., this album was a watershed moment in the history of music, as one of the earliest examples of the mixing of a rock band and an orchestra. As far as I know, only the Beatles beat the band to this milestone with the orchestral elements at the beginning and end of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Its success laid the groundwork for a generation of fearless musicians to be able to experiment. Within two years, both Deep Purple and the Nice had made their own attempts to mix rock ‘n roll with symphonic elements, creating Concerto for Group and Orchestra and The Five Bridges Suite respectively. Each of these groups took it a step further, appearing onstage with their orchestras and playing together throughout.

More generally, this album is seen as one of the first moments of progressive rock, a genre which the Moody Blues’ subsequent albums in the mold of Days of Future Passed would solidify. Indeed, all of the hallmarks of the emerging genre, from daring attempts to redefine rock ‘n roll to critical disdain, are already present. If you have not checked the album out yet, the whole thing is on YouTube, which I link below..

This album is a personal favorite of mine; I played the whole thing on my radio show on the date of its fiftieth anniversary. A friend of mine, aware of how much it mattered to me, bought me a copy which hung on my dorm room wall until I graduated. Even had it not had its historical importance, I would still find it a towering achievement in the world of music.

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Post Sources

  • Note: this was originally published on my personal music blog. It appears here modified from the original version.
  • Edit on 2020-05-16: Fixed formatting, added info
  • Edit on 2020-08-30: Optimized for new site

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