How A Mellotron and A Song Put The Moody Blues On the Charts
When Justin Hayward joined the Moody Blues about 45 years ago, he was joining a band that was trying — and failing — to be a rhythm and blues act.
But Hayward had some songs, including the hashish-inspired "Nights In White Satin," and bandmate Michael Pinder had an instrument called a Mellotron on order.
Before long, the band had an album called "Days of Future Passed." That album, along with singles "Nights In White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon," put the Moody Blues over the top.
Hayward and two other classic Moody Blues members — Graeme Edge and John Lodge — bring the band to Salem Civic Center on Saturday night, part of a tour that celebrates the band's milestone early record and subsequent success. After all these years, "Nights In White Satin" and the rest of the disc have held up nicely, Hayward said in a phone call from a tour stop in Florida earlier this month.
"It's a wonderful thing to be able to see the faces on the people" at the shows when they hear that number, the 65-year-old Hayward said. "People have got married to it, in front of us onstage, which is quite curious, in the open air. A lot of people get buried to it, I notice.
"It seems to strike a chord. It resonates with people."
Here is the story of how this classic rock album came to be.
An early restart
The Moody Blues had lost Denny Laine, who wrote and sang the band's international hit song, "Go Now," in the mid-1960s. Laine would go on to form Wings with Paul McCartney, and his departure hamstrung the band, which was trying to be an R&B group.
"But we just weren't very good at it," Hayward said. "The guy who was good at it was Denny Laine, and he had left.
"I replaced him. I was a songwriter. My first introduction to the band was I was sending them songs, which they didn't really want to play, because they wanted to play rhythm and blues, and my songs were not rhythm and blues."
The new version got together in Belgium. Hayward received his blue suit and was given a set list of R&B songs.
"And it just wasn't me, at all," he said. "The more of these gigs we did around Belgium and France and up into Germany and Holland, I realized it wasn't the rest of the band either."
But he and original member Pinder were working on a different style of music, one that would incorporate classical music elements.
They got the songs into the band's set, but they weren't fitting in. Then Pinder discovered a relatively new keyboard instrument, the Mellotron, which replicated such classical instrument sounds as violin, cello, flute, horns and vocal chorus. Pinder put one on order.
By the time it arrived, the band members were thinking they were going to give the new lineup just a couple of months to work.
"But the Mellotron arrived, and it worked," Hayward said. "And it inspired all of us. And we wrote a stage show. It was the first half of the show, was about the story of a day in the life of one guy. It had 'Dawn is a Feeling,' 'Another Morning,' and I'd written 'Nights In White Satin' a long time before it was recorded."
At the time, the band's label, Decca, wanted a rock group to show that stereo recordings could be just as interesting for rock 'n' roll music as it was for classical music.
"They had a huge classical division, and great classical studios, which we were lucky enough to record in," Hayward said. "And they were trying to sell stereo units.
"But people in rock 'n' roll were just interested in playing stuff on their damn sets, little mono things, you know. And people like the Beatles were recording things only in mono. If they released a stereo recording, it was really bad, with the drums on one side, the vocals on the other. It wasn't right at all."
Decca's idea was to have a rock version of classical composer Antonin Dvorak's "New World Symphony."
Hayward said that Peter Knight, "England's greatest string arranger," and Michael Barclay, the man who came up with the idea, came to see the band play, then suggested that the band record its new songs, with orchestra music in between.