In retrospect, it’s clear the Moody Blues never had much use for conventional wisdom.
It's a trait evident from the band's earliest days, when it received international acclaim for its unprecedented blending of classical with mid-'60s rock. It's present, too, in the Moodies' '80s output, which saw the group win a new generation of fans while ignoring trends from new wave to hip-hop.
So it seemed a bit out of character to hear bassist John Lodge tell me in an interview a few years back that the group's next album was to be a Christmas collection. Isn't that the hoariest, most blatantly bankrupt pop marketing concept around?
"But it's a Christmas album probably with a difference," Lodge said from a Southern California tour stop. "A seasonal album is probably the correct thing (to call it.)"
The album, released with the title “December,” remains the British band’s most recent studio effort. Lodge, Justin Hayward (guitar, vocals), Graeme Edge (drums) and their band come to Northern California this month for dates in San Rafael (October 24), San Francisco (October 25) and San Jose (October 27).
The Moody Blues remain steady road dogs – not bad for a veteran band that has weathered its share of stylistic and personnel changes. Indeed, Lodge credited the group's varied lineup and sound for enabling it to attract two generations of fans.
“Every album has brought along its own people," he said. "Every time we release a new album, we have a new following of people who come along."
The oldest fans picked up on the Moody Blues back in 1964, when their single "Go Now!" was a British Invasion hit. Some were drawn to the group by the ground-breaking orchestral rock of "Nights In White Satin" or the '70s album-rock phase typified by "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock 'n' Roll Band)." Still others glommed on to the group during the '80s pop heyday of "Your Wildest Dreams."
And, while the band's lineup has fluctuated since the '60s, Lodge credits the core trio's friendship and shared musical vision for the act's longevity.
"The main ingredient has to be that you have to get together in the very beginning to make music and not make money," Lodge said. "We've kept that very first idea of the Moody Blues music alive. From that, the music itself becomes a very, very important part of your life which you recognize, you'll mature, you'll help grow.
"From the friendships and personalities point of view, it's not linear, it's multilayered," he added. "We all have our own personalities in the band (but) we have enough interests between us where we can relate to one another."
Lodge was a college student in the band's hometown of Birmingham, England, when the Moody Blues were formed nearly 50 years ago. Like many other British bands of the era, the initial emphasis was on emulating American roots music – in this case, RB. With Edge drumming behind a lineup that included Denny Laine, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder and Clint Warwick, the Moody Blues broke through on the U.K. and U.S. charts with Laine singing the raw "Go Now!"
It was an auspicious start, but subsequent singles failed to find an audience and the Moody Blues looked destined to become a one-hit British Invasion wonder. By 1966, some of the original members had departed – Laine spent the '70s playing with Paul McCartney – but Thomas soldiered on, recruiting Hayward and Lodge.
"Ray Thomas and I had been working together since I was 14," Lodge said. "But I was at college when the Moody Blues made their first records ... and I wanted to finish what I was doing."
Lodge was majoring in engineering with an eye toward becoming an automotive designer in Birmingham, the Detroit of the British Isles. He continued to play bass at night, however, and avidly followed his friend's band's fluctuating fortunes.
"Then when I finished my final exams, they rang me up and basically said, 'Have you finished college yet?' "
The new Moody Blues signed a contract with Deram, but its prospects didn't look much better after the first few singles flopped. The group caught a break in 1967, however, when the label approached the band about recording a rock version of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. The goal wasn't to sell records so much as to demonstrate the potential of the company's new stereophonic sound.
The Moodies jumped at the opportunity but insisted on recording their own composition, a song cycle tracing the arc of typical day. Complete with touches of psychedelia and Eastern thought, the string-drenched result was dubbed "Days of Future Passed." Released in late 1967 on the heels of the Beatles' expansive "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the album was hailed as a landmark in pop history, the next step in the synthesis of rock and classical. It also spawned the hit singles in "Nights In White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon."
For the followup, "In Search of the Lost Chord" (1968), the Moody Blues abandoned the strings for the Mellotron, a keyboard instrument capable of reproducing the sounds of violins, flutes and the like. In its music and lyrics, the Moody Blues continued to explore the edges of their consciousness on "On the Threshold of a Dream" and "To Our Children's Children's Children" (both 1969).
Critics, however, had begun to carp that the Moody Blues were more about strings and navel gazing than serious rock 'n' roll. In response, the band pursued a more straightforward sound on "A Question of Balance" (1970), "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" (1971) and "Seventh Sojourn" (1972). The group then took an extended hiatus, during which Lodge and Hayward collaborated on the album "Blue Jays" (1975). Pinder departed in the late '70s to be replaced by Patrick Moraz.
Moraz played with the group for 15 years, a period that saw it enjoy its greatest pop success since the 1960s. The run started with the band's chart-topping "Long Distance Voyager" (1981) album, which was fueled by the singles "Gemini Dream" and "The Voice."
"The Present" (1983) didn't fare as well, but the Moodies were back on the charts with "The Other Side of Life" (1986) and its hit, "Your Wildest Dreams." Taken from the album "Sur la Mer" (1988), "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" became a staple of adult contemporary radio.
The band's recording output has slowed since then, but the fan base remains strong.|
"The thing is that everyone likes to be honored for their art," Lodge said. "But, as far as the Moody Blues are concerned our honors are really the music that ... has been a part of everyone's lives since 1966. That's where our honors are, that's where our fame is."
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