Given that most bands are lucky to celebrate a 10-year anniversary, it’s remarkable that the Moody Blues are still around to mark the 45th anniversary of Days of Future Passed, a concept album that put the band on the British progressive rock band on the musical map. While the group is (still) not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Moody Blues have sold millions of albums and is about to embark on a winter tour. We talked to singer-guitarist Justin Hayward via phone from his studio/office in Southern France for a feature we’re writing for a weekly paper. We can only use some of that talk for that article and wanted to share the rest of our conversation.
It’s been 45 years since the release of Days of Future Passed. How has your perception of the album and what you were trying to accomplish changed over the years?
It came home to me, the quality of the album, about four years ago when Universal Records asked me to re-master it and at the same time do a 5.1 surround sound mix. I didn’t want to do that. Yes, of course, I wanted to re-mastered it and have some control over the 5.1, but the original was only on two four tracks. So actually, the best thing I went back to was a quad version our late producer Tony Clarke and the engineer Derek Varnals had done in the early ’70s in the same studio with the same echoes and the same everything. That was what I returned to and it was in listening to that that I realized, “How the hell did we do this?” That’s still my overriding feeling about it. At the time, I thought we were making an arty piece of work and I’d be interviewed in The Guardian or invited to some cocktail party. That was the height of my ambition. Not for a moment did I feel like it’d have any commercial success.
I know Decca Records originally commissioned the album but you had a certain amount of artistic license. Talk about what the label originally wanted from the band and how the group then took that concept and ran with it.
We had a debt to the record company and they had a call on our services. They asked us to do a rock version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” to demonstrate their stereo systems, which weren’t really getting off the ground, except with the classical market. None of us had stereo. [Decca] introduced us to Romantic string arranger Peter Knight. He came to see us and he said it was nonsense. He didn’t want to spoil the real Dvorak by putting our “amateurish rock version in it.” He said, “Let’s do it the other way around. You do your songs and we’ll still present this to Decca.” Ours was done in two afternoons and the orchestra was done in a three-hour session. Within three days, the whole thing was presented as a fait accompli and they weren’t that pleased with it. Later, it was one of the greatest things that ever happened to them because it did sell their stereo systems and they had a lot of success with it.