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Pop pioneers' tunes travel with time

Public television productions have brought a new generation of fans to the Moody Blues, one of the first bands to record in stereo.

By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Correspondent

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 7, 2000


British pomp-rockers the Moody Blues benefitted from more than a little bit of synchronicity with Days of Future Passed, the band's 1967 debut album, now a staple of classic rock.

The recording, bolstered by massive hits Tuesday Afternoon and Nights in White Satin, was one of the first stereo releases, for starters. The project was initially conceived as a showcase for the group's label to show off its new "Deramic Stereo Sound," and the Moody Blues were chosen to play a rock version of Dvorak's New World Symphony. Those plans were scrapped in favor of a set of original compositions.

"Up until that time, most albums, of course, were only in glorious mono," bassist-singer John Lodge said recently from the Moody Blues office, south of London. He spoke on the eve of a summer tour, which comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall for two shows Saturday in support of last year's Strange Times album. "Later, we had to actually go back into the studio and remix it into mono, because so many people wanted it in mono. They didn't have stereo players."

Another new wrinkle was the pairing of Lodge, guitarist Justin Hayward, flutist Ray Thomas, drummer Graeme Edge and keyboardist Mike Pinder (who left in the late '70s) with the London Festival Orchestra, the first such collaboration of its kind. Radical, too, was the concept-album approach, one also employed that year on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and, to some extent, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request.

"It was revolutionary," Lodge said. "Usually an album was six hit singles and six b-sides of songs that people didn't particularly want to listen to. We put it together as an album, 40 minutes of real music. That's why there's no stops, no scrolls, in Days of Future Passed. One song goes into the next song. It goes through as a complete work of art."

The band's psychedelic/art rock period rolled on through carefully assembled song cycles such as 1971's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, with the song The Story in Your Eyes, and the next year's harder-rocking Seventh Sojourn, which included Lodge-penned singles I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band) and Isn't Life Strange.

The Moody Blues briefly disbanded following the latter album, reuniting in the late '70s and subsequently making inroads on radio again, with the singles Steppin' in a Slide Zone, Gemini Dream, Your Wildest Dreams, I Know You're Out There Somewhere and Say It With Love.

But the band's earliest work, it seems, will have the greatest impact. Younger listeners have connected with the Moody Blues largely as a result of A Night at Red Rocks, a 1993 public television special, video and CD documenting the group's performance of Days of Future Passed with a full orchestra at the majestic, natural outdoor venue in Colorado.

"The logistics were very difficult, but when we realized how we could do it, everything fell into place," Lodge said. "As soon as we did one concert, we were doing two concerts. And we kept getting calls, asking, "Will the Moody Blues come to our town and play with our orchestra?'

"A lot of younger audiences, new fans, came and sort of realized, "Just a minute, I thought the Moody Blues was just a song called Wildest Dreams.' It seemed to open a door for many of them. After Red Rocks, we released the boxed set (the four-CD Time Traveller). That became incredibly successful, as people rediscovered us or discovered the Moody Blues for the first time."

Public television may be key to the Moody Blues' success this decade, too. The band recorded a new live CD three weeks ago with the World Festival Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall in London. A PBS special on the performance, which featured classic material alongside new tunes, will begin airing in August, and the concert will be released on video and DVD. Meanwhile, there are the summer road shows, with the core quartet joined by two keyboardists, a percussionist and a backup singer.

The group owes its survival to a determination to go its own way, Lodge said. "We try to make our music timeless," he said.

"We've tried to stay away from what are the en vogue sounds of the day. We seem to have traveled our own path, which was not mainstream pop. It think it was because we were saying something different."

At a glance

The Moody Blues, Saturday, 6 and 9 p.m. at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. Tickets are $50. Call (727) 791-7400.

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