My dad served on the merit badge review board for our local Scout troop. I’ll never forget the night he complained to me about one of my fellow Scouts who was trying to pass the requirements for the music merit badge, which included so many hours listening to and writing about classical music. “You know what he told me?” asked my agitated father.
“’I’ve listened to the Moody Blues and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.’ And I told him, ‘Young man, that ain’t classical music.’”
I was filled with embarrassment, both for my dad and my buddy. I knew where they were each coming from, and knew nothing I would say could bridge the generation gap. But I did tell my friend that the London Festival Orchestra on a pop album and ELP’s blistering cover of Pictures at an Exhibition were no substitutes (in Scouting) for the real thing, i.e. original arrangements.
The London Festival Orchestra’s appearance on Days of Future Passed was more a novelty than an innovation. Band legend has it that Deram Records wanted the Moodies to cover Dvořák’s 9th Symphony. That story is disputed. If true (and acted upon), the Moody Blues would have pre-empted “Rondo” and Pictures. Either way, Days of Future Passed (1967), while not a prog album in the strict sense, opened up possibilities that energized the emerging prog scene.
Technically this is a psychedelic pop record adorned with orchestral cinemascapes. Apart from the opening and closing motif (drawn from the chorus of “Nights in White Satin”) the symphonic sections seem almost thematically disconnected from the band’s songs themselves. In fact, the listener can detect a difference in the audio quality of the rock songs. It has the feel of two different musical works mashed together. To the mind’s eye this is visually a day in the life of any city, punctuated by trippy music videos.
The most memorable songs here are Justin Hayward’s “Tuesday Afternoon” and Ray Thomas’ marvelous, pulsating gem, “Twilight Time.” John Lodge’s “Time to Get Away” underscores the latent pastoral psyche of Britain, unbound by place or time (though the Tiny Tim-like falsettos are my least favorite moments). And then there is Graeme Edge’s poetry, introduced here with great effect by Mike Pinder’s reading – a voice befitting a medieval bard, looking down on the city’s humdrum routine with both an ethereal sagacity and sympathetic proximity.
Being worked out here were elements that would fall seamlessly into place with On the Threshold of a Dream (1969). Regardless of whether the Dvořák story is true or not, the band realized the mythic proportions that orchestral sensibility could bring to their music. More importantly, they learned to master the arrangements themselves and temper the elements into cohesive statements.
It would be a stretch in my mind to herald Days of Future Passed as the prototypical prog album. But it put the Moody Blues on a trajectory to inspire the first generation prog artists, waiting in the wings to unleash beauty worth not missing.