Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Moody Blues - Days of Future Passed (1967)

This album is often cited as the first progressive rock album and there's a lot of information to justify that claim. Even if the sound is very different from later symphonic rock, all the elements are here. In my own opinion I have never found a progressive rock album that has better orchestral parts. Often in great tunes like Renaissance's "Song of Scheherazade," the orchestra is just an accompaniment to the rock band. Simply the orchestra is used to add to what the rock band is already doing without having its own voice. From the first entrance in the tone poem "The Day Begins" it is clear that conductor and arranger Peter Knight is there to create an orchestral voice. Peter Knight uses the various themes found in The Moody Blues' penned tunes as the basis for his orchestral parts which exist cohesively with the rock part of the album. Knight's sound is very reminiscent of the classical composers Ravel and Dvorak despite being English, and his knowledge of all the instruments of an orchestra is quite evident in how he arranges. Also in line with progressive rock, the concept of the album is the progression of a day from daybreak until night. It is also important to note the presence of the Mellotron in this recording. Sometimes it is actually under the orchestra and harder to hear, but I believe this only speaks the mastery of Mike Pinder.  One may say this album is total artwork (or in Wagner's words gesamtkunstwerk); there is poetry, music, and one may even say that Knight "paints" his orchestral parts with an ensemble of various colors. In "The Day Begins" when the words "Brave Helios wake up your steeds/ Bring the warmth the countryside needs" are spoken, Knight's orchestration magnificently "paints" the colors of the sunrise. The same is true during "Nights in White Satin" when the sounds of the orchestra suggest the presence of night. Maybe one has to be a bit synesthetic to associate colors with sound, but if its possible Peter Knight's orchestration will deliver. This album was released in 1967, but it wasn't until the early 70s that tunes like "Tuesday Afternoon" and "Nights in White Satin" got a lot of radio play that catapulted the album into the mainstream. This is one of my favorites and is an album that has a wide appeal in that it is a mixture of classical, progressive rock, and psychedelia.