WASHINGTON — It’s hard to imagine two bands more different than The Monkees and The Moody Blues, but both had pivotal career years in 1967.
That year, The Monkees outsold The Beatles and Rolling Stones combined, using their TV stardom for bubbly radio hits like “Last Train to Clarksville,” “(Theme from) The Monkees” and “I’m a Believer.”
Meanwhile, The Moody Blues burst onto the British scene that year with “Days of Future Passed,” a concept album including progressive rock gems like “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.”
This week, it’s your chance to flip to the “Mo” vinyl section to catch up with both classic acts, as The Monkees bring their 50th anniversary tour to D.C.’s Warner Theatre at 8 p.m. Thursday, while Moody Blues alum Justin Hayward rocks The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
WTOP caught up with the famous Moody frontman, guitarist and songwriter, who will be performing this weekend with guitarist Mike Dawes and multi-instrumentalist Julie Ragins.
“Lovely gig, been there before, looking forward to it,” Hayward told WTOP. “I’m doing things from most of the albums down through the years. I hope there’s something there for everybody. I’ve got some new music. I’ve got a completely new song and put some different songs into the set as well.”
WTOP sports anchor Dave Preston highly recommends the show, having seen Hayward live at The Birchmere in 2013 and The Moody Blues three times at Wolf Trap between 2004-2007.
“I gotta ask about ‘Nights in White Satin,'” Preston inquired, “I heard that it was about bed sheets?”
“I wish I could say the whole song was about sheets,” Hayward replied, laughing. “It was the thoughts of a 19-year-old boy who was at the end of one big love affair and at the beginning of another … Also, another girlfriend had given me some white satin sheets. Terribly romantic, but a bit impractical.”
Despite the song’s internationally renowned status, Hayward never tires of performing it.
“I think there’s a lot of truth in that song, and every time I sing it, I appreciate what the audience brings to it — the magic that the crowd brings to it,” Hayward said. “It was a wonderful thing for us in the group. It defined our sound … ‘Nights’ and ‘Forever Autumn,’ you can go anywhere in the world and even if they don’t know who you are, they’ll kind of know the song, which is lovely.”
During the heyday of The Moody Blues, at least four band members were all writing songs.
“There was a lot of testosterone flying around in the early days,” Hayward said. “I came to the group as a songwriter and Mike Pinder was also writing songs. He was the one that brought me to the group and he thought we should try and get our own songs into the group, because originally it was a rhythm and blues group. But I think it worked out well for us. It gave us an identity.”
Helping the cause was the fact that the band’s record label allowed a rare degree of freedom.
“We were very lucky to be with a label in London Records and Decca that didn’t have an A & R guy standing over us, telling us what to do and insisting we make hit singles,” Hayward said. “That’s always been my rule of thumb ever since … do what we think is right and trust our own judgment.”
Thus, The Moody Blues was defined less by hit singles and more by entire albums, creating 30-minute movements to experience rather than rapid-fire radio tunes. The albums — and their cover art — are forever carved into fans’ brains, from “Days of Future Passed” to “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.”
“The first album was an idea of the record company’s,” Hayward admitted. “It was meant to be a demonstration record to demonstrate stereo, but it coincided with the birth of FM radio in America and it was recorded so beautifully by Decca. After that, we realized we wanted to make a whole kind of audio/visual experience. The sleeves were very important to us, the whole design of it.”
This holistic approach was emblematic of the era, predating the fragmentation of digital downloads.
“We were lucky to be part of that era and that generation where that was possible,” Hayward said. “I think for young boys and girls now, they’ve got one shot. They give you a song and you’ve got to grab it straight away, otherwise they don’t get many second chances.”
All the while, the band’s ability to perform live helped secure legions of Moody Blues fans.
“We were a great live band,” Hayward said. “That’s always been the thing that stood us in good stead. That’s why I’m out here now. I enjoy on the road. I enjoy presenting these songs. If you can create a little magic in a room, I think that’ll make all the difference in the world.”
The live magic reveals ongoing chemistry with drummer Graeme Edge and bassist John Lodge.
“We’re the three guys now who really like to do it on stage,” Hayward said. “That’s the thing with myself and Graeme and John, it’s a big catalog. We want to rediscover that catalog, so we’re lucky to have each other. We’re enjoying it, so it’s a real pleasure for us. We’re very lucky.”
Which begs the all-important question: why isn’t Moody Blues in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
“I live in Europe, so it’s kind of annoying for European people that the Americans think that they should have the Rock Hall of Fame. It should be a world thing,” Hayward said. “I know that it impacts the Moody’s fans and people who love the music very much, and they want it to happen so bad.”
While fans crave an induction, Hayward seems to shrug it off, keeping his focus on the music.
“I think it’s going to be tough for the people who do the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now, because all the groups they’ve kept out for so long, it would be like an admission of guilt if they let them in now,” Hayward said. “I kind of feel they should have closed the door after The Eagles anyway.”
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