How Justin Hayward and the Moody Blues made their biggest hit

Posted on 10/31/2014

AtlanticCityWeekly.com

Justin HaywardJust on the strength of their career statistics, the Moody Blues — now in their 50th year of existence — should have long since been enshrined in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Modern music’s original cosmic cowboys, they’ve recorded 23 studio and live albums, 18 of which went platinum or gold. They’ve sold 70 million albums worldwide and, while their demographics now skew mostly to the AARP crowd, they remain a relevant touring act that can quickly sell out a small arena whenever a gig gets posted.

But in the eyes of the HOF nominating committee — led by Rolling Stone magazine co-founder and publisher Jan Wenner, who hates progressive rock — the Moody Blues have been left out in the Cleveland cold. While bands that have had far less of an impact or influence in popular music and haven’t sold one-tenth of the product have long since been enshrined in the hall, the Moodies haven’t even been nominated for the honor.

But lead singer Justin Hayward isn’t about to lose a minute of sleep over the snub. In 2012, Hayward — who’ll perform solo in A.C. Friday night, at the Borgata’s Music Box — told Billboard magazine he feels sorry for fans of the band who have campaigned for the group’s nomination for decades. “I do feel for our fans, because it really is important to them,” he said.

But as a native of Great Britain, he said the HOF might be surprised to learn that it lacks the caché in Europe it enjoys in the United States. “As a British person and particularly a European, people have never heard of (the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame),” Hayward explained. “It doesn’t impact anybody. It’s an American thing, really. If you want to run a hall of fame and get people coming through and it’s a great tourist attraction, that’s fine. But it doesn’t impact me at all.”

Take that, Jan Wenner.

Frankly, there are Moody Blues fans who believe that just one song out of their extensive catalogue should be enough to qualify them for the HOF: Hayward’s “Nights in White Satin,” one of the first pieces he wrote when he joined the group in 1967.

The song was released as a single several times but didn’t catch fire till 1972, when it reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and hit the top of the Cash Box list. Since then, it’s been used in other mediums and has been included in more than a dozen motion pictures ranging from Martin Scorsese’s Casino to Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut with A Bronx Tale and Rob Zombie’s fright flick Halloween 2.

“It’s a song that never seems to go away,” said Hayward, 68, who will include the number in his set on Friday. “It seemed to get into people’s minds and just stay there. The whole thing’s very strange and wonderful.”

Last month, he told the Web site musicradar.com that “Nights” changed his life and the lives of the band forever. He remembered writing the song after finishing a gig with the band and had returned to his one-room flat.

The Moody Blues already had one hit — 1964’s “Go Now” — but that was three years earlier and with mostly a different lineup of musicians and a completely different sound.

“I sat on the side of the bed and wrote the basic two verses and two choruses with a 12-string acoustic,” he said. “I took it to the rehearsal room the next day…and I played it for (the rest of the band) and they were like, ‘Huh… it’s OK.’ I don’t think they were that thrilled.”

But keyboardist Mike Pinder, a founding member of the band, asked Hayward to play the song again. As Hayward strummed the guitar, Pinder fired up the Mellotron, a forerunner to the musical synthesizer that relied on looped recording of taped musical notes. “As I sang ‘Nights in white satin… ’ he did that little ‘da da da-da-da-da-daaa’ on the Mellotron,” Hayward said. “Then everybody [in the band] seemed to get interested. It made sense to them. Once he delivered that phrase, which is really quite important, the song started working for them.”

The song was included on the Moody Blues groundbreaking album Days of Future Passed, which was released around the time The Beatles were creating a subset of rock ‘n’ roll with their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Hayward admitted the Moody Blues drew plenty of inspiration from the Fab Four. “To be part of the musical scene in London during that whole period was amazing,” he said. “The Beatles… showed us the way. ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ and other songs they did at the time gave us the freedom to try anything.”

Friday, Oct. 31. 9pm. Music Box at the Borgata, 1 Borgata Way, A.C. ticketmaster.com