The Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed (1967)

I went through a period in high school when I was hugely into the Moody Blues.  I spent much of my teen years trying to get a handle on the entire history of classic rock, haunting the public library and used record stores, getting my hands on everything I could.  For a time I was wading into prog and psychedelia, and the Moody Blues seemed to straddle the line, though in a totally pleasant, non-threatening way.  They weren't as druggy and weird as psychedelic, as sonically complex and challenging as prog.  If you're a suburban 15-year-old, it kinda hits the sweet spot.  (Maybe that's why they've gone on to become huge favorites of aging boomers, who seem to throng to shows featuring the surviving members and whatever symphonic orchestra they've hooked up with.)

Over time, the Moodies were more of a guilty pleasure.  The indie crowd seemed to revile them, and the prog crowd found them too pedestrian.  And I'll admit, most of their albums (even during their initial 1967-1972 heyday) were a mixed bag; some great singles, some interesting spacey experiments, and some real sugary-sweet ballads; plus the weird poetry and the damn flutes.  For the most part, I've been able to distill their history into a 2-cd homemade collection, and it's plenty for me.

But there is a certain innocent charm to their albums, particularly on their debut.  It's a song cycle (not exactly a concept album), thematically based on the moments of a day, from waking to sleep.  As a favor to the record company to test out new technology, they recorded it with the backing of a symphony, which is both part of the album's charm and (in my view) its biggest drawback.  Song for song, it's probably the band's best work -- "Nights in White Satin," "Tuesday Afternoon," and the surprisingly rocking "Peak Hour" are all great, even after all these years, and a few others songs are nice.  But I can totally do without the orchestral pieces.

I ended up burning myself a copy of the album that weeded out most of the orchestral interludes, leaving just the songs; it's a bit short (I beefed it up with a couple of the outtakes found on the deluxe reissue), but it's actually pretty great and holds its own alongside the rest of the psychedelia coming out of the UK between 1967 and 1968.

And you know what? I saw them live a few decades back, with my high school girlfriend, back in Chicago, surrounded by those aging boomers... and they were great.  Guilty pleasures be damned.

Here's the video for "Nights in White Satin":
And a live version of "Tuesday Afternoon":
And a live take on "Peak Hour" by a much older band: