Although they're best known today for their lush, lyrically and musically profound (some would say bombastic) psychedelic-era albums and singles, the Moody Blues started out as one of the better R&B-based combos of the British Invasion. The Moody Blues' history began in Birmingham, England, where one of the more successful bands during that time was El Riot & the Rebels, co-founded by Ray Thomas (harmonica, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals). Pinder left the band, first for a gig with Jackie Lynton and then a stint in the Army. In May of 1963, he and Thomas reunited under the auspices of the Krew Cats. They were good enough to get overseas bookings in Germany, where English rock bands were the rage. Upon their return to Birmingham in November of 1963, the entire English musical landscape was occupied by 250 groups, all of them vying for gigs in perhaps a dozen clubs. Thomas and Pinder decided to try and go professional, recruiting members from some of the best groups working in Birmingham. This included Denny Laine (vocals, guitar), Graeme Edge (drums), and Clint Warwick (bass, vocals). The Moody Blues made their debut in Birmingham in May of 1964, and quickly earned the notice and later the services of manager Tony Secunda. A major tour was quickly booked, and the band landed an engagement at the Marquee Club, which resulted in a contract with England's Decca Records less than six months after their formation. The group's first single, "Steal Your Heart Away," released in September of 1964, didn't touch the British charts.
Their second single "Go Now," released in November of 1964, fulfilled every expectation and more, reaching number one in England; in America, it peaked at number ten. Following it up was easier said than done. Despite their fledgling songwriting efforts and the access they had to American demos, this version of the Moody Blues never came up with another single success. By the end of the spring of 1965, the frustration was palpable within the band. The group decided to make their fourth single, "From the Bottom of My Heart," an experiment with a different sound. Unfortunately, the single only reached number 22 on the British charts following its release in May of 1965. Ultimately, the grind of touring, coupled with the strains facing the group, became too much for Warwick, who exited in the spring of 1966, and by August of 1966 Laine had left as well. Warwick was replaced by John Lodge. His introduction to the band was followed in late 1966 by the addition of Justin Hayward.
The reconstituted Moody Blues set about keeping afloat financially, mostly playing in Europe, recording the occasional single. Their big break came from Deram Records, an imprint of their Decca label, which in 1967 decided that it needed a long-playing record to promote its new "Deramic Stereo." The Moody Blues were picked for the proposed project, a rock version of Dvorak's New World Symphony, and immediately convinced the staff producer and the engineer to abandon the source material and permit the group to use a series of its own compositions that depicted an archetypal "day," from morning to night. Using the tracks laid down by the band, and orchestrated by conductor Peter Knight, the resulting album, Days of Future Passed, became a landmark in the band's history. The mix of rock and classical sounds was new, and at first puzzled the record company, but eventually the record was issued. This album, and its singles "Nights in White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon," hooked directly into the musical sides of the Summer of Love and its aftermath. In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) abandoned the orchestra in favor of the Mellotron, which quickly became a part of their signature sound.
By the time of 1969's To Our Children's Children's Children, the group found itself painted into something of a corner. Working in the studio with the process of overdubbing, they'd created albums that were essentially the work of 20 or 30 Moody Blues. Beginning with A Question of Balance (1970), the group made the decision to record albums that they could play in concert, reducing their reliance on overdubbing and toughening up their sound. By the release of Seventh Sojourn (1972), the strain of touring and recording steadily for five years was beginning to take its toll, and following an extended international tour, the band decided to take a break from working together, which ultimately lasted five years. During this era, Hayward and Lodge recorded a very successful duet album, Blue Jays (1975), and all five members did solo albums. By 1977, however, the groupmembers had made the decision to reunite, a process complicated by the fact that Pinder had moved to California during that period. Although all five participated in the resulting album, Octave (1978), there were stresses during its recording, and Pinder was ultimately unhappy enough with the LP to decline to tour with the band. The reunion tour was a success, with Patrick Moraz brought in to replace Pinder on the keyboards, and the album topped the charts.
The group's follow-up record, Long Distance Voyager (1981), was even more popular, though by this time a schism was beginning to develop between the band and the critical community. Although they continued to reach the middle levels of the charts, and even ascended reasonably close to the top with the Hayward single "In Your Wildest Dreams" (1986), the Moody Blues were no longer anywhere near the cutting edge of music. By the end of the 1980s, they were perceived as a nostalgia act, albeit one with a huge audience. In 1994, a four-CD set called Time Traveller was released. A new studio effort, Strange Times, followed in 1999 and Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2000 followed a year later.
In the spring of 1997, PolyGram released remastered and upgraded versions of all seven of the group's classic late-'60s/early-'70s albums, with dramatically improved sound and new notes featuring recollections by the group members. Anyone owning the Mobile Fidelity audiophile CD versions can probably skip these unless they need the notes, but owners of the older Polydor CDs should seriously consider upgrading.