On a typically pale, grey 30 January, the nation bid a final farewell to Sir Winston Churchill, the man who had saved the country from tyranny at the hands of the Nazis. For three days and three nights, over 300,000 mourners had filed past his casket. A million people gathered along the procession route as the gun carriage rode past 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square, where 20 years previously the mood had been altogether different as the news of victory in World War Two was celebrated. The service took place in St Paul’s Cathedral, attended by the Royal family and world leaders, before he was buried privately at Bladon, near his family’s ancestral home in Oxfordshire.
And so it was rather appropriate that the number 1 single at the time was a song about being unable to cope with the departure of a loved one. Go Now was very different to the type of songs that the Moody Blues would later be famous for, but then this was a different line-up.
The group first formed in Birmingham in 1964. Multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas, bass player John Lodge and keyboardist Mike Pinder had been members of El Riot & the Rebels. Thomas and Pinder then joined the Krew Cats, but they disbanded after a spell in Hamburg. They recruited Denny Laine as their guitarist and singer, Graeme Edge as their drummer and Clint Warick as bassist after Lord declined due to still being at college. They hoped for a sponsorship deal from the M&B Brewery and named themselves the M Bs and the M B Five, but it never came off, so they became the Moody Blues as a subtle reference to Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo. That spring they signed with Decca. Getting a beat group a record deal had become much easier once Beatlemania began, but their debut single Steal Your Heart Away failed to chart.
They then decided to record Go Now. This soul ballad had been written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett for Banks’ wife, Bessie, who had recorded a demo in 1962. Hit-making producers and Elvis Presley collaborators Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller produced a new version with her the following year. Upon hearing Bessie Banks’ version, Laine was entranced and insisted the Moody Blues make it their next single. It was produced by Denny Cordell, who later produced number 1s for Procul Harum and Joe Cocker.
The opening of Go Now is one of my favourite introductions to any song. So much so, I can find myself singing it without warning. It seems to have taken up a special place within my brain over the years. Laine’s vocal throughout is perfect, and although the Moody Blues version is a straightforward copy of the original, his voice has an edge to it that tops Banks’ performance. Critics of the song point out that after the beginning the lyrics don’t really go anywhere, but I think that’s kind of the point. The singer is so broken up, they can’t get it together enough to formulate their thoughts. I’ll always have a soft spot for Go Now.
Unusually, the band filmed a promotional video, produced and directed by co-manager Alex Wharton. The Beatles were one of the only other bands attempting such an idea at the time. Watching Go Now, you have to wonder if this is where Queen got the idea for Bohemian Rhapsody (see above).
And that was just about it for the Moody Blues. Except it wasn’t. Wharton left the stable shortly after their debut album The Magnificient Moodies was released, and they couldn’t capitalise on their early success. In June 1966 Warwick quit to be replaced by Rod Clark. Things got worse when Laine left that October during recording for their second album, with Clark choosing to leave the sinking ship a few days later.
Down, but not out, the remaining three recruited Justin Hayward to replace Laine, and Lodge returned to the fold now his college days were done. Come 1967, the music world was changing once more, and psychedelia was growing in popularity. Wisely, the Moody Blues chose to abandon the R’n’B sound and move towards a more experimental sound. Their contract with Decca was about to expire but they owed the label a lot of money and their second album never surfaced. Luckily for them they found a sympathetic figure in Hugh Mendl, who had just established Deram as a more leftfield offshoot of Decca. He helped throw the Moody Blues a lifeline: make a rock version of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony to promote the label’s Deramic Stereo Sound audio format, and their debt would be written off. The band agreed, but the project fell through, so they set to work on the album that would become Days of Future Passed. Blending classical music with psychedelia, the Moody Blues became purveyors of symphonic rock, and eventually progressive rock giants. Having listened to the album for the first time recently, I have to admit to being disappointed. It takes itself a bit too seriously, but you’d be a fool to not love Nights in White Satin. I prefer their follow-up album, the more out-there In Search of the Lost Chord (1968), particularly Ride My See-Saw, Legend of a Mind and Om.
The Moody Blues split in 1974, but were back together only three years later, and have continued ever since despite further line-up changes. Hawyard, Lodge and Edge have remained, however. Despite the fact they have never been the most fashionable of groups, they were and are hugely successful, and earlier this year they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And what became of Denny Laine? Oh, not much. He formed the Electric String Band with ex-members of the Move and the Pretty Things, in a set-up similar to that of the Electric Light Orchestra, who came later. He also tried his hand as a solo artist before forming Balls in February 1969 (great name) and also played in Ginger Baker’s Air Force. In 1971, he became a multi-instrumentalist in Paul and Linda McCartney’s new group, Wings. Considering how similar his name is to Penny Lane, it was clearly meant to be. He contributed lead and rhythm guitars, lead and backing vocals, bass and woodwinds. So, no shrinking violet, despite working with an ex-Beatle. Wings were one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, and he co-wrote, among others, Mull of Kintyre, one of the biggest-selling singles of all time and the 1977 Christmas number 1. He decided to leave Wings after McCartney became reluctant to tour in the wake of John Lennon’s death. He did occasionaly continue to collaborate with McCartney, though. He performs with the Denny Laine Band to this day.
Written by: Larry Banks & Milton Bennett
Producer: Denny Cordell
Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 January-3 February)
Wrestler Norman Smiley – 28 February
Cricketer Tich Freeman – 28 January