Justin Hayward on Moodys’ ‘Days of Future Passed’

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‘Days Of Future Passed’ album was celebrated with an expanded 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition in 2017. The deluxe 2CD/DVD features the album’’s newly restored original 1967 stereo mix

When the Moody Blues recorded Days of Future Passed in 1967, it marked the first time a rock band had fused their sound with a symphony orchestra. But the tale of its unusual recording process and its lack of initial success, is not widely known. The “concept” album without breaks chronicles a day in the life of “one guy,” says Justin Hayward, who wrote the album with fellow Moody Blues members Graeme Edge, John Lodge, Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas, and Peter Knight, a musical arranger, conductor and composer.

The album was only a modest hit in the U.K., reaching just #27 on the sales chart. A single, “Nights in White Satin,” only made it to #18 there, with no success in the U.S. A follow-up single, 1968’s “Tuesday Afternoon,” made it to #24 in the U.S.

It wasn’t until five years later, after the group had a series of Top 30 singles including “Question” and “The Story in Your Eyes,” that the world truly discovered the album and single.

Listen to 1971’s “The Story in Your Eyes,” written by Hayward, who also sings lead vocals

Dennis Elsas is, as many Best Classic Bands readers know, one of the most respected album rock air personalities in the nation. From a quarter-century-plus stint as a DJ and music director at WNEW-FM to his endeavors today as afternoon drive host at the esteemed WFUV and as host of his weekly Beatles talk and “call-in” show, “Fab Fourum,” heard exclusively on the new Beatles Sirius/XM Channel (18) plus weekend shifts on Sirius/XM’s Classic Vinyl Channel (26), he has earned the regard of listeners and artists alike. Dennis occasionally presents his Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets live multimedia show, a real treat that greater New York metro area rock fans should not miss.

Dennis Elsas

Best Classic Bands is pleased to be publishing excerpts of many of his interviews with classic rock legends as a regular feature: The Dennis Elsas Conversation, including ones with Robert PlantJohn FogertyGregg Allman and Bill Wyman.

This interview that Elsas did with Hayward on the process that led to the recording of Days of Future Passed is from 1996.

Dennis Elsas: Days of Future Passed was certainly not like any rock album ever and had the strongest classical influence of any popular album to date. You recorded with an orchestra called the London Festival Orchestra, which wasn’t really an orchestra, were they?

Justin Hayward: No, we made the name up. (Laughs.) But everyone says “I remember seeing that orchestra; they were great.” They were just a bunch of gypsies, what they called string players in London at the time. They were made up from a few different orchestras; they were great players. But the most important thing about that was Peter Knight who orchestrated and arranged the classical parts of the record was in my opinion the greatest romantic string arranger of the era. He was an inspiration to us. His work on the album will stand forever.

DE: Weren’t you originally not going to record Days of Future Passed? Wasn’t there a record company gimmick going on where they wanted you to test some new sound and work with an orchestra and almost do a traditional classical album?

Justin Hayward in 2016 (via his Facebook page)

JH: They were launching a label called the Deramic Sound System later to become Deram and every recording was in stereo—not just remastered later in stereo, like the Beatles—but actually recorded with a wide stereo sound, everything in its proper stereo place. Stereo then was confined to classical music and they wanted to demonstrate stereo could be as interesting for rock and roll as it was with classical.

So we didn’t have a recording contract and they asked us if we would do a rock version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” and we met Peter Knight. We saw this as an opportunity. Our aspirations were only purely arty and hope to get reviewed in the Guardian arts section.

We had this whole stage show that we were already doing—a concept stage show—about the day in the life of one guy. And we met Peter Knight and the [Decca Records] executive Hugh Mendl, and said we’d love to do this because it’s our only chance and we don’t want to do Dvorak because it’s so beautiful that it doesn’t need doing in the rock and roll vein. But we’ve got all of these songs. Peter Knight said: “Why don’t I take your songs, take the melodies and themes from them and arrange them classically and I’ll play in between the gaps where you play and the record company will still have their demonstration of rock music in stereo for the first time.”

And that’s what we did. And we called it Days of Future Passed and delivered it to the company. They put it out and it became a kind of cult record through the ‘60s and eventually made it to the top of the charts in 1972.

Related: Our “Album Rewind” review of … Future Passed at 50

Listen to Elsas’ entire conversation with Hayward here.

The Moody Blues have sold a reported 70 million albums worldwide. Days of Future Passed was celebrated with an expanded 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition in 2017. After years of being ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Moody Blues were inducted as part of the Class of 2018.

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Dennis Elsas

Dennis Elsas grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens with a transistor radio under his pillow, listening to the great New York AM rock ‘n’ roll stations. As FM began to emerge, so did his broadcast career with the founding of campus radio station WQMC at Queens College in the mid '60s. His first paid on-air job was at WVOX, a suburban radio station in New Rochelle, NY, where he created a free-form progressive rock show called Something Else Again. And, then – just after midnight on July 11, 1971 – he launched what would be a 25 plus-year career at WNEW- FM (102.7) in New York City.

Dennis was hired at WNEW-FM by the station’s program director, Scott Muni, one of the legendary DJs he had grown up listening to. He quickly ascended to the position of Music Director, and received the rock ‘n’ roll music industry education of a lifetime. The station was emerging as one of the premiere rock radio stations and Dennis was integral to creating its sound. He was also meeting and interviewing a stream of rock ‘n’ roll heroes, including Elton John, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Lennon was his in-studio guest on Saturday afternoon, September 28, 1974. They had met previously at the Record Plant Recording Studio as Lennon was finishing his latest album Walls and Bridges. During the conversation, Elsas casually invited him to visit WNEW-FM. When Lennon actually showed up, Dennis was more than a little surprised. What began as a discussion of the new album quickly turned into two hours of rare Beatles memories, speculation on a reunion, and candor about his immigration fight. Lennon even took over as DJ, playing some favorite, obscure 45s he’d brought with him, reading live commercials, and giving the weather reports.

Years later, excerpts of that historic afternoon were used in the Beatles Anthology, numerous books, and various documentaries. The entire show has become part of the permanent collection of the Paley Center For Media (formally the Museum of Television and Radio). It is also a pivotal part of the recent award winning PBS American Masters film “LENNONNYC”.

The interview also inspired Elsas to produce, co-write and host the radio documentary, It Was Forty Years Ago Today: The Beatles Invade America which won a number of prestigious awards (e.g. New York State Broadcasters Association Best Documentary, New York Festivals World Medal.) It aired on WFUV in February, 2004. Revised for the fiftieth anniversary in 2014, it is now featured in the Grammy Museum’s traveling exhibit Ladies and Gentleman…The Beatles!

In May 1976, Dennis took over the prime 6-10 PM slot on WNEW-FM, bringing his creative programming of the station’s vast rock ‘n’ roll record library to the nighttime audience. Rock ‘n’ roll history was being made at 102.7, and whether he was in the studio with Meatloaf, backstage with Bob Seger or onstage with John Mellencamp, Dennis was sharing the experience with his listeners. In the 1980’s he created the popular Beach Party program. The station became known as the place “Where Rock Lives” and Elsas remained there through 1998.

While still at WNEW-FM, Dennis expanded his broadcasting activities to include two years as the music correspondent for television’s PM Magazine, and to host such syndicated radio shows as Rock Today, Rock ‘n Roll Never Forgets and Billboard Entertainment News.

Dennis’ voiceover career also grew with numerous projects for HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and The Movie Channel. Corporate and commercial clients included American Express, Time, Lancôme, Procter and Gamble, and Kraft Foods. He is now featured as the “Voice of Rock History” at the Museum at Bethel Woods – the story of the Sixties and Woodstock – and has been the announcer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame broadcasts and VH1’s Concert of the Century at the White House. Dennis was the narrator of Discovery Magazine on the Discover Network and the “voice” of the Smithsonian Channel.

But his abiding passion is to be on the air, programming music that blends old favorites with new discoveries, interviewing artists and interacting with his listeners. Today he’s happily doing that seven days a week.

Since the summer of 2000 he’s been hosting weekday afternoons (2-6 PM) on New York’s WFUV (90.7 FM, and streaming at WFUV.org). With an eclectic mix of rock, folk, jazz and blues and, guests in the studio that have included Elvis Costello, Ben Folds, Patti Smith, Edie Brickell and Ringo Starr, Dennis continues the tradition of progressive radio he helped to create.

In May 2004 he joined Sirius/XM’s Classic Vinyl (26) and can be heard every Saturday and Sunday sharing his Classic Rock knowledge and memories with a worldwide audience.

In 2010 Dennis created Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets – a live multimedia show featuring highlights from his history making interviews with John Lennon, Elton John, Jerry Garcia and more. As one of the pioneers of the progressive FM radio revolution at WNEW-FM and continuing today with new opportunities at WFUV and Sirius/XM, Dennis shares his favorite stories and unique perspective on rock and radio in person with enthusiastic audiences.
Dennis Elsas
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