The Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward on writing “Nights in White Satin”, working with Tony Visconti, and loving Buddy Holly



By Steve Newton

Two decades ago the Moody Blues recorded “Nights in White Satin”. It was one of those tunes that would–like Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence”–become known as a pop masterpiece in the years to come.

Well, the Moody Blues are still performing the song live–as they will when they play the Pacific Coliseum February 7–and its haunting melody and compelling lyrics are reaching out to a whole new generation of Moody Blues fans. The Georgia Straight contacted lead vocalist Justin Hayward in London, England, last week, and asked him about the creation of that much-loved song.

“I remember exactly where I was when I wrote it,” says Hayward. “I had a bedsitting room on the Bayswater Road, and I was just sitting on the side of the bed, writing it. It was actually written as part of a little rock opera that we were working on, which later became Days of Future Passed.

“It was a very quick song to write,” says Hayward, explaining that he wrote it one night and went over it the next day with the band. “And then we recorded it at the BBC, for a program called Easybeat, and it wasn’t until we were in our transit van going up the M-1 listening to the radio when the program was actually broadcast that we realized there was something to the song.”

Between 1967 and 1972 the Moody Blues released seven albums, which included such Hayward hits as “Tuesday Afternoon”, “The Story in Your Eyes”, and the aforementioned “Nights”. But all the other band members–John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder, and Graeme Edge–are gifted songwriters as well, and therein lies the real strength of the Moody Blues. Today the group includes all of the original players, with the exception of Mike Pinder, who was replaced by former Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz in ’78.

In their 20-year career, the Moody Blues have sold about as many albums as Stephen King has books–over 40 million. Their latest, The Other Side of Life, was produced by famed knob-twiddler Tony Visconti. It was the first time he’d worked with the band.

“I liked the things he did with David Bowie and T-Rex,” explains Hayward. “They had a very clear, concise sort of feeling to them. So I just decided to call him up one day and ask if he’d be interested in working with the band. He said he’d love to, so a couple of us went ’round and met him, and we hit it off straight away.”

Hayward’s choice of Visconti has proven a good one, as least as far as the new LP’s popularity is concerned (it’s gone gold in Canada and the U.S., with sales of more than 50,000 and 500,000 respectively). A lot of that success is due to the album’s first single, the bouncy and infectious “Your Wildest Dreams”, which itself was pushed along by a clever and well-made video. The song and video tell a story about how youthful decisions affect the outcome of a person’s life. Hayward explains the origin of the tune.

“It actually came when I met someone in the street who used to play drums with me when I was 14 or 15 years old. Really the song is about looking back to that time, and to a decision that a lot of musicians have to make at that time: whether to go and commit their whole lives to music or not. You have to make choices, and as long as you do that, and get some commitment in your life, then I think things’ll be okay.”

Things have certainly worked out alright for Justin Hayward and the other Moodies. They’re one of the most influential and successful groups in pop history. But what about their influences: the bands that made them decide to stick with music early on?

“Well, the Beatles were always number one,” says Hayward, not surprisingly. “Everything they did was always very closely listened to and dissected.

“But for me personally, as soon as I heard Buddy Holly, he was the one who really turned me on. As soon as I heard Buddy I knew what I wanted to do.”

Leave a Reply