The Moody Blues are a genuine rarity in popular music, a band that enjoyed two distinct periods of success twenty years apart.
They first came to prominence in 1967 with their second album, Days of Future Passed, which mingled classical music with rock and roll, and produced the iconic single “Nights in White Satin.” They had a pretty good run through the early ’70s, took a few years off in the middle of that decade while individual members pursued solo projects, then began recording together again in ’77. But even though the Moodies scored a number of hits after reforming, their big comeback — if it’s fair to call it that, since they never exactly went away — wasn’t until they released their 1986 album The Other Side of Life.
I’d been aware of them for some time by that point — “Nights in White Satin” was a favorite, along with “The Voice” from 1982 — but it was The Other Side of Life that made me a genuine fan, largely on the strength of that album’s big hit, “Your Wildest Dreams.” “Dreams” was the Moodies’ highest charting single since “White Satin” two decades earlier, and I just adored it, strange as that sounds considering the song’s protagonist is a middle-aged man thinking about a long-lost love, and I was all of seventeen at the time. I’ve always had an old soul, I guess. I just got it. And I liked the song’s catchy pop hook. And I admired the writing in the lyrics too, especially the memorable image of “skies mirrored in your eyes.”
The follow-up album, Sur la Mer was released in 1988, when I was in college. It wasn’t as successful as its predecessor, charting at only 38 in the U.S. (as opposed to The Other Side, which reached number 9), but it did produce a hit single called “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” which is a great little song on its own but becomes really fascinating when you realize it’s a direct sequel to the story told in “Your Wildest Dreams.” The protagonist of the earlier song basically decides he’s wasted enough time mooning about that lost love of his and sets out to find her.
The video was also a sequel, featuring the same love interest (played by actress Janet Spencer-Turner) that we’d seen in “Your Wildest Dreams.” Together, the two videos form a warm and fuzzy little diptych that celebrates the mod Sixties the Boomers were pining for by the ’80s, as well as the universal experience of wondering “whatever happened to… ”
All of this has been on my mind because of a brief interview I read earlier this week with Justin Hayward, the lead singer of the Moody Blues. Hayward says he doubts the band will record any more studio albums, that they’re mostly a nostalgic touring act now, and that interestingly enough, their audience these days includes as many Gen X fans who fell for them in the ’80s as Boomers who’ve followed them since Days of Future Passed.
However, the thing I’ve really been mulling over is this observation from Hayward: “People think the ’60s were our best time… but to be honest, the most fun was that time in the ’80s – to have that opportunity to be on TV and have all the times of having hit singles in your early forties.”
Early forties. So… the middle-aged protagonist of these songs about mid-life crisis that I loved when I was seventeen was in fact… younger than I am now. That kind of hurts.
But I still like the songs, and as it happens, I associate them with springtime, so here’s the second half of that diptych to carry us into what promises to be a beautiful weekend here in Utah. From 1988, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere”: