#441: Question by The Moody Blues
Born in 1941 in wartime England, Ray Thomas picked up harmonica at the age of nine. He was in the Birmingham Youth Choir and in October 1958 he joined a skiffle group called The Saints and Sinners. The band split up in June 1959. The Saints and Sinners helped Ray discover how well his vocals were received by audiences. Next, he formed El Riot and the Rebels, featuring Ray Thomas as El Riot dressed in a green satin Mexican toreador outfit. The band won a number of competitions in the Birmingham area. It was here that Ray became known for making an entrance onstage by sliding to center stage on his knees. On one occasion Thomas sent a row of potted tulips flying into the audience. El Riot and the Rebels appeared several times on a local variety show called Lunchbox. They made their debut on Lunchbox on November 14, 1962, and played “Guitar Tango” and “I Remember You”. Mike Pinder joined El Riot and the Rebels on keyboards. On April 15, 1963, El Riot and the Rebels performed at The Riverside Dancing Club in Tenbury Wells as the opening act for The Beatles. Pinder went off to serve in the British Army. When he returned, Thomas and Pinder left El Riot and the Rebels and formed a new band called the Krew Kats.
The Krew Kats played in Hamburg, Germany, for four months. They played at the Top Ten Club which The Beatles had made famous. But the Krew Kats didn’t see the money they were expecting. Thomas and Pinder had to walk 417 miles from Hamburg to the English Channel and borrow money for ferry fare back to England.
Once they were back in Birmingham, Thomas and Pinder were searching for other mates to form a new band. Seeing what was unfolding with the British Invasion, they signed up Denny Laine from The Diplomats on vocals and guitar. Clint Warwick, formerly with The Dukes, was on bass. For drums, they chose Graeme Edge, formerly with The Avengers. In addition to being lead singer, Thomas played flute and harmonica. Pinder was on keyboard and mellotron. Initially, they called the new band The Moody Blues Five. But within months they billed themselves as The Moody Blues.
The band recorded a single in November 1964 titled “Go Now”. In 1965, the single climbed to #1 on the UK singles charts and #5 in Vancouver. Though it stalled at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, it landed at position #50 for the Top 100 Year-end singles of 1965 published by Billboard in December ’65. The band went on tour as an opening act for The Beatles. Expectations were high for a big followup single. However, the next eight single releases were all flops. In 1966, Denny Laine left the Moody Blues and was replaced by Justin Hayward. Laine would later join Wings, Paul McCartney’s band, from 1971 to 1981. Clint Warwick left to become a carpenter and a steady replacement was eventually found with John Lodge.
Justin Hayward was born in 1946 in Swindon, UK. After playing in school bands, at the age of 15 he bought at Gibson 335 guitar. The instrument would feature in all his studio recordings with the Moody Blues. In 1965, Hayward was in the band with Marty Wilde and The Wild Life. Hayward had auditioned for The Animals. Though he didn’t get hired, Eric Burdon passed on Hayward’s name and demo’s to Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues. While John Lodge, also born in 1946, met Ray Thomas when he was 15 years old. They kept in touch and when Clint Warwick exited the band, Thomas was in touch with Lodge about becoming a new member.
In 1967, nine single releases after “Go Now”, “Nights in White Satin” was released. It climbed to #1 in the Netherlands, #5 in Austria and #6 in Switzerland and Belgium. However, it stalled at #19 in the UK and fared no better than #103, just beneath the Billboard Hot 100. The song would be reissued in 1972 and become an international Top Ten hit.
The followup to the 1967 release of “Nights In White Satin” was “Tuesday Afternoon”, from the album Days Of Future Passed. The London Philharmonic Orchestra was featured on the album. Though the single didn’t make the UK singles charts and stalled at #24 in the USA, it climbed to #3 in Vancouver in August 1968. Touring with material from the album was a challenge, unless the band lined up an orchestra to accompany them on stage. Next, the band released two singles from the album In Search of The Lost Chord. The second of these was “Ride My See-Saw”.
Their next album, On The Threshold Of A Dream, climbed to #1 on the UK album charts. It went platinum in Canada, however “Never Comes The Day” didn’t make it onto the pop charts. In 1969 the band released To Our Children’s Children. The album climbed to #2 on the UK charts and #14 on the Billboard 200 Album charts. But again, no single release was a commercial success. But in 1970, the album A Question of Balance featured the single “Question.”
“Question” was written by Justin Hayward. It is an anti-war song questioning “a world of persecution that is burning in its greed.” But when ordinary people try to ask questions about “hate and death and war,” they never get an answer. Ordinary folks are “knocking at the door” of those in power who find “the truth is hard to swallow.” Those asking the questions are doing so to advance “the war of love.” These opening three stanzas in the lyrics are followed by a contemplative, reflective section in the piece. Here the singer reflects on “the road that I must choose,” and the upheaval: “to lose the love I knew.” Now, they are on a solitary path to find “someone to change my life” and are “looking for a miracle in my life.” The singer longs for “the land that I once knew.” Perhaps this is a land before the world of persecution, hate and death and war. The present world that is full of questions that where he never gets an answer, is contrasted with a quest to enter the realm of love. The road that he must choose is one that will help him unlock “the secrets of our souls.”
The album cover for A Question Of Balance featured a montage of images. These included a photo of the world from outer space with a hand reaching out, pollution from smokestacks, two naked men embracing with blackout censor tape over their eyes, Albert Einstein, a rocket ship, and young couples riding a convertible, and a television. The title song “Question” invites the listener to consider the balance, or lack thereof, in the world we live in.
On April 4, 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon at the Riverside Church in New York’s Upper West Side. The sermon’s title was “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” King spoke strongly against the U.S.’s role in the war, arguing that the U.S. was in Vietnam “to occupy it as an American colony” and calling the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He connected the war with economic injustice, arguing that the country needed serious moral change: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” He concluded by stating “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” King’s speech was largely drawn from correspondence he’d received from his colleague, historian Vincent Harding. King was one of many who were asking questions, speaking truth to power, knocking at the door.
Other anti-war songs on the radio in the late 60s and early 70s include “War” by Edwin Starr, “Sweet Cherry Wine” by Tommy James and the Shondells, “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” by Simon & Garfunkel, “American Woman” by the Guess Who, “Ball Of Confusion” by the Temptations, “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, “Eve Of Destruction” by Barry McGuire, “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Give Peace A Chance” by the Plastic Ono Band, “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, “Happy Xmas/War Is Over” by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, “I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After, “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)” by Melanie, “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “One Tin Soldier” by the Original Caste, “Simple Song Of Freedom” by Tim Hardin, “Sky Pilot” by Eric Burdon and The Animals, “Unknown Soldier” by the Doors, “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell and others.
Though “Question” stalled at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100, it climbed to #2 in Vancouver. Other radio markets where the song charted well include Chilliwack (BC), Arkon (OH), Salt Lake City and Fort Lauderdale (FL) at #1, San Diego and Rochester (NY) at #2, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Erie (PA) at #3, Seattle, Cleveland, Buffalo, Kansas City, Fort Worth (TX), Nashville and Milwaukee at #4, Hartford, St. Louis, Memphis and San Francisco at #5, Boston, Syracuse (NY), Tulsa (OK), Toronto, Portland (OR), Miami and Modesto (CA) at #6, San Jose (CA), Hamilton (ON) and Columbus (OH) at #7, Cincinnati, Chicago, Fresno and San Bernardino (CA) at #8, and Ottawa (ON) and New Haven (CT) at #9.
A Question Of Balance climbed to #1 in the UK, #3 in the USA and sold platinum in Canada. Building on that success, Every Good Boy Deserves A Favor went to #1 in the UK in 1971, #2 in the USA and was certified platinum in Canada. It also featured the song, “Story In Your Eyes.” The single stalled at #23 in the USA, but peaked at #1 on CKVN in Vancouver.
In 1972, The Moody Blues released their eighth studio album, Seventh Sojourn. Again, the album was a best seller and accompanied by the Top 20 hit, “I’m Just A Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)”. After a world tour with a band called Asia in 1973, the Moody Blues took a break while individual bandmates did some solo work. After a five year hiatus, in 1978 the band reunited to release Octave. Mike Pinder wasn’t happy with the album and opted out of the tour to support it.
In 1981, they released Land Distance Voyager. The album was a chart-topping best seller in the USA and Canada. It went Top Ten in the UK and New Zealand. A single, “The Voice”, climbed into the Top 20 in the USA and #1 in Vancouver. In 1986, the band had a Top Ten hit with “Your Wildest Dreams”.
The Moody Blues released their 16th studio album, December, in 2003. Clint Warwick died in 2004.
Since then, the Moody Blues have released four live albums, the most recent, Days of Future Passed Live, released in 2018. The live concert took place at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Ontario, in 2017.
In 2017, the Moody Blues were inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. Currently the Moody Blues’ John Lodge is scheduled for eleven concert dates in February and March 2020 across six states in the USA. Justin Hayward’s scheduled performance on the Blue Cruise, which was to depart Miami on April 1, 2020, for St Maarten, St. Thomas and Great Stirrup Cay, is postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The postponed cruise is to include the Zombies, Art Garfunkel, Procol Harum, Dave Mason, Alan Parsons Project, Al Stewart, Poco, Deep Purple, Focus and the Strawbs.
March 16, 2020
Ray Thomas bio, Ray Thomas.co.uk.
Justin Hayward bio, Justin Hayward.com.
Andy Greene, “Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward on Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Honor: ‘It’s Amazing!’,” Rolling Stone, December 13, 2017.
Scott Mervis, “Denny Laine talks Wings, Moody Blues, ‘Band on the Run’ tour,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 3, 2017.
Pierre Peronne, “Clint Warwick: Bassist with the original line-up of the Moody Blues on their transatlantic hit ‘Go Now’,” Independent, UK, June 3, 2004.
George W. Harris, John Lodge: Isn’t Life Strange?, Jazz Weekly, January 1, 2018.
Rafael Polcaro, “The Moody Blues’ John Lodge 2020 Tour Dates,” Rock and Roll Garage.com, December 22, 2019.
Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), 297-8.
“The Bands,” On the Blue Cruise.com, Caribbean, April 1-8, 2020.
Matt Schudel, “Vincent Harding, Author of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Antiwar Speech, Dies,” Washington Post, May 22, 2014.
“Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, June 26, 1970.
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