The Moody Blues were in an interesting place when their third album, In Search of the Lost Chord, was released in August 1968. With their roots in the mid-60s Brum-Beat movement, their second single, a cover of “Go Now” hit the top of the singles chart, prompting the release of a tie in album. Follow up singles failed to match “Go Now”‘s success, the band lost bassist Clint Warwick and lead singer Denny Laine, who a few years later would find himself growing some wings. The remaining trio of Graeme Edge, Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas regrouped with original bass player John Lodge and Swindon’s Justin Hayward on guitar and vocals, whereupon they clung tenaciously to their careers in the scampi in the basket circuit, while subtly morphing into a fashionable psych-pop act, albeit one that was clinging on to a record deal by the skin of their teeth. After a few years of soul-destroying gigs in front of disinterested audiences, they leapt at the chance of heading into a recording studio, albeit with a few strings attached. In 1967 Decca Records wanted a pop act to head into a studio with an orchestra to record an orchestral pop version of the New World Symphony to show off their new stereo studio recording facilities and their hip new label Deram. The Moodys agreed on the proviso that they had a few days in the studio on their own, and in that short time that they and ‘The London Festival Orchestra’ had in the studio left to their own devices, they recorded their current set list, sequenced it into a narrative of the day in the life of an ordinary man. Single “Nights in White Satin” became a huge hit in no less than three occasions in the next dozen years and the rush-recorded album, Days of Future Passed became one of the first concept albums that translated to a huge hit.
So what to do with the follow-up? It had to be strong enough to stand on its own merit, but it also had to demonstrate that Days of Future Passed wasn’t just a freak hit based on its novelty value. On the up side Deram had a huge amount of faith in The Moody Blues because of their hit album, and particularly the stately “Nights in White Satin”, the issue was, would the follow up album see The Moody Blues confirm their position as psych-pop’s concept rocking figureheads, or would they crash and burn?
Listening to the new reissue of In Search of the Lost Chord, it’s surprising just how subtle and accomplished it sounds, especially given that their breakthrough album had been recorded effectively in secret and to a tight deadline. Granted, there’s nothing as immense sounding as “Nights in White Satin”, but “Ride My See-Saw” has been the Moody’s long-established encore at their gigs, and In Search of the Lost Chord is a hugely accomplished psych-pop album, the likes of which few acts could begin to hope to match, and it confirmed that The Moody Blues were in it for the long-haul. Simply put, if In Search of the Lost Chord had struggled to gain any commercial traction, then it would have been only a matter of time before the Moodys would be back in the scampi in a basket circuit. As it turned out, the album was a strong release which allowed the band to stretch their legs and prove that they were more than a band that got lucky with (yet another) one off hit.
Like much acid-fried psychedelic music from the late 60s, In Search of the Lost Chord sounds its age, but it’s charming nonetheless. Something does strike you is Justin Hayward’s vocals. Although not often one of the names that springs immediately to mind when discussing the great rock vocalists, Hayward has an instantly recognisable voice, and has been a key part of some of the finest psych-pop tunes from the classic rock era. The rest of the band were no slouches either. The orchestral rock sound served them well, and Mike Pinder’s mellotron was as much a vital element in making The Moody Blues instantly recognisable as Hayward’s vocals.
This hefty reissue comes complete with a number of alternative versions of tracks from In Search of the Lost Chord and radio sessions, however it is the original album which continues to impress, and the one that allowed The Moody Blues to sink rather than swim following their breakthrough, and become one of the most hugely successful progressive rock acts.