Perhaps it’s the passage of time – which so often can make or break a song’s right to be included in any hall of musical fame (so many of them sound so much better from a distance of years).
Perhaps it’s just persistence of airplay or some sinister mass hypnosis. Whatever the reason, Nights In White Satin by the Moody Blues has rarely left us alone since its original release in 1967.
Like so many “classics” few but the most devoted fans could have seen it coming. For a start the Birmingham band was saddled with a name from its early 1960s days which they adopted either because of a hoped-for sponsorship from the Mitchells & Butlers brewery which failed to materialise, and subsequently played gigs as The MBs and The MB Five.
It was also said to be a subtle reference to the Duke Ellington tune Mood Indigo whilst in an early interview it was claimed that the band was named Moody Blues because original member Mike Pinder was interested in how music changes people’s moods and due to the fact that the band was playing blues at the time. Whatever.
Anyway by the time they found themselves leading lights in the burgeoning progressive rock and concept album scene they were stuck with the name and the attention that the number one success of their second single Go Now – an opportune but perfectly produced cover version of a Bessie Banks soul ballad – brought them in 1964.
The initial line-up consisted of keyboardist Mike Pinder, multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas, guitarist Denny Laine, drummer Graeme Edge, and bassist Clint Warwick but the usual 60s coming and goings saw Laine and Warwick replaced by the time of the band’s second album guitarist by Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge who presumably promised to make them prog rock’s answer to Status Quo by writing variations on the same song for the next few decades.
So after a chart hiatus of too-long-in-the-rock-business enter stage left their second album, Days of Future Passed.
Released in the flowers-in-your-hair year of 1967 it was a timely fusion of rock with classical music, overnight establishing the band as unlikely pioneers in the development of art rock and progressive rock.
To some it underlined that the band’s keen eye for opportunism hadn’t dimmed with the new line-up. Others described it as a “landmark” and “one of the first successful concept albums.”
And the concept? Well, it follows the course of a typical day, jumping between people and places. The song, the last on the album and originally written by Hayward when he was 19 (which explains a lot) documents “the heightened emotions and intimacy of dusk/early night-time.”
The second half, the Late Lament, “completes the cycle of the day mimicking the opening monologue and invoking the privacy that the late-night embodies.” Ok.
No wonder it all sounds so airy fairy.
“Nights in white satin” (what? A gift of sheets from a girlfriend, apparently), “never reaching the end” (of what? the washing cycle? the relationship?), “letters I’ve written, never meaning to send” (don’t then – thank goodness for e-mail).
What about: “Gazing at people, some hand in hand, just what I’m going through they can’t understand. Some try to tell me, thoughts they cannot defend. Just what you want to be, you will be in the end.” All very reassuring. All very “me.”
Thanks goodness for the influential flute solo by Ray Thomas, because the worst is yet to come with drummer Graeme Edge’s spoken-word poem heard near the six-minute mark on the album version of the song
“Bedsitter people look back and lament, another day’s useless energy spent. Impassioned lovers wrestle as one lonely man cries for love and has none. New mother picks up and suckles her son. Senior citizens wish they were young.” And so on and so forth.
And don’t forget the much repeated chorus: ‘Cause I love you, yes, I love you, oh, how I love you, oh, how I love you.”
Oh to be 19 again.
Nights In White Satin. Big production, less than perfect vocals, banal lyrics, derivative instrumentals. No wonder it paved the way for the band to (so far) sell 70 million albums worldwide, including 18 platinum and gold LPs. They were also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
No wonder by 1972 Lodge wrote the confessional I’m Just A Singer In a Rock and Roll Band).
Or put it all in perspective and dig out American band The Dickies’ post punk adrenaline soaked version of the song from 1980.

WRITERS: Justin Hayward
PRODUCER: Tony Clarke
GENRE: Symphonic Rock, Pop
ARTIST: The Moody Blues
RELEASED 8 October 1967
COVERS The Dickies