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Boomer Anthems: Nights in White Satin

“Just what you want to be / You’ll be in the end.”

The Making Of The Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin    

Justin Hayward: “I wrote it when I was immature, it’s a naïve song,” he explains. “And that’s nice. But I never heard it until about two years ago, I was in bed and somebody sent me a version by Bettye LaVette. And I played it on my computer, and I burst into tears. My wife came in and said, “What on Earth’s the matter?”™ I heard the lyrics for the first time. That’s bizarre, isn’t it? It’s not that I’d been going through the motions. Every time I’d sung it, it had been heartfelt. But she took every line and made it something about herself that was transparent and clear. She explained it to me, somehow.”

Hayward: We had a huge slice of luck when Decca asked us to do a demonstration record for the Deramic Stereo System, so their consumer division could sell stereos. That’s what Days Of Future Passed was, really. We had a debt to Decca, and they asked us to do a version of Dvorák’s “New World Symphony”. Peter Knight, who was supposed to be doing the orchestral stuff, came down to see us at the 100 Club, and it was his idea to change it around to a concept album about a day and night. We did “Nights”first.

Hayward: Tony Clarke was a boffin producer who could see the whole thing cinematically. He’d describe it in this Stanley Kubrick way – “And then we fade across the setting sun, and sparks come out!” He was straight, four of us were pretty stoned – not John.

Thomas: John, Justin, Mike, and myself got round the mic. We only had four tracks, so we put four voices on one track, and four on another. When Tony mixed the two together, he said, “You’ve got to come and have a listen to this.” When he played it back to us, it freaked us out that we could make such a big sound. We thought, ‘Christ, that sounds bloody good.’

Varnals: We tried it on other songs later, to give them a similar approach to “Nights In White Satin”, but the voices never worked like that again.

Edge: They said this is going to be a hit, and we’ll pull it off as a single, so go and cut it down to three minutes, and we said, “No, it’s four minutes, 20 seconds.” That became the reason it was a hit in America. It was big on FM radio in Seattle first. We found out years later that the DJ picked the longest record so he could go out the back and smoke his bong! The second time he did it, the switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree.

We had a problem as we were writing the songs. We had “Dawn Is a Feeling” and “Peak Hour,” but there was a big gap until “Nights.” Being musicians, we didn’t have a lot of experience after dawn and before midday! So I was trying to write a song that spanned that [period], called “Morning Glory,” with lyrics between morning and evening. Then I went to the guys and said, “Can you do anything with this?” I spoke the lyric out to them and they looked at me and said, “There are just too many words. There’s no way you can sing this!” Then Tony Clarke said, “Oh, make it a poem!”

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  • BonafideView February 19, 2021, 11:47 AM

    Betty LaVette’s version of “Nights in White Satin” is a powerful piece of truth even though “Just what the truth is, I can’t say anymore”.

  • ghostsniper February 19, 2021, 1:57 PM

    All that catterwaulin’ was a little more than I could bear.
    I’ve heard that song hundreds of times over the past half century and I hope I can forget that version pretty quick. Just leave my memories alone.

  • Anonymous February 19, 2021, 3:06 PM

    So he sung it for years but never heard it? Wow, those drugs are powerful.

  • Mark T. February 19, 2021, 3:25 PM

    A beautiful album.

  • Lance de Boyle February 19, 2021, 3:47 PM

    Oh, sure. The Moody Blues were great in their time.
    But how do they compare with current music?

    Twerk dat fat ass, yo.
    Swang dem butt cheeks
    To and fro.
    Gonna tap dem nethers
    Till de clap juice flow
    Yo skanky-ass two-bit Chlamydia ho.

    Momma like it up de butt,
    doo dah doo dah
    Got room fo six, dat stretched out slut,
    all the doo dah day
    If she holla pay no min’
    She like it deep in her behin…
    Bet my money on a skanky-ol bag,
    Somebody bet on de bay.

    “I believe I’ll have another Dos equis and a shot of Cuervo Gold.”
    “I believe you’ve had enough, Lance.”
    “Hey! When I want YOUR opinion, My Empress [harpy] I’ll hire you as a consultant. Till then, go twerk yo ass.”

  • J February 19, 2021, 3:50 PM

    That song stands on its own easily. She takes it to a level I hadn’t considered.
    I tend to prefer my music “performed” – give me some movement, throw that hair around, etc.
    The other way I prefer music is when someone really draws you in like she did here. She seems to have lived something that moved her, and she does to put that out to her listeners – you feel it in your heart for her.
    That was exceptional.

  • J February 19, 2021, 3:52 PM

    *does well

  • Jack February 19, 2021, 5:29 PM

    I love the idea of separate but equal and I thought her interpretation of that old warhorse of a tune was actually lousy.

  • Dirk February 19, 2021, 6:55 PM

    Awesome music, still prefer my NWA collection, pure gold!

    The Village Idiot.

  • Daniel K Day February 19, 2021, 7:05 PM

    The Moody Blues were good musicians, well produced, and reasonably good composers on occasion. I’m skeptical they’ll be listened to much in a hundred years. The lyrics of this song don’t make any damn sense, and that’s typical of the Moody Blues.
    I can’t be the only one here who thinks so.
    As for Bettye LaVette’s version of this piece, yeesh, the Germans can keep her.

  • Rob De Witt February 19, 2021, 9:42 PM

    I can’t express the joy I experience when I discover another “Boomer Anthem” I’ve never heard of.

  • gwbnyc February 19, 2021, 10:24 PM

    wake me.

  • bob sykes February 20, 2021, 5:11 AM

    This has got to be one of the worst covers ever. Caterwaulin’ indeed

    How did the black race lose its musical talent? Was there some sort of secret selective breeding program?

  • arcs February 20, 2021, 5:13 AM

    More Bettye LaVette, please.

  • Geo February 20, 2021, 5:41 AM

    Well that sure did suck!

    Give me a MB version, stoned or straight any day. Covers very rarely work.

  • jd February 20, 2021, 6:25 AM

    It’s the “diversity” in these comments that struck me. I didn’t understand
    the lyrics in Moody’s but they were very clear in the LaVette version. The melody
    is so beautiful it could probably live on its own.

  • Bunny February 20, 2021, 7:32 AM

    I think the LaVette cover has just the right amount of melisma and “gritty authenticity,” as Happy Acres would have it. A nice and soulful, completely different moody blues rendition. I like the instrumentation as well, but what do I know about music?

  • jwm February 20, 2021, 7:48 AM

    She wrings ten bucks worth of counterfeit emotion out of a five dollar song.
    Nights in White Satin?
    Right up there with “Feelings”…


  • Gordon Scott February 20, 2021, 8:10 AM

    I honestly did not know much about The Moody Blues until recently. I remember being in my dorm room at RAF Fairford, in Gloustershire, in 1981, listening to the two guys in the next room over, playing the music and telling each other, “They’re fucking poets, man!”

    Then, I heard Your Wildest Dreams. Dang, anyone who can’t relate to that one is emotionally crippled.

  • Bunny February 20, 2021, 9:30 AM

    Maybe not the best poetry, but eminently sensible lyrics.
    “Forever Autumn”

    The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
    And darker days are drawing near
    The winter winds will be much colder
    Now you’re not here

    I watch the birds fly south across the autumn sky
    And one by one they disappear
    I wish that I was flying with them
    Now you’re not here

    Like the sun through the trees you came to love me
    Like a leaf on the breeze you blew away

    Through autumn’s golden gown we used to kick our way
    You always loved this time of year
    Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now
    ‘Cos you’re not here
    ‘Cos you’re not here
    ‘Cos you’re not here

    Like the sun through the trees you came to love me
    Like a leaf on the breeze you blew away

    A gentle rain falls softly on my weary eyes
    As if to hide a lonely tear
    My life will be forever Autumn
    ‘Cos you’re not here


  • ghostsniper February 20, 2021, 10:07 AM

    Amazing how diff folks is, no?
    I thought the negress blew whale, others though it was the cat’s PJ’s.

  • Jack February 20, 2021, 10:24 AM

    I wasn’t a rock’n roll kid growing up and my preferences went to individual singer songwriters who had the musical chops to go it alone on a stage with a guitar or piano and their own voices without mixing or accompaniment other than a single back instrument. Later in life I morphed a little and the MBs became a band that I’d listen too on occasion and around 2000 I attended one of their live events in a smallish venue because I loved the tunes: No More Lies, Wildest Dreams, I Know You’re Out There Somewhere and Forever Autumn. I was really amazed at just how great these guys are and I’ve been a fan ever since.

    To me the term ‘artist’ has to mean, or apply to, the original creator of a thing and people who cover other people’s work really don’t fit into what I’d consider to be an accurate description of the term and I tend to think that the original version usually sets the standard and anything else is just a rendering or copy. Art is in the eye of the beholder or in this case the listener and it’s very subjective but for me, in this instance the changing of meter or phrasing, or jazzing it up, or adding contrived emotion, doesn’t add anything to my enjoyment of the tune.

    I’m likely wrong about it but that’s how I’m rolling on this one. Next!

  • James ONeil February 20, 2021, 10:46 AM

    Dang good shout &, obviously, just ain’t no accounting for taste, where you come from and where you are now always influences what you see, hear, feel.

  • Skorpion February 20, 2021, 11:00 AM

    For my money, IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD is a better album than DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED.

  • Auntie Analogue February 20, 2021, 12:10 PM

    The Moody Blues’ recordings are unfortunately among the most re-engineered, shortened/lengthened, overdubbed, re-released, and rejiggered, and that’s particularly true of “Nights In White Satin.” That’s why I treasure my 1968 original-release vinyl of the Days of Future Passed album and the original releases of the following five LP’s the band recorded.

    All six of those albums I have in their digital re-releases and every track on them had been re-engineered: they don’t sound anything like as good, as rich, as splendorous as they sound on the original vinyls.

    Some covers are better than the originals; other covers fall short. For example Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” is just fine in and of itself, but Jimi Hendrix’s cover – well, let’s just say that Jimi’s rendition owns that song.

    On the other hand, Bettye LaVette’s cover of “Nights In White Satin” is just bad, really bad, because it doesn’t hew to the song’s universal theme through which every listener can and, more than likely, does find himself in the singer’s skin for the “beauty I’d always missed / with these eyes before.” LaVette’s cover is instead off-puttingly self-indulgent: solipsistic. The same is true for all the ultra-warbled overbaked renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” which are not about spotlighting the shared heritage in its lyrics but are about the vocalist hogging the spotlight by boasting, “Look at Me! Hear Me! It’s not about this song, it’s not about us or what we share – it’s about Me, Me, Me!

  • BonafideView February 20, 2021, 12:43 PM

    Very interesting to read how many of the commenters disliked Betty LaVette’s version of “Nights in White Satin”. I like the Moody Blues pretty, kind of mystical version. But I was surprised by and also liked Betty LaVette’s version which quite moved me. The personal can also be universal. I never got the gist of “Just what you want to be, you will be in the end” until she sang it. We can’t always influence the destructive path of someone we love but we don’t stop loving them.

  • Andrew R February 20, 2021, 12:44 PM

    I’ve been a Moodies fan since my big brother handed down a copy of the LP of Days of Future Passed (and still have it). I’ve seen them a dozen or more times in concert. They were always very good, and in later years you saw families there – two or three generations of fans. Sadly, Ray Thomas retired and passed away, and Graeme Edge, the last original Moodie has retired, and now Justin Hayward and John Lodge are solo acts.

    Bettye’s cover is different and bluesy, but not my cup of tea. But I can see why it made Justin Hayward really hear his lyrics.

    My vote for great cover of a Boomer “Anthem”: Disturbed’s cover of Sound of Silence:

  • Johann Amadeus Metesky February 20, 2021, 6:51 PM

    When I was in college, a friend who was a bit of a musical mentor to me said about Nights In White Satin, “You know, this is a very simple melody, even I could have written it.” I replied, “But you didn’t.”

  • E. America February 21, 2021, 12:35 AM

    It’s a different version than what your use to. it added a depth to that version that isn’t in the original.
    IF she sang “The Candy Man”, It would be different. It’s called a COVER. What you think you hear is what it means. Just like all music. Paul is dead. get it