The Moody Blues | Photo by Mark Owens

He’s Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)

Moody Blues frontman Justin Hayward believes in music’s enduring power

Symphonic rockers the Moody Blues are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this April, and it’s only been a few days since the announcement when I call songwriter, singer and guitarist Justin Hayward in Italy. He’s in good spirits even after I tackily, if earnestly, insist he and his band brush up on their ebullient, propulsive hit “The Voice” for their upcoming Wynn engagement.

“You know, you’ve just jogged my memory,” Hayward says. “I really do hope that song makes it into the set, because it’s one of our favorites to play live.”

The year 2018 will be huge for the classic British act. On top of being memorialized in music’s most famous museum, the Moodies bring their 50th anniversary tour to Encore Theater for four shows (Jan. 26–27 and 30–31). The band will perform their biggest chart-toppers—“I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band),” “Your Wildest Dreams”—before treating fans to the entire 1967 concept album Days of Future Passed (which includes the Moodies’ artistic zenith, the orchestral “Nights in White Satin”).

Fans have sustained the Moodies when critics seemed to abandon the band after their success in the ’80s. Hayward admits he’s lucky to have such support and isn’t fazed that arguably less influential groups (c’mon, Electric Light Orchestra?) were inducted before his band.

“Our fans give us strength to continue,” he says. “That’s what means the most.”

It’s difficult to overestimate the impact of “Nights in White Satin.” It’s a sumptuous, beautiful, terrifying song, and it seems an ideal cornerstone for a Moodies performance in the Wynn. And with its stark lyrics of disorientation (Beauty I’ve always missed/ With these eyes before/ Just what the truth is/ I can’t say anymore), it might just be the perfect Las Vegas anthem.

“We didn’t play Las Vegas until the 1980s,” says Hayward. “Since then, it’s always been a thrill. The city has the ability to make you feel like it belongs to you. Las Vegas offers old-school style, and as grubby rockers, we’d never known such class as when the hotels were looking after us. We certainly hadn’t experienced that kind of hospitality in rock clubs.”

If Las Vegas has embraced the Moodies, artists from other media continue to clinch, and to risk cheapening, the band’s song titles. “Nights,” for example, launched a thousand lingerie ad campaigns. More recently, X-Men: Days of Future Past borrowed its name from the Moodies’ album. Still, seeing his lyrics used for commercial gains hasn’t diminished Hayward’s regard for his own deathless song.

“We always thought it was risky to record it,” he says. “It was too revealing in a way. I must say it’s the audience that brings magic. We can play it perfectly during soundcheck, sure, but they bring the fairy dust.”

There’s certainly something supernatural about Hayward’s smooth, effortless voice. He can sing a grocery list and make it sound appealing. Is it genetics or the way in which he approaches composition and performance?

“I take whatever the muse brings me,” he says. “I’m just grateful for any solid melody and set of words. I wish I could plan out the process of constructing a hit. I go in with grand designs and come out with something completely different.”

Case in point: “Tuesday Afternoon,” a little song that nobody had any ambitions for, and that wasn’t done for any commercial reason.

“It ended up becoming one of those little songs that seems to evoke something in people,” he confesses. “I was once interviewed on a Sirius [XM] radio station, and I was asked, ‘What is the “fairy land of love” you’re talking about in “Tuesday Afternoon?”’ I couldn’t answer. I had never thought the song all the way through!”

What has given Hayward thought is the future of rock music. He’s convinced it will endure as art as long as young people are falling in love. It’s the music of youth, and youth will always persevere.

“People will always be moved by the mystery of rock,” he adds. “The intangibility of it is alluring, intriguing. The music of, for example, Everly Brothers will live on.”

In our discombobulated political moment, Hayward doesn’t worry about the future of the human race, either. He thinks of all those times his generation was convinced it was all coming to an end.

“Every generation has thought that. Every person my age has doubted whether we’re leaving the world in a better place,” he says. “I believe it’s our responsibility to do that, and it concerns me that we don’t give enough thought to this project.”

Rock music is ultimately trivial, he acknowledges. But this form of entertainment remains so important because it expresses so much—hopes, dreams, passions.

“The spirit is willing for us,” Hayward, 71, confesses. “At our age, we don’t know how much longer the flesh will last. It doesn’t get better than Las Vegas, though—no tour bus, no travel, no stress. For a bunch of middle-class English boys, it’s the best.”

For more info on the Moody Blues playing Encore Theater at Wynn, visit wynnlasvegas.com/entertainment/themoodyblues.

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