Worst Songs Ever: The Moody Blues’s ‘Nights in White Satin’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

The Moody Blues’s “Nights in White Satin”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #2 in November 1972

Did you known “Nights in White Satin” charted in 1967? I didn’t either. I can imagine how a pop audience that made “Strangers in the Night” a smash might’ve succumbed to its easy listening lushness regardless of The Moody Blues’ art rock cred, which it had in the Summer of Love; it’s easy to hear the affinities with Barrett-era Pink Floyd. In 1972, though, it once again exploited its sense of eternal anachronism: too spacey for easy listening, as spooky as Neil Young’s contemporaneous “A Man Needs a Maid” from the #1 album Harvest, yet a balm for parents or post-college adults in search of respite from the era’s turmoil, musical or otherwise.

But it’s a repulsive record: fatuous and wooly-headed. A fever dream of love stonedness, “Nights in White Satin” inflates despondency into a crisis as existential as raw chicken left too long on the counter to thaw. “Just what the truth is, I can’t say anymore/Cuz I love you,” singer-guitarist Justin Hayward moans. Spiking his grief is what sounds like a cry of despair, theoretically the London Festival Orchestra but in reality a Mellotron or three through a Marshall amp. Very Emerson Lake & Palmer, very 1972. Hayward’s vocals dissolve into the incense-heavy air. You can’t dance to it, you can’t like it — all you can do is revere it. “Nights in White Satin” is a touchstone without having earned it, a classic not many people admit to loving.

Of course the Moodies kept going, dropping the blues bit by bit. They scored a #1 album in 1981 with Long Distance Voyager, whose single “Gemini Dream” is a misbegotten but listenable attempt to ride the New Wave gravy train; imagine a band thinking that ELO held the mysteries of Skinny Tiedom. In the summer of 1986 – the High Eighties for the coalescing of boomers and kids around video flash – “Your Wildest Dreams” was as omnipresent as mosquitoes. An amiable nothing of a song, “Your Wildest Dreams” uses synthesizers mixed to sound like pink cotton candy, and as nostalgia it’s sinister and effective: it reduces “Nights in White Satin” to a phantasm, a wisp, like the memory of a kitten that died when you were a child.

3 thoughts on “Worst Songs Ever: The Moody Blues’s ‘Nights in White Satin’

  1. “like the memory of a kitten that died when you were a child.” Damn. I never loved this track, but I didn’t mind it… maybe I sometimes actually appreciated it.

  2. For me, ‘Days of Future Passed’ is British pop’s most effective hymn to the post-war consensus when it actually existed (and in that respect quite a brave thing to do immediately post-Marine Offences Act), just as ‘Skylarking’ is its most effective eulogy to it after its death. It should be no surprise at all that both albums went over better outside Britain.

    It is only really in that vein that I can take the Moodies seriously: for me, their natural metier is effectively inventing twee pop with “Another Morning”, and they become excruciating and essentially unbelievable when they go on at great length about how great Timothy Leary is.

    Marcello Carlin has usually dissed them but he did ‘On the Threshold of a Dream’ proud – one of my favourite TPL pieces before it all went sour.

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