In last week’s comments, Carolynnwith2Ns–2Ns as I call her–asked if I had featured The Moody Blues on a Music Monday. My response: not yet! I probably would get to The Moodies at some point, so why not now? First, some background on the band.
The Moody Blues are a British band formed in 1964, who had a big hit in the UK with the song “Go Now” (1965). A few years later, they went through some personnel changes–most notably, lead singer Denny Laine left, later to join Paul McCartney’s band Wings, and Justin Hayward joined, effectively to fill his place. They also re-invented themselves from a kind of R&B band to something more prog-rock. Between 1967 and 1972 they released seven albums, known to fans as the “Core Seven,” that reflected this lyrically deeper and musically creative period. The band then went on hiatus for about six years, and when they returned, their sound changed to adopt more of the flavor of the times–especially as the ’80s took hold. Some regard this period as a creative low point, with shallower lyrics and simpler musical arrangements. I’m sure many feared the band was selling out to be more commercially acceptable. The Moodies took much of the 1990s off, but returned to the studio in 1999, and have continued to tour and record since that time.
I remember my Dad being a big fan of The Moody Blues–indeed, that’s how I know of them. Yet he only had the “Core Seven” albums, and didn’t seem interested in their newer material. I suppose he lost interest during the 1972-1978 hiatus. I’ve heard some of the Moodies’ later recordings and I have to admit, there’s something fresh and original in the Core Seven that sets both those albums and the band of that era apart, and that’s lacking in the newer material. Songs like “Nights in White Satin,” (heck, the entire “Days of Future Passed” album), “Ride My See-Saw,” “Dear Diary,” “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band,” “The Story in Your Eyes”–these all have a very distinctive, unmistakable sound that has, I think, been lost to some extent over the years.
And then there’s “Question,” possibly my all-time favorite Moody Blues song. That jangly 12-string guitar intro, John Lodge’s wonderful bass line, Hayward’s heart-searching vocal performance, and that beautiful middle section all caught my attention from the first time I heard it as a child. It seems Justin Hayward wrote the song as a reaction to things going on in the world at that time, particularly the war in Vietnam. The love song in the middle appears a bit out of place, but it’s really just an extension of the search for love and meaning alluded to in the first part.
This song is actually quite easy to play on the guitar. Okay, let me qualify that statement: the chords are quite easy to play. The strumming pattern is a different matter. You have to have a nimble wrist to keep up with Mr. Hayward if you’re playing along! To play “Question” on the guitar, you’ll first need to re-tune your guitar (preferably a 12-string, but it still sounds good on a 6-string) to an Open C tuning like so:
|E||E (no change)|
|B||C (tune up)|
|G||G (no change)|
|D||C (tune down)|
|A||G (tune down)|
|E||C (tune way down!)|
That Open C tuning has a wonderful rich tone to it. If this is the first time you’ve tried it, you’ll want to just strum the open strings for a while. Go on, it’s okay. Isn’t it great? Now, of course, you throw all the chord shapes you know out the window because those only work with Standard tuning. But you’ll find that some previously hard-to-play chords are now significantly easier. For example, if you barre the third fret, you’re playing Eb! Barre the first fret, and you’re playing Db. Just with a barre–no additional fingers.
There are twelve chords in “Question,” and all but one of them require only two fingers. The one other chord requires three. I’m assuming you’re new to the Open C tuning, so rather than just give you a lead sheet with the words and chord names, I’m providing you a guitar tab key that shows you how to play those chords (click to enlarge):
At the top you see I’ve written out the tab for the introduction. It starts with fretting the E and G strings on the twelfth fret, then sliding down to the tenth, then to the seventh, and then to the fifth. You then have a bunch of barres, so you slide your finger from the third to the fifth fret, then back down to the third and to the second. Child’s play!
Here’s the lead sheet (click to enlarge):
If you click HERE, you can download a pdf of the lead sheet and the chord reference tab in one document.
Finally, here’s a video of The Moody Blues performing “Question” on a TV show in 1970. Justin is singing live, but the band is playing to a backing track: