Illustration by Isabella Bannerman
1972 was a golden year for terrible songs to listen to on the radio. But one #1 hit was even worse than the one that preceded it, “My Ding-A-Ling” by Chuck Berry, and the one that followed it, “Garden Party” by Ricky Nelson. The stinker I refer to is “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues.
Hold on now, I can hear some of you protesting. “It’s a beautiful song.” “It’s romantic.” In rebuttal, I refer you to the following lyric:
New mother picks up
And suckles her son
Wish they were young.
I rest my case. By the way, “son” and “young” don’t rhyme.
We can only take comfort in the fact that the song’s writer, the then 19-year-old Justin Hayward, sold his rights to another musician, and never made a penny, or shilling, off our misery.
For many years I thought this song was about Knights in White Satin—you know, medieval knights with a “K.” Guys on horses swinging maces around. I always wondered what the heck they were doing wearing white satin instead of suits of armor. But it made no less sense than the rest of the lyrics.
I get it now—it’s a song about a guy bemoaning the loss of nights spent in white satin sheets with his paramour. Okay, so it’s not confusing now, it’s just cheesy.
It’s an easy song to make fun of, but I still sort of like it. I mean, they really went for it. Seven plus minutes back in 1967—unheard of. And unheard, period. Radio wouldn’t play it until 1972, after “Hey Jude” and “Layla” went on endlessly.
After six minutes of the song, when you think it can’t get any worse, it does, with a pensive section called “Late Lament” —it’s been lamented by listeners for decades. It’s deep. Like the title of the album: Days of Future Passed. Heavy, man.
Let me help you recall it:
The gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade
From every room.
Look back and lament
Another day’s useless
Pretty sure Wordsworth never came up with the phrase “bedsitter people.” He’s probably kicking himself.
“Late Lament” was written by the drummer, Graeme Edge, the father of U2’s The Edge. I could be making that last part up. Has ever a better argument been put forward to not allow drummers to pick up pen? The Beatles didn’t let Ringo do it. You can kinda hear Paul and John saying, “not this album, Ringo. Put down that pen. Put it down, Ringo.”
“Okay, guys. I’ll just sit here on the bed.”