rocked and rolled

How ‘Your Wildest Dreams’ Finally Gave the Moody Blues Their ‘Ecstasy of Success’

“Some people might not have preferred our newer sound, but we all knew it was the right direction for the band.” Photo: The Moody Blues/YouTube

The 1980s were far from temperamental for the Moody Blues, with the prog-rock patriarchs embracing that new decade of pop with the same enthusiasm they’d previously brought to their mystifying poeticisms and luscious interludes about the times of day. (Hell, even Homer Simpson was a fan.) It began with 1981’s Long Distance Voyager and the synth-lite bop “Gemini Dream,” ushering in what would become the band’s defining MTV moment with the lead track from 1986’s The Other Side of Life, “Your Wildest Dreams.” A catchy-as-hell Billboard top-ten hit, the song’s infusion of pop presented the Moodies with a whole new set of fans: Ones who weren’t, say, old enough to attend or care about Woodstock, or those who lusted after frontman Justin Hayward’s upbeat musings about a first love. Exactly 35 years later, “Your Wildest Dreams” remains an incredible case study of a band who met their heyday in the ’60s, only to falter through the ensuing decade and then reemerge with an entirely new sound, resulting in one of their most successful songs ever.

Hayward, who wrote “Your Wildest Dreams” and still has a fabulous head of hair, recently told Vulture he was inspired by the “common experience” of romantic curiosities and what-ifs that often haunt people as they grow older. However, in the aftermath of the song’s release, it ended up spurring a personal journey for Hayward that he would advise “anybody else against doing.” Well then! Far less cryptically, we also discussed how super-producer Tony Visconti transformed the Moodies’ sound with The Other Side of Life, the band’s fleeting “lost” feeling, and how “Your Wildest Dreams” gave them their biggest taste of success yet.

So, it’s the mid-’80s, and the Billboard charts are starting to see a prominent shift away from rock to pop. Can you give me a better idea of where the Moodies were creatively at this time?
I wish there had been a plan for us, because there was none. We had just come off an album called The Present, and that was our last album that took a lot of time to record. We’d start at three in the afternoon and come home at five in the morning. We didn’t want to do that anymore. The ’80s in London was such a wonderful time in music. There was so much going on that I really enjoyed. As a band we still kind of looked good. We were okay. [Laughs.] But we were looking for a new producer. I had previously met Tony Visconti and I fell in love with him. He had everything that a musician and songwriter wanted. He had the most beautiful little studio in Soho, right in the middle of London, and every big artist would come and visit. It was a total open house. So many famous people would just pop in. Tony is a magnetic character and I decided I wanted to work with him. There was no argument there, he had to do this record. He was a great choice for us. There was no plan, really, we were lost. We were guided to Tony.

While working with him, was there a sense of urgency that the band had to adapt to a more pop-orientated sound?
I was never quite sure, but from my perspective, I was the right person for wanting to go in that direction. I was always trying to write a pop song. Fortunately, it went into all of these greater concepts in the past. “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Question” have something to say about the world, but they still seem to fit in to the pop genre. If you had taken out parts of them individually, they would’ve been pop songs. I was lucky that they fit in with the rest of the songs. I think it was time for us where we had to adapt or else we would’ve drowned underneath a prog-rock label. It wasn’t that we were looking for something new; it was the fact that we were lost. But when I met Tony, I knew that I just wanted to be with him. “Your Wildest Dreams” was perfect for that. I wrote it at home and I still have the instruments that I wrote it on. That was the big change.

When you say that you and the band were “lost,” what exactly do you mean?
It wasn’t like we were lost and trying to escape from something, or we knew what we wanted and were trying to find it. We didn’t really know what we wanted. Sometimes things happen at the right time.

Was this shift in sound unanimous or was there some resistance from other members?
There was never those discussions; it was always what each member could contribute. That’s the most important thing. If you feel like you can contribute to a song, you’re there. If you feel that you can’t or if it’s in safe hands with somebody else, that’s also fine. That’s the lovely part about being in a group. You don’t have to be there all the time. I don’t believe we ever had a discussion with direction or anything like that, thankfully. That would be horribly embarrassing.

When you began writing “Your Wildest Dreams,” did you intend for it to become a pop hit?
I’m unsure if that’s what I wanted, it’s just that’s what I thought I was doing. I was lucky enough to write what I thought were pop songs but luckily found a home with a much greater kind of concept. They often had a voice for that concept. Oh, that’s the guy from the Moody Blues, that kind of identity. “Your Wildest Dreams” came just from me at home. I’m not even sure if I was serious. There’s an element in songwriting of, well, I wouldn’t say tongue-in-cheek, but it’s kind of playing a character. Even though there’s a lot of truth in the lyrics.

What character did you play while writing “Your Wildest Dreams”?
I just stumble through my life into songs. For me, wanting to know about the first girl you ever fell in love with, really fell in love with and broke her heart, you always want to know, I wonder what happened. I wonder where they are. Hop in to that time machine. It’s as simple as that, really. I got swept along with that.

You previously said that the song, after you were done recording, spurred a personal journey that was “fantastic, amazing, and disturbing.” In what ways?
It did set me on a particular kind of personal journey, which I would advise anybody else against doing.

What kind of journey are we talking about?
[Pauses.] Well, you want to know what happened.

Did you try to find a woman in your past?
I was on a journey like that. I can’t say anything more about it than that, except that I would advise against it. Because it upsets the equilibrium of a lot of things that you really shouldn’t try. There’s another song I wrote called “You Can Never Go Home.” You can’t, really. It’s like going back to those streets. You get all excited and get off the bus and walk down the street and you realize, Oh, life is completely different. It’s not fair on anybody to do that. As a selfish songwriter, it didn’t stop me.

I loved everything about “Your Wildest Dreams.” I thought there were other songs on the album that would be a single, so the ecstasy of that moment of success brought us something we all enjoyed. That ecstasy happens rarely in life, and it’s very precious.

If my numbers are correct, “Your Wildest Dreams” is the band’s second most-successful song. Did that come as a surprise to you all?
From our side of the fence … well, you’re linked with a record company and they choose to promote certain tracks. They either get on board or they don’t. In this case, we delivered the album and I traveled to New York City with it. There was a promotion guy and he jumped up when he saw me and shouted, “Woooo eeee oooooo! Hey man, we have a hit!” People were behind it from the start. We’ve all written things for the band that we thought, or hoped, would be commercial success. And they haven’t been. The people around us didn’t jump on board. So we learned to curb our expectations. You can’t just do it yourself. That’s why the Moodies were always a touring band to mitigate that. We didn’t always have to rely on promotional people. So that’s my memory of “Your Wildest Dreams” — how quickly everyone was on board, because we never experienced that feeling before. Another important person I met was Brian Grant, who I asked to do the music video. Our record company actually gave us money and a huge budget to do a video. Which was unheard of! I remember John [Lodge] and I were flying back and we couldn’t believe we actually got a budget for something.

The music video is so silly and dystopian, I love it.
Oh, absolutely. It was such an MTV video. Brian wanted us to do the video literally. He was like, “It can’t be you starring in the video, it’s too personal and you’re too old.” We still looked all right as 40-year-olds, but Brian was like, “We need younger people for you all.” [Laughs.] It’s got to be about the imaginary youth in the song. There I was at 40, imagining a person at 17.

Do you feel that “Your Wildest Dreams” created a funny divide of sorts for your fans? I can imagine a certain type of person hyping up The Other Side of Life compared to Days of Future Passed, and they’re … quite different.
I know exactly what you mean. A lot of people came to the band at that time and they’re still with us now. People of our own age, I don’t know where they are. It’s an interesting illustration of exactly what you said. I do recall one particular instance when we were touring for the song’s album, The Other Side of Life. We had a keyboard player with us at the time, Patrick Moraz, who was quite demonstrative. That’s the first time we had anyone who looked like they were enjoying things onstage. [Laughs.] He contributed a lot to our music and he was a great member.

But on that tour, I noticed one night there was a group of fans at the front. When we started this new material, they got up and walked out. The next day when I saw some of the fans going in to the venue and I asked some of them, “Whatever happened to those girls up front?” And someone responded, “Oh, that was their protest at your change. After they left I saw them outside and they were crying, ‘What do we do now, we made a mistake!’” Girls are like that, aren’t they? Girls do that at school. They get together and decide on a plan. And boys are so stupid that they don’t even think about a plan. I’m not sure if they came back or not, but that was their protest. Some people might not prefer our newer sound, but we all knew it was the right direction for the band.

It’s interesting what you said about the Moodies becoming a touring band almost by necessity. When I covered your Rock Hall induction in 2018, I was pleasantly surprised that you all had the biggest and loudest audience response.
You don’t think it was just because it took a long time for us to get to the stage that night, and everyone was so relieved when we finally got in and did short speeches? [Laughs.] With all of those people talking. Some of them went on for hours. “And then in 1973 I did this …”

Of course, the Jon Bon Jovi filibuster.
Oh, the Moodies are going to be quick, thank goodness! What an interesting night that was. I knew when we were nominated the year before that as soon as they offered the Fan Vote, we were going to get in. There was no doubt we would get in once that put it over to the fans. To be in the company of that induction class was a real honor.

Given the subject matter, has “Your Wildest Dreams” grown more meaningful for you as you’ve grown older?
The sentiment about love hasn’t changed. People often ask me about, or expect me to think, that today’s music isn’t as good as the past decades. And I always respond, “You have to remember that people are still falling in love to these songs now.” That’s important and it means it’ll stay with them all their lives. Whether you like it or not doesn’t make a difference. Music and young people just go together. They fall for it and they have wonderful times together. “Your Wildest Dreams” is a bright spot in any show for me. There’s a happiness that enters the room when you play that song. I suppose it’s because of the common experience. There’s something in it that’s joyous. I absolutely love it. It’s the only time for me as a writer where I thought that I hit a nice spot.

Where would you rank “Your Wildest Dreams” among the band’s discography? Do you consider it one of your best songs?
I think it’s right up there in the top seven. [Laughs.] It’s funny, because people often ask me what decade of music is the best one, and assume that my decade would be the 1960s or 1950s. But I really think it’s the 1980s. I was here in my little music room a few weeks ago and VH1 was doing some sort of ’80s marathon, and it was just like … every single song that came on I just loved. The ecstasy of success that “Your Wildest Dreams” brought us will never be forgotten.

The first was “Nights in White Satin,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts.
The Story Behind the Moody Blues Hit ‘Your Wildest Dreams’