The Meaning Behind “Question” by The Moody Blues and How Their Audience Inspired Its Creation

When people think of The Moody Blues, they tend to quickly associate them with their melding of rock music with classical elements. That approach wouldn’t have mattered much if they hadn’t coupled it with tremendous songwriting. “Question,” their 1970 hit single, displays how they could take a great song and embellish it to take it to another level.

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What was the song about? How did it emerge from two pieces of music? And what inspired songwriter Justin Hayward to write it? Let’s try to provide some answers to this particular “Question.”

The Magnificent Moodies

The Moody Blues proved one of the most resilient of all British Invasion bands. When they began, they were very much in the vein of other British acts, peddling their own peppy take on American roots music. It worked like a charm on their 1964 smash single “Go Now,” delivered by lead singer Denny Laine in true blue-eyed soul fashion.

But none of the band’s immediate follow-ups made the same kind of dent on the charts. By October 1966, Laine and several others departed the band. Replacements Justin Hayward and John Lodge, both possessed impressive instrumental and songwriting chops. Thus, the Moody Blues could reinvent themselves, and they took advantage of it on their 1967 comeback album Days of Future Passed.

On the album, the group married their introspective songs to orchestral flourishes, and helped to birth the genre of symphonic rock. As they continued in that vein, their albums sold well, but it was difficult for them to score hit singles. After all, many of their songs were tied to the concepts behind the albums and had a hard time standing out on their own.

Their 1970 album A Question of Balance represented an effort to trim down the classical tendencies a bit so that the band could better present the songs in a live setting. But the song they chose for the album’s big single still included some of that pomp and circumstance, all the better to render the import of what lead singer Hayward had written.

Hearing the Concerns of Their Audience

As The Moody Blues’ popularity grew, they often played in the United States. Hayward noticed that the concerns of the young fans in the U.S. were somewhat different than those back in Great Britain. Worries about the Vietnam War rose to the forefront. As he explained to Songfacts, that stirred him to write a song partially from their perspective:

“I was just expressing my frustration around that, around the problems of anti-war and things that really concerned them, and for their own future that they may be conscripted. How that would morally be a dilemma for them and that kind of stuff. So it did really come out of that. And my own particular anger at what was happening. After a decade of peace and love, it still seemed we hadn’t made a difference in 1970.”

The year 1970 also stood out as a prime era for bands experimenting with song suites. The Moodies knew that territory well from Days of Future Passed, and they reached back to that style for “Question.” Hayward sewed together two different songs: a frantic up-tempo section featuring big crashes of sound and his blazingly-strummed guitar, and a quiet, lushly melodic part that drastically slowed things down.

What Does “Question” Mean?

The trick with an effective song suite is to have each section be distinctive yet still be complimentary to the other parts. We already mentioned how “Question” pulled that off musically, and Hayward managed the same on the lyrical side. The faster segments include the words that he imagined coming out of the mouths of disaffected youth: Why do we never get an answer / When we’re knocking at the door / Because the truth is hard to swallow.

In the quieter sections, Hayward inhabits a character longing for an idyllic setting he once knew, hoping the love of his life can get him there. He mentions how in the gray of the morning / My mind becomes confused. As the melody rises, he desperately looks for someone to deliver him from this confusion, which you can easily tie to the confusion of the multitudes in the first section of the song: And if you could see what it’s done to me / To lose the love I knew.

“Question” gave The Moody Blues their biggest hit on both sides of the Atlantic since “Go Now.” It also helped them transform to a more song-oriented approach, which in turn allowed the hits to keep coming. Beyond all that, however, they delivered a song that walks an almost impossibly fine line by being very much of its time yet eternally relevant.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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