The Meaning Behind “The Voice” by The Moody Blues and Why It Initially Was Called “Fat Arthur”

Everything about the leadoff track from The Moody Blues’ 1981 comeback album Long Distance Voyager feels commanding. Patrick Moraz’s keyboard solo that opens “The Voice” is so grand and majestic that it sounds as if it’s summoning the wisdom of a powerful oracle. Justin Hayward’s vocals come across as calm and confident. “The Voice’s” upbeat melody and brisk pace add to its reassuring vibe.

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Yet Hayward wrote the song from a vulnerable place. At a challenging time in his life, he wrote “The Voice” as a reflection of the internal struggles he was dealing with as well as their resolution. With that in mind, let’s see how the message in the song that was originally called “Fat Arthur” conveyed Hayward’s inner turmoil.

A Time of Transition

The early ‘80s were a difficult transitional time for many bands that established themselves in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, but The Moody Blues were dealing with a specific set of challenges. They came out of a mid-’70s hiatus with their ninth album Octave in 1978. It was not well received by critics, and it would mark the end of keyboardist and founding member Mike Pinder’s time in the band. It would also be the last album they would make with longtime producer Tony Clarke.

Between the changes occurring both within and outside of The Moody Blues, Hayward felt disoriented. In Marc Cushman’s 2021 book Long Distance Voyagers: The Story of The Moody Blues Volume 2 (1980-2018), Hayward said, “I didn’t feel I had a lot of things in common with a lot of things that were going on around me. I felt apart from it.” In translating his sense of isolation into the lyrics of “The Voice,” he said, “I was kind of expressing those insecurities, really.”

The Search for Guidance

In “The Voice,” Hayward sounds like he is dispensing some life lessons, and they were lessons that he learned during his period of struggle. We can get a sense of Hayward’s search for direction in the song’s opening verse and chorus.

Won’t you take me back to school?
I need to learn the golden rule
Won’t you lay it on the line?
I need to hear it just one more time
Oh, won’t you tell me again?
Oh, can you feel it?
Oh, won’t you tell me again tonight?

We also get a sense of Hayward’s loneliness in the second verse, when he sings, Each and every rising sun / Is greeted by a lonely one. By the time Hayward reaches the song’s bridge, he seems to have found the “voice” he was waiting to hear, offering him guidance.

‘Cause out on the ocean of life, my love
There are so many storms we must rise above
Can you hear the spirit calling, as it’s carried across the waves?

The Voice is Within

Hayward concludes the bridge with the message that The one that it’s calling is you. It’s not until the third and final verse, though, that he divulges what the spirit is telling him. It turns out the guidance Hayward needed did not come from a voice out in the distance. It came from within himself.

Make a promise, take a vow
And trust your feelings, it’s easy now
Understand the voice within
And feel a change already beginning

From “Fat Arthur” to “The Voice”

The essence of the song’s meaning is in the line Understand the voice within. The centrality of that line to “The Voice’s” message was not immediately apparent to Hayward. He put off giving the song a name until the last possible moment, Hayward told Songfacts engineer Greg Jackman asked him for the name of the song after the band recorded it, and he replied, “Oh, I’ll think of that after.” Jackman misheard Hayward as saying, “Fat Arthur,” and wrote the title on the tape box.

One day before the band were set to send the mastered version of the album to their label Threshold Records, the song was still called “Fat Arthur.” Jackman pressed Hayward to give it a proper name, so Hayward reviewed his lyrics. He decided on “The Voice.” While this wasn’t necessarily Hayward’s reasoning for choosing the title, he ultimately picked two key words from the song’s most important line.

The Impact of “The Voice”

As the second single from Long Distance Voyager, “The Voice” peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. It topped the magazine’s Mainstream Rock chart for four weeks in the summer of 1981 and is The Moody Blues’ biggest hit on that chart (which was created in March 1981) by a wide margin.

Long Distance Voyager became The Moody Blues’ second No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 (Seventh Sojourn from 1972 was their first), spending three weeks atop the chart. It was certified Platinum in August 1981.

“The Voice” was covered by former New Grass Revival vocalist and bassist John Cowan on the 2004 compilation album Moody Bluegrass: A Nashville Tribute to Moody Blues. Cowan also covered “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” “Nights in White Satin,” and “Never Comes the Day” on the album. The Moody Bluegrass project released a second volume of covers in 2011, and it included contributions from Hayward, Pinder and bandmates John Lodge, Graeme Edge, and Ray Thomas. Cowan performed a version of “Tuesday Afternoon” on the second album.

Even though Hayward wrote “The Voice” at a time when he was feeling unsure of himself, it can still help us to feel more secure in ourselves. His lyrics—and compassionate delivery of them—are a reminder that we can trust the voice that is inside of us.

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Photo by Cory Schwartz/Getty Images

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