Before The Moody Blues recorded it, this was an obscure soul single for Bessie Banks, who released it in 1964. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller produced her recording, and it was written by her husband Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, in 1963. The song was arranged by Gary Sherman with Cissy Houston, mother of singer Whitney Houston, as one of the backing singers. Cissy was also aunt of singers Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, and a cousin of opera singer Leontyne Price.
Bessie Banks later commented:
“‘I remember 1963 Kennedy was assassinated; it was announced over the radio. At the time, I was rehearsing in the office of Leiber and Stoller. We called it a day. Everyone was in tears. “Come back next week and we will be ready to record ‘Go Now'”; and we did so. I was happy and excited that maybe this time I’ll make it. ‘Go Now’ was released and right away it was chosen Pick Hit of the Week on W.I.N.S. Radio. That means your record is played for seven days. Four days went by, I was so thrilled. On day five, when I heard the first line, I thought it was me, but all of a sudden, I realized it wasn’t. At the end of the song it was announced, “the Moody Blues singing ‘Go Now'”. I was too out-done. This was the time of the English Invasion and the end of Bessie Banks’ career, so I thought. America’s DJs had stopped promoting American artists.”
Banks’ recollections are questionable, because her single was released in the US in January 1964, and the Moody Blues’ version was not released until November 1964 (in the UK) and January 1965 in the US.
“Go Now!” was made popular internationally later in 1964 when an English beat group from Birmingham named The Moody Blues recorded it, with Denny Laine on guitar and lead vocals, Clint Warwick on bass, along with Mike Pinder (piano, organ), Ray Thomas (harmonica, vocals), and Graeme Edge (drums). In contrast to other songs from their debut album The Magnificent Moodies, “Go Now!” contained many early elements of what later would become progressive rock, such as the lush instrumentation, the innovative variations of the Fifties Progression, as well as strong baroque elements that would later become hallmarks of prog rock.
This was the first “version” of the Moody Blues. They had little success with singles after “Go Now!” in the mid-1960s, which led to Laine’s departure from the band, later being replaced by Justin Hayward. Denny Laine left the band to set up his own Electric String Band in 1966 and later joined forces with Paul McCartney in Wings. Bassist Clint Warwick had already departed the band at this time. Rodney Clark had replaced him for a while before they recruited John Lodge. With the new lineup, The Moody Blues continued to perform “Go Now!” for a short time, up until they began writing their own material.
Denny Laine recalled to Gibson.com how the band came to cover this song:
“It came in one of these suitcases full of records from America. This guy, James Hamilton, he was a friend of B. Mitchel Reed, who was a DJ, and he would send this stuff across. So I picked that one out especially because Mike Pinder was a piano player. (chuckles) We’d always get the gig where the piano would be out of tune and we’d get the slow handclap because they were waiting to tune the piano… (laughs) Anyway, we did ‘Go Now’ because it was a song with a piano in it.”
As reported in The Independent, a 21-year-old Denny Cordell, who was working for an artist management company, placed this song with The Moody Blues, who were a new group looking for their first hit. Cordell convinced the band to sign an unusual business agreement that earned him £36,000 when the song became a hit. Cordell would later work with Joe Cocker, producing his version of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and organizing his first US tour. In the ’70s, Cordell set up Shelter Records in Tulsa, Oklahoma with Leon Russell.