025: The Zombies, ‘Care of Cell 44′

Posted by on Dec 27, 2013 in Rock, Song Of the week |

The music of 1968 as un embarras des richesses, an embarrassment of riches, almost too much of a good thing. I just looked at a dozen lists of ‘The Best Albums of 1968’, and I’ll admit that the following one (mine) omits a lot of seminal works by a lot of stellar artists. But when I pared it down to the ones that have left an indelible mark on me, what I call ‘life-changing music’, it’s a really remarkably long list (alphabetical here) for one single year:

  • The Band – Music From Big Pink
  • Beatles – White Album
  • The Byrds – Notorious Byrd Brothers
  • Janis Joplin – Cheap Thrills
  • Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
  • Laura Nyro – Eli And The 13th Confession]
  • Rolling Stones – Beggar’s Banquet
  • Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends
  • James Taylor’s first (Apple)
  • Traffic’s second – Traffic

They range from mind-expanders to soular-implosions, from the revolutionary to the revelatory, each and every one a masterpiece. But after those eleven, just when you think the alphabet couldn’t hold any more, here comes another one:

  • The Zombies – Odessey & Oracle 

It’s an album marked inauspicious roots, a twisted path, and unanimous acclaim. And it’s always symbolized for me the late 60s in general. What an incredible wealth of great music. Here, an off-the-cuff psychedelic swan song by a group in the process of going belly-up.

The Zombies were a British invasion band noted for both their relative raunchiness at times, alongside their exceptional musicality at others. They had two careers – the second of which didn’t exist. Maybe I’d better explain that.

In the mid-60s, they had a string of very minor hits, along with two big (and great) ones, the haunting ‘She’s Not There‘ and the hauntinger ‘Tell Her No‘. Both were written by group leader Rod Argent and sung by the very fine and distinctive Colin Blunstone.

But alas, no commercial success after that for The Zombies, and in 1967 they decided to break up the band. One more cheapo session in 1968 to fulfill their recording contract with Decca, then back to day jobs. That album was entitled “Odessey and Oracle”, and it turned out in retrospect to have been both.

It’s a stunning, finely crafted album – the material, the lead vocals, the arrangements, the electric piano, the sound palette, everything. As fine as their two early hits were, this is in another league altogether. It has lots of humor (‘Friends of Mine‘, ‘I Want Her She Wants Me‘), ornate preciousness (the beautiful ‘For No One’-inspired ‘A Rose for Emily’, ‘Brief Candles’), lots of church-choir backing vocals, intelligent lyrics. A 12-inch embarrassment of riches in and of itself, it is.

Al Kooper (who in those days was referred to as “Al Kooper is God” heard it, pulled it across the Atlantic, and it became a hit in 1969, powered by the iconic hit single ‘Time of the Season’. (Did you ever notice that they stole the rhythm riff and drum part for that from The Beatles’ ‘Wait’?)

Every single song on “Odyssey and Oracle” is worth talking about, but I’ve always been partial to the lead-off cut: Side One, Song One – ‘Care of Cell 44‘. What they mean, I think, is a letter addressed ‘In care of Cell 44’. It’s the only love song I know of a guy eagerly awaiting his belle’s release from prison. Perhaps there should be more.

Good morning to you I hope you’re feeling better baby
Thinking of me while you are far away
Counting the days until they set you free again
Writing this letter hoping you’re okay

Saved you the room you used to stay in every Sunday
The one that is warmed by sunshine every day
And we’ll get to know each other for a second time
And then you can tell me ’bout your prison stay…

It’s gonna to be good to have you back again with me
Watching the laughter play around your eyes
Come up and fetch you, saved up for the train fare money
Kiss and make up and it will be so nice…

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

074: Donovan, ‘House of Jansch’
082: Dion DiMucci, ‘Sit Down Old Friend’
093: Leon Russell, ‘A Song for You’

5 Comments

Maurice Bursztynski
May 1, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Hey Jeff,

I was writing an article for my new blog about Odessey and Oracle and came across your great article on Care of Cell 44. This album is a beautiful work of art. Colin Blunstone has a voice not too dissimilar to Art Garfunkel. I can’t fathom that a friend of mine who loves the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” doesn’t appreciate this fine record. Fortunately, we know better.

Be well.

Maurice.


 
jeff
May 15, 2011 at 9:42 am

Thanks very much. I’ve found that not everyone who loves ‘Pet Sounds’ really gets the album, and that there are a lot of people with otherwise good taste who are unfortunately unable to get inside it. Keep fighting the good fight!


 
Malcolm Pordes
Jan 22, 2013 at 1:51 am

Colin Blunstone went on to partially successful solo career, and is still making records. His two best albums where his first two from the early 70’s: One Day and Ennismore. Of his later albums I recommend the Ghost Of You And Me. He still records with Rod Argent, and tours with his solo band and with Rod.


 
Recruiting Animal
Dec 29, 2013 at 2:47 am

I thought I loved the Zombies. Then I listened to the song at the top of this page. It sucks. What can I say. Bland, empty, nicey. Not at all what I would expect from this group.


 
Dougdenslowe
Mar 2, 2015 at 3:04 am

I’m a big Zombie fan from when Tell Her No,She’s Not There and Time of the Season were big hits.(They may have been bigger hits in the San Francisco Bay Area than the rest of the country).When I read you liked I Don’t Want To Know,I knew ours taste in music was simpatico.Although I liked the Zombies first LP better “Begin Here”and still listen to it regularly on my IPod.I also got their album with all their singles and flip sides. I Love You and Time of the Season were the two I recall off Oddessy and Oracle.One thing I have to mention;they had the worst guitar player in a band that “made it”.I know Rod did most,if not all the lead breaks,but if you listen to the one lead break (I do recall which song)where there’s a guitar solo,it’s embarrassing!That being said,I think their vocals were second only to the Beatles at the time.


 

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