C. Recommends: “Care of Cell 44” by The Zombies

Is there a sweeter voice than that of Colin Blunstone of The Zombies? So lovely, so breathy, so inimitably infectious.

Odessey and Oracle will always be one of my favorite records, one I’d pick over two seminal releases of that era: Pet Sounds, and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They all soar with pop majesty; but there’s something special about this collections of songs, about the stories they tell. And Blunstone, of course.

I think the best kind of pop music is the kind that’s sung sincerely. It’s no dishonor to the genre to say it’s generally inoffensive due to its generic and formulaic design. It gives us a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, and it expects us to follow the melody easily enough to sing it loud and proud. With “Care of Cell 44,” The Zombies turned everything on its head: they created a jaunty song, one with big melodies and bigger harmonies, but one with a bizarre lyrical story. The protagonist is writing a letter to his lover, who’s in prison and soon to be released.

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

Feels so good, you’re coming home soon.

Specifically in 1967, this wasn’t the kind of content one might expect shimmering out of the radio. But with the two aforementioned benchmark records from The Beach Boys and The Beatles, pop music started to assemble a certain new maturity. Time passed on songs like “Barbara Ann” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Writers were exploring topics that surpassed love-sick poetic jaunts toward the hearts of teenage girls. They wanted substance.

But at its core, Odessey and Oracle was all about love. Both beautiful and tragic (the latter mostly coming from the songs of bassist Chris White). “Care of Cell 44” is certainly the most upbeat prison-related song ever recorded. The sunniness and warmth in Blunstone’s vocal would melt the ice-heart of even Miss Havisham herself. And it goes back to the sincerity in delivery. You believe him wholly. You want this reunion to happen as soon as it’s able to. And this is why it’s so great: we don’t know why she’s in prison. It could have been for cannibalizing a group of circus performers. Or for pushing old ladies down the stairs while also punching puppies. But, we don’t care! We want these two together! We want it now!

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

Feels so good you’re coming home soon

Get these two a holiday for God’s sake! They have some loving to do, savvy? Of course, Blunstone isn’t the sole genius on the song. Rod Argent wrote it, and his piano is a perfect piece of pop. And Chris White’s bouncing bass is jolly. The harmonies the band achieve are unreal, contagious. But as great as the band is, Blunstone is just that much better. And that’s why this song works so well.

(Song recommendation by C. Aloysius Mariotti)