Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Song #420 of 9999 - Care of Cell 44 by The Zombies

Song #420 of 9999

Title: Care of Cell 44
Artist: The Zombies
Year: 1968
Album: Odessey and Oracle

Almost a year ago exactly, I wrote a post about The Zombies' 1965 hit "Tell Her No" with an emphasis on the influence of Rod Argent, whose songwriting seemed particularly centered around the keyboard during a very guitar-centric time in pop music history. And now here we are in 1968 and, with keyboards playing a much more prominent role in pop, Argent is still writing hits. While The Zombies collected a much bigger paycheck for Argent's "Time of the Season," I'd like to focus on the lesser-known but no less impressive opening track from their sophomore (and final*) effort Odessey and Oracle.

The jaunty "Care of Cell 44" is written in the form of a letter to a prison inmate with an apparent impending release. (The title refers to a line in a mailing address, i.e. c/o Cell 44.) The tone of the song seems to belie the subject matter, although I suppose keeping a positive attitude about prison life is better than the alternative. Released in advance of the album, the song was not a hit and fueled tensions within the band that may have led to their split.

There are several aspects to the song I find intriguing. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the influence of Paul McCartney seems obvious in the verse with its staccato quarter notes and descending bass line. And how much have The Beach Boys made their presence known by 1967 (when the album was recorded)? Check out that pre-chorus! You'd swear Mike Love and company were right next door doing their warm-ups. But it's the next line that really hooks me. That a cappella break thins the texture nicely and diverts you from the powerful entrance that follows ("Feels so good you're coming home soon") with Colin Blunstone's soaring lead vocal piercing through Beatlesque harmonies. That's the moment that would have had me heading to my local record store if I had been…you know, born.

*not including the 1991 reunion


  1. This whole tune has such a great arrangement. I love how they vary the texture of the pre-choruses on the outro. Instead of a cappella they keep the bass and drums. Then there is a time with only piano and vocals. Then there is that great bridge with the syncopated bass drone and mellotron. Because of the variety, the 4 minutes go by in a blink.

    Also, I notice that Elliot Smith covered quite a few of the songs featured on this blog (including this one):

    1. Yes, I was aware of the Elliott Smith cover, which is nice, but perhaps a bit too earnest for a somewhat silly song.

  2. I hear the influences, too many of them. I think the lyrics are a little insipid and it's looong. That a cappella break is *too* beach boys. And the harmonies are just this side of the key, enough to grate on my ears. I'm a grump. :P

    1. Oh come on---the harmonies are just as in tune as any Beach Boys record of the time. Derivative--yes, incompetent--nah.

    2. The lyrics are perfect when you consider the theme. A man is writing to a woman who is in prison! When you frame the lyrics in that context, they are very clever.

      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

      All the lovey-dovey cliches provide such a colorful contrast to this last line.

    3. Awwww, snap! It's a blogosphere smackdown!!

    4. Right, just as in tune as the Beach Boys. YOU MAKE MY POINT FOR ME. BOOYAH.


    6. Well, I look foolish now because it rendered correctly in my reply. Hmmph.