Saturday, May 19, 2007

“Whenever You’re Ready” / The Zombies


One of the great mysteries of the British Invasion: Why weren’t the Zombies one of the era’s biggest bands? In mid-1964, their first single “She’s Not There” (see here for my previous rave) was a bona fide classic, haunting and evocative. Its B-side, “You Make Feel Good,” was just as fine. Their follow-up, “Tell Her No” (early 1965), was yet another lovely thing. But the Zombies floundered after that; their third and final hit single, “Time of the Season” (from their brilliant LP Odessey and Oracle), didn’t even get airplay until after they’d split up.

I don’t think internal strife tore them apart – lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent have been touring happily together the past couple years – so I’ve got to blame rotten management. Maybe these nice grammar-school boys from St. Albans weren’t edgy enough for the British Beat. Maybe they just weren’t hungry enough for fame, not the same way John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Eric Burdon were. Maybe all those factors combined . . . . or maybe it was just bad fate.

“Whenever You’re Ready” was one of those “failed” singles from 1965. Why? It starts off light and syncopated, just an electric piano riff and hissing cymbals, nothing too demanding (granted, in the instrumental break that piano gets jazzy as hell, but surely that’s a good thing). The lyrics are a little masochistic – “Oh I’ve been hurt / But I still love you / I’ve been hurt like this before” – but if any vocalist could sing this convincingly, it would be Colin Blunstone, with his ethereal angelic tenor. The echo on that vocal makes him sound so lonely, so lost; he soars sweetly up to the repeated word “hurt,” punching it with just a smidgen of self-pity. I wasn’t even the one who hurt him and I’m already sorry.

Rod Argent’s grittier voice joins in on the chorus, along with drums and guitars, lending things some spunk and spine: “You’re not teaching me a new thing,” he informs her sharply; “Try to realize / And call me when you’re ready / Whenever you’re ready,” with tight harmonies modulating all over on the “readies.” Okay, the harmonies are dissonant, but was this really too sophisticated for 1965 listeners? I doubt it.

The drums and backing vocals disappear as Blunstone gets winsome again for the next verse: “I know you left / But I still love you / And though I’ve cried like this before…” But he stands up for himself in the bridge, finding an R&B edge in his voice: “But if you call me / You’ve got to treat me in a different way / And if you call me / You’ve got to listen girl to what I tell you.” If Eric Burdon sang this, he’d sound like a bully; when Colin Blunstone sings it, I start vowing to change my ways. He actually scolds her in the last verse -- “And never hurt me / Cause I love you / Never hurt me like before” – but it’s too vulnerable to seem mean. And then the piano solo explodes, releasing all his pent-up anger. In the coda Blunstone goes totally R&B on us – “All you gotta do is call me, call me, call me” – just a taste of the passion she’s passing up. The idiot.

So here’s my question: What fangirl could possibly prefer Mick Jagger snarling “Get Off My Cloud” to this? Don’t give me the old nice-girls-go-for-bad-boys cliché; I think this record just didn’t get promoted properly. I know I never heard it – and believe me, my ear was glued to the radio in 1965. Someone fell down on the job. Just think of all the great Zombies music we missed.

Whenever You're Ready sample


g12 said...

Sure, today you remind me of the Zombies! :-(

Julie said...

I love the Zombies. It's criminal that they've become a footnote in Brit-Pop history.

Iñakink said...

This song is not on any of the Zombies albums I have, I'll have to do something about it!

Anyway, I agree they were completely underrated, but at least now everybody considers Odessey And Oracle one of the best albums ever done and that gives them a bit of the recognition they deserve.

Btw, you forgot to add that two Zombies wore glasses too! :D