Thursday, May 01, 2008

"Beechwood Park" / The Zombies

I've got a new dog, so I'm out walking him in the park a lot. A LOT. (Thank god for my iPod.) I can't deny, though, that Central Park is gorgeous this time of year; we've got flowering trees all over the place, dogwood and redbuds and cherry trees, and the grass is thick and fresh. So when this song cycled up on my iPod today, I hit replay several times, and hardly noticed how long I had to wait for the pooch to do his bidness.

Talk about bad timing -- in 1968 the Zombies decided to break up right after they finished recording their album Odessey & Oracle. Their career had been on the slide for several months and half the band was too discouraged (and too broke) to keep on; songwriters Rod Argent and Chris White were already mentally onto their new project, the band Argent. Singer Colin Blunstone started working in insurance, that's how sick of the pop world he was.

But Odessey & Oracle was one of the great albums of the late 60s; its single "Time of the Season" turned out to be the Zombies' biggest hit -- everywhere except Britain, that is. It wasn't enough to save the Zombies (only recently have Argent and Blunstone reunited in a revived Zombies); many music fans, me included, missed this album at the time. With no band left to support it, Odessey & Oracle didn't get much promotion, but over time it's become regarded as a classic: a masterpiece of psychedelia filtered through the lush romantic sound that was always the Zombies' hallmark.

Listening to "Beechwood Park" is still a trip. The sinuous melody and slightly draggy beat make it downright woozy, as Colin Blunstone's ethereal tenor floats above Rod Argent's minor-key baroque organ arpeggios; Paul Atkinson gets a strange shimmery reverb out of his electric guitar, matched by the echoing falsetto harmonies. The lyrics are gloriously romantic too, all about a guy and a girl cavorting through a leafy suburban park, or rather --important distinction here -- his memories of them cavorting in the park. The wistful haze of nostalgia is the perfect final touch. "All roads in my mind / Take me back in my mind / And I can't forget you / Won't forget you / Won't forget those days / And Beechwood Park." A subtext of loss haunts this song -- you've gotta figure he's lost her and has been regretting it ever since.

It's ripe with nature images -- "Do you remember summer days / Just after summer rain / When all the air was damp and warm / In the green of country lanes?" You could get away with that soft-focus sort of thing in the late 60s, talking about the breeze in a girl's hair and counting evening stars. (Rod McKuen made a fortune with this kind of pseudo-poetry.) But it wasn't just the time period; the young urgency of Blunstone's voice makes me buy this one-hundred percent. No other band of that era had such a romantic, earnest aura. The Zombies never sounded like bluesmen; they sounded just like what they were, nice middle-class English boys. Maybe that's why they were always more popular in the States than at home -- to us they sounded exotic, to other British people they just sounded . . . wet.

Sure, it's a period piece. But the cool thing about "Beechwood Park" is that it doesn't sound dated -- it simply transports you back to 1968. The vagueness of it is perfect; everybody had a Beechwood Park, didn't they? (Mine was Holiday Park in Indianapolis -- I can still summon up the sound and smell of that place.) For two minutes and forty-five seconds you too can go back in your mind to that summer world. You don't even have to drop acid to get the high.

Beechwood park sample


Uncle E said...

I just recently discovered this little gem of a record. A real treat.

Beat Girl said...

The Zombies are overlooked. A terrible oversite. Meanwhile, I hope the pooch is getting the idea.

IƱaki said...

What a wonderful song (but which one in this album isn't?). That aura you talk about is in all the songs on O&O.

Anonymous said...

Oh my. I (also) just got into this record, "Odyssey & Oracle". What a masterpiece! It's right up there with "Pet Sounds" & "Sgt. Peppers". Incredible stuff and I've got a pretty picture of you walking in Central park w/ your new pooch.

Also, there's a pop band called "Beechwood Sparks". I haven't heard their stuff, but I'm pretty sure I've heard that "name"..


Franko6677 said...

Very cool post. This album is indeed a masterpiece, although I can't like the Butcher's Tale. I just can't. My personal favorite is Hung Up on a Dream.