52 GIRLS"A Rose for Emily" / The Zombies
The Zombies, too, had their version of "Eleanor Rigby," on 1968's Odessey and Oracle, one of the great British Invasion albums ever, despite its fluky history. The sound of this track is pure 1968 -- the electric piano sounding like a baroque minuet, the flower imagery, the literary allusion (to the William Faulkner short story "A Rose for Emily," a dazzling bit of Southern Gothic). Best of all, though -- as always with vintage Zombies tracks - is the chilling beauty of Colin Blunstone's high clear tenor, wistfully relating this sad sad story.
Right from the start, this song delicately boxes in its nature cliches. "The summer is here at last / The sky is overcast / And no one brings a rose for Emily." Already we know she's neglected, overlooked, but the rest of the first verse presses the sad irony deeper: "She watches her flowers grow / While lovers come and go / To give each other roses from her tree / But not a rose for Emily." My heart's already breaking for her. I love how the melody supports the theme, the ambivalent chords on "overcast" and "lovers come and go," the mournful sustained high notes of "rose for Emily." I picture Emily as a frail lady in a careful sunhat, secateurs in gloved hand, patiently pruning her rose bushes.
In the chorus, the trademark Zombies vocal overlaps (see "Time of the Season" and "She's Not There") begin to interlace, underscoring the divergent views of summer's joys.. "Emily [Emily,] can't you see? / There's nothing you can do [how the sun is shining) / There's loving everywhere but none for you." No one in 1960s rock could use counterpoint better than the Zombies: how much sadder it seems to be lonely when everyone else is having a fine time.
Verse two is the most Eleanor-Rigbyish of all:"Her roses are fading now / She keeps her pride somehow / That's all she has protecting her from pain." Okay, so in the late 60s we all got tremendously sentimental about old people. (Go listen to Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends if you need a primer.) Still, Rod Argent offers us an unflinching, unsentimental take on the realities of growing old. "And as the years go by, / She will grow old and die / The roses in her garden fade away / Not one left for her grave / Not a rose for Emily." Do we feel crappy and guilty about this? Yes, we do -- thank you, Rod Argent.
But let's be honest -- the whole thing is overlaid with a patina of young-people's romantic fascination with aging, loneliness, and death. (I do not exempt "Eleanor Rigby" from this remark; the Elvis Costello-Paul McCartney "Veronica" swims in the same boat.) It was 1968, fer chrissake. How old were Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone?
And now, down the line -- do we still feel melancholy about lonely overlooked gardener Emily?