Friday, August 08, 2014

"You Make Me Feel Good"
 The Zombies

A bit of a retread, this, from a 2009 post. But I just saw the Zombies tonight, at B.B. King's in NYC, and it was such a delicious show, I just had to post something. Even though it's late and I'm, y'know, tired, and writing a whole new post would take the edge off of this wonderful post-concert euphoria. So let's just trust that what I had to say 5 years ago still holds true...

"You Make Me Feel Good" was the B-side of the first single I ever owned, the Zombies' "She's Not There" (one of the first songs I ever wrote about on this blog; click here to read that post). I'll admit it, I am deliriously uncritical about all those tracks from the Zombies' all-too-brief 1960s heyday. But when I listen to them again, I'm amazed at how well they hold up.

Tonight, introducing this song, Rod Argent mentioned that back in 1964 it was a close contest which of those songs would be the A side and which would be the B side. Now, I love "She's Not There" and I probably would have picked it as the A side too. But in my adolescent basement with my little fold-up stereo, I know that I played both sides of this 45 (since I had no other singles yet, I played it A LOT), and "You Make Me Feel Good" is deeply woven into my pop DNA.

And listening to it tonight, I was reminded just how jazzy the Zombies always were. The Stones were so bluesy, the Beatles were all about rock and roll, the Kinks were...well, someday I'll write a whole book about that. But while all those other bands were based on the guitar chords, the Zombies were led by a keyboardist, and blessed with a lead singer with faultless pitch who could hit any interval you threw at him. It wasn't chord-based melody but something entirely other, an effect only enhanced by those tight off-beat stops and starts. Tremendously sophisticated for 1964 -- which may be why the Zombies never hit the heights they deserved back then.

And it's not just musical sophistication -- these are crafty little numbers emotionally as well.

Sure, the song is all about how happy he is with his girlfriend -- as the chorus puts it, "So good, so good, don't have to justify why / I feel so good, so good, so good / Never thought could be so good to me." But it's not all sweetness and light. There is, in fact, a lurking subtext, and it's all about sex. Notice how it starts out in the middle of a conversation: "You don't need any reason, do you baby?" Reason for what? You might well ask. Listen to that pleading refrain, "But if you need a reason, / I'll give one to you / [oh, yeah] You make me feel good / [what, oh yeah] You make me feel good!" I love how all the voices in the group join in this conversation -- it's not technically a call-and-response but it has the same caught-in-mid-life vitality to it. (They'd do this again, to brilliant effect, in "Time of the Season.")

I have learned that in pop songs, when they won't call something by name, it's sex they're talking about. I didn't make this connection back in 1964, but now I see it plain as day -- he's buttering up his adorable teenage girlfriend so she'll sleep with him. That accounts for the groan at the edge of Colin Blunstone's voice, for all the impatient mmms and oh yeahs and harmonized moans that burst out through the song. That accounts for the insistent foregrounded drumbeat, for the winsome organ intro, for those un-hunh electric guitar curls that punctuate the verses. For a guy who claims to be contented, he's practically squirming off the sofa. But he's a nice suburban kid too, not some over-sexed thug; he's trying to win her over with psychology. For a certain sort of girl (ahem, yes), that's the only way to get in.

None of those other British Invasion bands did sincere longing the way the Zombies did. The Beatles and the Stones were more menacing, the Kinks and the Who neurotic, Herman's Hermits safe and cuddly. The Zombies struck other notes as well, but this sort of song was their specialty -- and man, did they do it right.

1 comment:

NickS said...

Thanks, it's always good to be reminded to listen to the Zombies. In your last post you said, about the kinks, "Fifty years ago? Nah. This song could have been released yesterday." I think that's even more true of the Zombies -- they don't sound contemporary, but they still sound surprising and fresh.

I also realize, listening to it that, for me, the Zombies are a great singles band. If I think about their dozen most recognizable songs, each one feels like a unique pop gem. I don't listen to them and think, I should put on a Zombies CD and listen to an hour of their music. Instead, I think, "wow, that is a perfect song, and there's nothing else that sounds quite like that -- not even anything else that the Zombies recorded.

You say, "I was reminded just how jazzy the Zombies always were." There is something notable how their sound can be both soft-focus (for lack of a better term) and incredibly precise.

The other thing you might say is that they didn't write many memorable lyrics. They lyrics aren't a problem, and obvious for this song or "She's Not There" the title phrase is unforgettable, and something that will always make you think of the Zombies. Compared to the music, their word choices are apt but rarely surprising.

In this particular case, I ended up thinking about how the Zombies seem like the sort of British Invasion band that Big Star would have liked, and ended up going from this to listening to "Thirteen." Which was also a good song to be reminded of this morning.

Finally, since I've been taking opportunities to plug Ken Stringfellow and/or The Posies, I'll mention that they did a faithful and convincing cover of "Leave Me Be" that's worth listening to.