Sunday, October 11, 2015

"Beechwood Park" / The Zombies

What a great concert I went to Friday night!

One of the most underrated bands of the British Invasion, the Zombies long ago forged a distinctive brand of jazz-inflected backbeat pop. Yes, the first single I ever bought was their haunting 1964 debut hit "She's Not There, but ever since seeing their modern-day incarnation in 2005 (led by keyboard genius Rod Argent and the amazing singer Colin Blunstone), I've delved much deeper into their rich catalog, and I've gone back again and again to see them in concert. I have yet to exhaust their charms.

Friday night promised to be something special:  They would be performing live their entire 1968 album Odessey & Oracle. Not only that, the other two surviving members of the original fivesome -- bassist/songwriter Christ White and drummer Hugh Grundy -- would be brought out of retirement to perform it with Argent and Blunstone. Finally.

Because, you see, the Zombies actually broke up right after they finished recording 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. And at first, the album's sluggish sales did nothing to change their minds. Rod Argent formed a new band, Argent, Chris White went into producing, and the others basically quit the biz. With no band left to support it, Odessey & Oracle didn't get much promotion.

But Odessey & Oracle slowly began to climb the charts, especially in the U.S. By 1969, the record company belatedly decided to release a single from the album, the trippy and mysterious "Time of the Season" -- and it eventually became the Zombies' biggest hit.

Over time, the album has become regarded as a classic: a masterpiece of psychedelia filtered through the lush romantic sound that was always the Zombies' hallmark. But the Zombies had never performed it -- until one U.K. show in 2013, and now at last a handful of shows here in the States.

And hearing it live, it sounded fresh and exciting all over again.  Just listen to them do "Beechwood Park."

The sinuous melody and slightly woozy beat float along, as Blunstone's ethereal tenor interweaves with Argent's minor-key baroque organ arpeggios. The lyrics paint a romantic picture of a guy and a girl cavorting through a leafy suburban park -- or rather (important distinction) 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.

You could get away with that soft-focus stuff in the late 60s, talking about the breeze in a girl's hair and counting evening stars. (Poet Rod McKuen made a fortune peddling this line of hooey.) But somehow, the still-youthful 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 cool thing about "Beechwood Park" is that it doesn't sound dated -- it simply transports you back to 1968. 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.)

All I know is that for three minutes or so, on that cold rainy October Friday night, we were all going back in our minds to that summer world.  Ah, what a trip.