In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we’re plowing through some of our favorite songs for spring.
Psychedelia and sunshine pop are a natural match for spring—it’s there in the flower-power imagery and pastel color schemes and, well, the word “sunshine.” Rising from the ranks of the British Invasion to become one of the most idiosyncratic acts to ever meld baroque arrangements with Top 40-ready melodies and mind-expanding subject matter, The Zombies presaged psychedelia’s eventual discovery of its darker nature. The band’s name evokes images of the shuffling, moaning, flesh-hungry undead, after all, and I’ve always caught a whiff of menace from its biggest hits, “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time Of The Season.” (The engine driving all three songs is Chris White’s bass, surely the most sinister-sounding instrument in the standard rock-combo setup.) Even the sunniest track on the band’s sunniest album, the Odessey And Oracle opener “Care Of Cell 44,” hides a dark secret: It’s a bright little ditty that slowly reveals its subject is in lockup.
That said, there’s a purely spring-like sense of hope to the song, the lyrics of which are all about second chances and re-awakenings (when they’re not about being in jail). The burst and bloom of the chorus says it all, the feelings held back in the verses suddenly exploding time-lapse footage of a field of poppies. A chorus of voices ascends and descends with White’s bass, thoughts of laughter, kisses, and rooms warmed by the sun leavened by the gravity of the situation.
But the song also doesn’t say anything definite about that situation. The reason for the “prison stay” is never stated; along with Devo’s “The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize,” “Care Of Cell 44” is in a small subgenre of pop songs about lovers separated by ambiguously horrible circumstances. The initial impression is that this personal winter of discontent is nearly at an end, but like any spring, like any season of renewal, it could be a long way off. As such, the fond memories and warm tones provide comforts from both sides of “Care Of Cell 44.” Sometimes the thought is enough to keep you going. Sometimes the promise is enough to free you from your own prison. Sometimes a psychedelic pop song just reminds you of spring.