Sunday, October 11, 2009

Colin Blunstone – One Year (1971)

blunstone one year

Former Zombies singer Colin Blunstone recalls his legendary 1971 solo debut.


By Robin Platts



“This album is the story of a year of mine,” Colin Blunstone explained in the sleevenote for his first solo album. “A time of searching and of beginning all over again.”

In the wake of the Zombies’ 1968 split, their lead singer sought out the security of a nine-to-five job. Having written only a couple of songs for the band, Blunstone’s earnings had been far less than those of the Zombies’ principal songwriters, keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White. Hits like She’s Not There and Tell Her No had brought Blunstone fame but no attendant fortune, so a position at a London insurance firm looked more appealing than what the music business had to offer.

Blunstone hadn’t been on the job for long when he was contacted by Cat Stevens’ producer, Mike Hurst, who wanted to cut a remake of She’s Not There. Updated with strings and fuzz guitar, the new version was released as a single under the pseudonym Neil MacArthur (though Blunstone’s breathy voice was instantly recognizable). It reached Number 34 in Britain in February 1969, the same week that a posthumous Zombies single, Time of the Season, hit Number 3 in America.

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Deram Records issued two further MacArthur singles in 1969, Don’t Try to Explain and It’s Not Easy. Blunstone’s voice was as strong as ever, but the material was not up to the standard his vocals deserved. Rod Argent and Chris White knew Blunstone could do better. By 1970, they were devoting their energies to their new group, Argent.

“I met up with Chris,” Blunstone recalls. “We’d been doing something totally different – something to do with the Zombies, I think. And he was giving me a lift in his car and he said, ‘Rod and I would really like to produce you. How do you feel about doing an album?’ And I thought it would be a great idea.”



In readying himself for the album, Blunstone blossomed as a songwriter. Caroline Goodbye was easily on par with the Zombies’ best work and should have been a big hit. Equally lovely were Blunstone’s other compositions – Though You Are Far Away, I Can’t Live Without You and Let Me Come Closer to You.

Argent and White also pitched in with the songwriting duties, offering Her Song, She Loves the Way They Love Her and Smokey Day, the latter two having already been recorded by an early Argent line-up to masquerade as Zombies recordings on the never-released R.I.P. album (they finally appeared in 1973, on the Time of the Zombies compilation).

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Sessions for Blunstone’s first solo album began at Abbey Road in July 1970, the first track recorded being She Loves the Way They Love Her. The record came together at a leisurely pace, with Blunstone backed by Argent (the group) on tracks like Caroline Goodbye and Mary Won’t You Warm My Bed.

“We just sort of did one song at a time,” Blunstone recalls, “over a period of one year.”

One of the first – and last – songs recorded was a cover of Denny Laine’s post-Moody Blues single Say You Don’t Mind.

“Towards the end of the Zombies’ live career, we used to close with Say You Don’t Mind,” Blunstone reveals. “But it was sort of a rock’n’roll version of the song. So when we came to find songs for my album, that was one of the first we discussed.”

The rock arrangement was attempted, but Blunstone deemed it substandard. “We cut it with session guys and it just didn’t happen.” Then – about halfway through the album sessions – someone had the idea of pairing Blunstone’s voice with strings.

“I can’t remember who it was. I’ve had these discussions with both Rod and Chris,” laughs Blunstone. “They both claim it was their idea!”

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Enter Chris Gunning, who drew up exquisite string charts for several cuts. “I though those scores were just wonderful,” enthuses Blunstone. “I sometimes wish we’d done a whole album like that. But the idea didn’t really come to fruition until halfway through. In those days, you didn’t sort of scrap half an album.”

Say You Don’t Mind was drastically altered. In Gunning’s arrangement, there were no rock instruments, just Blunstone’s voice, stately and sad, against the string section. It was the last track recorded and gave Blunstone a Number 15 UK chart hit in February 1972.

Apart from the rock version of Say You Don’t Mind, two other tracks from the One Year sessions ended up as outtakes. “We tried a Duncan Browne song, The Road With No Turning, and it just didn’t happen,” remembers Blunstone. “And Russ Ballard wrote a song called Schoolgirl. If I remember correctly, he actually wrote it for me. And we had a go at it, but that didn’t work either.” (Ballard had previously recorded the Zombies-esque Schoolgirl on Argent’s self-titled debut album.)

A Blunstone original, Hope I Didn’t Say Too Much Last Night, was recorded for the album but only appeared as a non-album B-side.

One of the finished album’s highlights was a cover of Tim Hardin’s Misty Roses, featuring Blunstone’s vocal backed only by Alan Crosthwaite’s deftly plucked acoustic guitar. “He was a very good jazz guitarist,” Blunstone recalls. “The guitar was recorded in one take – very, very quickly. We just sat down and had a beer and played it.” About six months later, Gunning wrote a string arrangement that was recorded (with Blunstone’s vocals) and edited onto the end of the original guitar-and-vocal take.

“We thought, Hold on a minute – if we put some strings in here, we can change the whole emphasis of this song,” Blunstone explains. “It’s funny how a track can have a six-month gap in the middle.”

The soulful pop of Mary Won’t You Warm My Bed kicked off the LP’s second side. Musically, the track is a departure from the melancholy feel of most of the album, but the lyrics are close to the lovelorn longing that pervades One Year. With Blunstone’s inspired vocal and Tony Visconti’s arrangement, Mary Won’t You... sounds like a lost Motown classic. (It was released as a single, but failed to chart.)

From the cover photo to the sleevenote to the gorgeous, wistful sounds inside, One Year remains the definitive representation of Colin Blunstone’s gift. It has everything going for it – even a hit single.

“So now I’ve started, by myself this time,” concluded Blunstone’s sleevenote for One Year. “And like the first word of a novel, the hardest decision is over.”



3 comments:

  1. A great article on one of my alltime favorite albums - thank you for this, Robin. "Caroline Goodbye" has always been the highlight of the record for me (a Blunstone original I believe). "Hope I Didn't Say Too Much Last Night" is an amazing discovery - do you know if it has ever appeared on cd?

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  2. Thanks very much. Caroline Goodbye is really a lost classic - as good as anything the Zombies did, in my opinion. I think Hope I Didn't Say Too Much showed up on a Japanese CD reissue of One Year.

    I just heard Colin's new album. Although the album overall doesn't quite match One Year, half the tracks feature string arrangements by Chris Gunning, which noce again complement Colin's voice to great effect.

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  3. Hi Robin. I was looking for a way to contact you on you blog but I can't find any means to do so. I'd like to discuss something with you if you could write me at CoolAlbumofTheDay@gmail.com

    Thanks! Larry

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