When Colin Blunstone released his first solo album in 1971, to say his musical career had been through some ups and downs would be something of an understatement. Originally the lead singer in The Zombies, most fans of the band know the story about their unexpected success in 1969 in the USA with Time of The Season, their perfect pop single made magical by Blunstone’s gorgeous breathy voice. But before that The Zombies had already reached Number 2 with She’s Not there in 1964 and Number 3 in 1965 with Tell Her No. She’s Not There was their only UK hit making it to Number 12 in 1964. You can read a more detailed history at the links below but the short story is that the band split up in 1967 before the release of their second album Odessey And Oracle in 1968. Time Of The Season from that album eventually reached Number 3 in the US charts in 1969. But by this time it was all too late. Blunstone had taken a day job selling insurance but then reappeared as a solo artist under the name of Neil Macarthur? The mind boggles – it wasn’t exactly a dynamic name change but he did have a minor hit with a re-release of She’s Not There in 1969. By this time Rod Argent who had written She’s Not There, Tell Her No and Time Of The Season had formed Argent.
In 1970 Colin Blunstone went into the studio to start recording One Year with the members of Argent, arrangers and various string and brass players all appearing on the record. Rod Argent and Chris White (former Zombies bassist) contributing 3 songs. The album also included a song each by Tim Hardin and Mike d’Abo former Manfred Mann singer, with Blunstone also contributing four impressive songs. The album approached the songs quite differently to each other – some songs were recorded with the band and some songs with the strings, other songs had orchestration and yet another a brass band.
The album opens with She Loves The Way They Love Her written by Argent and White. It bounces out of the speakers in the pop tradition of The Zombies but it’s the second track, Tim Hardin’s Misty Roses that the breath taking performances begin. It’s a beautiful song to start with but add Colin Blunstone’s voice and you are sitting on a cloud in storybook heaven. A lonely nylon string guitar with a bossa nova Girl From Ipanaema feel as an accompaniment, and with poetic lyrics that make you wonder if all the love in this song will ever be requited? At 1.41 a string section comes in and takes over for over two minutes. The String arrangement is by Chris Gunning and it is redolent of some dramatic melancholia shrouded in doom but ultimately it’s such a haunting two minutes of music, evoking such inner profound sensibility, that it surely cannot end in tragedy. It is poetry in composition, contrasting so perfectly with Blunstone’s mellifluous voice – it took great vision to even pair this musical partnership.
You Look To Me Like Misty Roses
Too soft to touch
But too lovely
To leave alone
Another Argent/White composition, Smokey Day continues with strings, low voice left speaker, high voice right speaker, harp and weird chords and a strange melody with creepy black and white film string instrumentation – almost from a silent movie. He considers his last encounter with the mysterious beauty as the night draws in. Of course people don’t write songs like this anymore and if they do they are seen as incredibly tacky or woefully shallow, but for some reason when he was singing it in 1971, it was so sincere that no one doubted for a minute that the subject of the song was someone he had fallen in love with.
As far as I can tell this next track is Blunstone’s real writing debut, although he had apparently written a couple of songs somewhere along the line with the Zombies. Caroline Goodbye’s lilting chords start the song. His silky voice rests on the music like a feather on a pillow
Saw your picture in the paper
My, you’re looking pretty good
Looks like you’re gonna make it in a big way
Oh, I always knew you would
Caroline has definitely gone and gone on to make it big, as the song is allegedly about model and ex lover Caroline Munro who became a Bond girl starring in The Spy Who Loved Me. But the song is one of those orchestrated sixties songs, (probably by Tony Visconti, although I can’t confirm that). Strings and trumpets in the chorus and the strange violin in verse two. He gets so breathy you can’t imagine how he can push so much breath into his sound, simultaneously with his singing voice. An acoustic guitar solo that Al Stewart must have heard somewhere along the line appears, although it is played very much in the style of the day.
Then, Though You Are Far Away that starts with a harp plucking and turning into an arpeggio and when his voice comes in it is so breathy it is like a Moroccan scirocco. And then the strings again – it might be his most beautiful song. When I hear this record I wonder how only Nick Drake managed to rise from obscurity when few people born after the event have heard Colin Blunstone in comparison. Chris Gunning’s string arrangemnet is deadly because it’s so unusual and with the harp and voice there’s really nothing to compare it to.
It seems that in those days they needed a track like Mike d’Abo’s Mary Won’t You Warm My Bed to open a Side of an album, as they did with Side One and She Loves The Way They Love Her (something bouncy) – it’s just the way they did it. Apart from replacing Paul Jones in Manfred Mann, d’Abo had co-written the sixties classic, Build Me Up Buttercup and wrote Handbags And Gladrags recorded by Chris Farlowe in 1967 and later Rod Stewart amongst others (including Sterophonics). This d’Abo song sounds like somebody touted it to Blunstone’s A&R man who agreed that the album needed some more uptempo songs, but the song sounds out of date in comparison with the moving maturity of the songs with the string arrangements. I can’t quite follow the chronology here as different sites say different things but as the first single it flopped. Surprise surprise, but to be fair the second single Caroline Goodbye did too.
The beautiful Her is the last Argent/White composition and it is uplifting. The melody in the bridge is its own wonder, the chorus is so delicate, he almost doesn’t open his mouth when he is singing and still this breath comes out like like a soft gentle breeze.
I Can’t Live Without You his third songwriting contribution has more strings, cellos grinding, and Blunstone reaching impossible notes. An uptempo classical dark pop hybrid – these musicians and arrangers were inventing a brand new genre.
His last song Let Me Come Closer To You, uses a brass band as backing, same idea but brass instead of strings. I love all the instrumental passages in his songs, giving room for these unique musicians to place all their resonant natural sounding acoustic instruments across the songs.
Last but not least, and finally a hit. Denny Laine’s, Say You Don’t Mind. (Laine played in and sang Go Now for The Moody Blues and became the guitar player in Wings). I’ve loved this song since the first day I heard it and have listened to it over and over. The strings are that classical/pop hybrid again but not the dark side. You can almost hear the cellists smiling as they play. Denny Laine’s melody and Gunning’s string arrangements are perfect and suit Blunstone’s voice perfectly. It reached Number 15 in the British charts.
Without exception he is the most naturally talented, effortless, breathy singer in the world. A distinctive, melodic and humble legend and having met him I can tell you that he is the nicest man you could ever happen upon.