The piano trills, the drums punch in, a voice wishes you a good morning and hopes you’re feeling better, baby. You’ve been gone too long. You’ve been missed. Someone is counting down the days until they can see you again.
It doesn’t matter where you’ve been - though, in this particular case, it would seem you’ve been jail - no, what matters is that you’re coming home soon! A separation is coming to an end; a love story can pick up where it was suddenly left off. The future is a hopeful, lovely, joyous place - and The Zombies have just the multi-part harmonies and gut-punchingly delicious melody to prove it.
It’s a rare thing to smile from the very beginning of a song all the way through to its final notes. Happiness, at least in its truest, most genuine form, is a difficult emotion - or, note, if you will - to sustain, even if only for three-and-a-half minutes. And, while many pop songs start or end there, precious few can pull off the full-on sustained fever pitch of joy that The Zombies reach here. Perhaps it’s because “Care of Cell 44” is about the destination rather than the journey, a reunion almost arrived rather than the all the longing that surely went before it (as opposed to another locked-up song like “Long Time Woman”, wherein the struggle is the focus of the song, and joy is nowhere to be found). Here, the tears have all been cried, the sighs have all been sighed, and the future is (finally) almost here.
I have no problem declaring that “Care of Cell 44” is one of the finest pop songs ever written, a song that soars on giddy wings and glorious harmonies, a distillation of relief and elation in a near-perfect handful of minutes. The Zombies, at their best, knew how to hit happy notes built upon the sadness and strife that preceded it, sweetness made sweeter by a struggle (see also “This Will Be Our Year”). Whatever might lay in the past, whatever might have happened, it doesn’t matter: