Where Solos Take Us, and How: The Zombies, “Time Of The Season” (1968)

The Self manifests itself through the organism; but there is always some part of the Self unmanifested; and always, as it seems, some power of organic expression in abeyance or in reserve.
—Frederick Myers

Whenever I rediscover Rod Argent’s organ solos in the Zombies’ “Time Of The Season,” I try to think of parallels, but in vain. Why don’t any other great organ solos come to mind? There are, to be sure, plenty of great organ parts ranging over a huge stylistic spectrum, from Matthew Fisher’s churchy lines in “Whiter Shade Of Pale” to the gonadal warbling of Felix Cavaliere’s Hammond in the Rascals’ hits to Ray Manzarek’s wicked smears on X’s “Nausea.” And there are overwhelming organ workouts, as in, say, “In A Gadda Da Vida” or Emerson, Lake and Palmer tracks. It’s past question that organs can make essential contributions to great songs. But it’s questionable whether organs can do whatever guitars and harmonicas and saxophones and even drums can do, in this respect—whatever it is we want from rock solos. Why is that? What do we want from rock solos, anyway? Why do some great songs have solos while others have none? What makes a song need or not need a solo?

Consider a song without solos in which it’s the organ that chases all thought of solos away, “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Here Stevie Winwood’s organ part belongs to the main thing that we want to hear over and over. A solo in “Gimme Some Lovin’” could only dilute the experience because hell is breaking loose right there in the organ rhythm riff. This song is hot throughout. In contrast, the verse and chorus of “Time Of The Season” are fairly cool. Transcendence is waiting to happen someplace else. Finally it hits us when Argent delivers his bursts of enterprising organ work.

“Time Of The Season” first solo

In these passages Argent plays busily but without losing the feel of definite figures. We hear licks, not runs; ideas, not atmosphere. It’s as though he has kept silent to this point and now can’t waste any of the opportunity to reveal what’s on his mind.  (Slackness anywhere ruins a solo because it destroys the illusion that we’re only getting a teasing glimpse of an infinity of things the soloist could say. Miraculously, the soloist manages to produce out of this agitated abundance a shapely, whole-seeming statement in too little time.) The higher pitch of excitement achieved by these ideas is not a matter of heat or heaviness; the sense of intelligent exploration by an individual mind is crucial.

Do these solos really give us something to think about? Yes, but more than that. Donald Fagen’s solo in “Do It Again” is an interesting experience but adds nothing to that song’s rock impact. Argent’s solos have drive in addition to interest. They establish extra space by pushing, not merely by sketching. They are true rock solos and not spliced-in jazz solos.

All the same, there’s that question of extra space. Rock is driven too hard by its demons to be as spacious as jazz, but while rocking we often feel a need or spot an opportunity to move out to a place separate from the song’s pumping heart. That place may be up in the head; we may experience the solo as specially articulate, as taking the role of consciousness in the song’s musical life. Or it may be more visceral, like the throbbing of a second heart. Or it may be spiritually “ecstatic.” What seems to be essential to a solo in any case is that it move out to the side of the song in some way. It cannot simply trace its own lines on top of the song’s main design. This means that the notes of a great solo will be consistently elsewhere than the song’s drift leads you to expect them—off the beat, out of the chords. Argent does achieve this running surprise, and not merely by being weird (like the Fagen solo) but by setting up a tight counter-logic to the song’s own (compare how Eric Clapton does this in the great guitar solo of “Sunshine Of Your Love”). A new wing is built onto the song, and for a while one vacations in it.

“Time Of The Season” last solo (double-tracked in part)

But we still haven’t seen why great organ solos would be rarities in rock. It’s not because the organ is less loud or brash intrinsically than other instruments. The only fundamental difference I can think of is that organ notes don’t bend. What then is the significance of pitch bending for solos? No doubt certain expressive effects depend on this.  But the first thing to point out is that expressive pitch bending directly accomplishes what soloing generally seeks, that is, being off the song’s main line yet related to it. You start in the wrong place and get to the right place, or vice versa. You institute a counter-procedure to staying in the scale. And you do this thinking only of the next note or two; no great forethought is required that would spoil spontaneity. It is relatively harder to get this counter-logic going on keyboard, not only because of fixed pitches (which can be gotten around somewhat by playing appropriate sequences or combinations of keys) but because finger placement on a keyboard is so naturally chord-bound. Jamming along, keyboard players are prone to fill in either the right chords, in which case they function as background accompaniment, or the wrong chords, in which case they sound like saboteurs. Breaking out of this rut, playing right notes that aren’t just the right chords, Argent’s soloing on “Time Of the Season” is either an eruption of genius or the fruit of an unusual amount of planning.

My theory of solos seems to explain the preeminence of the pitch-bending instruments. Drums are a special case. (We shouldn’t refuse to think about this just because drum solos have been avoided for decades.) Drummers might have an advantage over keyboard players in their freedom from the harmonic scheme:  since at any given moment a drummer has more notes available that won’t sound wrong for harmonic reasons, it is easier for a drummer to make a cogent impression of individuality. Drummers might complain that they’re tightly constrained by the basic beat they need to keep up, but then isn’t everyone?


[1] Quoted by William James in “What Psychical Research Has Accomplished,” The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York:  Longmans, Green, 1897), p. 316.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Where Solos Take Us, and How: The Zombies, “Time Of The Season” (1968)

  1. Jack says:

    For my money, Billy Preston’s organ solo in “Get Back” is a great solo — it’s funky, it’s understated, and it adds a valuable dimension to the song.

  2. Steve Smith says:

    It’s great, but it’s electric piano, with which I think there are different possibilities because of the sharp attack and dynamics.

  3. I have always been a sucker for Argent’s solo in the long version of Hold Your Head Up. I don’t think it does what you are so cleverly noticing here, but there is something satisfying about the Bach-i-texture of the thing.

  4. Steve Smith says:

    I just saw the performance of “Hold Your Head Up” in the DVD of The Zombies’ 2008 reunion concert centered on ODESSEY & ORACLE. It’s remarkable how Argent, who must have performed this piece hundreds of times by now, keeps his solo really hot while preserving that structure.

  5. David says:

    I like your article a lot, very true and clever.

    I have to say first, there’s a reason why there’s no more drum solos nowadays. It sucks and it’s boring 9 times out of 10. I dont want to look at noisy drum chops for 10 min ( like during a break at a jam ). I think that a good drum solo must be short and have a harmonic support, or else we’re missing something.

    I just love Argent’s performance in “Time Of The Season”, it feels just right and very entertaining. I really dig the sound he was able to get with his Hammond, very bassy and the second harmonic percussion (from what I can tell).

    That brings me to the point: while having restrictions versus other kind of instruments, the organ have supplements, like:

    -drawbars setting ( especially on those Hammonds). Being able to create AND CHANGE sounds makes the organ very special, like having all drawbars down will give you big ballsy sound while a smooth combination of two drawbars can be achieved in fraction of seconds after.

    -percussion : again, I’m talking bout those old Illinois Hammonds, but on a lot of other brands such as Ace Tone, Yamaha, Farfisa etc. the percussion was available.

    -The thing every organ has, and makes solo so sweet (not always but often) is the VIBRATO. This is one of the most used feature on organs parts since ever. There’s no vibrato on the guitar, bass, drum, harp or any instruments. There’s pedal that does that, but not on the instrument itself.

    -How can I not mention the organ’s lover

    THE MIGHTY LESLIE. (you don’t need me to explain I guess)

    So all in all, we organ players are lucky fellas, we just don’t know it yet.

    PS : pitch bending can be done on the newer keyboards or synth, and I have a old 1971 Farfisa (Professional Duo) that has a pedal to lower the pitch one octave, it’s the “slalom Pedal”

    Cheers from Quebec

  6. Maggie says:

    This is excellent. For years, I have used this organ solo as an example of excellence. You put it into better words!

  7. Mark Watson says:

    I’m sad that I sold my Roland JX8P … this analog synth had pitch bending features up down and sideways … When used sparingly this effect could give spine chilling results … Something about Analog that seemed to give early synths more balls than digital.

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