45 Years Ago: The Zombies Release ‘Odessey and Oracle’
Terms like “classic” and “amazing” get tossed around an awful lot when talking about albums. Those words have been used and abused over time to the point where they are almost meaningless. Here to reclaim the significance of those terms is an album that truly is amazing and a drop-dead classic, the Zombies’ ‘Odessey and Oracle’ — which was released 45 years ago.
From 1964 through the start of 1967, the Zombies released their debut album, ‘Begin Here,’ which was followed by an incredible run of singles. Unlike their contemporaries, there was no pile of albums to be found in their catalog. Recorded during the second half of 1967, ‘Odessey and Oracle’ was only the Zombies’ second album, as the band kind of sat out the evolving-album game.
Their first records had been released on the Decca label in the UK (Parrot Records in the US), but in the spring of ’67, the band signed a new deal with CBS worldwide and entered the legendary Abbey Road studios to begin work on a new set of songs. They worked with engineers Geoff Emerick and Peter Vance, but it was keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White who took on the role of producing the new material.
Recording began just as the Beatles wrapped up recording ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ and Pink Floyd were putting finishing touches on ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ at the same studio.The Zombies took full advantage of any lessons their team learned while recording the Beatles LP, but instead of opting for a lower level ‘Pepper,’ the band moved in, shall we say, a different lane on a similar highway.
‘Odessey’ (unintentionally misspelled by the cover artist on the album sleeve) kicks off with the jubilant and joyful sounds of ‘Care of Cell 44,’ a song about a girlfriend who is in prison, and her correspondence with the man awaiting her return. The use of mellotron here colors things beautifully, and the vocal harmonies are on par with the Beach Boys — and yes, that’s saying a lot. A perfect album opener that leaves your ears begging for more.
The sheer beauty of ‘A Rose for Emily,’ ‘Maybe After He’s Gone‘ and ‘Beechwood Park‘ is hard to put into words. The songwriting here, not to mention the performances, are on par with any of their peers and contemporaries — Beatles included — and in most cases, miles above the rest of the pack.
The somber verses of ‘Brief Candles‘ give way to a joyous chorus that sinks its claws right in and never lets go, while ‘Hung Up On a Dream‘ ends side one of the original LP with one of the band’s most hauntingly beautiful songs. The mood created is, in fact, dreamlike, but not in an overblown psychedelic sense — it’s a purer dream with dynamic interplay between the guitars and keyboards. The band manage to avoid the cliches and pitfalls of the dayglo era, while still capturing the essence of it in full technicolor. The entire album basks in the glow of summer, the season itself name checked in a few of the songs.
The pure-as-sunshine pop of ‘I Want Her She Wants Me‘ and ‘This Will Be Our Year‘ are followed by the desperation of ‘The Butcher’s Tale,’ which almost sounds like a meeting of John Lennon and Kurt Weill. The album ends on what has become the Zombies signature song, the glorious ‘Time of the Season,’ which remains one of the era’s most cherished artifacts. A perfect end to a perfect album.
By the time the album was released, however, the band were no more. Internal politics and the usual band tensions put an end to one of the British invasion’s most unique acts. Argent and White were off to other travels with the band Argent, while the unmistakeable voice of Colin Blunstone would be found on a series of solo albums.
That would have been the end of the Zombies story were it not for the tuned in ears of the legendary Al Kooper, who, aside from being a musician of note in his own right, was newly assigned to the A&R department at Columbia Records US. Kooper brought the LP back with him from a trip to England in 1968. “I took a vacation in the UK and I bought about 40 LPs,” he recalled in the liner notes to ‘Odessey,’ explaining that this one stood out among all the rest. After learning that label boss Clive Davis was going to pass on the album, Kooper convinced him otherwise. “I talked him into releasing it,” he said.
The album was finally released in the US in late 1968, and did nothing — that is, until the single of ‘Time of the Season’ was issued in early 1969, at which point the song exploded. By April of ’69, the song was nestled in at No. 3 in the US charts, a full year after its UK release and close to two years after recording began.
By this time, interest was higher than ever in the Zombies, but the band were long gone. The posthumous hit has remained on the airwaves ever since, and along with the band’s earlier hits ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Tell Her No,’ is the song most people associate with this incredible band.
Albums this good really are quite scarce, and if you have never heard this masterpiece, do yourself a favor and get to it — now.