Once again your rockin’ writer felt the need to resurrect his “Listen Again” series. For those of you just joining us, the “Listen Again” series is a series in which we revisit albums that for one reason or another didn’t receive the attention or acclaim they deserved when they were originally released. Whether it was the recording was ahead of its time, broke away from the artist’s usual style, was poorly publicized or initially misunderstood, the “Listen Again” series urges music fans to listen again. This time—because your crusty chronicler’s editor requested a Zombie-related piece– we revisit The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle.
For those not up on their zombies, The Zombies are a Brit band born, like your rascally writer, in 1961. The founding members are Rod Argent (piano, organ and vocals) and Colin Blunstone (vocals). They scored several hit songs including “She’s Not There”, the ethereal “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season”.
Their 1968 sophomore release, Odessey and Oracle, contains twelve tracks and is the focus of this edition. The music here was recorded between June and November 1967. At the time the album was being recorded the band roster included Argent (piano, organ, mellotron and vocals) Blunstone (vocals), Paul Atkinson (guitar), Chris White (bass, guitar and vocals) and Hugh Grundy (drums).
The album opener is “Care of Cell 44”. This is a song by Argent. It’s an oddly upbeat pop rock piece about the upcoming release of a prison inmate.
The second selection is also by Argent. It’s titled “A Rose for Emily”. The band added mellotron and cello to the track but had second thoughts about it at the final mixing stage.
The next number is “Maybe After He’s Gone” which is the first of the songs by White. The following songs—“Beechwood Park” and “Brief Candles” are also by White who also adds his vocal talents to the second verse of the latter track. Argent sings the first verse of said song.
“Hung Up on a Dream” is next. Written by Argent, the tune amply demonstrates his songwriting skills and serves as a nice lead-in to White’s “Changes”. Not to be confused with the later 1971 Bowie hit, this is a psychedelic pop song with vocals by Atkinson and Grundy.
Argent’s “I Want Her, She Wants Me” is also included. Argent takes lead vocals here on this bit of baroque pop. White’s “This Will Be Our Year” and “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” are next. White’s final contribution is the slightly overshadowed “Friends of Mine”.
White sings lead on the latter which features lyrics based on a World War I event. Inspired by the Bee Gees’ “New York Mining Disaster 1941″, it’s an early example musique concrète. The closing cut is Argent’s keynote “Time of the Season”.
Blunstone was not happy with the song as Argent wanted him to sing a specific way. An argument almost led to Argent singing lead but eventually Blunstone acquiesced resulting in what would become a surprise hit upon its release as a single in 1969. With a running time of over 35 minutes, the twelve-track CBS platter itself hit US stores in June 1968 despite the initial hesitancy of the label’s head Clive Davis.
In the US the first single to be released was actually “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)”. The execs thought the anti-war theme would sell well due to the Vietnam War. Additional singles were also released including “Care of Cell 44” and “Friends of Mine” which were both commercial failures and contributed to the band’s decision to go on hiatus.
Indeed, Odessey and Oracle was received rather indifferently on release. Even after a re-release a few months later it would climb no higher than 95 in the US. It has, however, gone on over the years to garner a cult following as well as much critical acclaim. It has even be re-mastered and re-released over the years with several bonus tracks added.
In fact, sources such as Allmusic more recently gave the original work a five-star rating. More recently, Rolling Stone placed it at number 80 on its “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. It was even included in the popular book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. .
If you’ve never listened to The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, listen to it. If you’ve already listened to it . . . listen again.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.