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Music Retro Review: The Zombies’ Odessey And Oracle

Marc (follow on Twitter @mleif) reviews the classic album from The Zombies, Odessey And Oracle.

By 1967, The Zombies had enough. Although the band had two relatively successful singles (1964’s jazzy “She’s Not There” and 1965’s “Tell Her No”), the failures had begun to weigh heavily. After another single failed to chart, and resistance from Decca Records to put out additional material, the band had already resigned itself to recording a final album before drawing the curtain. Unlike their previous full-length release, The Zombies’ chief songwriters, keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White, insisted upon a program of entirely original material. Now signed to CBS Records, The Zombies entered Abbey Road Studios in London and produced an extraordinary record that continues to increase in stature, the stunning “Odessey and Oracle”.

To enter Abbey Road Studios in the summer of 1967 was a daunting task. As The Zombies took their place in the legendary building, The Beatles and Pink Floyd were exiting, fresh from completing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “The Piper at The Gates of Dawn”, respectively. Unlike those albums, however, the new studio’s new inhabitants did not have a large budget with which to realize their vision. Accordingly, keyboardist Argent made extension use of the mellotron, an instrument mostly famously known for creating the haunting introduction to The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  In Argent’s classically-trained hands, the mellotron was able to replicate the sounds of the flutes and string quartets the band could not afford to use. Coupled with singer Colin Blunstone’s airy vocals and complex harmonies, songs like “Hung Up on a Dream” and the opening track “Care of Cell 44” are given a feeling of the lighter side of psychedelia.

As crucial as the mellotron is to the sound of “Odessey and Oracle”, the harmonies are equally responsible. “Maybe After He’s Gone”, “Brief Candles” and “Changes” showcase a band with five capable vocalists, executing tight and beautiful arrangements. Although lead singer Blunstone dominates the majority of the lead vocals, songwriters Argent and White also step to the front, leading the band through the beautiful “I Want Her, She Wants Me” and challenging (and questionable single) “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)”.

Upon completion, “Odessey and Oracle” fell upon deaf ears. Released in April of 1968 in England, CBS was initially hesitant to release the album in the states. It was not until Al Kooper, most famous for playing organ on some of Bob Dylan’s biggest hits and then an A&R rep for CBS, heard the album and insisted upon it. After receiving a new stereo mix, the album was released in June of that year. After multiple missteps, such as the failure of the “Butcher’s Tale” single, The(now-defunct) Zombies hit big with “Time of the Season”, still a staple of classic rock radio. Strangely, “Time of the Season” reached the top of the charts, yet the success did not translate to album sales.

It would be almost twenty years before “Odessey and Oracle” received its due. The resurgence began in the 1980’s, when Paul Weller of The Jam named the album a particular favorite. The album became something of a cult favorite among musicians and record collectors, with luminaries such as Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame name “Care of Cell 44” as his favorite song of all-time and even covering another track, the beautiful “This Will Be Our Year” on a Foo Fighters compilation. The album came full circle in 2008, when in celebrations of its 40th anniversary, the band reunited sans the recently deceased guitarist Paul Atkinson and played the entirety of “Odesey and Oracle” at select dates in England. With its now heightened profile,  and frequently nearing the top of greatest album lists, “Odessey and Oracle” correctly takes its place among the masterpieces of the era.

Listen to the entire album from The Zombies, Odessey And Oracle by clicking here.

  • Amie R. Hartnett

    I saw the Zombies reunited in concert circa 2006 or so at a local rock club here in the Chicago suburbs. The opening acts were The Mooney Suzuki and Georgia’s The Woggles (who were AMAZING.) It was billed as a 60’s garage/psych extravaganza, although once they began playing, sadly, The Zombies sounded more like Cruise ship lounge act, than hip, harmonizing influencers of future genres.

  • Jarred Cannon

    It’s a shame this album didn’t take off at its initial release. It truly is a wonderful album.

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