The Zombies: 'Odessey and Oracle' (1968)

Album: Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies

Place: AMVETS Thrift Store (4105 Holston Drive)

Price: $1

Fall is a wonderful time of year because shorter days and cooler temperatures make sitting in a dank basement listening to records a slightly more respectable pastime. Fall also is wonderful because it portends a surfeit of holidays, the first of which, Halloween, arguably is the best because it is about nothing but screwing around and eating foods you generally shun. Last month I initiated a half-ass effort to write about holiday-themed music, but gave up when I realized that few people would be interested in my exegetical treatment of the immortal “Monster Mash.” I settled on writing about the Zombies, a group that is Halloween-oriented in name only.

Odessey and Oracle (the lads couldn’t spell) is one of my best ever thrift-store finds. In summary, it is a blockbuster. The Zombies were a British Invasion band that burst onto the scene in 1964 with “She’s Not There,” a keyboard-laden, jazz-tinged, catchy pop confection. “She’s Not There” is a striking counterpoint to a lot of other British Invasion music of the period—the self-assured woman in the song does not want to hold your hand, does not love you, and certainly does not want all your loving.

A degree of ennui pervades Odessey and Oracle. “Care of Cell 44” is one of the few love songs I’ve ever heard that is aimed at a woman in prison. In “A Rose for Emily,” which appears to be based on the Faulkner story, Emily is told that though “There’s loving everywhere, there’s none” for her. Then she’s informed that “her roses are fading” and that soon “she will grow old and die.” Brian Wilson and the Beatles wrote some melancholy stuff, but generally they avoided telling people outright that they were getting old and ugly and would soon die alone. “This Will Be Our Year” seems to break the pattern, but in implying that previous years were not so great, it gives away the game. Then there’s “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914),” in which a man literally screams, “I want to go home, Please let me go home,” after telling us about flies buzzing around his friend’s corpse, and his permanently shaking hands. Yikes.

As for the music, hipsters today tend to call it “baroque pop.” This overstates the case a bit. For the most part, the songs are deceptively simple. And all the songs are short and succinct. Moreover, like those on Bee Gees’ 1st (a towering achievement for the underrated brothers), most of these songs are not crowded. The dominant instruments are beautifully harmonizing human voices, the best of which is that of Colin Blunstone, a man whose voice seldom is mentioned away from the adjective “smoky.” His remarkable voice is impossible to describe; it is sui generis. Keyboards—the purview of group leader and primary songwriter Rod Argent—are also front and center. Their prominence, especially the mellotron on “Care of Cell 44” and “Changes,” the improvisational organ on “Time of the Season,” and the spooky organ blasts on “Butcher’s Tale,” give the album a spiritual, ethereal quality that few psychedelic records can match.

The album closes with “Time of the Season,” a monster hit which I think is about a young man using the peace-and-love ethos of the 1960s to convince a young woman to have sex with him. Not a bad play, I guess. I wonder if it worked. The song is a pop masterpiece, and is the first song I know of to ask: “Who’s your daddy?” I’m still not sure what this means.

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