For pop music enthusiasts, a record becomes glowingly important if it is playable on a daily basis. By this I mean to say that if a record has earned a slot on a Monday-through-Friday playlist, rather than those lonely platters that are designated merely for Sunday mornings, it’s worth its weight in vinyl. Obviously, not many records have earned this title; maybe Pet Sounds, maybe Loveless, for the list is short and probably well known at this point. But what record can be easily digested both on a miserable rainy Monday morning and en route to drunken Slumberland on Friday evenings? The colorfully orchestrated gems on the Zombies Odessey & Oracle LP more than meet the snobbish criteria that I’ve come up with.
Sure, 1967 is littered with oft-mentioned pop hall-of-famers. The resurgence of interest in garage bands and 1960s culture in general has highlighted an already well-developed discourse of this era in music history. Critics worldwide have offered dissertations on what has been deemed “lost psychedelic treasures” not excluding Pink Floyd’s debut, Procol Harum’s work, and California’s sunny output. But what has been said about a sense of stability on these albums? What has been said about the Zombies’ ability to maintain a perfect balance of meaningful meanderings and heartfelt balladry on Odessey & Oracle? Hopefully not a lot, because that’s part of my lead here.
The Zombies had already seen some fame in their modest St. Albans English homes and in America by the end of 1964. They struck gold overseas with a moody minor key ode to an unnamed temptress called “She’s Not There”. With such off-kilter rhythm and verses of lovesick paranoid denial, “She’s Not There” miraculously aided the boys in their quest to tap into the new Beatlemania that had established American residence a year prior. Looking more like the Academic Debate Team than hip quirky modsters, the Zombies easily fit the “appearance” end of the bill and found themselves alongside the Shangri-Las, Ben E. King, et al. on the Murray the K Christmas show that year. While they had a few top ten numbers in the Billboard charts following 1964’s breakout, it was not until five years later did the Zombies land number one status.
The “Time of the Season” single was actually recorded in August of 1967, when most American youngins were disrobing, dropping acid, and, for the most part, completely disregarding hygiene. The song itself wasn’t released until 1968, and by 1969 had sold over a million copies, marking the first year anniversary of the Zombies’ untimely exit. The band had broken up before their biggest single made its mark, leaving behind a notable catalog of shimmering pop records and stealing my overdramatic heart with their final recorded album, Odessey & Oracle.
Although it has shifted in and out of the top spot on my favorites list, slugging it out relentlessly with the Beatles’ Revolver, Odessey & Oracle comes out first, this week anyway. The album is an absolute stellar achievement to me, bearing all of the necessary 1960s elements but sounding as if it were recorded centuries from now. The opening piano tinkering of “Care of Cell 44” sounds remarkably as if a student were in the parlor next to my room, trying to recall what he or she had learned earlier this afternoon in Music Theory 101. It is this playfulness, this unabashed vibrancy that characterizes Odessey & Oracle. The Zombies’ final recordings showcase the band’s ideology of matching three- and four-part harmonies with the notion to “hold back” on instrumentation, filling segments of the songs with instrumental sound only when necessary. They are the kings of minimalism, offering only piano and drums at times, but never Rod’s, Colin’s, or Chris’s bare vocals. There is seemingly an ever-present background vocal following the lead, complementing the main part like the album’s well placed string sections. This meticulous songcraft is obvious in all selections, but for our purposes, specifically in “This Will Be Our Year”.
Quite literally a triumphant example of a band at their creative pinnacle, “This Will Be Our Year” is a pledge to one’s love. Like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”, the ninth song on Odessey is a testament to already apparent feelings of warmth toward another and also childlike, stargazing wonder about the future: “And I won’t forget / The way you held me up when I was down / And I won’t forget / The way you said ‘Darling I love you’ / You gave me faith to go on”. Furthermore, in keeping with Wilson’s words, guitarist/songwriter Chris White writes optimistically of the road ahead “Now we’re there / And we’ve only just begun / This will be our year / Took a long time to come”. He’s hopelessly in love with the thought of domesticity to follow, and possibly a relationship as consistent as the record itself.
Odessey & Oracle is the weekly record, a compiling of sentiment that’s comfortable enough for anytime, be it free weekend space or during mundane cubicle labor. These songs are as desirable on Tuesday morning as they are on Sunday afternoon, an album aspect often worth contesting and rarely inscribed on panel liner notes.
// Notes from the Road
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