The Zombies: Odessey & Oracle

Dominic Umile

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.

The Zombies

Odessey & Oracle

Label: CBS
US Release Date: 1968-06-28
UK Release Date: 1968-04-19

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.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.