The band went out on a high note. Even if it was a sound not heard by many. When The Zombies began recording their second album in June 1967, by all accounts they should’ve been on an upswing. They’d enjoyed chart success with 1964’s “Tell Her No” and the following year’s “She’s Not There,” and were bona fide foot soldiers of the British Invasion.
But instead of enjoying the earned luxury of what was then becoming an opportunity for bands to explore possibilities in the recording studio, The Zombies recorded sporadically over three months, usually in hurried, daylong sessions. The bulk of the album was recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, taped on the same Studer four-track recorder as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper sessions. In December 1967, the band—vocalist Colin Blunstone, keyboardist Rod Argent, guitarist Paul Atkins, bassist Chris White, and drummer Hugh Grundy—called it quits.
In April 1968, Odessey and Oracle was released. Over 12 tracks, Odessey and Oracle runs the gamut from Baroque pop and softly diffused psychedelia, to the soulful rock of its closing (and most famous) track, “Time of the Season.” Songwriters Argent and White seemed to chronicle some place, or even emotions, behind the paisley veneer of the ‘60s, using melancholy imagery and unpredictable arrangements that ran contrary to their peers. Blunstone was the perfect voice for the songs, at times backed by the entire band with cathedral-sized choruses.
Argent and White were also masterful at writing with restraint. The wistful “Hung Up On a Dream” never degrades into sappiness, while the elegiac shimmer of “Beechwood Park” doesn’t careen into saccharine preciousness.
In total, Odessey and Oracle seems like a concept album, yet that is another successful mirage the band created. The songwriting and narratives are so strong that it just feels like a big, cohesive idea rises from the album’s 35-minute playing time.
Then they were done. Upon hearing the album, CBS Records’ Clive Davis didn’t want to release it. Only after Al Kooper pushed for its release did Davis relent. When “Time of the Season,” a definitive ’60s cut, hit the U.S. charts in 1969, the band had been defunct for nearly two years.
After breaking up, the band members continued doing notable work. Argent, joined by White, formed his solo band of the same name, while Blunstone worked with the Alan Parsons Project. Over the years, a cult developed around the haunting music and mystique of Odessey and Oracle. Vocal fans of the album and band include Brian Wilson, Carlos Santana, Of Montreal, Paul Weller, The Avett Brothers, and Elliot Smith, along with Tom Petty, who wrote the foreword to the 2017 book, The “Odessey”: The Zombies in Words and Images.
In 2000, members of The Zombies began collaborating again. In ’04, Paul Atkins passed away from liver and kidney disease, an event that seemed to only push the surviving members to greater action.
In ’08, The Zombies played three London shows to celebrate the album’s 40th anniversary. Last year, the four surviving members toured the U.S. to celebrate the legacy of Odessey and Oracle. Their upcoming Jan. 12 show at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall features all four with their adept backing band, performing Odessey and Oracle in its entirety.
Folio Weekly was honored to speak with vocalist Colin Blunstone.
Folio Weekly: You did a 40th anniversary run of shows for Odessey and Oracle a decade ago. How was the audience response?
Colin Blunstone: It was incredible. The response was absolutely breathtaking. And we’ve done a run of shows in 2017 where again the response was just incredible. These will be the last Odessey and Oracle shows; it just happens that all of the surviving original members of the band will be in Florida. So we decided that we’d do, I think it’s four or five, shows there and that will be the end then. The thing that strikes me about it, especially in the 2017 shows, is that people listen and it can be just absolute silence. And then at the end, there can be like 12 to 14 minutes of applause … it just goes on and on and on. Which is just fantastic for us. But you do find yourself subconsciously thinking, “Well, this is almost a little too quiet” … [laughs] but they’re absorbing; they’re listening. And when we play the last track, we just get an incredible response.
The album has incredible songs and performances but it seems like there is something greater surrounding it—a kind of mystique. As you say, people will listen in total stillness to those performances. Why do you think some people come to this as if it’s an almost sacred thing?
Well, I do think it has a special place in many people’s lives and of course a lot of people have waited a long time to hear this record because we never played it live at the time. By the time the album was released, the band no longer existed. It was never played at the time and we’d never played it subsequently until the 40th anniversary. On that tour, I don’t think we performed it in America; I think we just did it in the U.K. And 10 years on, we decide we’d do it in the States and we toured all over America with Odessey and Oracle and had incredible crowds. I think that, in some ways, the album has 12 really good songs. There’s no two ways about it. I didn’t write them so I feel like I can judge them as an outsider. I think it really does stand up, even after all of this time, as an artistic endeavor.
While there are some upbeat songs, the entire album seems as if it has an undercurrent of sadness and loss. Do you agree or am I just a depressed fan?
[Laughs]. No, I’d say there is an undercurrent of sadness and I’d say that was really true of The Zombies in the ’60s in general. I think that probably comes from the two main writers: Rod Argent and Chris White. That’s just what they were writing and famously they wrote a lot in minor keys, which straightaway puts you in that melancholy place. So, yes, I do think there is that sadness in some of the songs, but not all of them are. The opposite of that would be “Time of the Season,” which is an ecstatic song.
I’m sure that over the years you’ve had countless fans tell you how they feel about the record; but a half-century since its release, and as a co-creator of the album, what are your feelings today about Odessey and Oracle?
First of all, I can tell you how I felt about it in 1967. I felt pleased when we finished the album and always felt that was the best we could possibly do. There was a feeling that there was a lack of public interest in The Zombies and we’d only released one single from the album and there wasn’t really any great response to it. So I personally thought it was time to move on. That’s what I felt then. How do I feel about it now? Well, I think it’s very exciting for us to get this recognition after all this time. It kind of validates what we did in 1967.
It also validates your cult followers was have been cornering people for 50 years and making them listen to this record.
[Laughs]. I know—that’s great. It took people 50 years to discover this album. And we’ve recorded albums since then. I hope it’s not going to take people 50 years to hear those as well. Because I won’t be here!