The Zombies’ second studio album, 1968’s Odessey and Oracle, is a thing of rare beauty. Fusing chamber pop with the psychedelic, one would argue that it is perhaps the most overlooked record of all time. This is not to say that it’s underrated because it’s definitely not; those who are familiar with LP love it – it’s just it often gets overlooked in favour of its countercultural contemporaries such as The Beatles’ White Album and Jimi Hendrix‘s Electric Ladyland.
It is perhaps due to the number of incredible records that were released in 1968 and in the decade as to why The Zombies second offering is overlooked in the collective cognisance. The album was recorded between Abbey Road and Olympic Studios in London, and interestingly, it used the same Studer four-track recording device that The Beatles used on their iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The most critical factor that contributed to the album’s rather unassuming stature within the annals of music is the fact that the band split up before its release. Fractions within the group had flared up during the recording sessions for the band and the album’s biggest song, ‘Time of the Season’.
They were compounded by the album’s tight budget and the fact that the first two singles, ‘Care of Cell 44’ and ‘Friends of Mine’, were unsuccessful and that their audience was shrinking. Seemingly up against it, after a final gig in mid-December 1967, the band split.
‘Time of the Season’ proved to be a massive hit worldwide when it was released in March 1968, but this could not persuade the band to give it another go. In 2013, they reunited and started to make up for all the lost time. In a weird way, during the band’s long hiatus, Odessey and Oracle truly blossomed.
Whilst incredibly ’60s and containing many of the pitfalls of the era’s recording techniques; the album still managed to mature like a fine wine. The variation in instrumentation and dynamics is brilliant, and one would argue that in terms of musical dynamics from the era, only The Beatles surpassed the St. Albans quintet.
There’s swooning orchestral moves, the emotive use of the mellotron, dovetailing vocals melodies, tasty guitar licks, lyrical density; it has everything that you want. Across its 35-minute duration, your immersion is rarely interrupted, save from the slightly dull songs ‘Changes’ and ‘Butchers Tale’. At the time of release, the album did enjoy a brief moment of success, owing to ‘Time of the Season’. However, due to the absence of The Zombies promoting the material, it led to several unscrupulous promoters creating fake versions of the band to reap its rewards.
If we heed some of the classics on the record, you see that in some ways, you could hail this album as the definitive greatest hits by the band. The gorgeous album opener ‘Care of Cell 44’ has been covered by everyone from Elliot Smith to Susanna Hoffs, ‘A Rose for Emily’ is also fantastic, as is the languid, psychedelic masterpiece ‘Beachwood Park’. There’s a huge, operatic feel to ‘Hung Up On Dream’ that seems to precede some of the places Pink Floyd would go on Meddle.
‘This Will Be Our Year’ is also a classic. Just over two minutes discussing a burgeoning relationship and noting the hope symbolised by spring, you can’t help but love this song. It’s an uplifting, almost tear-jerking number that is totally timeless. Warming the soul, it’s got a distinctly British, homely feel that only really Badly Drawn Boy has managed to capture in the years after its release.
No mention of Odessey and Oracle would be worthwhile without mentioning its highlight ‘Time of the Season‘. Atmospheric, groovy and catchy, this is one of the quintessential songs of the ’60s. Discussing love and sexual encounters, it spoke to the hedonistic and free-spirited nature of the counterculture. It is perhaps the most raunchy the five polite boys from Hertfordshire ever got. Furthermore, who can forget that iconic organ solo?
Everyone from Paul Weller to Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth has cited Odessey and Oracle as a masterpiece. Timeless and the gift that keeps on giving, the record is multi-faceted, and it is this that has resulted in its enduring legacy. If you’ve never heard it, you’re in for a treat.