The music business can be rather fickle. When the Zombies issued their final album, Odessey and Oracle
, in 1968, the lukewarm response from both critics and the general public helped drive a stake into the group, which had had a handful of hits prior to its release, causing it to prematurely splinter. The band didn’t even tour in support of the album.
Now, five decades since its release, the album is considered a classic. And the Zombies have miraculously reunited to tour in support of the album, which they’ve never performed live in the States. The original line-up (minus the late Paul Atkinson) will perform Odessey & Oracle
in its entirety. Because the guys originally double tracked the vocal harmonies in the studio, they’ll tour with vocalist Darian Shanaja, who plays with Brian Wilson’s band, to help bring the music to life in the live setting.
This is a tour the band should have embarked upon nearly 50 years ago, but the fact that the single “Time of the Season” took a year or two to become a hit derailed those plans. Still, better late than never. That
“We would have toured behind the album but the success came a little bit too late and everybody had moved on,” says bassist Chris White via phone from Dallas last month on the first date of the tour.
While the band hasn’t played the album in its entirety in the States, the group played the tunes from the album in London as part of a reunion in 2008 just “to do a concert.” One night turned into three because demand was so high.
“Standing on stage some 40 years after we recorded was like we were just back to the recording sessions,” says White when asked about those shows the band did in England. “We decided that when the time came again and people wanted us to do it, we would do it. I was asked three months ago if I wanted to do these shows. It’s like magic. You’re working with Colin Blunstone, that great voice. You’re working with Rod Argent, that great keyboardist and songwriter. Would anyone turn that down?”
The album wasn’t an easy one to complete. Argent and White started writing songs separately and would then bring them to the group. They originally started work on the disc in April of 1967.
“We had been working with a very good producer but the recording wasn’t going the way we wanted to go,” says White. “We wrote songs separately and we got together with the whole group and those we liked they used. We had no concept until we finished it. It was an ‘odyssey’ and an ‘oracle.’ It was about different aspects of life but it didn’t start out like that.”
The group recorded the bulk of the disc at the famed Abbey Road Studios, the place where the Beatles recorded. In fact, they started recording in the wake of the Beatles, who had just cut Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
. John Lennon's mellotron was still in the studio.
“We did most of it at Abbey Road,” says White. “I think we were the first group that wasn’t signed to EMI to use the studios. We did three songs in three hours in those days because we had a small budget. It started off in four-track recording. The Beatles had just recorded there and experimented with four-track to four-track. You have three-hour sessions because we couldn’t afford anything else.”
The recording of "Time of the Season," a track that with its harmony vocals and snappy percussion has become one of the Zombies’ biggest hits, didn’t go smoothly.
“It was very rare that we’d argue,” says White. “Rod had just finished it the day before morning before the session. Colin was singing it. Rod said he needed to sing it differently. By that time, Colin was so tired. He told Rod he should sing it himself. Colin didn’t think it was worthwhile. He’s changed his mind since.”
The band mixed the album in mono but then had to remix it in stereo. And it had to foot the bill too.
“Yes, it was a period when they were switching to stereo and just had to have stereo recordings,” he says. “After we had finished the recording, the label informed us that they wanted stereo. We had to pay for it ourselves. I haven’t heard [the mono version] for years. It’s probably the definitive thing.”
“Time of the Season” became a hit a year after the album’s release. To this day, White says he’s not sure why it took so long.
“That is always a mystery,” he says. “By the end of the album we had split up. Eight months later, it was a hit in [places as far away as] Boise, Idaho. I think it was the third or fourth single from the album. [Rod and I] had decided to go out on our own and had formed the band Argent.”
Over the last 15 or 20 years, the album has gained even more respect.
“I’m glad we’re alive to see it,” says White, who says the band will also play songs from its new album, Still Got That Hunger
. “I don’t understand why things suddenly get respect. People like the Foo Fighters and Al Kooper and Beck have said it’s one of their formative albums. And Tom Petty has said that as well. When they’re quoting it as important, that’s great support.”
He says the decision to tour was a surprise — a happy one.
“I didn’t expect this, so you never know what’s going to happen,” says White. “I just take it and plan to enjoy it.”
The Zombies, 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, Kent Stage, 175 East Main St., 330-677-5005. Tickets: $51-$250, thekentstage.com.