More than 50 years after they became one of the first British Invasion groups to top the U.S. singles charts, the Zombies, who were recently nominated for the second time for induction into the Rock Hall (they fell short of getting the votes needed to make the final cut), have announced they’ll embark on one last version of the tour that includes a full-album performance of Odessey and Oracle.
All four surviving members of the group (Colin Blunstone on lead vocals, Rod Argent on keyboards and vocals, Chris White on bass and vocals and Hugh Grundy on drums) will perform.
The tour, which includes an April 5 date the Lorain Palace Theatre, will mark the album’s fiftieth anniversary.
Argent says playing the album in its entirety has proven to be a challenge that the group relishes.
“We have done it a few times over the past few years with the original members, Chris White and Huge Grundy as well as Paul Atkinson, who unfortunately has since passed away,” he says in a recent phone interview from New Jersey where the tour was about to begin. “It’s the original surviving members plus our original touring band, so we can reproduce every note and every overdub that was on the original album. We tried the format before, and it worked beautifully. We’ll be doing that again. After this tour, we’ll draw a line under it, and we don’t do it anymore. We’re giving it everything we got this year, and then we’ll move on. I’m proud of it, and I love doing it, but you can’t just go back 50 years and continue doing it.”
When the band went into the studio in 1967 to record the album, Argent says it didn’t intend to break any new ground. Financial struggles meant that the group intended to give things one last go and continue to explore the kind of psychedelic pop music found on its previous album with the hope that the public would respond. The public didn't, at least not upon the disc's initial release.
“At the time, we were very much based in the UK,” says Argent. “We found out later that we had hits around the world, but we didn’t know that at the time. Our gigs were paying less and less money. For the writers, our income was always good and the other guys had no money. For those reasons, and those reasons only, it was in the air that the band might split up. Chris and I were desperate to produce our own songs. We were frustrated in the way our singles were produced. We thought it took the balls away from what we were playing. We wanted to get down our own vision on tape. We didn’t deliberately do anything differently. We were just trying to fully flower what we thought was there in the first place.”
Argent and fellow songwriter White aspired to capture the zeitgeist of the late ‘60s, a time when the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Jimi Hendrix pushed rock's boundaries and ventured into uncharted musical territory.
“It was a wonderful period for pop music,” says Argent. “There was a huge positive vibe around. It felt like anything was possible. The boundaries of music in all forms were exploding. Anything felt possible. The things that Brian Wilson and the Beatles were doing at the time were incredible. It felt like you could experiment, and the public was willing to embrace what you were doing in a way that doesn’t seem to be the case now. It was a great time to be that age and be involved in music. We were capturing the spirit of the times without intending to do that. We were just doing our songs. The album died but came back to life years later when people like Paul Weller and Tom Petty started talking about it.”
Recording at Abbey Road studios certainly helped the band achieve its goal. The Beatles had just left the studio, and the Zombies certainly benefited from their innovative approach.
“It’s my understanding we were the first artist allowed to use Abbey Road that weren’t EMI artists,” says Argent. “As the Beatles walked out, we walked in. They were literally the last band in there. They just finished Sgt. Pepper’s
. We had the benefit of a lot of the advances that the Beatles had forced, willingly, obviously, on Abbey Road. It was a strange studio. It was a combination of a very old-fashioned pedestrian studio on the one hand but on the other hand, it had the best cutting edge vibe on the technical side of things. I remember going in and Geoff Emerick, who worked with us, said it was great working with the Beatles but it’s draining because they forced to do this multi-track recording beyond the first track. We wanted some of that. We reaped the advantages of what the Beatles had done.”
A last minute addition to the album, “Time of the Season,” a trippy tune that alternates between spoken and sung vocals, created an argument between Argent, who wrote the track, and Blumstone, who sang it.
“I wrote it quickly and was pleased with it. I remember playing it to Chris White," says Argent. "I thought it could be a hit. No one else shared that feeling. We had little rehearsal and Colin half knew it. When we were in the studio, there was a little bit of bad feeling. I’m a stickler for detail for the things I write. Colin wanted to phrase it differently. In the end, he said, ‘If you’re so fucking good, you sing it.’ I told him I couldn’t sing it. In the end, we got there, and he did a beautiful job of it. There was all this swearing back and forth.”
Because the album didn’t immediately become a hit, the band split up and members pursued solo projects. Argent had a great amount of success with Argent, a prog rock band that yielded hits such as "Hold Your Head Up" and "God Gave Rock and Roll to You.”
After decades apart, the band reunited in 2008 for a three-night series of concerts at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire Theatre that drew celebrities such as Robert Plant and Paul Weller.
“Those shows were great,” says Argent. “We had no idea how they’d turn out. Chris White used to come out and see Colin and my version of the band. Chris liked it and said he wanted to be involved and we had never played the album in its entirety. If we were to do it, we wanted to do it as exactly as possible. About an hour before the show, people kept rushing in to say all the guests who were there. We started to get really panicked. I thought if we went out on stage and it was rubbish, it will the longest night of our lives. Within 40 seconds, we knew we would have a ball.”
The group has toured ever since that 2008 reunion. The current jaunt will also coincide with the release of an album-sized book of the lyrics of Odessey and Oracle
as well as many of their other popular songs, handwritten by the authors. It will include original artwork from both Terry Quirk, who created the iconic cover artwork, and Vivienne Boucherat, who created individual works for each song. The book will also feature anecdotes about the songs and their recording.
"This whole year, we’re giving our energies to Odessey and Oracle,
" says Argent. "The current lineup will play a big festival in Texas and we started in Jamaica with the touring band. The shows were great. We’ll do that too. After this two-month tour of the U.S., We’ll go back and do shows in the UK and festivals and a UK tour which will be mixed between the Odessey and Oracle
shows and shows with the smaller lineup too. We’ll be working a lot this year and it really is fulfilling. The thing I find so gratifying is that all these years later, it’s not just an old audience. There’s always a young component as well. In some way or another we seem to be able to relate to a younger generation as well as to older poele. That’s a real privilege.”
The Zombies Odessey and Oracle 50th Anniversary Tour, 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, Lorain Palace Theatre, 617 Broadway Ave., 440-245-2323 Tickets: $40-$60, lorainpalace.org.