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Liner Notables #4: The Zombies – Odessey And Oracle

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Why, it seems like only yesterday [cue harp and wavy, out-of-focus visuals] when you could pore over an album's liner notes and not have to squint to garner an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove of tidbits…  

There’s no all-out fury in some of the minor-key moodiness of the Zombies, perhaps, but the sound of organ-laced hyperventilating intensity emanating from the lower-profile British Invaders in their swan song psychedelic-tinged Odessey And Oracle from 1969 at least signifies something Bardic: “Sound, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not./ Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments/ Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices.”

Due attribution and acknowledgment is extended in the mixed-use liner notes to an accommodating and blurb-worthy “Will" Shakespeare — the “not flatmate of [bass player] Chris [White] — for his contribution to the sleeve note.” One Terry Quirk, it may as well be noted — who actually is the flat mate of Chris and not, say, of the long-dead playwright — created the paisley-esque flashback happening of an album cover for the fondly remembered hit-makers of “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No" – and, after a lull in the Billboard action (despite never-wavering productivity), one other unexpected big-time late-breaker single that was definitely not too little, though certainly too late.

But who had time for Top 10 trivialities, rife with lowest common proclivities? This was the time of Rock Music As Art, and Beatles songs displayed, according to one Deadly Profound New York Times critic, such Mahler-ian features as "major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat submediant key switches, so natural in the Aeolian cadence.”

Who knew? The Zombies acknowledge with chagrin such high seriousness to an extent, then sexy-sadie it out the studio door. Some A&R guy stuck a pen and paper under head Zombie Rod Argent’s nose and he came up with this Mission Statement of sorts:

    Really music is a very personal thing; it’s the product of a person’s experiences. Since no two people have been exactly alike, each writer has something unique to say. That makes anything which is not just a copy of something else worth listening to.

    But then, going for broke as the Zombies go for a baroque-pop masterwork, he makes such high-falutin’ pronouncements palatable with a bit of drollery in briefly recounting how the group, “laden with gifts of fruits and nuts from the Orient,” confronted the CBS suits and “with smarm and charm extracted, astonished, the finance necessary to, compose, arrange, perform, produce and cover an LP ourselves, with no outside help or interference.”

    Well, except for a little unlikely boost from our next liner-note luminary, the Renaissance rock musician and producer Al Kooper. At this time the renowned keyboardist for Bob Dylan and the leader of such groups as the Blues Project was a CBS producer himself, and even though he was deeply-steeped in blues and R&B, Kooper took a musical and promotional interest in the Zombies, who with their nuanced pop sensibility, were a decided exception to the R&B-based school of British Invasion bands.

    “While in London recently,” Kooper adds to the liner note hodge-podge, “I acquired forty British LPs. Upon listening to them, the tuneful and trippy Odessey “stuck out like a rose in a garden of weeds.” Moreover, in giving a brief rundown of some of the wide-ranging cuts' subject matters — from the girlfriend coming home from prison to a World War I battlefield story —  he finds the Mellotron-infused music “so original in thought” with “melodies incorporating well-timed diminished chords leaping through warm melodic tapestries.”

    “With this album, the Zombies establish themselves alongside the royalty of rock,” Kooper sums up. Indeed, they are “very much alive.”

    That might’ve been a little wishful thinking on Kooper’s part. The of-late hit-less but always prolific Zombies, contracted with CBS only for this one final release before disbanding, went their separate ways. Rod Argent took his distinctive, jazz-flavored keyboard skills to his new group Argent, and vocalist Colin Blunstone continued a solo career with some success in Britain.

    Not even the surprise monster hit from Odessey and Oracle, the classic oldies staple "Time Of The Season" could get them to get back together.

    "The Isle is full of noises," Shakespeare two-cents it. Yes, but with a little less in the way of sound and sweet airs that give delight.

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    About Gordon Hauptfleisch

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