The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper’s, the Beach Boys had Pet Sounds, and the Zombies had Odessey and Oracle. The British group made up of Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Paul Atkinson, Chris White, and Hugh Grundy experienced massive success in 1964 with the release of their single “She’s Not There.” Despite struggling to gain popularity with other releases, including their debut album Begin Here, the Zombies were constantly writing new music. Upon its original release in April 1968, Odessey and Oracle was overlooked by listeners and gained little acclaim. Working with a short timeline and tight budget, the stress of recording would eventually lead to the band’s breakup in December 1967, months before the album’s release. The ‘60s never saw a live performance of Odessey and Oracle, which makes the album, as well as the new tracks and remixes of the 50th Anniversary reissue so special. Although members of the Zombies would regroup and perform under the same name on and off from the ‘90s to present, their work is not the same. The Zombies have tried to channel their ‘60s roots in recent projects, but the art is ingenuine compared to Odessey and Oracle. It is truly a product of its time that can’t be replicated now. In the decades following its release, Odessey and Oracle gained the appreciation it deserved, becoming a cult classic. It is now recognized as one of the best albums of the ‘60s, ranked 100 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album encapsulates the best of ‘60s British psych pop: harmonizing vocals, experimental instrumentation, and imaginative lyrics. The 50th Anniversary reissue features the tracks fans know and love, as well as a new track, “I’ll Call You Mine” and remixes and mono mixes of songs like, “Care of Cell 44,” “A Rose for Emily,” and “Time of the Season.”
The album starts off with the upbeat, baroque piano of “Care of Cell 44,” telling the story of a prisoner returning home. To me there are few songs out there with lyrics as delightful and heartfelt as “and we’ll get to know each other for the second time” and “It’s gonna be good to have you back home again with me.” These aren’t new ideas in music, but the instrumentation and vocals convey such deep and personal emotion. There is this euphoric feeling that comes when Blunstone sings “Feels so good, you’re coming home soon.” This song is very relatable and perfectly conveys the joy of finally being back with the ones you love. It also features really cool, bouncy harmonization in the pre-chorus that are very similar to those of the Beach Boys. There are two previously unreleased versions of “Care of Cell 44” on this reissue; the first is the backing tracks of takes 1 and 2 and the second is an alternate mix of the song. The next track on this album “A Rose for Emily” is another fan favorite. The slow and simple piano ballad spotlights the group’s vocals and focuses on storytelling. On the reissue, “A Rose for Emily” features cello, which adds a beautiful, classical element to the song, but I understand why stylistically the band chose not to originally release it this way. There is a really simplistic beauty to having just piano and vocals. The fourth track on Odyssey and Oracle, “Beechwood Park,” is a slow and easygoing summer song. Musically, this is one of the Zombies more psychedelic tracks and it can clearly be heard in the guitar rifts throughout the song.
There are songs on the album that can easily be grouped together: you have your upbeat love songs, “Maybe After He’s Gone,” “I Want Her She Wants Me,” “This Will Be Our Year,” and “Friends of Mine” and then, you have your slow, melancholy, kind of edgy songs, “Beechwood Park,” “Changes,” “Butchers Tale,” and “Time of the Season.” The upbeat love songs are just fun, easy to sing tracks; they don’t contain a lot of substance, but musically they have great beats, cool little baroque piano/organ melodies, and thoughtfully layered harmonizations. Listening to Odessey and Oracle one can hear the great detail that went into this album. Since the band had limited recording time, they rehearsed each track extensively and it had a noticeable effect on the album; there is no excess instrumentation or messy, out-of-place notes. It all fits together perfectly. An interesting aspect of this album and most of the Zombies’ music is the influence piano has. The Beatles and Beach Boys, as well as other similar artists of the time, featured piano on a couple tracks on their albums, but the Zombies incorporate it in almost all of their tracks. It is something very unique to them and it is well represented on this album in tracks like “A Rose for Emily,” “Brief Candles,” “Hung Up On a Dream,” “This Will Be Our Year,” and the previously unreleased track, “I’ll Call You Mine.” Similar to “Brief Candles,” “I’ll Call You Mine” starts out with slow piano and then picks up into a faster pop chorus. The final track on Odessey and Oracle is “Time of the Season,” a surprise hit that charted number 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1969. The song varies from the rest of the Zombies’ work, but is one of their most recognizable songs. On the 50th Anniversary reissue, there is a remix of “Time of the Season” that incorporates drums into the chorus where they sing “It’s the time of the season for loving.” This makes the song a little more upbeat, which I liked, but I still prefer the original. As a fan of this era of music, I cannot recommend Odessey and Oracle more. It still does not get as much attention as Sgt. Pepper’s and Pet Sounds, but when it comes to quality it is definitely on par with these albums. The 50th Anniversary reissue gives a more intimate look at the recording of this album. Considering this album is somewhat frozen in time, it is really cool to have these new tracks unearthed and understand a little bit more about the attention and detail that went into the album and the circumstances under which it was created.