The Zombies: Odessey and Oracle

Album #49

Episode date - October 14, 2015

The Alternative Top 40
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    If ever there was a record that did not get its due, this is it. Today “Odessey and Oracle” is more or less universally recognized as a pop music masterpiece, but in its time, the album was terribly neglected.

    The Zombies had two chart hits in the heyday of the ’64-’65 British Invasion but all attempts to build on their success, or even to retain some of it, were futile. Singles released subsequent to “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” fell on deaf ears and it looked like the Zombies had spent their allotted flirtation with fame. From mid 1965 until the Summer of ’67, the band’s label would not even entertain the idea of releasing an album, due to their inability to produce a third hit single.

    In a state of desperation, the Zombies changed labels and signed with CBS Records, but their fate did not improve. CBS provided a modest budget so new material could be recorded, and the band worked with alarming proficiency to produce a new album, but to no avail. CBS tested the waters and released “Care of Cell 44” as a single, but the indifference was palpable. Demoralized by the lack of public reaction and subsequent label disinterest, the Zombies abandoned their ambitions and broke up. With no band left to promote the album, CBS president Clive Davis decided to shelve the project. The recordings sat in a tape box for months until the recently hired Al Kooper, (founder “Blood, Sweat and Tears”), in his new role as staff producer, was reviewing the label catalog and came across “Odessey and Oracle.” Kooper was stunned by what he heard. He pleaded his case for releasing the album, based completely on its musical merit, and the label gave him his way, but would only release it on their tiny subsidiary, Date Records. As an interesting side-note, the presumed mis-spelling in the album title (“Odessey”) was not due to neglect, but a clever reference to an ‘ode’, as in a poem to be sung. Another single was culled, this time “Butcher’s Tale”, but crickets…nobody bought it, and no station put it into rotation. The album died a second death.

    With seemingly relentless passion, Kooper argued for yet another single. Against logic, “Time of the Season” was released in the Spring of 1968 – nine months after it was recorded – and it also bombed. How many times can the same set of songs be rejected? How much humiliation must be brought to bear? Incredibly, by some inexplicable miracle, the story did not end there. Cut forward to 1969. Date Records executives again reviewed their catalog and flying in the face of logic or even common sense, decided to Re-release “Time off the Season”, backed with another earlier flop single called “Friends of Mine”. Being almost two years old, the song could have qualified as a ‘golden oldie’ by then. The band had not existed for over a year. This time, though, the song catches fire. Despite its ‘age’, “Time of the Season” sounds fresh and distinctly modern. Over forty years later, it still does! The song rises to #3 on the pop charts, pulling the now re-released album with it, where it barely scrapes on to the Hot 100 album charts. Slowly, the album gets heard and as the decades pass, more and more critical praise is heaped on the album until it is posthumously recognized as a true masterpiece that suffered the unfortunate fate of being a bit too far ahead of its time.

    April 1968 - Billboard Charted #95

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