The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle (1968)

Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies is a gem of an album, and is quite simply a baroque/psychedelic pop masterpiece, as well as being one of the greatest albums of the 1960s. Released in 1968 at a time when the band where in the process of splitting up, this album was simply intended to be one last musical effort by them before going their separate ways, although little did they know that they were creating a masterpiece which would still endure decades on.

The sound of this album is a combination of baroque pop and psychedelic pop, with the band combining elements of both to create some of the most beautiful melodies and harmony singing. The album has a Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds feel to it, while The Beatles can also be heard, but one thing is for sure that when you listen to this album you can tell instantly that The Zombies have their own distinctive sound. Key aspects of the overall sound of this album include choral harmony singing, singing that is also often double tracked to create an amazing densely layered sound much like a church choir, the heavy use of classical piano and harpsichord, and a mellotron which creates the effect of baroque strings. Combine these elements with the singing of Colin Blunstone who projects a calmness in his delivery and you get what sounds like it should be a classical album, but what is actually instead a psychedelic pop record with an underlying baroque feel.

The baroque influence is what makes Odessey and Oracle so good, with the choral singing and classical piano giving the material quite an historical feel which would otherwise not have been there, as well as an overall Englishness to the album. Opening track “Care of Cell 44” has a Penny Lane-like sound to it with some of the most exquisite harmony singing in pop, as well as some great harpsichord lines from keyboard wiz and band songwriter Rod Argent. Other tracks in the baroque mould include “A Rose for Emily” and “Changes”, both of which are classic examples of the choral harmony singing throughout this album of which when listened to you can almost picture being in a church listening to a choir, the sound is that amazing.

Melody is also a key component of the sound on this album and is something The Zombies do brilliantly on here. There infectious psychedelic pop as seen on tracks such as “Friends of Mine”, “Brief Candles”, and “I Want Her, She Wants Me” takes the listener to another place, and for me conjured up images of autumn (strange as that may seem), in particular the certain calmness and beauty that autumn brings. The combination of piano/keyboards, mellotron and harmony vocals combines so well and creates a beautiful pop feel which is like nothing else from the late-60s period, making this album standout in a unique way from the more experimental British psychedelia, as well as the drug-fuelled electric psychedelia of America.

Ironically enough, the one track on the album which is stylistically quite different to the rest of the album is also the bands most famous song. “Time of the Season” is a 60s classic but it is not a baroque pop song, and in fact it has more of a Stax soul sound to it complete with a Hammond organ keyboard solo, marking a slight departure from the melodic pop of the rest of the album. This aside it is still to this day a fantastic track, while it is also quite a nice way to close out the album on a slightly different note for variety’s sake if not anything.

At the time of its release Odessey and Oracle was overlooked completely in England and was viewed indifferently in music circles. But over time its reputation has grown significantly to the point that it is now considered a 60s classic and recognised as one of the great albums. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it the eightieth greatest album of all time, while its popularity is also seen in that due to popular demand The Zombies play it in its entirety every year (yes they got back together). Odessey and Oracle represents the perfect pop album full of melody and harmony, and in my opinion even tops that overrated supposed masterpiece Sgt. Pepper in quality. I cannot recommend it enough as a 60s pop album and suggest you give it a spin, as it is might just be one of the most melodically beautiful albums you will ever hear.

A

– Sam

 

 
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