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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2005/06/05
by Mike Gruenberg


Did you ever meet someone who you thought would be a great partner? And yet no matter how hard you tried to get together with that person, there would always be some sort of disconnect that interfered with the two of you completing the connection. It was almost as if extraneous forces were purposely keeping you apart. For example, after making plans to see each other, you thought that two of you were supposed to meet at the corner of 8th Street and 5th Avenue at 7:00PM, but the other person waited at the corner of 5th Street and 7th Avenue at 8:00 PM instead. So near, yet so far away with such good intentions that yielded no results. Timing is everything! Missed connections, like the love of your life that slipped away seems to always come back to haunt you.
The concept of missed connections occurred to me when I read that that Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent have reassembled the 60’s British group The Zombies with a new album called As Far As I Can See… on Rhino Records. For anyone who was privileged to live through the British Invasion of the 60’s, the names Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent represented two/fifths of one of the best bands to cross over from England to our airwaves known as the The Zombies. But much the same as two people who were not destined to connect, The Zombies seemingly never fulfilled their enormous potential.
In 1963 the group was formed in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England with Colin Blunstone (vocals), Paul Atkinson (guitar), Rod Argent (keyboards/vocals), Hugh Grundy (drums) and Paul Arnold (bass). In 1964, Chris White joined the band and permanently replaced Paul Arnold as their new bass player. That year, the band won a battle of the bands contest, sent a demo of their music to Decca Records and got a recording contract. By July of 1964, "She’s Not There" was released as their first single and became an instant hit record. That tune propelled the group to immediate stardom. It went to # 1 in the U.S.
"She’s Not There" written by Rod Argent combined his distinctive electric keyboard playing style with the unique, breathy vocal style of Colin Blunstone to give the group a sound that was far and away different from virtually all of the other rock groups of that time. In 1965, they followed that up with "Tell Her No" which used the same minor key, breathy sound formula created by Argent/Blunstone to produce another Top 10 hit for the group. Unfortunately, the group would not have another hit for quite some time. Their charmed existence would soon become a series of missed opportunities.

The music business in 1965 was going through a transitional stage. Record companies were looking for more album-oriented music as opposed to the catchy, hook laden two and a half-minute singles. As a result, groups were taking more control of their music by writing, performing and producing their artistic albums. Some groups had their own custom record labels such as the Beatles with Apple and Led Zeppelin with Swan Song. Artists with hit records were given time and latitude to compose concept albums which resulted in records like Sergeant Pepper, Tommy by The Who and Pet Sounds by the Brian Wilson & The Beach Boys. Some groups were even given their choice of which recording studios they preferred to use as opposed to using the time honored policy of using the studio of the record company. Given their success with two Top 10 hits, The Zombies were very much in demand. As members in good standing of the London music scene at the time, they wanted to write and produce their own music too. Their contract with Decca was coming to an end. At the same time, CBS Records in the UK was looking for more Album Oriented Rock groups and signed the Zombies in the spring of 1967. The band had been working on their new concept album called Odessey & Oracle well before signing with CBS. They had grown tired of playing other peoples’ material and were working solely on original tunes written by Rod Argent and Chris White.
Immediately after signing with CBS, the group began recording their new album at Abbey Road studios literally after the Beatles completed Sergeant Pepper. Much to groups’ good fortune, the engineers who had worked on the breakthrough Beatles album were available to work on Odessey & Oracle as well. Even though The Zombies had two hits, the old saying of "what have you done for me lately" applied in the form of only a modest budget given to the group for their recording activities. Spring turned into Summer, Summer turned into Fall and by the end of 1967, with record company’s restless anticipation for delivery of this album, the group was forced to pay for some of the sessions costs since their budget had long since been used up. Combining the frustration of a long drawn out recording process with the seeming inability to perform and the difficulties with a frustrated record company, the seeds of discontent amongst the group were rapidly growing.

Odessey & Oracle was finally ready for release in January of 1968. Unfortunately, the group was no longer in existence. They had broken up. However, rather than make this news public, the band decided to keep this news to themselves until the album was officially released. In April of 1968 when Odessey & Oracle was released along with the single off the album, Time Of the Season in England, the public first found out that the group had broken up. Although the reviews of the album were excellent, no amount of money could bring the group back together again or convince the record company to release the album outside of England. More missed opportunities. But wait, there was a silver lining to this cloud. Legendary musician and newly hired staff producer for CBS in the U.S., Al Kooper was a fan of the group. Prior to taking the job with CBS Records in the U.S., he went on vacation to England and brought home Odessey & Oracle whereupon he convinced the President of CBS, Clive Davis to release the album in the U.S. Clive agreed with Al to release it in the U.S.
Odessey & Oracle is a unique album. It captures the mood of London in the 60’s. It’s Carnaby Street with the mod styles, It’s a soundtrack of the times, It’s long hair for men and short skirts for women, It’s the British Invasion meets The Summer of Love, It’s playful, yet introspective, It’s The Tower of London, The Union Jack, Michael Caine, Jaguar XKE and Twiggy all rolled into one, It has great tunes and not so great tunes, Bust most of all, it has "Time of the Season" one the best rock songs ever written.
There are those reviews that praise it whereas there are other reviews that do not. I have the original album on vinyl and I also have the 30th Anniversary Edition on CD. I even have the 45 of "Time Of The Season" which I proudly play on my jukebox. To me, the album is an accurate representation of the music from that time period. The album takes great steps in experimentation with both vocal harmonies and music. It explores topics previously untouched. Argent and White have written tunes that for the most part stand the test of time. Al Kooper, who not only revived the group in 1968 but also wrote the liner notes on the original Odessey & Oracle was correct when he stated in those notes that the group was very much alive even though we all knew different at the time.
With the release of As Far As I Can See… Argent and Blunstone have returned as The Zombies so it looks like Al’s proclamation in 1968 was quite prophetic. Hopefully, we will all benefit by seizing the opportunity to once again listen to Odessey & Oracle, hear the new album and go see the group when they tour this year. But at the very least, get Odessey & Oracle for "Time of the Season."

Zombies Album Discography: * Begin Here, {UK first album} (December 1964): Roadrunner, Summertime, I Can’t Make Up My Mind, The Way I Feel Inside, Work’n Play, You Really Got A Hold On Me, She’s Not There, Sticks And Stones, Can’t Nobody Love You, Woman, I Don’t Want To Know, I Remember When I Loved Her, What More Can I Do, I Got My Mojo Working * The Zombies, {US first album} (Parrot Records, January, 1965): She’s Not There, Summertime, It’s Alright With Me, You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me, Sometimes, I Don’t Want To Know, I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Woman, Tell Her No, Work ‘n’ Play, Can’t Nobody Love You, What More Can I Do * Bunny Lake is Missing – An Original Soundtrack Recording, (RCA, 1965): Tracks by the Zombies: Nothing’s Changed, Just Out of Reach, Remember You. * Odessey and Oracle (Columbia Records, July, 1968): Care of Cell 44, A Rose For Emily, Maybe After He’s Gone, Beechwood Park, Brief Candles, Hung Up On A Dream, Changes, I Want Her She Wants Me, This Will Be Our Year, Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914), Friends of Mine, Time Of The Season

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