When the Zombies arrived at London’s Abbey Road studios in August 1967, their creativity was high but success was in the past. The British Invasion band had two innovative hits, 1964’s “She’s Not There,” followed the next year by “Tell Her No.”
Keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White wrote the band’s songs; the group was rounded out by singer Colin Blunstone, guitarist Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy on drums.
The singles to follow were a disappointment. Argent told The Guardian that after signing with CBS Records in 1967, a change was needed.
“Our producer [Ken Jones] did a very good job on ‘She's Not There,’ but we felt he mixed some of the balls out of the subsequent singles. Chris and I desperately wanted to produce an album ourselves before we finished so we went to CBS and asked for a small amount of money. I remember being given £1,000, which wasn't very much.”
The Zombies followed the Beatles into Abbey Road, where they had just finished recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For the pioneering LP, the Beatles had demanded more tracks than the studio’s four-track machines could deliver.
Engineers Geoff Emerick and Peter Vince had slaved together four-track machines; when the Zombies arrived, the engineers were busily disconnecting the recorders. Atkinson recalled in Yesteryear Sounds that he was shocked to see the engineers unplugging the patch cables.
“We said, ‘Wait a minute, what are you doing? Plug those back in again.’ And they said, ‘No, no, please. We’ve had six months of this. It’s been driving us crazy. We want to unplug all this stuff and get back to recording normally.’
“I think they had six or eight four-track machines lined up against the wall of the control room, all connected by patch cords. So we made them plug them back in again and we used the same technique. So we benefited directly from Sgt. Pepper.”
The group was now able to record overdubs, a luxury they’d never enjoyed. The band also took advantage of the instruments left behind by the Beatles, particularly the mellotron, a keyboard that could mimic violins, cellos, horns and other instruments.
Used by the Beatles on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Argent played the mellotron for the first time at Abbey Road. On a tight budget, the group was able to avoid hiring an orchestra thanks to the mellotron’s versatility.
"Time of the Season" by the Zombies
The result was 1968’s Odessey and Oracle, a groundbreaking album whose title was unintentionally misspelled by the cover artist, Terry Quirk. Its highlight: “Time of the Season.” Argent recalled how one of its classic lines came about.
“‘Time of the Season’ was the last thing to be written. I remember thinking it sounded very commercial. One of my favorite records was George Gershwin's ‘Summertime’; we used to do a version of it when we started out. The words in the verse: ‘What's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich like me?’ were an affectionate nod in that direction.”
Though Odessey and Oracle got great reviews, it sold so poorly in the UK that it wasn’t released in America. But Al Kooper, late of Blood Sweat & Tears, was starting a stint as an A&R rep for Columbia Records in 1968.
On a trip to England, Kooper picked up a copy of the LP and championed it for release in the States. Columbia took a shot, releasing “Time of the Season” on subsidiary Date Records in April 1968. By then the Zombies had disbanded; Rod Argent and Chris White had formed a new band, Argent.
To everyone’s surprise except Kooper, “Time of the Season” became a smash in 1969, reaching number three on the Billboard chart. Kooper’s described the aftermath in his memoir Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards.
“A buncha Zombies crossed the ocean to take photos and get gold records. No one at CBS thanked me for this; I received no gold record or cash recompense. But the Zombies, who knew what really happened, made sure to come to my office and thank me profusely. That was worth it all to me at that time.”
Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever and New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make New York Rock, selected by Best Classic Bands as two of the Best Music Books of 2021 and 2022.
Comments / 0