Bringing a 1960s Classic Back to Life: The Zombies on Performing “Odessey and Oracle” Live and Their Latest Release

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The Zombie's Odessey and Oracle

The Zombie’s Odessey and Oracle.

This year, nearly 50 years after its initial release, The Zombies are launching a U.S. tour to perform their classic album Odessey and Oracle in its entirety.

Oracle is now known as a truly great and once “lost” masterpiece of psychedelia.

It is an immaculate collection of music with exceptionally clever and unusual arrangements, Mellotrons splattered all over the place, a classic 60’s production ethos, swirling harmonies that seem progressive and reminiscent of 14th century England at once, and of course, Colin Blunstone’s evocative and engaging lead vocals.

Though it may seem a staggering feat to adapt such a painstakingly-produced classic album to the stage, The Zombies appear well-equipped to pull it off. This is evidenced by their 40th Anniversary Live Concert release, which documented their 2008 performances of this album to sold-out audiences in the U.K.

Now, supporting the upcoming release of a new album’s worth of entirely original material—titled Still Got That Hunger—The Zombies are bringing their live rendition of Odessey and Oracle here to the U.S., complete with all their surviving members.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Colin Blunstone, lead singer of The Zombies, to chat with him about the making of this amazing and influential recording, about how a classic album is pulled off live, and what the future of The Zombies looks and sounds like.

Now that it’s been nearly 50 years since the release of Odessey and Oracle, have your feelings about the recording changed?

Colin: No, I think my feelings about the album are the same. At the time, it got some critical acclaim, but commercially it was not a success. My feeling about the album was, in a very concise way, that it was the best that we could do. And if it wasn’t going to be a commercial success, obviously that tells you something—that maybe it was time for us to move on and get involved in other projects.

I think it’s got some great songs on it though, and some very great performances. We were very fortunate to get into Abbey Road—at the time it wasn’t easy to get into Abbey Road as we were a CBS act and to my knowledge, we were the only act to get into Abbey Road that wasn’t an EMI act.

I’m not quite sure how we managed that, but we were recording in studio 3 with Geoff Emerick and Peter Vance who had just finished the Sgt. Pepper’s album, so we were recording with the very best people and were very fortunate to get into a situation like that.

So you don’t know how you got in there, but did you want to get in there? Was that an specific goal, to record with Geoff, and at Abbey Road?

Well, Ken Jones produced us from “She’s Not There” up until Odyssey and Oracle and everybody in the band felt it was time to move on. Ken could be a real autocrat—he could be very strict—but when we suggested to him that it might be time to produce ourselves [mainly Argent and White doing the production], he helped us to get going. And to my knowledge, it was Ken Jones who got us into Abbey Road. But how he did it, who he had to kill, I’m not quite sure. [Laughs]

So, Geoff [Emerick] had just come off these historic recordings at the time. Was there anything in particular he contributed that changed the sound or direction of the record or any specific tune?

I don’t remember any specifics, because we recorded that album in ’67, but I think we did benefit from the advances they made with the Beatles. For instance, we were now recording on 8 tracks. They managed to put the two 4-track machines together.

We walked in to the studio just after they managed to do that, so we had tracks to spare to double track vocals and [overdub keyboard solos] and things like that which we weren’t expecting.

The other thing I remember, not exactly having to do with Geoff, but there was a Mellotron in Studio 3 that we were told was John Lennon’s, that he had left behind, and we used that all over O&O, so that made quite a difference to the album.

It was also interesting walking in to Studio 3 because on the floor there were percussion instruments just where the Beatles had left them [from Sgt. Pepper’s].

But Geoff and Vance were incredibly gifted and very sophisticated. They just made it so easy for us. I love it when you walk into a studio and an engineer just brings up magical sounds, when you don’t have to fight to get those sounds. Geoff and Vance did just that.

I’ve been a fan of the record for a while, and in my mind I always thought it had taken a long time to create since it’s so nuanced and arranged, but I’ve recently learned that this was recorded over a very short period of time.

Oh yes, an incredibly short time. I can’t remember how long it took to write the songs, but that only took a few months as well.

We had a very small budget, a thousand pounds, which even in 1967 in Abbey Road went nowhere. So we made a concerted effort to rehearse extensively so that all the arrangements and the keys were fixed before we went into the studio, and all we were really looking for was a performance.

Oddly enough we’ve done the same thing with our new album, Still Got That Hunger. We thought “why not go back to how we prepared for O&O?” and I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do that. That way you’re not using up studio time to find your way with a song; you find your way around it outside the studio.

[Editor’s note: Adjusted for inflation and historical exchange rates, a £1,000 budget would translate to roughly $20,000 today. Average recording studio costs were considerably higher at the time, meaning that direct are comparisons very difficult to make on dollars and cents alone, but Blunstone recollects that the entire album was completed in just five days at Abbey Road.]

Were the vocal arrangements sorted before recording Odessey as well?

For the most part. But because we had these extra tracks, we did sometimes have the extra luxury of either double- or triple-tracking harmonies, or adding another part on the top.

The vocal arrangements always seem to me to have almost a Renaissance influence, very British in fact. Composers like Thomas Tallis come to mind. Was any of that an influence on this recording?

The Zombies, though under-recognized in their day, have since come to be counted as one of the most influential and creative groups of the 1960s Britpop era.

The Zombies, though under-recognized in their day, have since come to be counted as one of the most influential and creative groups of the 1960s Britpop era.

Well, I’ll tell you one thing, apart from Rod being a great pianist, he was a chorister until he was about 18 so he’s got a deep knowledge of harmony.

Now, when the band first got together, I was supposed to be the rhythm guitarist but ended up being the singer, but I was a pretty unsophisticated musician, so this is how we did our harmonies:

They would say to me, “Colin, you sing to us what you think is the melody.” And usually in the verses and bridge that would be fine, but when we came to the chorus I would often naturally take the top harmony (I have a high voice), without realizing that was what I was doing.

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