If there's one place in the world I'd like to be the first week of March 2008 it would be the Shepard's Bush Empire Auditorium in London. And that's despite being thoroughly sick of visiting London over the last six months.
That night, the surviving members of the Zombies -- Colin Blunstone, Rod Argent, Chris White and Hugh Grundy -- will hold a reunion to perform the album "Odyssey and Oracle." They will also be performing "other solo tracks" with a string quartet, which no doubt means that Blunstone will be singing works from his solo albums. And no doubt Argent and White will be doing their big Argent hits from the '70s.
I know this sounds like the wheezings of yet another old baby boomer lost in nostalgia for his past. But bear with me for a few minutes, because I'm actually going somewhere with this.
First, the Zombies and their extraordinary album.
Of all of the great albums of the British Invasion, none is more unusual, both in content and history, than "Odyssey and Oracle." Always ranked among the 10 best Britpop albums of the era -- pretty heady company when you consider that list also includes "Meet the Beatles," "Revolver," "Out of Our Heads," "Something Else " and "The Who Sings My Generation" -- "Odyssey and Oracle" had the unhappy distinction of being released after the Zombies broke up. So there was no tour -- and those millions of listeners who were enchanted by the album's masterpiece, "Time of the Season," never actually got to see the band perform it.
This bit of bad luck was of a piece with the rest of the Zombies history. The band never fit any of the usual molds. They were neither working class heroes nor aristos, but just public school kids from the unlikely location of St. Albans. They didn't sound like any other band either: classically structured songs driven by Rod Argent's keyboards and featuring one of rock's greatest treasures: the mysterious, breathy vocals of Colin Blunstone. The band had two huge hits, "Tell Her No" and "She's Not There," both usually listed in Rock's Top 100, and successfully toured the U.S. to the sound of screaming girls.
With this success, the band went for it all, producing "Odyssey and Oracle," an album of complex lyrics, melodies and instrumentation every bit as ambitious as "Sgt. Peppers" or "Days of Future Past." The album came out in early 1968 to some acclaim … and nobody bought it. Even more embarrassing, when the album appeared on the shelves the title was misspelled as "Oddessey and Oracle."
But it didn't much matter, because by then the band had already broken up in frustration over its bad luck. A year later, the single "Time of the Season" was released and rocketed up the charts all over the world. When the band was approached to tour behind the record, it refused, so the record company just sent out phony bands bearing the Zombies name.
And that's how it went. Argent and White went off to have a gold record hit with Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" and Blunstone created two of the most beautiful albums in pop music history: "One Year" and "Ennismore," the latter containing the classic "I Don't Believe in Miracles."
And that was that. Argent and White cut a number of albums over the subsequent decades, and Blunstone's voice was always in demand by everyone from the Alan Parson's Project (his "Old and Wise" is the high point of "Eye in the Sky") to Dave Stewart. But, like most aging rockers, they fell off the radar for an entire generation.