Who's Yo Daddy?
Lineup Card (1964-1967)
Chris White (bass, vocals)
Rod Argent (keyboards, vocals) also of Argent
Colin Blunstone (vocals)
Paul Atkinson (guitar)
Hugh Grundy (drums)
Innumerable bands got raped in the British Invasion. Raped by their record companies unwilling to share royalties and unable to release decent albums on a set, humane pace. Raped by record producers ready to rip out albums like stamp-pressed pieces of machinery, faster and cheaper and packed with songs by other people 'guaranteed' to score a hit. Raped by promoters, radio, J. Edgar Hoover, payola, crooked managers, crooked manager's brothers-in-law, drug dealers, John Sinclair, and, erm...Three Dog Night. And absolutely no one represents this better to me than the Zombies, an astoundingly inventive melodo-pop band that toiled in near-obscurity for the majority of the Sixties, successful enough to keep releasing singles and EP's in the wake of the hit songs 'She's Not There' and 'Tell Her No'. But the Zombies, despite being talented, original, and idiosyncratic songwriters with an almost scary penchant for striking melodicism, will never be mentioned in the same breath as blooze-hollerers like Them or the Animals, much less the more comparably effective Beatles or Stones. Hell, why should we, when we consider they released only one legitimate album (1968's Oddesey and Oracle) in their entire existence, one which languished until the sleazy-greazy-beautiful 'Time of the Season' broke out and became a surprise #1 hit after the band had already split up. As it is, they count tons of arty rockers among their disciples, but just imagine if they'd had even half the support of some of their more easily-marketed peers, and here I'm talking about idiots like Herman's Hermits....they'd have been unstoppable. Of course, whatever a 1965 or 1966-era Zombies album might've sounded like, I can only guess, but I guess it'd probably have been mighty fucking amazing. But that we'll never know for sure, so instead we have to sift through the ashes and trashes and just enjoy what we've got.
The Zombies were started by a bunch of brainy-looking London dudes circa 1962-3, meaning they fully deserve respect as being one of the original Brit-boom rock bands and not a second-generation derivation who took all their inspiration from all the money and chicks the Beatles were making. Thing is, the Zombies obviously took a lot of their psychic messages from bebop jazz and years of classical piano lessons rather than the usual Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters exclusives, which colors their approach to rock music like whiskey colors 7-up. Even on their earliest single, 'She's Not There', it's clear that the primary songwriters (reproductive organist Rod Argent and guitar string-slinger Chris White) don't give one lousy Roberto Clemente about coming across like authentic rhythm and bluesmen. Instead of operating with the crotch, like the Stones, or with the gut, like the Animals, the Zombies seem like they follow some internal melodic instinct that leads them every time to awesome vocal interplay backed by some flashy keyboard (especially for pre-art rock mid-60's stuff. I mean, Rod Argent was one bastard of a classical keyboardist...one that swirled it like a Slushee and could flash it hard, but never grandstanded ala Wakeman or Emerson). They're brainy, but not too brainy for their own good, and I've never heard them sound like they're attempting to make something 'great', it just comes out that way. Sometimes. And other times they try to sound like someone else and it all falls into a canyon piled with shit. Still, how many mid-60's bands are there who sucked on the covers while creating classics every time their pen goes to paper? And, perhaps most importantly, the guitar player is named Atkinson. Is there any better way of ending this introduction than that?
(Featuring 'She's Not There' and 'Tell Her No')
- Parrot 1964.
Ohmygod, do I love the opening single 'She's Not There', which has to rank up there with 'The Last Time' and 'I Feel Fine' as one of my favorite 'early-period' British Invasion singles. But while those other two are massive riff-monsters of coiled power, 'She's Not There' explodes like a carpetbomb of jazz-shrapnel and presses fast-forward on rock music for about 5 years. Now, I happen to hear craploads of swing and jazz influence in 50's rock (just think of, say, Del Shannon's 'Little Runaway' or your favorite Roy Orbison number), but never had the smacked-out attitude of 50's bebop been integrated into a rock 'n' roll tune like it is here. There's the undanceable off-beat hits on the intro that mash into full-stomp on the chorus, the slithery electric piano comps and surprisingly fluid solo, and, most of all, the oh-so-British accented minor key vocal harmonies that seem to burst into the strikingly heartbroken and raw lines 'So let me tell you 'bout the way she looks! The way she has to have the color of her hair!' with the desperate breath taken before 'SHE'S NOT THERE!!!!' Aww, man, if 2:40 is enough time to seismically shift a musical form, why do so many songs take three times as long just to throw a bit more dirt on it?
Now, I'd of course buy any album with frigging 'She's Not There' on it and not care too much about what came after it, and that approach serves me well on this one. See, this debut 'album' is clearly a rush job to score a few more bucks off the success of its two featured singles (the other being the groovy 'Tell Her No', which isn't anywhere as earth-shattering as 'She's Not There', but is nearly as dense and packing some fine vocals by Colin Blunstone), meaning there's some pretty cool first efforts by Chris White including the Byrdsy 'I Don't Want to Know', wherein he apparently has latched onto a loose girl but prefers not to hear about her various faults, vehemently enough to come across as more than a little desperate for the pink stuff, and the Stones-dark 'What More Can I Do?' that thrives on some tremendous trash-Farfisa lines and some more of that infectious vocal sparring between Blunstone and White. Argent also has a few others, none of which come close to the singles, but are more than adequate for the average Brit Invasion lover in your family. Now if they'd been able to pull an Aftermath and fill their album with originals, I could almost guarantee this album would score an A, but sadly they decide to hoist some covers on us instead, filling half the album with crap they sound like they'd rather not be playing, and don't play very well even if they did. Gershwin's 'Summertime' is okay, since it fits into their whole jazzy persona, but, man, if I've heard a worse version of 'Got My Mojo Workin', it's only been because the Mariachi band at my local Chi-Chi's was having an off night. The vocal harmonies on 'Can't Nobody Love You' are nice, but Blunstone is about as fit to sing soul music as Brian Boitano is to play right wing for the Philadelphia Flyers. The rhythm section never quite sounds confident on the four-on-the-floor, the guitar is marginal, the harmonica is more noisy than exciting...hell, only Argent is able to make a go of it on his keys, and that's just because the guy could play just about anything he wanted to and make it sound good.
Now, take into account that The Zombies Featuring... (or Begin Here, as it's known down the rabbit hole) is pretty darn hard to find unless you either get the pricey Zombie Heaven boxed set or track down some bonus-track laden (read: more covers) reissue, and I'm ready to say it isn't worth it. Find a Zombies best-of and count yourself lucky you never in your life have to hear Paul Atkinson stumble his way through the 'Mojo' solo.
Capn's Final Word: A strange case wherein a 1964 album has better originals than it does covers, and the singles sound two years too early. But there's more covers than singles, and that's where the problem arises.
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Tom Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: Here's the first Brit-Invasion crew to be keyboard based and going beyond the standard Vox or Farfisa organ. And Colin Blunstone was probably the classiest sounding Brit 'til Justin Hayward came on the scene. But Capn, we gotta talk about your lyric quote from "She' Not There". It's actually: "Well let me tell you about the way she looked, the way she'd act and the color of her hair". But everything else is ship-shape with the review and 'site. Thanks for the laughs. Now, what's a 'rave up' again? (Dear reader make sure you read the Capn's intro to The Yardbirds for the hilarious answer.)
Oracle - Rhino 1968
Somehow I must've missed the apparent rush to rediscover this album as a Lost Great Record of the Sixties in the last several years, preferring to ignore hype of most kinds, but, as I hear, lots of folks began to push Oddesey (yes, that's how they spell it, which no doubt would have driven my 10th grade English teacher to attempt assassination if she'd have ever realized this record exists) and Oracle up on pedestals previously reserved for Sergeant Pepper's and Astral Weeks, not to mention Pet Sounds, long the sentimental favorites for modern rock fans with a penchant for irony ('yup, that's right, I loooove the Beach Boys, as long as they aren't doing their stupid cars 'n' girls songs!') and absolutely no desire to actually embrace rock 'n' roll music in its pure form. Well, chalk Oddesey and Oracle up as another Rock 'n' Roll Classic for People Who Really Don't Like Rock 'n' Roll, a pop record even the most die-hard anti-rocker can embrace and place proudly next to his lounge records and Buena Vista Social Club CD in his own personal shrine to Starbucks music. For lovers of the Zombies and the Sixties rock scene around them, however, this album has gotta be something of a letdown. Finally we get to hear what an album full of Zombie originals sounds like after being teased with 'She's Not There' and the colossal 'Time of the Season' for most of our lives, and what we get is some nicely constructed love-song pop that seems to completely forget most of the instrumental wizardry we know the band has at its disposal. The first thing that strikes me about O&O is how darn light they are on everything but the mellotron and the vocal harmonies, which, as if you have any doubt, are to die for. But the rhythm section is locked into standard rhythms and not allowed anything interesting besides 'Season' and a few other moments. The guitar is just simply inaudible throughout, and there aren't even very many effects or cool tape noises considering this is supposedly some 'pillar' of psychedelic rock. Well, bullshit...this album is about as psychedelic as Dean Martin's dinner jacket. What it is is darn consistent...so much so that pretty much the entire album sounds the same as itself (other than 'Time', of course, and a weird little tune called 'Butcher's Tale') - jolly Pet Sounds-derived light pop tunes halfway between dancehall and doo-wop soul music, except Pet Sounds was devastating in places because Brian was on the verge of pulling a psychological Titanic and Odessey and Oracle is just pleasantly well done. And that, if you want it, is my final word on 80% of this record. If you want rock 'n' roll, psychedelia, or even Beatlesque rock, you're gonna be disappointed, but if you want imminently melodic cute, often uplifting love songs about your girlfriend getting out of prison, how nice a couple someone makes, then I can't say anything but this is out there waiting for you to become another convert.
Now, the difference makers for me on this album are the ones that buck the trend. Right when I'm beginning to sicken of Colin Blunstone's voice (which changed, by the way, now sounding a lot like Coldplay's Chris Martin a lot of the time) and all of the jolly, cutesy pop, they pull out the 'Butcher's Tale', (aka 'My HAAANNNDS won't stop SHAYYY-KING!!') which makes it sound like someone in the Zombies feels the same way we do about all this sweetness, even if it's quality sweetness, like there needs to be a little glimpse of something scary and off-putting to prevent this album from resembling too much a sleep aid. It's long, repetitive, is based on fucking accordion backing, and begins to annoy long before it finishes, but I like the point that the 'Butcher's Tale' makes. You can fill in your own personal interpretation of the main line if you wish...drug problems? world war shell shock? just got off the Tilt-a-Whirl? You make the call. I like to believe maybe it's in homage to Katherine Hepburn, but that's just me being obvious.
'Time of the Season', however, is another one of those Zombies singularities in music history, a song so immediately recognizable yet so unique that I've never found another song that even approaches the greasy, sexy feel of this comeon. And it's the sole reason why this album is a firm A- instead of a low B+. Perhaps 'Walk on the Wild Side' comes close to achieving the sleazy charm of this hazy classic, at least among former #1 hits (now there's an odd pair never to be seen again...just goes to show that every once in awhile the charts have a little correction that makes up for all the Archies, Bread, and Fifth Dimension that's ever been there), and the line 'What's your name, who's your daddy...is he rich like me?' bouncing between two lead singers over the pops and breaths approaches, for me approaches something like heaven. It suggests nothing it can't deliver, and I love the fact that Rod Argent finally gets a chance to flash his jazz chops on the electric piano, though I always thought that the second break was a bit superfluous. Hell, it's a rock classic and still nothing sounds quite like it, I shouldn't complain.
So, anyhow, Odessey and Oracle is something less than what most people expect it to be, probably because albums full of good pop melodies maybe aren't that hard to find when you get down to it. But groups like the Zombies are, and I personally feel a little cheated that this is all we get from the guys. I hear Argent's first record is a good place to continue onwards, but until my WinMX finally navigates its way through a thousand-person queue on the damn thing, I won't know that for sure.
Capn's Final Word: Is it great pop, or is it fluff? Well, I like the parts that aren't either one best.
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