The Zombies To Right Historic Wrong At This Weekend’s Abbey Road Livestream

Full Circle:
Jules Annan / Courtesy The Zombies
– Full Circle:
The Zombies’ Steve Rodford, Søren Koch, Rod Argent, Tom Toomey and Colin Blunstone, return to Abbey Road for their live- stream and where the original band recorded their under- appreciated 1967 masterpiece, Odessey and Oracle.

The Zombies are returning to the scene of one of rock and roll’s greatest injustices. This Saturday, Sept 18, the band will stream via its “World Tour in One Night” concert, which will include a Q&A with journalist David Fricke and appearances by rock star fans including Paul Weller, Hayley Williams, Haim and others. The concert, recorded live in Studio 2 of London’s famed Abbey Road Studios, is also the same locale where in 1967 The Zombies recorded their classic psychedelic pop-rock album  Odessey and Oracle, which in its time went woefully underappreciated and led to the band’s demise—which thankfully didn’t last.

“That album has such a strange history,” says Colin Blunstone, the group’s sublime powerhouse vocalist. At the time of Odessey and Oracle’s recording, the group was riding high off two hits, the classic “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” from their 1965 self-titled debut before they headed into the illustrious Abbey Road for their follow-up. The Zombies arrived just days after the studio’s most famed clients had finished recording one of their masterpieces. 
“We went to Abbey Road two days after The Beatles had recorded Sgt. Pepper’s,” says Blunstone “They mostly recorded in Studio 2 and we recorded in Studio 3,” he recalls, “but they also recorded in Studio 3. In one corner of Studio 3, John Lennon’s Mellotron was left behind. And Rod (Argent, The Zombies’ co-founder, keyboardist) used it. If you listen to Odessey and Oracle, there’s Mellotron all over the album. If John hadn’t left his Mellotron behind, it would have been a very different album. We were huge Beatles fans and we knew that the percussion instruments that were on the floor, the tambourines, maracas, and so forth, had been left there by the Beatles, they were practically warm when we walked in there. It was a huge thrill to know the Beatles had just been there.”

The Zombies also worked with the Beatles’ genius recording engineer, Geoff Emerick, fresh off recording Sgt. Pepper’s. Emerick’s incredible body of work also included such godhead pop albums as The Beatles’ Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour and Abbey Road, as well as Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom and Chris Bell of Big Star’s posthumous wonder “I Am The Cosmos.” Peter Vince, another Abbey Roader who worked with the Beatles, was also in on the sessions.

Odessey and Oracle
– Odessey and Oracle
“They made some very interesting advances in recording,” Blunstone says. “There were no eight-track machines in the U.K.,” he says. “We only had four-track machines and they managed to put two four-track machines together, which in effect, gave us seven tracks to record on. This was very new for us. We’d been limited to four tracks up to then, and suddenly, we’ve got seven tracks, which is what the Beatles had on Sgt. Pepper. It meant we recorded practically live, as most bands did, but once we recorded the basic tracks, we could add harmonies or keyboards and that was one of the first times anyone was able to do that. At the time, it really set us free and allowed us to experiment in a way we had never been able to.”
The Zombies, unlike The Beatles, didn’t have unlimited studio time or the financial resources to dither in the studio, which didn’t hinder the results. “We recorded it for £1,000,” Blunstone recalls. “We had to record it so fast. We just rehearsed and rehearsed before we got to the studio. We knew what songs we were going to record, we knew the arrangements, the keys. We were just looking for a performance, and we recorded very quickly. And then when it was finished, I mean, personally, I thought that was the best we could possibly do.” 
Others at the time inexplicably disagreed. “We released the single from Odessey and Oracle in the UK, it was called ‘Care Of Cell 44,’” Blunstone says of one of the band’s greatest songs (above). “It was totally ignored. I don’t think it was played on the radio for years.”  
Renowned record exec Clive Davis, then the head of Columbia Records, also known for his “ears,” inexplicably wasn’t a fan, according to Blunstone. “He didn’t like it, I know,” he says, though thankfully, others did. “Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat & Tears had become a producer at CBS and on his first day at work, he’d just been in England and brought about 200 albums from the U.K., and Odessey and Oracle stood out to him, On his first day at CBS, he went to see Clive Davis and said, ‘Whatever it costs, we have to get this album.’ And Clive Davis said, ‘We already own this album. We weren’t even going to release it.’ And Al Kooper fought to have it released. Without Al Kooper, the album wouldn’t have been released in America. It’s such a strange story.” 

The Age of Innocence:
Photo by Hullabaloo Archive/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Age of Innocence: The Zombies perform on the NBC TV’s “Hullabaloo” in January 1965 in New York.
Other bizarre hijinks included the misspelling of “Odyssey” on the cover and mixing down to mono when it needed to be in stereo, which the band reportedly paid out of their own pocket to remix. The album’s second single “Friends of Mine” also failed to connect. And by the end of 1967 the band had split up. 
“It’s not that we got a bad reaction on the album, we didn’t get any reaction,” Blunstone says. “It just seemed that perhaps the band had run its course and it was time to go and try new projects. And that’s what we did. Looking back it seems so strange, but at the time it seemed the right thing to do. Looking back now, I am curious what we might have done next, but we’ll never know. But certainly, when ‘Time of the Season’ went on to be a huge hit – I think it was No. 1 on Cash Box and No. 2 on Billboard – there was never any talk of reforming. By then, we were all committed to other projects.”
Time, however, as well as success, have a way of healing all wounds. “Over a period of years, it just started to get noticed,” Blunstone says. “Tom Petty was one of the first guys and in the U.K., Paul Weller (of the Jam and Style Council) has been a huge supporter of the album. It’s his favorite album. If you’re talking to anyone and they haven’t heard Odessey and Oracle, he’ll buy them a copy and give it to them. It’s a strange situation. Today it sells far more than it ever did when it was first released.”
It was similarly a slow return for The Zombies to reform who faced fake cover bands pretending to be The Zombies (one of which reportedly included ZZ Top’s Frank Beard and Dusty Hill). The band didn’t fully unite until 30 years, in 1997 at London’s Jazz Café. Several well-received greatest hit sets helped turn new generations onto the genius of The Zombies and in the ‘10s the band was again touring and putting out new music. 
Asked about the band’s greatest live performances Blunstone’s quick to point out a recent high-point: “The induction ceremony at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” he says. “That will stay with me forever. It was at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, with 17,000 people (in 2019) and it was incredible. To share the bill with people like Def Leppard, The Cure, Radiohead, Roxy Music, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks. It was a really wonderful evening.”
As for Saturday’s stream it was recorded in one take at Abbey Road before a small audience, Blunstone says, noting it wasn’t particularly different from any other gig.  “It’s a live concert,” Blunstone says. “There were technical challenges because we had an audience in a recording studio, and our performance was going straight into the control room. But also, we had a PA set up in the studio for the audience, and that can create problems because the control room is recording directly from the mic in front of you, but it’s also going to be picking up the PA as well.”  Not to worry, though, it’s7Abbey Road Studios.