I was working a conference in April and in attendance was a guy I've known for a long time. He is a member of my union; that's how I know him. He is something of a pop music aficionado. He can go on for long stretches of time; for instance, about the recording history and chart positions of British Invasion bands of the 1960s.
This is what he did when I gave him, and a couple other aging union brothers, a lift home from an all-day out-of-town union assembly. He had burned a British Invasion disk. To each track he provided a running commentary. It was a delight, until the CD player of the rental car I was driving ate the disk. The guy freaked and started pounding on the dashboard. Fortunately, we were only a few clicks from his aprtment. I was able to soothe him with the promise that a pair of needle-nose pliers would remedy the situation. When we got to his building, he ran upstairs, grabbed the pliers (which, thank goodness, he possessed) and returned to successfully extract his juicy nuggets of Georgie Fame, Petula Clark, Herman's Hermits and The Hollies.
Next I saw him, at last month's conference, there wasn't any shadow of the British-Invasion-CD meltdown, only the bright sunshine of his having seen the week prior The Zombies 50th anniversary tour of Odessey & Oracle (1968).
Odessey & Oracle, which my union brother proceeded to tell me, is a classic from the psychedelic era. The album was recorded principally at Abbey Road Studios a few months after The Beatles had recorded Sgt. Pepper's there. He raved for a solid ten minutes about the record, saying I had to listen to it immediately, particularly if I was unfamiliar with it. I promised I would.
I waited until a copy, which was the 2004 reissue by Fuel 2000, was available from my public library. I've been listening to it off and on for four weeks (mostly on last week).
What I've been thinking about is mostly how short-lived psychedelic pop/rock was. This train of thought is a continuation from the last Hippies vs. Punks post. By 1969 Pink Floyd had put a lot of sonic space between it and their Syd Barrett records. (Just think of the aural distance between June 1, 1967 Sgt. Pepper's and November 22, 1968 The White Album.)
The popular reception of Odessey & Oracle is a testament to the spontaneously anachronistic quality of psychedelic pop. As Greg Russo explains in his liner notes, The Zombies were having difficulty making money on tour. After a disastrous trip to the Far East, the band -- really the songwriters, keyboard player Rod Argent and bass player Chris White -- decided to make one more go of it in the studio. They signed with CBS Records, and CBS put up the money to record at Abbey Road.
Once the session work was done and the mixes made, Clive Davis, head of CBS, was not much impressed, an opinion that was confirmed when the first two singles released in 1967, "Friends of Mine" (not the best choice) and "Care of Cell 44" (much better) both tanked, followed by the generally ignored release of the album in April 1968.
The label then basically shelved Odessey & Oracle. By this time most of The Zombies had gone out and found regular day jobs. Chasing after the Zeitgeist, Rod Argent was already working on rebuilding the band, moving a new Zombies (which would become Argent) in, as Russo says, "a progressive, heavier" direction.
Then something bizarre happened. A U.S. radio station in the Midwest started playing "Time of the Season" at the end of 1968/beginning of '69, and by March it was a smash hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Cashbox chart.
By March of 1969 the first blush of psychedelia had already faded. Nixon was in the White House and his secret saturation bombing of Cambodia was underway. Nineteen-Sixty-Nine and 1970 -- with Woodstock and Altamont, Easy Rider and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Weather Underground and Kent State -- are the end of the '60s dream.
The Zombies psychedelic pop from the Summer of Love must have seemed simultaneously dated and fresh. Instantaneous nostalgia.
Sgt. Pepper's promise that everything is right here right now had proven hard to hold onto. Societies are not founded on such freedom. But people didn't want to give up the dream, particularly as that dream was floating closer and closer to the mainstream. So Odessey & Oracle found its place on AM radios in station wagons headed to and from the beach, or even on the supermarket PA, soothing shoppers as they strolled the fluorescent aisles buying Pop-Tarts and Tang.
Last week when I went on my morning coffee break -- there is an espresso place up the block from the building where I work that serves good coffee and is staffed by friendly, attractive, thoughtful, non-hipster young people -- two young women (my favorites) were working the counter. while on the sound system The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" was playing.
Either these young women were very kind and adept at affecting interest or they were genuinely interested when I launched into a small spiel about how music is isomorphic, that it mirrors the society from whence it originates, and that now, for our society, it would be impossible to produce Motown sound. "We're not that happy anymore," I said.
One of the young women agreed. "Yeah. You're right. We don't do happy."