“Honored to be quoted at the end of this article.”
John Scott G, Los Angeles, USA, 29 July 2014. https://plus.google.com/+JohnScottG/posts
UPDATED August 26, 2021.
|The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle album sleeve
Have you ever noticed the sleeve of the classic “Odessey and Oracle” album by the Zombies contains a spelling mistake?
As a former copywriter (and journalist), I sympathise, having suffered similarly when clients and account men fiddle with your copy without telling you, stuffing it up, making you look bad.
In the Zombies’ case, it was the sleeve designer who erred, an art teacher flatmate of the Zombies’ bassist, Chris White.
Odyssey is spelt with a “y” of course and, at the time, the Zombies tried to make out it was a deliberate mistake. (A bit like Quentin Tarantino and his weirdly spelt “Inglourious Basterds” movie.) But what else can you do if you miss a typo before it goes to print?)
Recorded for CBS Records in London in 1967, “Odessey and Oracle” sold poorly at first; and was indifferently received by the rock press when released in April 1967. By then, the Zombies had disbanded. Three years later, I found myself working amongst them, at the old CBS UK headquarters in Theobald’s Road, London. Drummer Hugh Grundy and guitarist Paul Atkinson were A&R men there: truly nice, humble, normal
guys who, in no way, acted like rock stars who’d a number one U.S. hit on their CVs.
|The Zombies in their heyday
If you need reminding, the Zombies American smash was “She’s Not There” in 1964, written by their keyboard player, Rod Argent.
Apparently, Rod built the lyrics around the John Lee Hooker blues song, “No one Told Me”, which became the opening line of “She’s Not There”.
The band Santana also had an international hit with “She’s Not There” in 1977; and more recently the track’s featured in many film and TV soundtracks, including Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” and in an Episode of the vampire series, “True Blood”, where it was performed by Nick Cave and Neko Case.
“She’s Not There”, of course, is now a rock classic. And so, too, is that misspelt 1967 non-seller, “Odessey and Oracle”. Such is its status nearly 50 years down the track, I’ve just heard that a musician in Melbourne, Australia, recently recorded the entire “Odessey and Oracle” album, as a tribute to the Zombies; and has already started performing it live with his band, to good reviews. His name is Ben Mason and the album’s called “Odessey Odyssey”. Ben’s tribute sounds pretty good and he’s even had a letter of endorsement from the Zombies’ original drummer, the aforementioned Hugh Grundy.
As well as having the pleasure of working with Hugh Grundy and Paul Atkinson, we in the CBS press office also had the Zombies’ former singer, Colin Blunstone, and keyboard player and songwriter, Rod Argent, on our Epic label to promote. Indeed, one of Argent’s hits in 1973 was the original version of “God Gave Rock and Roll To You”, written by Russ Ballard, a multi-instrumentalist in the band. Kiss’s cover later became a Kiss classic. Here’s the link to the original version, for those interested.
Colin Blunstone was a solo artist and Rod had his band Argent, who would later have another monster worldwide hit with, “Hold Your Head Up”. It goes without saying that much booze and other substances were consumed, in the company of London’s rock press, watching these two former Zombies perform their new stuff. Chris White gave up performing but continued to write for both Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, co-writing “Hold Your Head Up”.
In those days, Clive Davis, was the all-powerful head of CBS Records’ American parent, Columbia Records, and didn’t think “Odessey and Oracle” worth releasing in the United States. His mind was changed by the Columbia Records recording artist and staff producer, Al Kooper, who took the album back to America after a visit to London and sang its praises. To this day, I remember Al, with his black mop of curly hair, sitting in the office. Al Kooper was vindicated by a track from the album, “Time of the Season”, subsequently reaching number three in the American charts.
100th Greatest Album of all Time – Rolling Stone
The Zombies had further revenge on all those who originally turned their back on “Odessey and Oracle” when the album was voted number 100 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of all Time”.
Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, I believe, are still performing to this day, in a reformed Zombies. Hugh Grundy has retired to Spain but, sadly, Paul Atkinson, died after a stellar career in A&R in 2004. This official press release regarding Paul’s death gives more gravitas to his career than this humble blog can.
|A young Paul Atkinson
“Atkinson made the rare transition from artist to executive, ultimately heading up A&R departments at three of the five major multinational record conglomerates.
His contributions range from artist development and production, to international marketing and catalog development in the US and Europe.
Atkinson signed, among others, ABBA, Bruce Hornsby, Mr. Mister, Michael Penn, Judas Priest and Patty Smyth. He has also worked with Aerosmith, Eurythmics, Pink Floyd, Elton John, B.B. King, Jefferson Starship, Meat Loaf, Lyle Lovett, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, the Pointer Sisters, Kenny Rogers, Rick Springfield, Don Was and Brian Wilson. He launched Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International label (O’Jays, Three Degrees, Billy Paul) in the UK, supervised the UK early campaigns for Bruce Springsteen and many other US artists, supervised international marketing plans for The Clash and all CBS UK artists, partnered in a syndicated radio programming firm, and co-founded the first nationally distributed Internet-based enhanced CD record label and production studio.
Brian Wilson performed and the original Zombies reformed for Paul Atkinson’s benefit
“Most recently, Atkinson consulted with Warner Strategic Marketing on the Frank Sinatra Reprise catalogue. He also produced a 101-song Nat King Cole Classic Singles Collection Boxed Set for EMI/Capitol Records, and has guided several independent labels on talent acquisition. In January of this year (2004) Atkinson was presented with The Recording Academy’s President’s Merit Award at a tribute and benefit concert in his honor which was held at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.”
Paul Atkinson’s benefit concert, held in early 2004, was opened by Bruce Hornsby, while Brian Wilson played a 30 minute mini-concert suite with his nine-piece ensemble. Patty Smyth and many other leading artists also performed.
|The Zombies with Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent today
Paul Atkinson then joined the rest of the Zombies at the 2004 benefit for the original band’s first performance since 1965. As American writer John Scott G wrote afterwards.
“They played just two songs, but it was ten minutes of magic that no one in the room is likely to forget. Launching into “Time of the Season,” there was a gasp from many in the audience at how brilliant the band sounded. The song was pure, rich, and true. Plus, it took us to intoxicating heights of emotion. At the final chord, the crowd rose to its feet with a roar of approval. With barely time to catch our breath, they unleashed “She’s Not There” and we were on another rollercoaster ride of melody and elation. And yes, there was a third standing ovation.
Afterwards, I did not cry like a baby. No. I cried like a little kid.”