Fifty years after its release, “Time of the Season” has become one of the defining songs of the Summer of Love. The song, though, took its time to become a hit, topping the American charts nearly a year after the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, the album from which it was taken, was released to near-total indifference -- by which time the band was no longer around to enjoy its belated success.
“Looking back, I suppose the timing wasn’t too good,” says singer Colin Blunstone, whose smoky-smooth voice is one of the Zombies’ defining characteristics. “We’d all moved on and started new projects, but to see that we’d got a huge worldwide hit record was fantastic after the disappointment of the initial reaction to the album.”
In the intervening decades, Odessey and Oracle has accumulated a cult reputation as an overlooked gem of early psychedelia, its paisley-tinged melancholy and rich production earning it the No. 100 spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
“I sometimes think of it almost like a living being,” Blunstone says with the air of a proud father. “It has a life of its own and it’s struggling to be a success because no one’s really helping it. It’s done it all on its own.”
The album’s following has grown to the point that a planned one-off concert to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2008 expanded into a three-show run at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London followed by short British and American tours. Now, the four surviving original members (guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004) are reuniting for a 50th anniversary tour that will bring them to the Keswick Theatre on Friday and Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, Pa., on Saturday.
“We’ve always resisted looking back,” says keyboardist and songwriter Rod Argent, who insists this tour will mark the last time the band will perform the album in its entirety. “We still get our energy from creating new things. But if we are looking back, I want to do it as accurately as possible. The fact that Odessey and Oracle still manages to relate to people in this generation along with people that have been with us all the way along feels like a privilege.”
When “Time of the Season” began climbing the U.S. charts in early 1969, Argent had already formed his eponymous band, which later had hits with “Hold Your Head Up” and “God Gave Rock and Roll to You.” He and Zombies bassist Chris White had formed a songwriting and production partnership that included producing Blunstone’s debut solo album -- an indication that despite the breakup, band members remained in one another's good graces.
“There was never any bad blood,” Argent says. “We broke up for commercial reasons totally and we’ve remained friends ever since.”
Argent and Blunstone began performing together again in late 1999, after crossing paths at a charity concert for British jazz musician John Dankworth. Over the next few years, they toured together using their own names, purposefully avoiding playing Zombies hits like “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.” As lesser-known songs from the band’s catalog began to creep into their set lists, the duo revived the Zombies name and assembled a new lineup, which has since released three albums, most recently the crowdfunded Still Got That Hunger in 2015.
At this weekend’s shows, the current lineup will play a set of new songs and classic hits before original members White and Hugh Grundy join to perform Odessey and Oracle. Blunstone insists no one is more surprised than he is to be back on stage with his old band mates 50 years after the fact.
“When the band finished, it was incredibly sad," he says. "I’d been singing with the band since 1961, when we were 15 years old. Now it was 1967 and we’d been all around the world. It had been a dream and it all came to an end. So many emotions run through my veins when we play it now. I can assure you it’s a total mystery to me but a wonderful mystery.
"It’s not important that I understand it; it’s only important that we get out there and put on a good show.”The Zombies. 8 p.m. Friday, Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside. Tickets: $29.50-$69.50. Information: keswicktheatre.com
8 p.m. Saturday, Penn’s Peak, 325 Maury Rd., Jim Thorpe, Pa. Tickets: $33-$38. Information: pennspeak.com