A Zombie apocalypse happened on Record Store Day this year!
One of the more wondrous releases this year was not on colored vinyl and bore a title which on the surface might appear morbid: R.I.P.
But indeed, the album being celebrated here is by England's now legendary and influential pop band The Zombies, a group that might have gone down in history as nothing more than a two-hit wonder ("She's Not There," "Tell Her No") had not some very influential music industry folks put their name and reputation on the line in support of the band.
Particularly, a fellow named Al Kooper (founder of Blood Sweat & Tears, organ player on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and at that moment-in-time A&R Man for CBS Records) had the good sense and vision to push for The Zombies' 1967 masterwork to get a formal release in the United States.
It really almost didn't happen.
Yet history was made as "Time of the Season" became a smash hit two years later in 1969 and the album Odessey and Oracle went on to become revered as one of the finest records of the 1960s.
Of course, the inquiring Zombies fan might well wonder why there wasn't an immediate follow on album issued in 1970 after such success?
Well, you see by then two years had passed since the album had been recorded and The Zombies didn't technically exist as a band. Several band members had taken regular day jobs to make ends meet and there were contractual issues to boot getting in the way. Writers Rod Argent and Chris White were already architecting their next band called Argent which went onto become a hugely popular pop prog-rock act in the early 1970s.
However, in addition to Argent, there was an attempt behind the scenes in 1968 to continue making Zombies' music beyond Odessey and Oracle. Some of these new songs were test marketed as singles after "Time of the Season" but they they didn't do much in terms of airplay or sales. So, those songs, along with a bunch of others intended as a theoretical follow up album sat in the vaults until the amazing four CD box set Zombie Heaven came out in the late 1990s.
But the actual album was never released on vinyl -- a CD version did come out several years ago -- so, here in conjunction with Record Store Day 2015 we now have the first official LP release of this lost "last" album by The Zombies on spiffy and quiet 180-gram vinyl.
The songs sound real great! These songs are not throw aways and had the times been different the album would have been a great release for the times.
Actually, while R.I.P. may not be a Dark Side of the Moon - styled audiophile experience, the music all sounds quite fabulous as mid-to-late '60s pop goes and very much works as an LP (vs. the continuous listening experience of a CD or playlist).
The reason the vinyl configuration works so well for these songs has to do with the sequencing which was chosen back in the day. Side one is mostly the "new" material which Chris White and Rod Argent were working on post Odessey and Oracle in late 1968. Side two features unreleased Zombies songs from the 1964-65 period that were completed for possible release -- these songs were resurrected, finished and properly mixed in late 1968.
Tunes like "If It Don't Work Out," "I'll Call You Mine" and "Walking in the Sun" bear the classic Zombies sound, start to finish. "Don't Cry For Me" is one of their best rockers ever.
Listening to this music with 20/20 hindsight, it seems to me that the single release of "Imagine The Swan" as the follow on to "Time of the Season" was not the strongest choice for the band. Its a cool tune but I can see why it failed to excite listeners in 1969 and 1970 coming off the jazz-tinged high that was "Time of the Season."
"She Loves The Way They Love Her" would have been a better choice or -- better still -- "Walking In The Sun" could have done the trick with its powerful dual-stick snare hits and Colin Blunstone's gorgeously breathless vocals.
But what I think doesn't really matter and there is no way to re-write history so all this simply is an "it-is-what-it-is" situation.
What it is IS some fine music by The Zombies! Even if you have the Zombie Heaven CD box set you'll want to pick up this album on vinyl as it sounds quite a bit fuller and warmer than the already fine sounding CD tracks.
The cover of R.I.P. which appears to be simple black and white at first glance is actually a very clever bit of graphic design work this side of the Velvet Underground's Warhol-designed White Light / White Heat album : if you look carefully at the cover art in the light, you'll see a full picture of the band emerge from the darkness. That is pretty cool!
My only hiccup on this release was that one side of my first copy was quite off center which created some annoying wavering of the music.. Fortunately, a quick trek to 1-2-3-4 Go Records where I bought it rectified the problem and revealed my copy to be a mere anomaly -- the new copy is perfectly centered!
When you stop and think about the nature of this release, it really is a much bigger deal than has been made of it at this time. For the first time we are hearing final mixes of the songs the band was working on after Odessey and Oracle in the running order they chose back in the day and on the medium the music was mixed for... This was their original 1969 vision for what might have been a powerful follow up record and -- arguably -- a more logical transition between The Zombies and the "new" band to be Argent.
But, that didn't happen so the best we can do is celebrate that R.I.P. has come back from the doom and gloom of the vaults! And lets not forget to celebrate that The Zombies are still very much here with us today making great NEW music, performing live shows all over the world and still sounding fabulous.
How many original '60s British Invasion bands can you honestly say that about? Not too many!
R.I.P. is one Zombie apocalypse I think we can all welcome with open arms and ears!