Released in 1968, Time of the Season is distilled essence of the Sixties, the sound of Swinging London, Carnaby Street, and Cool Britannia. It was a time when all things British, from BOAC flight bags to James Bond movies, were the peak of modern hip, and this song, which was everywhere in 1968-69, seemed to wrap it all up in a tight little ball. Amazingly, prior to this the Zombies had only limited success in America, and Time of the Season became a hit well after it was recorded, and over a year after the band had broken up. It’s now seen as a shame that the group never got the commercial encouragement it needed, they showed real promise, and the album Odyssey and Oracle, on which this song appeared, is now held to be a minor classic.
The record is noteworthy for it’s clean, unfussy production, an artifact of having been recorded at Abbey Road Studios, as well as for Rod Argent’s “psychedelic” organ work, which anticipated what Ray Manzarek would soon be doing for the Doors on the other side of the pond.
This was by no means their only standout song. Just as good was She’s Not There (attached at bottom), a wounded cri de coeur about the special girl that got away (or at least she seemed special, the faithless little heartbreaker), which was well ahead of its time upon its release in 1964, and Tell Her No, an anxious plea to the world at large about a wayward girlfriend. Yet it’s Time of the Season that lives on in the popular imagination, maybe because of the way it grabs the listener’s attention in the first ten seconds with its almost fuck-you coolness, maybe because of the timeless appeal of its call-and-response structure (What’s your name? Who’s your daddy?), or maybe just because it’s one of those songs that immediately and perfectly evokes a certain time and place, even for those who weren’t there. It’s been covered numerous times, used in any number of TV shows and movies, and sampled repeatedly, as over the years all sorts of artists have been drawn to its irresistible rhythm track.
For me, it’s almost like a key that unlocks a box full of stored, now ancient sensory perceptions from childhood. I can remember the glow of the dashboard radio (Philco Ford!), looking up at the night sky from my position in the front seat, too low to see out the windshield. I can smell the rain as it hit the clay tennis courts at the boating and athletic club we South End boys all used to belong to, and I can see the jukebox in the boat house. I can feel heat off the summer sidewalks of the street where I grew up, and hear the trains rumble by in the railway cut just south of our place. Curiously – the mind is a strange thing – I flash back to the distinctive shapes of the tail lights of the various cars that filled our neighbour’s driveways, the wide, narrow strips that stretched across the back end of the Mercury Cougar, the indented, triple chevrons on a ’67 Mustang, the rectangles of the Ford Galaxy; as a boy, I was fascinated with cars, and memorized the features of all the makes and models. I remember walking along the shore of the North West Arm, skipping stones, and riding our bikes under the cathedral of trees in Point Pleasant Park. Always, in these memories, it’s Summer.
She’s Not There: