The song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oc7b62El_fk) isn’t great, but a mixed bag. A gorgeous chorus, tasty instrumental parts, but the song’s feel is too characterized by the embarrassingly breathy “ahh” sound that punctuates the verses. If (as Will Farrell fans know) there simply could not be too much “cowbell” in “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” there is definitely too much, er, “orgasmic exhaling” in “Time of the Season.” I usually skip it when I play the CD.
( I do play that CD quite a bit, because the album, Odyssey and Oracle, really is a masterpiece. Almost up there with the perfection of Pet Sounds. We’ll be exploring it more as the Songbook unfolds.)
The lyrical approach seems to amount to this: take the “seasonal” (there’s a time for this, a time for that) theme that the Byrds had used so effectively in “Turn, Turn, Turn,” but focus solely on the moment when it’s time for sex/love. Didn’t some of those old-time cavalier poets use the same seduction theme? Isn’t the theme thus perennial and not a function of this new thing called the sexual revolution, exhibited so vividly by last summer’s (“Time of the Season” hits the charts in 1968) Summer of Love? Hasn’t every summer been a time for loving? (Even given that long Pauline Ice Age of 312-1966?) Shouldn’t we now embrace our animal side, now tune ourselves to all of nature’s call?
The sexual revolution was a decisive shift, perhaps even of human nature itself: we can fairly precisely date the arrival of the pill with this shift. According to one of my boomer elders, one year (1965, or 1966, depending on the American locale) it was scandalous for an unmarried woman to have been known to have “done it,” and by the next year, it no longer was! Now there is a lot more to be said about earlier (European, 1920s, etc.) moves towards sexual revolution, but this sketch of the really big wave serves our purposes. There was a revolution, and in many respects one of an unprecedented character. And yet funnily enough, many of the songs caught up in it tried to emphasize the timelessness of it all. Our new thing is actually an old one, don’t you know? The Elizabethan, Sanskrit, and Greek poets/sages knew all about it, and even the otherwise unhelpful Bible contains Solomon’s beautiful witness to it. There is a time for it.
Most listeners think along these lines that what “Time of the Season” amounts to is either, taken most nobly, a hippie anthem celebrating the new dispensation and poetically grounding it in nature, or, taken in more pedestrian terms, an imitation of the lover-talk preliminaries and the act itself—that is, a song to you-know-what by. And both of these takes could be correct and work together. Indeed, the second is undeniable as far as it goes.
But considering the first take, let us examine the words more closely. The lyrics of the initial verse are celebratory about the sex act’s possibilities, while still being frank about the lovers’ work/risk involved. Even though the words are arguably spoken by a “seducer,” the sex is to be an act whose wildness will be gentled—“give it to me easy”—but one which, hopefully, will convey the lovers to “promised lands.” The lyrics of the second verse, however, have a different flavor:
What’s your Name? Who’s your Daddy?
Is he rich like me?
Has he taken…any time
to show you what you need
Hmm…what is this talk of getting a new “Daddy” who “shows you what you need?” It is the talk of a sleazy seducer, of an experience-flaunting man who’s hinted-at abasement of the woman (couched here in the “White Negro”-speak of the likes of Norman Mailer) is part of her seduction. The mind runs forward to various scenes and sounds from the 70s, to its Times Square, to Minister Hempf in the German movie The Lives of Others telling the hero that he got his girlfriend to give into his sexual attentions because “you couldn’t give her what she needed.”
And since the Zombies meant “Time of the Season” to be heard, at least initially, as a hippie-friendly song, what possible positive connotation can be given to the is he rich like me boast? It could have been “is he wise like me?” or young, strong—indeed almost any adjective would have catered to hippie sensibilities better than rich. We can only conclude that the anthemic character of the song is being offered with at least some irony.
Does the voice of the song turn out then to belong to a sleaze, to a spoiled playboy braggart? A fairly strong case can be made it does. There is a seamless flow from the verses to the chorus, so that title of the song, the main “it’s natural” argument, seems to be part of the same seduction pitch. True, we must not forget the “sensitive” sex-exploring voice of the first verse, which could belong to a young anybody, male or female. But there is no third verse—there is only a repetition of the second. “Daddy braggart” gets to speak twice (and in conclusion), “sensitive sex-partner” once. Both use the same choral argument to help get the addressee into bed.
The least we can say is that the song is more honest than most poetic presentations of the new 60s sex ethic: it shows a lot of ugly behaviors flowering alongside the natural beauties/pleasures. It perhaps also suggests that there is but a skip from the sensitive/mutually-offered invitation to the dominating/manipulating seduction, or more troublingly, that the latter mode is destined to become the predominate one. The socio-sexual world in which we seek the thrill of regularly having to ask “What’s your name?” as part of the preliminaries may make all of us, male or female, initially “sensitive” or not, into manipulative sleazes. We become people who speak of and employ roles like “Daddy” seriously. It turns out that when we let ourselves surrender to the “Time of the Season,” we are less like the animals and flowers of the field than a) like actors playing parts in some two-bit melodrama about low-class Others, or, b) like the starry-eyed Icaruses of the first verse seeking to take one another “to the sun” and “to promised lands.” Do the Zombies see such intertwining of love’s highs and low-downs as the tragically monstrous character of humanity’s sexuality–a perennial trait, albeit one only recently reactivated on a wide scale after a long and unnatural cultural hibernation–that we simply have to learn to live with? Or, do they seek to gently (and thus ironically) warn us in 1968 against embracing last summer’s madness, the bad fruits of which are already becoming all too evident? We may have to remain undecided about which of these two interpretations better fits, but notice that both of them dash to bits any sort of simple optimism about the sexual revolution.
We can say more, I hope, if we peek into Odyssey and Oracle. “Time of the Season” is a new sort of work: it is as much a piece of a larger whole known as the rock album, as a piece meant to stand alone. So what we’ll do next is look at couple of other songs from that album to get a sense of where it stands therein. And then it’s on to other poetic landmarks of the sexual-psychical-social revolution that still defines our times.