The songs that make up Odyssey and Oracle could be analyzed in two ways. First, we could interpret them as distinct songs only superficially or incidentally linked in lyrical content—and then we’d say a lot more about which of the two Zombie songwriters, Rod Argent or Chris White, penned each one. Second, we could interpret them as having been written and placed for the purpose of creating a poetic/thematic whole. I think Argent and White really did aim for this higher level of artistic achievement, and I interpret their songs accordingly.
In this mode, I think there are three significant facts that should shape our interpretation of “Time of the Season.” This post deals with the first two of these.
First, most of the songs concern love-matters, but not in the manner of “Time of Season.” In Greek terms, it is an album primarily about eros between twos, and only during “Time” about aphrodisia or roving eros between “what’s your name?” anybodies.
Here are the songs—if you don’t know the album you might want to skip ahead; and if you have any love for mid-60s pop, you’ll find it well worth purchasing.
1) “Care of Cell 44”—a love song: a lover’s letter to a prisoner about to return home.
2) “A Rose for Emily”—about a lonely maid: thus, an “absence of love” song.
3) “Maybe after He’s Gone”—a love song: from the perspective of a rejected lover.
4) “Beechwood Park”—song of nostalgia for a time and a place.
5) “Brief Candles”—a love song and a song of nostalgia: perspectives of both the rejecter and the rejected, and of another who refused to fall in love. Considers the self-deception involved in love and remembrance, but relishes the “sadness that makes one smile” therein.
6) “Hung up on a Dream”—a poetic reverie song–about a briefly glimpsed but impossible vision of fraternal hippie-esque solidarity. Takes on the qualities of a nostalgia song.
7) “Changes”—song of nostalgia/social comment: has a “seasonal” trope.
8) “I Want Her She Wants Me”—a love song: so super-sunny that arguably a slight irony enters.
9) “This Will Be our Year”—a song about a couples’ expectation of (hard-won) future happiness.
10) “Butcher’s Tale”—anti-war song set in WWI trenches. (Its placement after #9 probably is meant to hint that maybe it won’t “be their year,” because the man might be sent off to war.)
11) “Friends of Mine”—a song about other couples’ love. Like #8 in feel, but more so.
12) “Time of the Season”—a sex song, but using the word “love”: has a “seasonal” trope.
So the album is primarily about love and nostalgia, about acknowledging the elevating character of these, while also finding perspectives that allows one to see ways in which they can deceive or fail. Sex as a topic hovers around, as it always must in songs about love, but until the last song it is never alluded to obviously. Odyssey and Oracle treasures up (while also coldly analyzing) the sorts of sentiments connected with love and nostalgia, while briefly pausing to acknowledge (“Butcher’s Tale”) the evil of war and (“Time of the Season”) the urges of sex.
The second fact we must notice is that there is one other song that employs a “seasonal” trope: “Changes.” (see youtube) It regretfully recalls a “nature girl” before her present sophistication, rather like “Caroline, No” does– Where did…your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know?– at the end of Pet Sounds. Anyhow, here’s how “Changes” remembers its girl in her prime, in a rise-to-the-skies sounding chorus:
I knew her when summer was
And autumn sad
How brown her eyes
A later chorus brings in spring and winter as parts of her character/beauty, but here’s her corrupted state, sung soberly:
Now see her walk by
…isn’t she smart
Isn’t she grand?
Silver and gold
Money will buy
Something to hold
A few more lines about her expensive jewelry follow, but the thing to notice is that is that this gal has gone Carnaby Street psychedelic mod: she’s “smart,” and she’s literally wearing the lyrics of the recent hits “Incense and Peppermints” and “Strawberry Fields.” That is, hers is a hipster materialism. Once again, Odyssey and Oracle proves itself alive to hippie dreams, but well aware of their fatal vulnerabilities.
Now why did she cease being in tune with nature and in harmony with the song’s narrator? And how did she get all this gear? These precious stones? There is a specific answer for those familiar with mid-60s pop: this is another one of those songs lamenting the way a young woman has been taken away (from the young singer) and transformed for the worse by a rich man. And this must bring to mind the is he rich like me? line from “Time of the Season,” and make it all the more repellant. The singer of that verse is just the sort who could seduce a young woman away from the beauties of natural living. He is a corrupter of true hippie values. In any case, it was the impact of “Changes” that caused me to first notice the oddity of the second verse of “Time,” and the shared seasonal trope surely asks us to consider the songs together. And once we do, not only do we notice the rich like me parallel, but it seems highly likely that two sorts of being in touch with nature/seasons are being posed against one another.
But if the apparent lets-all-get-it-on recommendation of “Time of the Season” is a bad one, a love and innocence and natural-values killing one, why is it presented so powerfully, and at the conclusion of the album?
This brings us to the third relevant fact about its placement in Odyssey and Oracle: it comes directly after the song “Friends of Mine.” We will look at that song next.