“Friends of Mine” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON-F0i69_8k is a song in which the narrator has an appreciative yet ultimately ambivalent attitude towards marriage, and towards “pairing off” more generally. Officially, that is, judged by the meaning of the lyrics alone, it is a song that celebrates the happiness of the marriage-bound couple:
It feels so good to know two people
So in love…
… When people disappoint me
That’s when I need you two
To help me believe…
There is other evidence besides the plain meaning of these words that this is a sincere feeling. But there are also indications that is not the only feeling the narrator has. He is not one who belongs to these couples he describes as “so in love.” He looks on from the outside. And as the chorus underlines, there are a lot of these friends of his pairing off: “Joyce and Terry, Paul and Molly, Liz and Bryan,” and on and on with five more couples listed, sung in a sing-song but rote manner. The effect is musically annoying, deliberately suggesting that the narrator also feels that there is something rather too pat about all this pairing off. At least some of these friends of his are not going to wind up as happy as they look now, and perhaps they aren’t even so presently. Love can be seen as pat—everyday someone “sees someone standing there,” and then it’s on to dates, love songs, wedding invitations, and all the rest. It can be seen this way all the more so for those who, for whatever reason, are not able to pair off in the societally endorsed way. The unwillingly single, the gay, the spurned, the childless, the divorced, and the widowed might all have reasons to feel alienated, at least at times, by society’s (necessary) celebrations of married families. I don’t fit! The one wise about the ways in which love can fail or become deluding, which certainly would apply to a posited overall narrator of Odessey and Oracle, might have further reasons for feeling alienated from the happy feelings.
So, it makes sense that in next song, “Time of the Season,” we leave the couple-love world of Odessey and Oracle, the world briefly made nauseatingly sunny by “Friends of Mine,” and explore (after darkening the lights) the idea of love/sex detached from permanent coupling. But, as either of the plausible interpretations of “Time” discussed in my Songbook indicate, the fruits of this exploration are by no means unambiguously positive. I would suggest that it is a move of despair—insofar as love as eros for one often doesn’t work out, we can be tempted to enter this post-‘65 world of free love. I hold that Odessey and Oracle ultimately opposes that move—the touching pictures it gives us of couple-love likely working out, albeit amid struggles, as in “This Will Be our Year,” or even in “Care of Cell 44,” are what it wants us to strive for.
Such an interpretation of course only works if we accept the album-as-unity interpretation, and I will admit that even then it is open to challenge. So I cannot make a slam-dunk case that “Time of the Season” secretly opposes the sexual revolution it seems to be a celebrating. Again, the other possibility is that it accepts that revolution, but secretly corrects the optimistic expectations for it.
But there remains a serious problem, and it is not one of lyric-interpretation. While it has been delightful to discover the artistry of “Time of the Season’s” ironic message(whichever of the two it is), I ultimately hold that the song must be regarded as an artistic failure. The reason why, to be discussed in the next Songbook entry, is rather important to the whole rock enterprise.
P.S. My thanks to commenter Chan for pointing out the Zombies’ weird deliberate misspelling of “Odyssey” as “Odessey.”