The Zombies - Biography
During their lifetime, The Zombies made only one proper album and a handful of singles before departing. After they broke up, they scored a hit with “Time of the Season” and were posthumously recognized as one of the best bands of their era. Singles like “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” “Whenever You're Ready” and “Just out of Reach” rank up there with the best work of The Beatles, The Byrds and other, more celebrated ‘60s rock revolutionaries. Their frustrating lack of commercial success led to their going their separate ways in 1967, with songwriters Rod Argent and Chris White finding more success in Argent and singer Colin Blunstone doing the same as a solo artist. Despite their negligible commercial impact, their accomplished mix of jazz influences, lush orchestration, pop melodicism and choirboy harmonies provided inspiration for a variety of other performers, like their peers The Association, The Free Design, The Guess Who, The Left Banke, The Merry-Go-Round, The Munx, Saggitarius, Thorinshield, as well as later generations of bands like Apples in Stereo and Zumpano.
The members of The Zombies first started playing together around 1962 while all the original musicians were still in grammar school. Rod Argent, Hugh Grundy and original bassist Paul Arnold went to St. Albans School; Colin Blunstone and Chris White attended St Albans Boy’s Grammar School. When Arnold quit, Chris White (whose father owned a rehearsal space) stepped in. They gained their initial exposure playing shows at the Old Verulamians Rugby Club and travelling to various colleges in an old ice cream van. At first, Blunstone played guitar whilst Argent sang lead and their repertoire was made up of covers of ‘50s rhythm & blues hits. Eventually, Argent moved to keyboards and Blunstone to vocals. Argent and White also began to write the bulk of the band’s material and in doing so proved themselves to be the most criminally overlooked songwriting duo of the decade. The band soon amassed a rabid local following and they entered a talent contest that offered a record deal as the top prize. The band members decided to put off university until the end of the contest, which they won, getting them a deal with Decca.
Decca asked them to come up with a hit single and Argent wrote the jazz-tinged, minor key masterpiece, “She’s Not There,” which just missed the British Top 10. The press touted the fact that the band members had fifty “O” levels between them and sought to promote them as the thinking man’s pop group, which probably worked against them. Certainly, the record-buying British public weren’t impressed. However, the song hit number two in Canada and the US. Despite their comparative North American success, Decca opted to only release their second single, “Leave Me Be” for the still unresponsive domestic market. The follow-up, the Burt Bacharach-inspired “Tell Her No” again did much better in North America, where it reached number six in Canada and the US whileagain failing to make the Top 40 at home.
The Zombies (1965 Parrot) and Begin Here (1965 Decca) were cobbled together for the North American and British markets, respectively, from previously released material. The band toured the US in 1965. Subsequent singles “She’s Coming Home,” “I Want You Back Again,” “Whenever You're Ready,” “Just out of Reach,” “Is This the Dream?” and “Indication” were all as good as, if not better than, most of the British Invasion singles of the era. Nonetheless, the band inexplicably slipped further and further down the charts. At the end of 1966, they turned to other songwriters and released “Gotta Get a Hold of Myself” and “Goin’ out of My Head,” both of which failed to chart.
Disillusioned with Decca, they moved to CBS and began recording Odessey and Oracle (1968) in 1967. They wanted to use an orchestra, but had to settle for string parts played on the Mellotron, which the Moody Blues had recently used so effectively on Days of Future Past. CBS’s handling of the band seemed as questionable as Decca’s. The first single, “Care of Cell 44,” was a jaunty number offset by a lyric detailing a woman’s release from prison. The second single, "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914),” (written and sung by Chris White) was a decidedly experimental piece bound to fail commercially but pushed for by Columbia’s A&R man at the time, Al Kooper, who thought a song about World War I might resonate with audiences in the Vietnam War era. The label squabbled with the band and Odessey and Oracle performed poorly until “Time of the Season,” again released as a single due to Kooper’s urging, cracked the charts in 1969, almost two years after it was recorded.
Although “Time of the Season” failed to chart in the UK, it returned The Zombies to the North American charts where it reached number three in the US and number one in Canada (where it provided the undeniable inspiration for previously-Zombies-covering Guess Who’s “Undun”). Having turned down considerable sums to reunite, as early as 1969, groups of imposters began touring as The Zombies to cash in on their belated success. Unfortunately, the members of the real band had by then gone their separate ways, with Argent and White at work assembling their progressive rock follow-up act, Argent. Nonetheless, a new line-up, led by Rod Argent and Chris White, began to work on what was to be a new Zombies album, comprised of older material sung by Blunstone, and new material sung by Argent. The new single, “Imagine the Swan” failed to approach the success of “Time of the Season” and the album, R.I.P. (Teichiku) languished in the vaults until it was released (with lots of bonus material) in Japan in 2008.
Argent ended up making nine albums. The self-titled debut balanced Zombies-esque contributions from Argent and White with Russ Ballard’s harder rocking material. It was followed by Ring of Hands, a solid prog rock effort that showcased Argent’s keyboard work, All Together Now, with the major hit “Hold Your Head Up,” and In Deep, which included the anthemic “God gave Rock & Roll to You,” — the single that finally got Argent back on the British charts. Argent eventually disbanded the group and went on to become a record producer.
Meanwhile, Blunstone embarked on a solo career (after a brief turn in the insurance industry) that was also more successful in England than his work with The Zombies had been. At first recording as “Neil MacArthur,” he charted in England with a cover of “She’s Not There.” As Colin Blunstone, his career began with the gorgeous, wistful One Year, which featured contributions from Argent and White, suggesting that The Zombies’ split had been fairly amicable.
By the late ‘80s, at least two more groups of imposters were performing as The Zombies. One even boasted that their bassist, Robert Hugh Grundy, was the original band’s drummer, Hugh Birch Grundy. In 1991 Blunstone, Grundy, White and Chilean studio musician, Sebastian Santa Maria, recorded New World (1991 Castle) — according to the liner notes — primarily to protect the band’s name, the trademark on which had lapsed in ‘86. It showed Blunstone still had impressive pipes and White wrote a couple of classic Zombies tunes, but the bulk of the album was made up of Santa Maria’s compositions and the reunion proved temporary. In 1997, all the original members played together at the Jazz Cafe in Camden Town during a solo show by Blunstone. That same year, the band put together Zombie Heaven (Big Beat) a fairly comprehensive four CD, 119 song collection of album tracks, B-Sides, live recordings and demos that is essential for fans.
Blunstone and Argent next reunited for Out of the Shadow (2001 Absolute), credited to Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent. They followed with As Far as I Can See... (2004 Rhino), this time credited to Colin Blunstone - Rod Argent - The Zombies. For live dates, they were joined by The Zombies’ first bassist, Jim Rodfod, his son Steve on Drums and Keith Airey on guitar. The new line-up frequently suggests an artistically misguided (and frankly, failed) attempt to update the band’s classic sound with inappropriately bombastic drumming and excruciatingly passé guitar histrionics.
Paul Atkinson died in 2004 in his Santa Monica home. In March of 2008, the surviving members of the band, Argent, Blunstone, White, and Grundy, recreated Odessey and Oracle at a gig in London that was recorded for a live CD/DVD, Odessey and Oracle Revisited (2008 Absolute). The Mellotron parts were played by real musicians this time and the concert got rave reviews.