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All Music Guide:
Aside from the Beatles and perhaps the Beach Boys, no mid-'60s rock group wrote melodies as gorgeous as those of the Zombies. Dominated by Colin Blunstone's breathy vocals, choral backup harmonies, and Rod Argent's shining jazz- and classical-influenced organ and piano, the band sounded utterly unique for their era. Indeed, their material -- penned by either Argent or guitarist Chris White, with unexpected shifts from major to minor keys -- was perhaps too adventurous for the singles market. To this day, they're known primarily for their three big hit singles, "She's Not There" (1964), "Tell Her No" (1965), and "Time of the Season" (1969). Most listeners remain unaware that the group maintained a remarkably high quality of work for several years.
The Zombies formed in the London suburb of St. Albans in the early '60s, and didn't actually entertain serious professional ambitions until they won a local contest, the prize being an opportunity to record a demo for consideration at major labels. Argent's composition "She's Not There" got them a deal with Decca, and the song ended up being their debut release. It was a remarkably confident and original first-time effort, with a great minor melody and the organ, harmonies, and urgent, almost neurotic vocals that would typify much of their work. It did well enough in Britain (making the Top 20), but did even better in the States, where it went to number two.
In fact, throughout their career, the group would experience a lot more success across the waters than they did at home. In early 1965, another piece of classic British Invasion pop, "Tell Her No," went into the Top Ten. Yet that was as much Top 40 success as the group would have for several years.
The tragedy was that throughout 1965 and 1966, the Zombies released a string of equally fine, intricately arranged singles that flopped commercially, at a time in which chart success of 45s was a lot more important to sustain a band's livelihood than it would be a few years down the road. "Remember When I Loved Her," "I Want You Back Again," "Indication," "She's Coming Home," "Whenever You're Ready," "Gotta Get a Hold of Myself," "I Must Move," "Remember You," "Just out of Reach," "How We Were Before" -- all are lost classics, some relegated to B-sides that went virtually unheard, all showing the group eager to try new ideas and expand their approaches. What's worse, the lack of a big single denied the group opportunities to record albums -- only one LP, rushed out to capitalize on the success of "She's Not There," would appear before 1968.
Their failure to achieve more widespread success is a bit mystifying, perhaps explained by a few factors. While undeniably pop-based, their original compositions and arrangements were in some senses too adventurous for the radio. "Indication," for instance, winds down with a lengthy, torturous swirl of bitter organ solos and wordless, windblown vocals; "Remember When I Loved Her," despite its beautiful melody, has downbeat lyrics that are almost morbid; "I Want You Back Again" is arranged like a jazz waltz, with the sorts of sudden stops, tempo shifts, and lengthy minor organ solos found in a lot of their tunes. The group were also, perhaps unfairly, saddled with a somewhat square image; much was made of their formidable scholastic record, and they most definitely did not align themselves with the R&B-based school of British bands, preferring more subtle and tuneful territory.
By 1967, the group hadn't had a hit for quite some time, and reckoned it was time to pack it in. Their Decca contract expired early in the year, and the Zombies signed with CBS for one last album, knowing before the sessions that it was to be their last. A limited budget precluded the use of many session musicians, which actually worked to the band's advantage, as they became among the first to utilize the then-novel Mellotron to emulate strings and horns.
Odessey and Oracle was their only cohesive full-length platter (the first album was largely pasted together from singles and covers). A near-masterpiece of pop/psychedelia, it showed the group reaching new levels of sophistication in composition and performance, finally branching out beyond strictly romantic themes into more varied lyrical territory. The album passed virtually unnoticed in Britain, and was only released in the States after some lobbying from Al Kooper. By that time it was 1968, and the group had split for good.
The Zombies had been defunct for some time when one of the tracks from Odessey, "Time of the Season," was released as a single, almost as an afterthought. It took off in early 1969 to become their biggest hit, but the members resisted temptations to re-form, leading to a couple of bizarre tours in the late '60s by bogus "Zombies" with no relation to the original group. By this time, Rod Argent was already recording as the leader of Argent, which went in a harder rock direction than the Zombies. After a spell as an insurance clerk, Colin Blunstone had some success (more in Britain than America) in the early '70s as a solo vocalist, with material that often amounted to soft rock variations on the Zombies sound.
Much more influential than their commercial success would indicate, echoes of the Zombies' innovations can be heard in the Doors, the Byrds, the Left Banke, the Kinks, and many others. After a long period during which most of their work was out of print, virtually all of their recordings have been restored to availability on CD.
The Zombies are an English rock band, formed in 1962 in St Albans and led by Rod Argent (piano, organ and vocals) and Colin Blunstone (vocals). The group scored British and American hits in 1964 with "She's Not There". In the US, two further singles, "Tell Her No" and, in 1969, "Time of the Season", were also successful.
Their 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle, comprising twelve songs by the group's principal songwriters, Argent and Chris White, is ranked number 100 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The group formed in 1962 in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England, and gained their initial reputation playing the Old Verulamians Rugby Club in that city. The band was formed while the members were at school. Some sources state that Argent, Atkinson and Grundy were at St Albans School, while Blunstone and White were students at St Albans Boys' Grammar School (since renamed Verulam School). Argent was a boy chorister in St Albans Cathedral Choir.
Their choice of names was out of desperation, and the Zombies won out over Chatterley and the Gamekeepers, according to Blunstone and White. After winning a beat-group competition sponsored by the London Evening News, they signed to Decca and recorded their first hit, "She's Not There" (Argent's second song, written specifically for this session). It was released in mid-1964 and peaked at number 12 in the UK, their only UK Top 40 hit. This minor-key, jazz-tinged number, distinguished by its musicianship and Blunstone's breathy vocal, was unlike anything heard in British rock at the time. It was first aired in the United States in early August 1964 on New York City rock station WINS by Stan Z. Burns, who debuted the song on his daily noontime "Hot Spot". The tune began to catch on in early fall and eventually climbed to No.2 in early December.
Like many other British Invasion groups, the Zombies were sent to the United States to tour behind their new hit single. Among their early U.S. gigs were Murray the K's Christmas shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre, where the band played seven performances a day. On January 12, 1965 the band made their first in-person appearance on U.S. television, on the first episode of NBC's Hullabaloo. They played "She's Not There" (and their latest single "Tell Her No") to a screaming hysterical audience full of teenage girls.
After the follow-up single to "She's Not There", "Leave Me Be", was stiffed in the UK (and not issued as a single in the US, although it was on the B side of "Tell Her No"), Rod Argent's "Tell Her No" became another big seller in the United States in 1965, peaking at No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March. However, "Tell Her No" failed to make the Top 40 in the UK. Subsequent recordings such as "She's Coming Home", "Whenever You're Ready", "Is This the Dream", "Indication" and "Gotta Get a Hold of Myself" failed to achieve the success of the previous two singles (although the Zombies had continued success in Scandinavia and the Philippines). A song by The Zombies released only as a B-side (to "Whenever You're Ready") in the US and the UK in 1965, "I Love You" subsequently became a sizable hit for the group People! in the United States in 1968.
The Zombies's first UK LP, Begin Here (1965) was an equal mix of original songs and R&B covers. While continuing recording in 1965–66 and trying to achieve chart success, they recorded enough material for a follow-up album, but the lack of chart success kept most of those tracks from being issued.
In 1967, the Zombies signed to CBS Records for whom they recorded the album Odessey and Oracle (The word odyssey was misspelled by cover designers). Because the band's budget could not cover session musicians, they used a Mellotron, a device designed to imitate orchestral sections.
By the time Odessey and Oracle was released in April 1968, the group had disbanded (in December 1967). The album sold poorly and was given a US release only because musician Al Kooper, then signed to Columbia Records, convinced his label of the album's merits. One of its tracks, "Time of the Season", written by Argent, was released as a single and eventually (1969) became a nationwide hit (Billboard Hot 100 peak position: No.3).
In 1968, Rod Argent and Chris White began working on material for a possible new band when they were approached by CBS to do another Zombies album. Several new tracks were cut with a line-up of Argent, Hugh Grundy, Jim Rodford (bass) and Rick Birkett (guitar), and were combined with some old Decca out-takes and demos. Unfortunately the album, scheduled for release in 1969, was cancelled and only a couple of the songs, "Imagine the Swan" (one of the newly recorded songs) and "If It Don't Work Out" (a demo of a song that Dusty Springfield recorded and released in 1965) were put out as singles instead. (Some of this material was released on several compilation albums during the 70s and 80s, and the album, titled R.I.P., was finally released in Japan in 2008).
After the Zombies disbanded, Rod Argent formed a band called Argent in 1969, with Chris White as a non-performing songwriter. Atkinson worked in A&R at Columbia Records and Grundy joined him there after a brief spell in auto sales. Colin Blunstone started a solo career after a brief period outside the music business, including working in the burglary claims section of an insurance company. Both Argent and White provided him with new songs. He also did studio vocals for The Alan Parsons Project.
The band's original line-up declined to regroup for concerts, so various concocted groups tried to capitalise on the success and falsely toured under the band's name. One such group toured in 1988, going so far as to trademark the group's name (since the band had let the mark lapse) and recruit a bassist named Ronald Hugh Grundy, claiming that original drummer Hugh Grundy had switched instruments.
In 1990 Blunstone, Grundy and White briefly reunited as The Zombies with keyboardist/guitarist Sebastian Santa Maria and recorded the album New World (1991). Argent, Atkinson and a host of guest guitarists also made appearances on this album.
A 1997 120-track compilation of the original band's work, Zombie Heaven, was released on UK Ace/Big beat. The compilation contains all the band's Decca/Parrot recordings (in mono), the entire Odessey And Oracle LP (in stereo), the material that would have made up the unissued R.I.P. LP, several unissued recordings and a disc of recordings made for the BBC. On 25 November 1997, all five Zombies reunited at the Jazz Cafe in London's Camden Town as part of a solo show by Blunstone to perform "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" to promote the release of Zombie Heaven.
Blunstone and Argent reunited for an album (Out Of The Darkness) and tour together in 2001 under the Blunstone & Argent moniker and continued playing live shows together into 2004 when they began going out under the name "The Zombies" again. The new line-up included Rod's cousin Jim Rodford (formerly of the Kinks and Argent), his son Steve Rodford on drums and Keith Airey (brother of Don Airey) on guitar.
In 2002, Ace/Big Beat released the 48-track The Decca Stereo Anthology, which, for the first time, mixed all of the Decca/Parrot recordings into true stereo.
An album of new material released in 2004, As Far as I Can See..., received poor-to-scathing reviews from both Pitchfork and Allmusic.
Guitarist Paul Atkinson died in Santa Monica, California, on 1 April 2004. Having retired as a performer, he was an A&R man for many years.
In 2005 Blunstone and Argent released a DVD and 2-CD album (Live At The Bloomsbury Theatre) and continued touring with The Zombies.
To mark the 40th anniversary of Odessey & Oracle, the four surviving original members of The Zombies participated in a three-night series of concerts at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire Theatre between 7 and 9 March 2008. Blunstone and Argent's respective websites had advertised that the 8 March concert was recorded for a CD and/or DVD release later in 2008, and the CD was officially posted by Amazon.com to be pre-sold for a release of 1 July 2008. Both CD and DVD were officially released in the UK and several countries around the world.
In 2010 Tom Toomey replaced Keith Airey on guitar, and in 2011 "The Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent" released their new studio album Breathe Out, Breathe In. Reviews were generally strong, and included 4 star reviews from publications including Record Collector, , Uncut, the Daily Mirror and The Independent.
The band tour the US and Canada every year now, as they also do in The Netherlands and the UK. 2011's tour schedule included Japan, France, Germany, Greece and Israel.