The Zombies (Contemporary Musicians)
As one of the first British invasion bands to storm the American charts in 1964, the Zombies distinguished themselves from their more raucous peers with a handful of jazzy, minor chord singles that have become classic pop songs. In fact, the Zombies were not only far more popular in the United States than their homeland, they had their biggest hit record several years after they disbanded.
Five schoolmates at the St. Albans Grammar School in Hertfordshire began playing together in the early 60s for fun. Upon graduation, they all had career paths chosen; singer Colin Blunstone was an insurance broker, drummer Hugh Grundy a banker, pianist Rod Argent and guitarist Paul Atkinson were going to the university, and bassist Chris White was enrolled in teacher's college. In 1964, just before going their separate ways, the band adopted the name "The Zombies" and entered a band contest sponsored by The London Evening Post.
The Zombies won and their prize included a recording contract with Decca Records. One of the band's hastily written originals "She's Not There" was chosen as their first single. Fame came quickly for the Zombies. A top twenty hit in Britain, "She's Not There", with its distinctive vocal harmonies and Argent's electric piano solo, rose to number two and sold a million copies in America in the wake of the Beatles' success there.
The band members explained the origin of their unorthodox name to Melody Maker soon after their first record became a hit. "We chose it from desperation", explained Chris White; "My first reaction was horror," Colin Blunstone broke in, "We did have alternatives like Chatterley and the Gamekeepers but we were desperate."
The Zombies would not have another major hit in England, but in 1965 "Tell Her No" became their second American top ten hit. The group played around the world to enthusiastic audiences from 1965-67, but soon became frustrated by their record company's craving only for songs in the mold of their big hits. In a 1971 Melody Maker profile, Blunstone reminisced about the Zombies breakup; "As tactfully as possible, he intimated that the group wasn't making the money they hoped to make, and he in particular was feeling entirely disenchanted with the music, business, and the whole scene. [The band] all talked about it, and decided that they should have a break." The Zombies decided to retire after recording an album on which the band members had complete control. Recording sessions held at Abbey Road Studios in London during the summer of 1967 produced the band's swan song, "Odessey and Oracle."
Though it is now considered a high water mark of 60s pop, "Odessey and Oracle" did not attract much attention upon its release in Britain, and would have possibly been forgotten if former Blood, Sweat, and Tears member and Columbia A & R man Al Kooper hadn't heard it during a trip abroad. Kooper adamantly insisted upon an American release; when Columbia finally relented, Kooper wrote in the sleeve notes, "While in London recently I acquired forty British LPS. Once home, I began to listen to all forty. This record stuck out like a rose in a garden of weeds."
The album seemed destined to fade into obscurity in the United States until "Time of the Season" began picking up airplay in various cities a year after it was released. The record eventually sold over two million copies. The band members turned down offers to reform and tour America in 1969. Undaunted, unscrupulous booking agents sent several bands called "The Zombies" on tour, which featured no original band members.
Some of the former Zombies continued their musical careers. Keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White formed a new band called Argent in 1972. Argent immediately had an international hit single with "Hold Your Head Up". Other artists had hits covering Argent material also, notably "Liar" by the Three Dog Night and "God Gave Rock n' Roll To You" by Kiss. Colin Blunstone had a successful solo career recording for Epic Records through the 70s, beginning with a version of "She's Not There" backed by an orchestra and released under the pseudonym Neil McArthur.
Over the years since their breakup, The Zombies were remembered fondly enough for a Melody Maker writer to publicly wish for the band to reunite in a 1973 article entitled "Three Likely Reunions... and Three We'd Like To See." After praising both Argent's and Blunstone's current music, writer Roy Hollingworth reasoned that "what Blunstone lacks now is some sense of identification, and what Argent lacks is an attractive frontman of sorts. Argent and Blunstone have worked together in the studio. It would be fine to see them go the whole way, so to speak."
Another bogus group calling itself "The Zombies" with no connection to the original band surfaced in 1988. According to Variety, "the band introduced its bassist Ronald Hugh Grundy as original Zombies drummer Hugh Grundy. The group explained Grundy's switch of instruments as an attempt to position 'the original Zombie' more prominently. ... The actual Grundy reacted with 'shocked amazement.'"
On November 25, 1997, the real Zombies did reunite to play their two biggest hits, "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season", at a party in London to celebrate the release of the Zombie Heaven box set. Writer Dawn Eden recalled on The Zombies' Fan Web Page, "the five of them walked down the staircase from the balcony and the stage, and the whole room was thrilled.... Hugh Grundy went into that familiar 'She's Not There' intro and the crowd voiced its approval.... After they finished a wonderful 'Time of the Season' (yes, they really did only two songs), they left the stage to huge applause. The applause continued for about six minutes." Despite the brevity of their career, The Zombies are one of the most esteemed British Invasion combos. In addition to several hit records, their discography contains many more hidden treasures.
The Zombies, Parrot, 1965.
Odessey & Oracle, Date/CBS, 1967, reissued Rhino, 1987.
Live On The BBC 1965-1967, Rhino, 1985.
Greatest Hits (rec. 1964-67), DCC, 1990.
Zombie Heaven, Ace, 1997.
(by Colin Blunstone), Some Years: It's The Time of Colin Blunstone (rec. 70s), Epic, 1993.
(with Rod Argent), Argent, "Hold Your Head High", Epic, 1972.
(with Rod Argent), Argent Anthology (rec. 70s), Epic.
Joynson, Vernon, Tapestry of Delights: The Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R&B, Psychedelic, and Progressive Eras 1963-1976, Borderline Productions, 1995.
Schaffner, Nicholas, The British Invasion, McGraw-Hill, 1983.
Cash Box, October 31, 1964.
Melody Maker, September 5, 1964; November 20, 1971; April 14, 1973.
Rolling Stone, February 1, 1969; December 13, 1969; May 28, 1970; March 2, 1972; April 1, 1982; September 8, 1988.
Variety, October 29, 1969; August 24, 1988.