Return of The Zombies

Reunited -- and it feels so good -- the iconic 1960s British band makes a comeback

By
August 19, 2011 18:05
4 minute read.
The Zombies make a musical comeback.

The Zombies . (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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For a band whose musical timing was impeccable, The Zombies were never very good at synching their career aspirations.

When the rest of the British invasion was either aping The Beatles’ guitar-based pop or The Rolling Stones’ bluesy raunch, the 1960s quintet was uniquely employing keyboards and sophisticated rhythms to produce such hits as “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.”

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Then, soon after recording their career apex – the 1967 masterpiece Odessey & Oracle, which commercially bombed upon its release – the band unceremoniously broke up.

“Yes, it does seem like our timing was not very good,” laughed The Zombies’ lead singer Colin Blunstone with the luxury of 40 years hindsight, during a recent phone conversation from his home in Surrey, England. “One thing is that international communication was so poor in the 1960s. At the time we broke up, we felt that we were really unsuccessful, but that was only because we were looking at the US and England. However, we always had a hit somewhere, and if we had known that then, we might have had a different view of our own career. The fact that we thought we were unsuccessful directly led to the band disbanding.”

Keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White – who wrote the band’s material – were able to fall back on their publishing royalties, but Blunstone was forced to take an office job, guitarist Paul Atkinson worked in a warehouse, and drummer Hugh Grundy sold cars to make ends meet.

Then, more than a year after Odessey & Oracle was released, one of its songs, “Time of the Season,” unexpectedly became a huge international hit. With it syncopated vocal hiccups, bossa nova rhythms and Beach Boy-worthy harmonies, the song has become one of those timeless tunes that epitomize the burgeoning psychedelia of the 1960s but doesn’t sound dated as a result.

Years after it release, Odessey & Oracle eventually took its place in the upper echelon of popular music – it’s ranked 80 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and is regularly cited by younger musicians ranging from Beck and Belle and Sebastian to Dave Grohl and Paul Weller as being their quintessential dreamy 1960s magnum opus.

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However, in the immediate aftermath of “Time of the Season”’s explosion, the disbanded Zombies were unable to capitalize on the song’s success. Argent had already launched a successful band under his own name that produced hits like “Hold Your Head Up,” and the other members were also on to other projects. But it did enable Blunstone to quit the nine-to-five world and return to music with a solo career that has since seen him record solo albums, movie soundtracks, commercials and, in the late 1990s, get back together with Argent.

That turned into a full-fledged Zombies reunion in 2004 with Blunstone and Argent joined by Jim Rodford (formerly of The Kinks and Argent) on bass, his son Steve Rodford on drums, and Keith Airey (brother of Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey) on guitar (later replaced by Tom Toomey).

“We were aware that it was only two members of the original band, but it was almost inevitable and kind of forced on us by the fans.

People were interested in The Zombies repertoire,” said Blunstone.

With an acclaimed album of new material to their credit – 2010’s Breathe in Breathe Out – the band finally was able to record the followup to Odessey & Oracle 43 years later.

“In many ways, for Rod and myself it’s more exciting now than when we were teenagers. I don’t think we ever envisioned ourselves as being out on the road touring regularly again... so this whole adventure, this incarnation of The Zombies, has been totally unexpected. And because of that, it’s more exciting than if it had been planned.”

Not that The Zombies ever seemed to plan anything out. Like most of their contemporaries in early 1960s England, they were enamored with American rhythm and blues, and the band’s first name was The Zombies R&B because their entire repertoire consisted of covers of r&b tunes.

“We were about to go into the studio for the first time in 1964, and our producer mentioned in passing that if any of us wanted to try to write something, it would be great,” said Blunstone. “And Rod went away and wrote “She’s Not There.” I didn’t even know he could write songs! When he played it for us, we all knew straight away that it was special, and from that point on, we began to forge our own unique identity.”

The Zombies will be performing at Reading 3 in Tel Aviv on September 23.

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