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Aside from the Beatles and perhaps the Beach Boys, no mid-'60s rock group wrote melodies as gorgeous as those of theZombies. Dominated by Colin Blunstone's breathy vocals, choral backup harmonies, and Rod Argent's shining jazz- andclassical-influenced organ and piano, the band sounded utterly unique for their era. Indeed, their material -- penned by eitherArgent or guitarist Chris White, with unexpected shifts from major to minor keys -- was perhaps too adventurous for thesingles market. To this day, they're known primarily for their three big hit singles, "She's Not There" (1964), "Tell Her N ...read more
Aside from the Beatles and perhaps the Beach Boys, no mid-'60s rock group wrote melodies as gorgeous as those of theZombies. Dominated by Colin Blunstone's breathy vocals, choral backup harmonies, and Rod Argent's shining jazz- andclassical-influenced organ and piano, the band sounded utterly unique for their era. Indeed, their material -- penned by eitherArgent or guitarist Chris White, with unexpected shifts from major to minor keys -- was perhaps too adventurous for thesingles 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 qualityof work for several years.
The Zombies formed in the London suburb of St. Albans in the early '60s, and didn't actually entertain serious professionalambitions 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 wasa remarkably confident and original first-time effort, with a great minor melody and the organ, harmonies, and urgent, almostneurotic vocals that would typify much of their work. It did well enough in Britain (making the Top 20), but did even better inthe 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. Inearly 1965, another piece of classic British Invasion pop, "Tell Her No," went into the Top Ten. Yet that was as much Top 40success as the group would have for several years. The tragedy was that throughout 1965 and 1966, the Zombies released astring of equally fine, intricately arranged singles that flopped commercially, at a time in which chart success of 45s was a lotmore important to sustain a band's livelihood than it would be a few years down the road. "Remember When I Loved Her," "IWant You Back Again," "Indication," "She's Coming Home," "Whenever You're Ready," "Gotta Get a Hold of Myself," "I MustMove," "Remember You," "Just Out of Reach," "How We Were Before" -- all are lost classics, some relegated to B-sides thatwent virtually unheard, all showing the group eager to try new ideas and expand their approaches. What's worse, the lack ofa big single denied the group opportunities to record albums -- only one LP, rushed out to capitalize on the success of "She'sNot There," would appear before 1968.
Their failure to achieve more widespread success is a bit mystifying, perhaps explained by a few factors. While undeniablypop-based, their original compositions and arrangements were in some senses too adventurous for the radio. "Indication," forinstance, winds down with a lengthy, torturous swirl of bitter organ solos and wordless, windblown vocals; "Remember When ILoved Her," despite its beautiful melody, has downbeat lyrics that are almost morbid; "I Want You Back Again" is arranged likea jazz waltz, with the sorts of sudden stops, tempo shifts, and lengthy minor organ solos found in a lot of their tunes. TheZombies were also, perhaps unfairly, saddled with a somewhat square image; much was made of their formidable scholasticrecord, and they most definitely did not align themselves with the R&B-based school of British bands, preferring more subtleand 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 expiredearly in the year, and the Zombies signed with CBS for one last album, knowing before the sessions that it was to be theirlast. A limited budget precluded the use of many session musicians, which actually worked to the band's advantage, as theybecame 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 andcovers). A near-masterpiece of pop/psychedelia, it showed the group reaching new levels of sophistication in composition andperformance, finally branching out beyond strictly romantic themes into more varied lyrical territory. The album passedvirtually unnoticed in Britain, and was only released in the States after some lobbying from Al Kooper. By that time it was1968, 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 asingle, almost as an afterthought. It took off in early 1969 to become their biggest hit, but the members resisted temptationsto re-form, leading to a couple of bizarre tours in the late '60s by bogus "Zombies" with no relation to the original group. Bythis 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 solovocalist, 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 theDoors, the Byrds, the Left Banke, the Kinks, and many others. After a long period during which most of their work was out ofprint, virtually all of their recordings have been restored to availability on CD. Blunstone and Argent reunited for an album, Outof the Shadows, and toured together in 2003 as Blunstone & Argent, playing live shows into 2004 when they began giggingagain as the Zombies, with an album and DVD set, Live at the Bloomsbury Theatre, appearing under that name in 2005. Tohonor the 40th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle, the four surviving original members of the group reunited for a series ofthree concerts at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire Theatre in March of 2008, with a CD and DVD set of the shows hitting themarket later that summer. A new studio album, Breathe Out, Breathe In, attributed to the Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone &Rod Argent, appeared in 2011. « hide
Similar Bands: The Kinks, Love, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Colin Blunstone
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