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The Zombies

While most ZOMBIES converts will be aware of the many jewels discharged within the grooves of their limited album schedule, everyone and the world will have heard and loved at least a couple of their songs from the 60s: `She’s Not There’ (a transatlantic smash) and `Time Of The Season’ (a massive US-only Top 3 hit). As sure as eggs is eggs, it was no surprise when the group’s core members, COLIN BLUNTSTONE and ROD ARGENT (after many years in the solo undergrowth), resurrected The ZOMBIES for live-in-concert sets and post-millennium studio albums.
Formed in St. Albans, England in 1962, by Rod Argent (keyboards), Colin Blunstone (vocals), Paul Atkinson (guitar), Hugh Grundy (drums) and Paul Arnold (bass) – the latter replaced within a few months of their inception by Chris White – The ZOMBIES were fast becoming an integral in the British invasion scene. In early 1964, after winning a local “Herts Beat” band competition, the quintet inked a deal with Decca Records; they soon had a massive worldwide hit on their hands by way of Rod’s classic composition, `She’s Not There’. With its distinctive churning organ and portentous overtones, the single instantly marked the band out from the rest of the Brit-beat pack, especially in America where the song climbed to No.2. The equally classy, `Tell Her No’, again reaped success across the Atlantic but strangely stalled at No.42 in the UK charts.
Despite a fine debut album, BEGIN HERE (1965) {*6} – released Stateside a few months earlier (track listing varying) as THE ZOMBIES {*6} – it seemed the combo had problems marketing their intelligent/nerdy looks. They were known as the most intelligent pop group of the mid-60s after leaving school with over fifty “O” and “A” levels between them.
Together with spouting several staple covers (from Gershwin’s `Summertime’ to R&B standards, `Road Runner’, `I Got My Mojo Working’ and `You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’ – the latter medley’d with `Bring It Home To Me’), the set suffered commercially until the weight of several of the day’s similar Brit invasion rivals: The ANIMALS, The YARDBIRDS and MANFRED MANN. Thus a string of well-crafted singles (from 1965’s `I Want You Back Again’ to 1967’s `I Love You’) were met with zero success in both the UK and US pop markets.
The ZOMBIES were indeed quick off the mark to inject their pop-psyche into the movies. The quintet were indeed a strange choice, and just to why ambiguous filmmaker, Otto Preminger, even thought it necessary to give the band a cameo, was stuff of mystery and speculation; the group appeared as a performing rock group on the hospital TV. Obscure in the fact that two of the songs, `Remember You’ and `Just Out Of Reach’ (fuse The ANIMALS with HERMAN’S HERMITS), were only otherwise available on a double-headed single platter in 1965/6, the soundtrack became as rare as hens teeth, fetching over $300 in some places. The ZOMBIES’ only other song, `Nothing’s Changed’ (that’s three songs under 7 minutes!), was another of the blue-eyed R&B ilk that fell flat on its face.
Decca duly declined to renew the band’s contract and they signed to C.B.S./Columbia in 1967. Although The ZOMBIES split in frustration before its release, ODESSEY AND ORACLE (1968) {*8} – check the deliberate spelling mistake! – was their Mellotron-friendly masterstroke. A concept album of sorts, the record boasted an exquisitely arranged combination of sublime harmonies and jazz-inflected instrumentation, Colin’s unmistakable pastoral vocals floating overhead. Though the album barely scraped into the US Top 100, it was an ironic twist of fate when the compelling `Time Of The Season’ single became an American million seller. Although singles `Friends Of Mine’ and opener `Care Of Cell 44’, had already failed to register the group a hit among the psychedelia elite (PINK FLOYD, PROCOL HARUM and The MOVE were leading the way), the sombre undertones of the dreamy `Beechwood Park’ and `Hung Up On A Dream’, embracing melodies from the cosmos.
The ZOMBIES re-formed briefly (minus White and the solo-bound BLUNSTONE), releasing a couple of singles, `Imagine The Swan’ and `If It Don’t Work Out’ with guitarist Rick Birkett and bassist Jim Rodford, but without success. Rod Argent went on to form, funnily enough… ARGENT; their biggest two songs coming through `Hold You Head Up’ and `God Gave Rock And Roll To You’.
Absent for the whole of the 70s and 80s, The ZOMBIES – or at least in part – resurfaced in the early 90s; Blunstone, White and Grundy (plus new boy Sebastian Santa Maria) erroneously hijacking the group moniker for the rather sedate and horizontal NEW WORLD (1991) {*4} “comeback” set. Okay, Argent and Atkinson were there in spirit and a few guest spots, but this was like listening to a below-par KORGIS or DREAM ACADEMY – remember them? Still, if one wanted to hear a steady re-tread of `Time Of The Season’, it was here.
ROD ARGENT and COLIN BLUNSTONE reunited properly for a joint album in 2002, “Out Of The Shadows”, following it up with a set under The ZOMBIES moniker: AS FAR AS I CAN SEE… (2004) {*4}; citing their reasons, as songs being written for Blunstone’s voice. As far as critics could see, the album was a schlocky slight on the band’s hallowed name and a waste of the singer’s talents, although that didn’t stop them from continuing to tour together, releasing LIVE AT BLOOMSBURY THEATRE, LONDON (2005) {*5}. One couldn’t then fault messrs Argent, Blunstone, White and Grundy for re-tracking their classic ODESSEY & ORACLE {REVISITED} (2008) {*7}, now a double-set celebrating its 40th anniversary recorded live at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Sounding more STEELY DAN than the er… the ‘Dan themselves, the jazz-inflicted BREATHE OUT, BREATHE IN (2011) {*4}, was nice enough to inhale. Much better and grandiose in its execution was the “featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent” CD/DVD combination, LIVE IN CONCERT AT METROPOLIS STUDIOS, LONDON (2012) {*5}, a re-tread of all their best “odesseys” and a few post-ZOMBIES hits from the pair.
The need then for another concert piece, LIVE IN THE UK (2013) {*6} – from the previous year’s tour – was a tad unnecessary, but featuring a cracking version of `Hold Your Head Up’ (incidentally penned by Chris White before it was snatched by ARGENT), the record was worth its admission price alone.
Old, new, borrowed and blue seemed an appropriate appraisal for The ZOMBIES next album project, STILL GOT THAT HUNGER (2015) {*6}: the old twigged from their re-vamped version of `I Want You Back Again’ (plus the “Odyssey & Oracle”-type sleeve art), the new from a handful of fine modern introspections (including `Chasing The Past’ and `Now I’ll Never Get Over You’) and the borrowed and blue combination on the STEELY DAN-esque light jazz touches on `And We Were Young Again’ and `Moving On’.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2013-Nov2015

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