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We Saw The Zombies!

March 20, 2017

            There certainly is a weird, disconcerting infatuation with zombies these days. I mean the fake, sci-fi zombies, not the real, voodoo ones from the Afro-Caribbean culture. Zombies seem to be everywhere. I couldn't hope to name all the movies: Night of the living Dead (old and new), Dawn of the Dead (old and new), Day of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Land of the Dead, World War Z, Zombieland. The TV show, The Walking Dead, and the miniseries, Fear the Walking Dead, have been perversely popular. That's one of the reasons it doesn't surprise me that there's been a big resurgence in the popularity of the 1960's musical band, The Zombies.

            Almost everybody knows a song or two by The Zombies. I heard "She's Not There" on a TV commercial recently (during a showing of Zombieland, coincidentally). My daughter (and millions of others who weren't even born yet when it was released in 1969), love The Zombies' hit song, "Time of the Season." "I Love You" and "Tell Her No" are songs many people don't know by name, but recognize as soon as they hear them. The haunting lead vocals of Colin Blunstone, the song writing of Rod Argent and Chris White coupled with the band's seductive 'pop-rock' productions make most of The Zombie's music strikingly distinguishable and memorable. ("She's Not There" - 1965)       

           My wife and I drove up to the Poconos to see The Zombies perform at Penn's Peak event center near Jim Thorpe Saturday night. It's the third time the band has been there in the past few years. Most of the original members are touring with them (guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004). I always watch recent performances by a band on Youtube before I get concert tickets, to be sure they still sound okay. I was impressed with The Zombies in 2016 and snatched up a couple tickets.

            We were having rather sever wintery weather for March but had no trouble driving the hour or so from Quakertown up to Penn's Peak. We had a fine dinner at Roadies restaurant at the facility and had no difficulty getting good seats when the gates opened at the general admission performing hall at 7:00pm. The joint appeared to be sold out, which surprised me a little. Admittedly, like my wife and me, many of the attendees looked like old hippies who'd somehow survived. Several of the people I talked to were among the 10 million who claim to have been at Woodstock.

            The show started on time and the first half surpassed my greatest expectations. The band sounded fantastic. Rod Argent was dazzling on the keyboards and Colin Blunstone still had strength and accuracy in that misty, alluring voice. The gray haired men (they are all in their late sixties or early seventies), played all The Zombies' hit songs: "I Love You (and I don't know what to say!)," "Tell Her No (no, no, no),""She's Not There." They even threw in a tremendous sing-along version of "Hold Your Head Up," a big hit song for Rod Argent and the band Argent in his post-Zombies career.

            The Zombies set a milestone recently when their new album, Still Got That Hunger, broke into the Billboard Hot 100. They are the first band to have two albums on that renowned list 50 years apart. It was 1967 when Odessey and Oracle (spelled incorrectly by the album cover designer and left that way because they didn't have the money to change it), was released.

            Odessey and Oracle is listed at 100 on the top 500 albums of all time. In the second half of the show they performed (for the very last time, we were told), the complete album from front to back. The last song is the familiar and universally loved top ten hit, "Time of the Season (for loving)." The show had no real encore. Rod Argent introduced the players and told us a little about the band. Then, they concluded with a rocked up, extended version of "She's Not There (let me tell you 'bout the way she looks, the way she acts and the color of her hair)," which was a bring-'em-to-their-feet finale.

            It was still slightly above freezing for our ride home down the Turnpike, so there was no ice to contend with. It was a quick, uneventful trip. and the dogs were really glad to see us. I don't know which song was going through my wife's head, but the next morning at my Quaker Meeting I was distracted from my meditation by an endlessly playing, "What's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich? Is he rich like me? Has he taken (has he taken) any time (any time), to show you what you need to live? ...It's the time of the season for loving." Not a bad belief to have.


            The Zombies 'officially' formed in the spring of 1961, in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK, when Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy got together to jam. They thought they sounded pretty good and decided to form a band. They wanted Argent's cousin, Jim Rodford to join them, but he was already a member of the successful local band, The Bluetones (and went on to play bass guitar for The Kinks), They ultimately convinced Colin Blunstone and Paul Arnold to join.

            All five of the musicians and singers were still in high school at the time. Argent (age 16), Atkinson (15) and Grundy (16) attended St. Albans School while Blunstone (16) and Arnold were at St. Albans Boys' School (since renamed Verulam School). The latter two were actually from Hatfield and sang in the St. Etheldreda's Church choir. Argent was a boy chorister in the St. Albans Cathedral Choir. They named themselves, The Mustangs.

            They soon realized that there were several other bands with the same name. In a 2015 interview with J.C.Macek of PopMatters, Argent said of the band's name change to The Zombies: "Well, we chose that name in 1962 and, I mean, I knew vaguely that they were, sort of, you know, the Walking Dead from Haiti, and Colin didn't even really know what they were." He went on to explain: "It was Paul [Arnold] that came up with the name. I don't know where he got it from. He very soon left the band after that." Arnold commented: "I thought this was a name that no one else is going to have. And I just liked the whole idea of it. Colin [Blunstone] was wary, I'm sure, at the beginning, I know, but I always really, really liked it."

The Zombies

            Chris White, also of Hertfordshire, replaced Arnold on bass guitar and, with Argent, became one of the group's main song writers. The Zombies gained in popularity. After they won a 'beat-group' competition sponsored by the London Evening News, they were signed by Decca Records. Their first hit song, "She's Not There," was released in mid-1964 and reached number 12 on the charts. Surprisingly it was their only Top 40 hit in the UK. The song caught on in the United States and climbed to the number 2 chart position by December that year. It sold over a million copies and won a gold disc from the Recording Industry Association of America.

            Along with many other UK musical bands of that era, The Zombies were part of the legendary "British Invasion;" were sent to the United States to capitalize on their hit song. As part of 'Murray the K's' Christmas (1964) shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theater they performed seven shows a day. On January 12, 1965, The Zombies appeared on national television, on the very first episode of Hullabaloo. They performed "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" to a screaming audience full of teenage girls. Blunstone's smooth vocals and seductive stage presence were hot enough to melt them.

            Surprisingly, The Zombies were never very popular in the UK. "She's Not There" was their only top 40 song in their native land. In the U.S., however, it and "Tell Her No," both cracked the top ten. Due partly to that lack of success at home, the follow-up to their first album, which was Begin Here (called simply The Zombies, on the U.S. release), never reached production. Many of the cuts were never released. ("Tell Her No" - 1965)

            In 1967 The Zombies signed with CBS Records and for their new company recorded the album Odessey and Oracle. The band was in serious financially trouble by then and used a mellotron (the value of which they learned from John Lennon), during recording sessions. Since Rod Argent and Chris White, as the song writers, were making a lot more money that the rest of the band members, they personally paid for the stereo mixing costs.

            Partly due to the financial inequities, by the time Odessey and Oracle was released the group had disbanded. The album sold poorly in the UK and was released in the U.S. only because musician Al Kooper convinced Columbia Records that it had merit. Eventually (in 1969), "Time of the Season" was released as a single and became a nationwide hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It remains, probably, the best known Zombies song, still getting radio play. ("I Love You" - 1965)

            In 1969, The Zombies tried to reform and do another album for CBS, but the project fell through. A couple songs were released as singles, with little success. The album was finally released in Japan in 2008 under the title R.I.P.

            Rod Argent had success with his band Argent after The Zombies. Chris White was a non-performing song writer for the group. Paul Atkinson had a career with Columbia Records in the A&R division. Hugh Grundy joined Argent after a try at auto sales. Colin Blunstone worked, for a short time, in the burglary claims division of an insurance company before embarking on a solo career. Both Argent and White provided him with songs. He also did studio vocals for The Alan Parson Project.

            After several partial and unsuccessful reunions, on November 25, 1997, all five Zombies reunited at the Jazz Cafe in London as part of a solo show by Blunstone. They performed "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" to promote the release of a compilation album put out by UK Ace/Big Beat, Zombie Heaven.

Argent and Blunstone

            In late 1999 Argent spotted Blunstone in the audience while he was performing at a charity concert for jazz musician John Dankworth. He invited him on stage for an impromptu reunion. It was a positive experience for both and the partnership was revitalized. They began touring as a twosome, releasing several recordings. After the original members reunited to honor Atkinson receiving the President's Merit Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (several months before his death from health problems associated with liver cancer in 2004), The Zombies began touring again. ("Time of the Season" - 2013)

            To mark the 40th anniversary of Odessey & Oracle (2007), the four surviving original members of The Zombies did a three-night series of concerts in London. In 2011 "The Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent" released a studio album, Breathe Out, Breathe In. It received good reviews and the band decided to do annual tours of the US, UK, Canada and The Netherlands. The 2011 tour also included concerts in Japan, France, Germany, Greece and Israel. The Zombies were nominated for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, for the first time since they became eligible in 1988, but were not inducted. (Finale 2015)

            The Zombies released their 6th album, Still Got That Hunger, in October 2015. They toured the U.S. that fall to promote it and it reached the Billboard Hot 100. They made a guest appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert during the tour. The Zombies went on another U.S. tour in 2017 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the recording of Odessey and Oracle. One of their stops was at Penn's Peak Events Center, and that's where my wife and I had a wonderful experience seeing them perform.

The Zombies


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