By Alec Palao
The small but perfectly-formed canon of The Zombies belongs on the same shelf as the other major players of mid-1960s Britpop, such as the Kinks, Yardbirds and Small Faces. From their 1964 debut ‘She’s Not There’ onwards, there was never at any point a drop in quality and Zombies discs are acknowledged as some of the best-produced and distinctive in all pop music. In their day, the Zombies were one of the few English bands of the 1960s that enjoyed true global popularity, with two American number ones, chart records throughout the rest of the world, and a deep and lasting affection for their music. And ironically, right after the band split their final single ‘Time Of The Season’ quickly became their biggest record – US radio plays for the latter song has passed the four million mark. The Zombies’ first two American singles, ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Tell Her No’, also remain two of the most heavily-spun vintage hits on American oldies radio.
More importantly, the popularity of the Zombies’ music, in keeping with their name, shows no sign of dying. Their unsurpassed oeuvre continues to influence musicians around the world, whether they be original fans of the stature of Tom Petty or Paul Weller, or more recent acts like Beck, Pavement and Badly Drawn Boy. Indeed, most cutting-edge alternative pop acts of any worth within the past two decades have openly cited their love of the Zombies. Thanks to high-profile reissues like Big Beat’s definitive 1997 box set “Zombie Heaven,” each new pop generation has been able to discover for themselves the undiluted magic of the band’s catalogue.
Beyond the statistics and continued inspiration, the Zombies had several remarkable attributes that set them apart from other artists. The sheer consistency of keyboardist Rod Argent and bass player Chris White’s songwriting, is perhaps rivalled only by Lennon and McCartney. Building upon the standard R&B and rock’n’roll influences, the Zombies introduced class and sophistication into a genre not noted for either, and in the most natural, unselfconscious way possible. The songs were lent an extra dimension by the voice of Colin Blunstone, widely acknowledged as one of the finest singers Britain has ever produced. Fellow Zombies Paul Atkinson (guitar) and Hugh Grundy (drums) should not be maligned, for as a whole, the chemistry of the band was unsurpassed.
The quintet came together in 1962 as school friends in the sleepy Hertfordshire town of St. Albans, purely for the love of beat and R&B music. Strictly an amateur schoolboy outfit at first, the band was about to pack it all in for work and college when they took a shot at the regional Herts Beat talent contest and won. Amongst the subsequent record offers, the Zombies opted to sign with the independent Marquis Music, which stood them in good stead when their first single ‘She’s Not There’ on the Decca label became first a top twenty hit in the UK, and then a smash all over the world in late 1964.
While their career would fail to return to such heights during the Zombies’ lifetime, their debut nevertheless set the template for an remarkable run of singles, from ‘Leave Me Be’ and ‘Tell Her No’ to ‘Remember You’ and ‘Indication’. Each ensuing release showcased Argent and White songs of an unparalleled standard. The group’s debut album, “Begin Here”, released in April 1965, is a classic of the beat age. Throughout 1965 and into 1966, the Zombies toured America and Europe, and also made a brief appearance in the potboiling thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing. In early 1967, at a time when their record career had almost ground to a halt in theUK, the band played to crowds of over 30,000 in the Philippines.
In the summer of 1967, the group switched from Decca to CBS, with a renewed resolve that came from a fabulous new batch of Argent and White tunes. The resultant album, “Odessey & Oracle,” recorded on a shoestring at Abbey Road studios, remains perhaps their greatest artistic statement. “Odessey” presents an evocation of memory that maybe has yet to be surpassed in pop music, with a peculiarly English, yet universal, slant on dreams, childhood and the attendant loss of innocence that derives from the passing of both. It is a record today as celebrated and influential as the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” or Love’s “Forever Changes.”
Having completed their masterwork, the Zombies had decided to split upon the release of “Odessey” in April 1968. The final single, ‘Time Of The Season’, was issued that same month to little initial fanfare, but in a supremely ironic twist, it was picked up by US deejays almost a year later to become a massive stateside hit. This posthumous accolade could not induce the Zombies to regroup. With Chris White behind the scenes, Rod Argent had already formed the eponymously-named Argent, enjoying further success in the United States during the 1970s with the anthemic hits ‘Hold Your Head Up’ and ‘God Gave Rock & Roll To You’. Both he and Chris have since had a varied and successful career in the field of record production, as well as frequently scoring for television and stage. Colin Blunstone, meanwhile, has remained a familiar chart presence in the UK and Europe through hits like ‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles’ and ‘What Becomes of the Broken hearted’.
Big Beat has been proud to polish up this band’s exemplary catalogue, starting with our lynchpin 4-CD box set “Zombie Heaven.” Gathering virtually every vintage Zombies recording together in one fully-remastered place, it remains one of the best-selling titles in the Ace Records catalogue. Subsequent Zombies releases have included definitive stand-alone reissues of ‘Begin Here and “Odessey & Oracle”, the “Singles As & Bs” anthology, a comprehensive 2 CD set providing stereo versions of every Decca side; and “Into The Afterlife”, which gathers fascinating post-Zombies demos along with Colin’s rare solo recordings as Neil MacArthur. Vinyl fans will want to pick up our limited set of Zombies 7” EPs which include several tracks not available on any CD releases,
The former members of the Zombies continue to remain active in music. The original quintet have reformed just twice in the recent past: once for the launch party of “Zombie Heaven” at London’s Jazz Café, and then, on a sadder note, at a benefit for Paul Atkinson in Los Angeles, shortly before he died from liver disease in 2004. In 2008, the remaining members came together for several special performances marking the 40th anniversary of “Odessey & Oracle”. Argent and Blunstone maintain a touring version of the group that regularly visits the United States and Europe.
This four CD set comprehensively covers all the Zombies recordings from their Decca days, plus their live BBC appearances. The box is enhanced by a 68 page booklet crammed with rare photographs and memorabilia, much of it from the Zombies’ own archive and features detailed sleeve notes based upon interviews with all the members.
The Zombies 12” debut enhanced with their debut UK EP and the extra tracks required to programme the US version - notes included. Four bonus previously unissued sides and a host of new pix and memorabilia further pave the way to Zombie Heaven.
Odessey & Oracle
The same fantastic original LP back-to-back in stereo and then in mono, plus bonus tracks – but now at mid-price
The Singles Collection: As & Bs
Both sides of all fourteen singles released under the Zombies’ name in the United Kingdom during the 1960s: a run of unparalleled quality and consistency in the annals of pop music. They are presented in mono as originally issued.
The Decca Stereo Anthology
Due to public demand, the Zombies’ incomparable Decca catalogue is given a fresh new slant with this spectacular stereo anthology, spotlighting the group’s entire 1964-66 output, with many tracks appearing in stereo for the first time. Hear pop music history in the making.
Into The Afterlife
What they did next - the legendary missing link years between the Zombies and Argent. This deluxe anthology features fascinating demos and alternate mixes as well as the superb singles cut by Colin Blunstone as Neil MacArthur.