The Zombies

by David Galassie
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The Zombies were one of those 60s groups that never fulfilled its potential. Darlings of the critics and even flirting with hit status, the Zombies suffered from a lack of dynamic management and a tried and true ally in their record company.

Moreover, though they were a British group, they scored better in the US than in their native England.

Regardless of an enviable catalogue and a talent for jazz-inspired arrangements and vocal harmonies, they broke up at what should have been their finest hour in 1968. And though the resultant success of their last album ended in offers of ridiculous sums of money to regroup, they'd have none of it. Such are the ways of the music business.

Formed in 1961 in St. Albans, England, the Zombies honed their craft playing at the Old Verulamians Rugby Club there in that London suburb. Rod Argent (organ), Colin Blunstone (lead vocals), Paul Atkinson (guitar), Chris White (bass), and Hugh Grundy (drums) were the core Zombies in their heyday.

Chris White's predecessor, Paul Arnold (who left after the first year to study medicine and who became a physician) had introduced the others to Colin Blunstone who had been destined for a career in insurance until the Zombies came calling.

Playing the 1950s rock and roll standards to colleges and other local venues, the band contemplated breaking up as college loomed in their future. Rod Argent and Chris White who didn't want it all to end, entered the band in a local talent contest, The Herts Beat Contest, sponsored by The London Evening News in 1963.

The group won and the prize was a Decca Records recording contract. With all this going for them, the group decided to forego college (university, as they say in England) and turned professional.

At Decca, the Zombies released their first single, "She's Not There," a Rod Argent composition. And though it stayed on the US charts for 12 weeks and reached as high as number 2, it only reached number 12 in the UK.

Even with the inclusion of the song on a popular British TV show, "Jukebox Jury," which had Beatle George Harrison as a judge that week (he loved the song, by the way), this, surprisingly, was to be their only Top 40 hit in their own country.

Their next single, "Leave Me Be," was a bust but their third release, "Tell Her No," was another US chart topper, making it to number 6 and lasting for 8 weeks.

Around this time, the Zombies hit the US on tour as part of the British Invasion craze and played to successful crowds, including the Murray the K (the famous New York disc jockey who billed himself as the "Fifth Beatle") Christmas shows where they performed on the same bill as the Shangri-Las, Shirelles, and Nashville Teens.

They even appeared in the 1965 Otto Preminger film, "Bunny Lake is Missing," which starred Laurence Olivier and Carol Lynley.

The Zombies performed three songs, but even these failed to chart after being released. Back in England, Decca Records began getting less than enthusiastic with their promotional dollars; their though was that The Zombies were one-hit wonders.

The Zombies weren't happy with the status quo either and eventually signed with CBS Records in 1967, giving their all on one last album. By the time this album, "Odessey and Oracle" was released in April of 1968, the group had already broken up.

Selling few copies, it was only released in the US on the insistence of musician and in-house CBS producer Al Kooper who believed so strongly in it. Three singles were released one after another and all failed to sell well. One last ditch release, "Time of the Season," caught on and by late1968/early 1969, it was a smash at number 3 and stayed on the charts for 11 weeks.

CBS Records got antsy for more recordings and much money was offered for the group to re-form, but it had been over a year since the breakup and it was too late. Rod Argent and Chris White had already sown the seeds of the band that would become Argent (which charted at number 5 in the US with "Hold Your Head Up" in July 1972). Colin Blunstone had embarked on a solo career.

Today, the Zombies' "Odessey and Oracle" (accidentally misspelled by their album cover designer) is critically revered and is in league with such '60s iconic recordings as The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds."

The group is now recognized as being woefully underrated. Their biggest three hits are now considered rock standards and were even recently part of the song list on American Idol as two of the contestants performed "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season."

The Zombies reunited in 1991 without Rod Argent for an album entitled "New World" which was never released in the US. In November 1997, all of the original Zombies played together live for the first time since 1968 at the Jazz Club in London. And though Paul Atkinson died in 2004, the surviving Zombies have announced they will tour in 2008 to mark the 40th anniversary of "Odessey and Oracle."

The Zombies' talent hasn't escaped the notice of their fellow musicians. Billy Joel has publicly named The Zombies as his favorite band of the '60s and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds credits Rod Argent with showing the world that jazz-inspired playing could be incorporated into rock and roll music.

There are countless lesser lights in the rock and roll tapestry who garnered much more attention with decidedly less credentials, but despite missing out on the colossal success they deserved, the Zombies can say they were musicians' musicians and their hits were well-deserved.

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