Paul Fitzpatrick: July 2022, London.
This is about a British band formed 60 years ago, who are still performing today and who aren’t The Stones or The Who.
It’s about musicians that have flown under the radar for most of their career but who have also produced moments of real quality and cultural significance along the way.
The Zombies came to life in 1961, five music-obsessed school chums who sang as choristers at the local abbey.
As it turns out, the Abbey in question is in Saint Albans which has been my home town for nearly 40 years, and to remind everyone of the bands cultural significance to the city there’s a blue plaque outside the Blacksmith Arms pub where the lads first got together over 60 years ago.
Saint Albans is proud of The Zombies and there are plenty of old hippies dotted around the pubs of the cathedral city who’ll tell you that they were there to see the band make its debut performance.
To showcase the bands feats I’ve chosen 4 tracks from 4 different points in their musical journey……
1) ‘She’s Not There’ by The Zombies and Santana.
The Zombies were a pretty big deal in the 60’s, their career bookended by two massive hits, the first of which ended up being a lifeline for another iconic 60’s band……
‘She’s Not There’ was the Zombie’s debut single and was a global hit topping the charts from America to Japan, the song also holds the distinction of being the second British number one in America after The Beatles ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’
Written by Rod Argent the bands keyboard player, his trademark Hohner electric piano and Colin Blunstone’s wistful vocals were the key components that the Zombies signature sound would be built around.
‘She’s Not There’ was one of those songs I’d catch on the family transistor radio and make a mental note of liking when I was a kid, but it got tucked away in the recesses until I heard the Carlos Santana version in 1977.
I immediately liked the Santana rendition because it stayed true to the original even down to the melancholy vocals (of Greg Walker), however it wouldn’t have been Santana if it didn’t feature a bit of on-brand latin percussion and Les Paul shredding, which of course it did, and this is what transformed it from a 60’s analogue classic to a Santana anthem.
The song proved to be the catalyst for a welcome and much needed Santana revival after the band had seen their popularity diminish from the early 70’s, a decline even the bands exquisite album art couldn’t arrest.
The Moonflower album the track was lifted from would be Santanas biggest seller for 30 years and helped the band regain momentum.
2) ‘Hold Your Head Up’ by Argent.
I knew all about Argent the band before I realised Rod Argent was chief Zombie in crime.
I knew this because his band Argent and this song were smack bang in the middle of my musical sweet spot in 1972.
Rod Argent had formed his self-titled band as soon as the Zombies broke up in 1968 teaming up with another local lad, Russ Ballard, who would sing lead vocals on this track.
We all loved a guitar hero but a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum in the early 70s and guys like Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Jon Lord started to muscle their way into the rock-god scene with their elaborate banks of keyboards and dexterous solo’s that could take up the side of an album.
Rod Argent was one such keyboard virtuoso and with ‘Hold Your Head Up’ he unveiled the radio friendly version of prog-rock. A keyboard-heavy track that found it’s way onto TOTP and into the top 20.
Argent would go on to have three top 40 hits including the Ballard penned ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You’ later adopted and made famous by KISS.
3) ‘I Don’t Believe in Miracles’ by Colin Blunstone
Like many 60’s bands The Zombies imploded over management and financial issues, and despite the commercial success of having two number one’s in America, Blunstone had to find work as an insurance clerk for a period before embarking on a solo career.
His old mucker Rod Argent came to Blunstone’s aid, encouraging him to record his 1971 debut album which spawned the hit single ‘Say You Don’t Mind’, a track written for him by Denny Laine who had just formed a band called Wings with some geezer by the name of Paul McCartney.
Blunstone’s second album, released in 1972 featured the song ‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles‘ written & produced by Argent’s new partner in crime – Russ Ballard.
Ballard would leave Argent in 1974 to pursue a solo career and to focus on writing hits like ‘Free Me, for Roger Daltrey, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ for Rainbow, and just to showcase his versatility, ‘So You Win Again‘ for Hot Chocolate.
Released in 1973 at the peak of Glam Rock, ‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles‘ was only a minor hit but it became Blunstone’s signature tune and kept his distinctive vocals on the airwaves.
It’s a song I remember well despite its lack of airplay, and I can proudly say that I contributed to its chart position by purchasing a copy from Woolworths as a gift for a girls birthday.
Unfortunately, the record she wanted, Python Lee Jackson’s ‘In a Broken Dream’ wasn’t in stock, so I plumped for something similarly melancholy!
4) ‘Time of the Season’ by The Zombies
In 1967, the summer of love, The Zombies recorded their last album, except there wasn’t a lot of love in the room and the band split before the album was formally released in April 1968.
Finances and record company control were at the centre of the disharmony and things came to a head when Blunstone snapped on the recording of a new Rod Argent song ‘Time of the Season’, which ironically would go on to give the band their biggest hit.
After they split, a fake Zombies touring band was put together in America by the record company to cash in on the bands chart success. Two of whose members, Frank Beard and Dusty Hill would go on to form ZZ Top.
After various band and solo activities in the 70s The Zombies eventually got together again for projects and reunions through the 80s and 90s and formally reunited in 2001.
They have been together ever since.
In 2019, The Zombies with four of the original five band-members still involved, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, coincidentally, performing live at the event 50 years to the day that ‘Time of the Season‘ had been number one in America in 1969.
So there you have it…. let’s hear it for a band that no one talks about, that have been going for the best part of sixty years, who have been feted by the likes of Paul Weller and Kurt Cobain and who are likely to be appearing at a venue near you soon….