THE ZOMBIES: WITHOUT WARNING
illustration by bijou karman
The original Zombies—a group that began as the Mustangs in St. Albans Herts UK during 1961—are currently on their final tour, performing the entirety of Odessey & Oracle. (The latest version of the Zombies, featuring only singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent from the o.g. group, will continue touring into the future.) The original Zombies are all in their 70s now. Though Blunstone states he and Argent are the best of mates these days, there were times in the 60s when things got tense—like when Argent had hastily written ‘Time Of The Season’ and presented it to Colin to sing during the O&O sessions, along with very specific ideas about how it should be sung. Colin simply didn’t like the song or the melody and suggested to Argent—at the peak of a shouting match—that he sing the damn song himself. When tempers calmed, Colin’s vocal was captured and history was made. ‘Time Of The Season’ became the Zombies’ most enduring hit. More Zombies tales below from Blunstone, one of rock’s premier vocalists. The Zombies perform at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel on Sat., Apr. 29. This interview by Danny Holloway.
Colin Blunstone (vocals): When the group started, Rod [Argent] was the singer and I was the rhythm guitarist. One day I heard him mucking about on a piano and it sounded very good. I asked him to play it with the band but he felt a lead singer needs to be free to move around. A little while later, I was singing to myself and Rod heard it and said my voice sounded fantastic. So we made a deal: he started playing keyboards and I took over singing lead.
Our first producer was Ken Jones from Decca and he was pretty much an autocrat. He was making suggestions on how we could improve and one of the things he mentioned was writing original songs. The very next session Rod showed up with ‘She’s Not There.’ Without warning. No one knew he could do it. He never talked about doing it. He suddenly showed up with a tune that sounded fantastic. Thing was, he’d only written the first verse and chorus, so we told him to hurry up and complete the lyrics so we could record it.
We used to record late at night. We came prepared. We took care to work out the song’s arrangement in advance. We were careful with each song’s phrasing and harmonies. Chris the bass player and Rod did back-up harmonies and occasionally I’d join them and sing the high part. Chris had to have a simple part because he was playing bass, too.
When we were recording ‘Tell Her No,’ it was another late night session and I fell asleep. They woke me up and said: ‘Time to do your vocals.’ I went in there half asleep and laid down a track that had mistakes in it and Ken Jones said ‘That’s fine.’ I begged him to let me re-do it but that’s the way he was. So the vocal to ‘Tell Her No’ is still to this day flawed.
Now we’re playing with the old original Zombies again and it brings back memories of when we were young and the crazy things that happened. When we play ‘She’s Not There’ I think how far that song took us. We went to the Philippines to play a hotel gig, we thought. Instead we played to 30,000 people two nights in a row in an indoor arena. No one told us we had six hits in the Top Ten.
Rod and I have been working together over 50 years now and we’re the best of mates these days. But we would have our set-to’s in the 60s. When we were recording Odessey, the last song Rod wrote was ‘Time Of The Season.’ We’d already recorded the rest of the album. I didn’t really like it. Rod had very specific ideas about how I should sing it. We ended up in a serious shouting match. Him in the control room and me out in the studio. I remember telling him: ‘Why don’t you sing the bloody song?’ Eventually, we calmed down and I sang it. It’s funny—the first words out of my mouth are: ‘It’s the time of the season / for loving …’ Ha!
As a singer, my influences were original rock ‘n’ rollers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. For listening, I’ve always enjoyed early 70s singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. As far as singing, I owe a lot to Rod. Since I never aspired to be a singer, I wasn’t trained. But Rod took great care with me and my vocals. We’d work on phrasing and he’d tell me when to sing on the beat and when to push for emphasis. When I get compliments, I’m thankful I’ve had Rod helping me.
Luckily, we own our own masters. When we first signed a contract, it was with a production company and the company signed us to Decca. We got those masters back—the first album and all the singles. When we did Odessey & Oracle, we signed through a production company again. These days there’s a company that gets Zombies songs licensed. There was a big Chanel campaign that used ‘She’s Not There’ in a major way and they did this fantastic television commercial with Keira Knightley. We’re very thankful there’s a place for us in the world. In fact, I don’t think the Zombies have ever been more in vogue than now!
THE ZOMBIES PERFORM ODESSEY & ORACLE ON SAT., APR. 29, AT THE THEATRE AT THE ACE HOTEL, 929 S. BROADWAY, DOWNTOWN. 8:30 PM / $33-$35 / ALL AGES. GOLDENVOICE.COM. VISIT THE ZOMBIES AT THEZOMBIESMUSIC.COM.