As one (and a half) hit wonders go, The Zombies haven’t done badly.
Considering what’s left of the original band (two members – again not bad considering it’s 57 years since they first got together – will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year (2019), it’s easy to forget their only UK Top 20 hit single was She’s Not There which peaked at number 12 in August 1964 and the best they could do after that was number 42 for Tell Her No, in February 1965.
Ironically a Santana revival of She’s Not There released in 1977 was more successful than the original version in the UK reaching number 11.
It’s equally ironic that for a band which sounded (and looked) so quintessentially English, The Zombies have always been bigger in the States where She’s Not There almost made it to the top, Tell Her No wasn’t far behind and Time of the Season in 1968 ranked between one and three depending on which US chart you looked at.
The album the third hit came from, Odessey and Oracle (it was a sleeve designer’s spelling mistake!) is still ranked number 100 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and is still selling barrow loads as a cult classic.
So where did She’s Not There and the then strangely named Zombies come from? Well, the band (not the only ones to be originally called The Mustangs) was formed in that hotspot of British pop – St Albans.
Yes, forget Mersey Mop Tops, Manchester Beat Boys, Brummy Blues and even London Band Wagon Jumpers – The Zombies with their sixth form looks and choirboy voices hailed from a small city with Roman roots, medieval abbey wall paintings, Verulamium Museum and the Blacksmiths Arms (where the band first met).
Three members of the original band, Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy, first got together to jam in 1961. Argent wanted to form a band and initially asked his elder cousin Jim Rodford to join on bass but he was already in a successful local band, The Bluetones, so declined, but offered to help Argent start up (and would later decide to join in 2004 when the band reformed). Colin Blunstone and Paul Arnold joined the other three to form the band in April 1962, while all five members were at school.
Both Blunstone and Grundy hailed from nearby Hatfield and both sang in the choir there at St Etheldreda’s Church..Argent was a boy chorister in St Albans Cathedral Choir. They held their original rehearsals at the Pioneer Club using equipment lent to them by The Bluetones. They met outside the Blacksmiths Arms pub in St Albans (where a commemorative plaque still stands) before their first rehearsal and gained their initial reputation playing the Old Verulamians Rugby Club in the same city.
It was Paul Arnold who came up with The Zombies name.
Argent explained in a 2015 interview: “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. Paul came up with the name. I don’t know where he got it from. He very soon left the band after that. I thought this was a name that no one else is going to have. And I just liked the whole idea of it. Colin was wary, I’m sure, at the beginning, I know, but I always, always really, really liked it.”
The rest is pop history. After allegedly winning a beat-group competition sponsored by the London Evening News, they signed a recording contract with Decca and recorded She’s Not There. Rod Argent built the lyrics from a John Lee Hooker song, whose title – No One Told Me – became a part of the opening phrase of She’s Not There: “Well no one told me about her , the way she lied. Well no one told me about her, how many people cried.”
And then again in its second verse: “Well no one told me about her, what could I do? Well no one told me about her, though they all knew.”
Add to that a repeated pre chorus and a similarly echoed chorus and that’s your lot. Short and sweet but it worked wonders.
Following a 29 April 1964 performance by The Zombies at St Albans Market Hall, Argent played the one verse he had so far written of the song for Ken Jones who was set to produce the band’s first recording session. Jones encouraged Argent to write a second verse for the song, intending for the band to record it.
Argent recalls: “I wrote the song for Colin’s range”—referring to Blunstone’s choral pitch: “I could hear him singing it in my mind.”
It later turned out that the real inspiration behind the song was Argent’s first love, Patricia, who called off their wedding weeks before and broke his heart.
Like many other British Invasion groups, The Zombies were sent to the United States to tour behind their new hit single. Among their early US gigs were Murray the K’s Christmas shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre, where the band played seven performances a day.
On 12 January 1965 the band made its first in-person appearance on US television on the first episode of NBC’s Hullabaloo and played She’s Not There and their next single Tell Her No to a screaming, hysterical audience full of teenage girls.
Not bad for a band whose debut single was described (and almost dismissed) by authors and music journalists (though not by Argent himself) as jazz rock, beat and pop rock.
So considering the band boasted two future multi hit makers in its line-up – Rod Argent who went to become a bit of a prog rock god and Colin Blunstone who was the nearest thing the UK got to having its own Art Garfunkel – what went wrong?
It would appear their first record label, Decca, had other fish to fry – namely The Rolling Stones. Did no-one tell The Zombies about them?
|LABEL||Decca (UK) Parrot(USA)|
|RELEASED||24 July 1964|