Reborn pop: Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, back from the living dead.
By Bruce Robinson
For decades, they resisted it. But today, 38 years after they last graced the pop charts, the Zombies are back.
"For years, people were pressuring me to get the Zombies back together again," Rod Argent, the group's keyboard player and primary songwriter, explains by transatlantic telephone, "and I always resisted it. But within the context of recording and writing new stuff with Colin [Blunstone, the original Zombies' signer] and having a creative path forward, it felt very different to be playing the old stuff. And because the Zombies broke up just as Odessey and Oracle was coming out, we realized we'd never played some of this stuff live onstage."
That final Zombies album, now widely regarded as a quintessential set of pop psychedelia, was recorded in 1967 but wasn't released for another two years. When "Time of the Season" belatedly soared onto the top 5 charts, the band had scattered, Blunstone to craft a series of solo LPs, and Argent to assemble the harder rocking quartet that bore his surname.
By 1975, Argent (the band) had run out of steam, despite scoring a major hit of their own with "Hold Your Head Up." Argent (the man) admits, "I thought that was it for live performance for me, in a major way, onstage." But he readily agreed to do a couple of solo songs for a benefit organized by his neighbors, jazz couple Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, in 2000.
"In the audience that night was Colin," Argent recounts, "and just on the spur of the moment, he got up and sang "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" with me, and it sounded as if we'd been together just two weeks before, instead of 30 years or whatever. He suggested that just for fun we put together six gigs. And we did this, and to my astonishment, it was very well received and felt absolutely natural. And suddenly those six gigs have turned into six years of traveling around the world, and several albums.
"And it was absolutely unplanned, which perhaps is the best way to do things."
Later this month, a 2003 Zombies concert is being released as a double CD and DVD, a set that effectively summarizes the band's history and showcases the potent performing unit they are now. Playing the old songs "is a thrill, and quite unexpected," Argent says. "We even go back and do some of the old covers that we used to do in the original Zombies act, and it's such great fun to do that. It brings back a lot of old memories, and some of them I think we play better now than we played back then."
Blunstone, whose breathy tenor lent a distinctive timbre to "Tell Her No" and the other early hits, has become an unexpectedly assertive vocal presence, and wades into the handful of revived Argent material with considerable enthusiasm. "He always loved it, you know," the keyboardist comments. "When Argent was together, Colin would always come to our gigs, so he knows the stuff and has a longstanding affection for it."
The odd Argent tune, a few new songs and, of course, their greatest hits, will comprise the set list planned for the eight-date West Coast mini-tour that kicks off at the Raven Theater in Healdsburg on March 14, as well as selected tracks from Odessey and Oracle, one of the rare albums to have gained in sales and stature over the decades since its creation. "If anyone had told me 40 years ago that people would still be playing it around the world to the extent that they do, I wouldn't have believed it," Argent marvels. "The fact that it didn't really sell anywhere in the world when it came out, and then 15 years later started to sell gradually and then picked up momentum and now, year in and year out, sells in really substantial quantities around the world--I'm amazed."
As for the reasons for the Zombies' enduring appeal, Argent demurs. "I just couldn't begin to say. I think all of us had the philosophy of not trying to write or make records for the day. We always tried to do a song the best way that we could, without nodding in the direction of any particular fashion. Maybe in the long run that makes something last a little bit longer."
The Zombies appear on Wednesday, March 14, at the Raven Theater with Ian Hunter and the Charms. 6:30pm. $27.75-$59.77. 115 North St., Healdsburg. 707.433.6335.
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