In a cosmic twist of fate, March 29 is a twice-special date for the Zombies. On March 29, 1969, the British invasion band’s “Time of the Season” reached number one in the United States on the Cashbox Top 100. On the fiftieth anniversary of that achievement, March 29, 2019, the Zombies will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“It’s going to be a double celebration for us,” Zombies singer Colin Blunstone told OffBeat in December, the day after the 2019 Hall of Fame inductees were announced.
Things do come to those who wait. The Zombies have been eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1989. In December, having been on the ballot four times, the Zombies learned they will join their 1960s British peers the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Who in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1964, the Zombies released their hit debut, “She’s Not There.” “Tell Her No” followed in 1965. In 1969, 15 months after the band had broken up, “Time of the Season” charted high across the world. No one was more surprised by the song’s belated success than the disbanded Zombies.
Appreciation for the group’s second album, Odessey and Oracle, came later. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1967, the album was ignored upon its release in 1968. It now ranks alongside the era’s masterpieces.
After the Zombies’ breakup, keyboardist and songwriter Rod Argent formed Argent (“Hold Your Head Up,” “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”). Blunstone continued recording, too, releasing charting songs in the United Kingdom and Europe and recording with Dave Stewart and the Alan Parsons Project. As the years passed, the Zombies’ original recordings influenced decades of musicians, including Eminem, Post Malone, Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, Fleet Foxes, She & Him and the Arctic Monkeys.
Blunstone and Argent reunited in 2000 for an intended six concerts only. But the reunion never ended, carrying on with international touring and new recordings. In 2015, the Zombies made their decades-in-the-making New Orleans debut. They return February 25 for a show at the House of Blues.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced yesterday that the Zombies are 2019 inductees. You’ve probably been doing nonstop interviews.
It has been constant. Rod and I both have been doing quite a lot of interviews. I’m happy to be talking to people in these wonderful circumstances. We’re very lucky and we feel honored to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For the Zombies at the moment, it’s all good news. And you know what this business is like. There are many times when it isn’t good news. There’s lots of, I always say, peaks and troughs. So, it’s nice to enjoy a wonderful peak. And long may it last.
Speaking of troughs, did the Zombies break up in 1967 because you all thought no one cared anymore?
In a way that’s true. In our defense, we had no help. No support. Our management didn’t have an overview of where our career was going. And it’s typical of bands in the ’60s. Especially in the U.K., where managers had very small minds. They were just trying to make a quick profit. They didn’t think in terms of careers.
Ironically, you recorded Odessey and Oracle, your masterpiece, and then you broke up.
At the time we perceived ourselves as being unsuccessful. Even just a few years afterwards, we realized that from ’64 to ’67 we always had a hit record somewhere in the world. And maybe we were all a bit tired. We’d been working nonstop. We probably needed to take a break, just go away and think things through, and then see where it can go from there. But that’s not what happened. Everybody went off and got involved in fresh projects. For the most part those projects were successful. So, we can’t really look back with too many regrets.
I recently spoke to Peter Asher, one of your British Invasion peers. With the duo Peter and Gordon he released many hits. But he said no musicians made money in the ’60s.
It’s true. Every band that I know from the ’60s didn’t make any money during the ’60s. I remember talking to John Entwistle from the Who. He said, that before Tommy, they didn’t make any money.
But it’s funny to talk about musicians and money. Most musicians come into the business because they love to play music. That certainly was true in the ’60s and the ’70s. And sometimes, yeah, the conversation did change to money. What most musicians want is what we call a “fair crack of the whip.” It’s not that they want to be fantastically rich. It’s just they don’t like to see other people taking money that rightfully should come to them. That’s when things can get difficult, when you see money being diverted away from you. It’s a bit heartbreaking, really.
The news is still fresh, but has the upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for the Zombies sunk in yet?
It’s almost beyond my imagination. To be honest, I don’t think it’s really sunk in. I always remember us as these five young boys getting together, way back in 1961. I remember our humble beginnings with no instruments and no equipment. And to think that through this long journey we’ve been on, we’ve arrived to a point where we’re being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In online voting, more than 330,000 fans voted to induct the Zombies. The Zombies placed fourth out of fifteen nominees, behind Def Leppard, Stevie Nicks and Todd Rundgren and ahead of Janet Jackson, Radiohead, the Cure and the others.
It is quite mind blowing, really, that we should be in this situation. Firstly, we have this wonderful, loyal and tenacious fanbase. And then that our peers, musicians who have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, they voted for us as well.
After you got the news, how soon did you speak to Rod?
Immediately. He’s incredibly excited as well. I’ve had a phone call from Chris White, the original bass player. He’s thrilled. I had an email from Hugh Grundy (the drummer). He’s thrilled. Hugh said he’s so glad that his life changed that day back in 1961. All our lives changed in 1961, when we met as 15-years-olds and discussed putting a band together.
Sadly, the fifth member, Paul Atkinson, the guitarist, passed away in 2004. Of course, we’re remembering Paul. He was a very important part of the original Zombies. He went on to be a powerful record executive. In many ways, he was the most successful of all of us.
At the House of Blues this February, you’ll be playing only the second New Orleans show of your career.
I remember, way back in the ’60s, when we came very near to New Orleans. I was so disappointed that we didn’t play there in our first incarnation. All musicians want to go to New Orleans. But we played there in 2015 and I got out and had a good walk around.
The reanimation of the Zombies happened in 2000, nearly 20 years ago. Ironically, the first edition of the Zombies was a professional band for only three years.
When you’re young, three years seems like an eternity. So, this new band has been together nearly seven times as long as the original Zombies. We got back together again, originally, to play six dates. I don’t think Rod wanted to commit to being full-time. He was very successful as a producer. But he loved it so much that here we are, still playing.
“Time of the Season” became an international hit in 1969. Can you say why that song is so mesmerizing?
If you could bottle that knowledge, you would have continual hits. But it has got a very infectious rhythm to it, which is enhanced by the handclap and breath. Rod did the handclap and breath on the spur of moment in the studio. Pure genius. The handclap and breath make the song stand out. Otherwise, it’s just very well-crafted.
But there are so many strange things about “Time of the Season.” For one thing, it was never a hit in the U.K., but it was the Zombies’ biggest hit ’round the world. Another thing is, when people make films and TV series about the ’60s, they often go to that song as a sort of summation of the ’60s. It’s been in countless films and commercials. Actually, it’s in a commercial right now in America. Applebee’s pies or something.
Didn’t you and Rod almost come to blows during the recording of “Time of the Season”?
It was the last song we recorded for Odessey and Oracle. Rod finished writing it in the morning before the afternoon session. I wasn’t fully prepared to sing it because it had only just been written. I was having trouble getting the phrasing completely correct. Rod was coaching me from the control room and I was in the live room. And I was watching the clock right in front of me, with the red light above it. We had a minute recording budget. It was getting more and more tense. While I was singing “It’s the time of the season for loving,” Rod and I were having a fierce row, with very bad language and shouting. Remembering that always makes me laugh.
The Zombies play at the House of Blues February 25.