It's an often-told story: a band forms, has a few hits, becomes disillusioned with the inner workings of the record business and calls it quits. In the case of The Zombies, there's one wrinkle: once disbanded, they had another hit. A very big one. Yet they resisted any temptation to reverse direction. Still, an eventual regrouping took place, as much fan-driven as the realization by individual members that the experience had, perhaps, been prematurely cut short.

Three students at St. Albans School (in the city of St. Albans, Hertfordshire, about 25 miles north of central London) formed the group around 1961: Paul Atkinson played guitar, Hugh Grundy favored the drumkit and Rod Argent sang, though not too well he figured, and played organ. The much-needed lead vocalist materialized in one Colin Blunstone and the requisite bassist was a kid named Paul Arnold, who abandoned any rock and roll dreams he had after about a year and began studying to be a doctor (not the first of the bunch to take a non-music job at some point). Chris White, who'd played with a local jazz-influenced guitar trio called The Markysparks, became his four-string replacement; at the professional level, Rod and Chris would be the compositional heart of the band. A few group names were tossed about; for several weeks The Mustangs (after the horse) was used, then they tried The Sundowners (after the movie starring New Englander Robert Mitchum and Scot Deborah Kerr) on for size; turns out more than a few other bands had beaten them to those names. The guys liked "Zombies" for its voodoo connotations...and no one else seemed to be using it.

By 1963 they were getting jobs in local clubs performing the same kinds of rock and R&B hits most of their peers were doing. London newspaper the Evening Standard sponsored the Herts Beat Competition, pitting local singers and musicians against one another for a much-coveted grand prize, a recording contract with Decca. The Zombies entered, more for a lark than anything, and won at the semi-final level with the George Gershwin-DuBose Heyward classic "Summetime," which they also reprised at the finals a month later with several other classic rock and blues numbers and an Argent original, "It's Alright With Me." The band took first place...bigtime record deal in the bag!

Musician Ken Jones was designated as the group's arranger; production was credited to "Marquis Enterprises," a company owned by Jones that gave him control over the producers he would work with. It took a day or two for Argent to write "She's Not There," a rocking bass-and-keyboard number in a minor key (a musical approach that came to define the group's sound) and White contributed "You Make Me Feel Good." A strong debut single had fallen into place. In July 1964, the A side was featured on BBC-TV's Juke Box Jury with its ever-changing panel of guest judges rating the latest tunes; George Harrison happened to be on that particular installment and had a positive reaction to the exciting moment for its creators! Surprisingly, "She's Not There" only got to number 12 around summer's end, though in the U.S., where it was on the Parrot label, the record reached Billboard's number two spot in December (held off by Bobby Vinton's "Mr. Lonely") while topping the Cash Box chart.

The second Decca disc, Argent's "Woman," failed to chart and was passed over for U.S. release. Was their success a fluke? "Tell Her No" barely lasted a month on the British charts in February '65 but made a top ten showing in America a few weeks later. For some reason, music fans in Great Britain were lukewarm to the Zombies, yet they were quite successful in the 50 States and many parts of the world (particularly in the Philippines, where fans suddenly found themselves in the throes of "Zombiemania"). Argent penned all the early hits, including "She's Coming Home" and "I Want You Back Again," the third and fourth charting U.S. singles. They had at least one more major hit in them...and the original version could be found on the flip side of the next 45, "Whenever You're Ready." But Chris White's "I Love You" didn't happen for the Zombies. It was remade a few years later with an intriguing stop-and-start arrangement (distinctly different from the original) by San Jose, California's People, riding high on the charts in the summer of 1968.

'Come on time!,' they insisted ('The Zombies are there...that's us!...That's me!...That's him!...That's he!') in an unusual trailer for Bunny Lake is Missing, one of 1965's more notorious (but not widely seen) motion pictures directed by Otto Preminger and starring Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley and the unseen Bunny. The soundtrack on RCA Victor featured three songs from the film: "Nothing's Changed," "Just Out of Reach" and "Remember You," the latter two issued as a single on both sides of the Atlantic. There were two more on Parrot ("Is This the Dream" and "Indication") adhering to a formula set by Jones at the get-go; the strangest of all singles came on Decca in early '67, a remake of Little Anthony and the Imperials' 1964 hit "Goin' Out of My Head" that threw the Zombies formula out the window. A reset was needed. Or, the group could opt for the other obvious solution. They could just quit.

And so they did, but not until a full album had been completed. Their Decca contract behind them, the Zombies signed with CBS and, coming off a three year ordeal spent mostly on the road, recorded Odessey and Oracle. It was the summer of '67 and the album indicated a new, potentially rewarding, direction. But it was shelved by the label and two of its tracks, "Friends of Mine" and "Beechwood Park," were put on a single that failed to sell...just like everything else since '65. CBS wasn't sure how to promote this collection of lyrically thought-provoking songs. Frustrated, fed up, broke and feeling bilked by concert promoters and abused by record companies, the five agreed to hang it up.

Paul Atkinson, Hugh Grundy, Rod Argent, Chris White, Colin Blunstone

O&O lead-off track "Care of Cell 44" similarly stiffed near the end of the year (it was their only U.S. single on Columbia) while "Time of the Season," the intricate, uptempo closer to the belatedly-released LP, generated zero interest when it appeared in Britain in early '68. In the meantime, former label Decca reacted to People's stateside smash and reissued "I Love You," hopes high...then dashed. Band members took regular jobs; Grundy worked as a car salesman and Atkinson did some odd jobs before heading for the U.S. and establishing himself as an executive at Columbia Records in New York. Blunstone took a clerical position with an insurance company but couldn't resist some of the offers he was getting to return to the music business. Under the alias Neil MacArthur, he did an organ-less version of "She's Not There" on Deram and though it would seem pointless to do so, the arrangement was uniquely appealing and it hit the U.K. charts in February 1969 (that same month The Road, a band from Buffalo, N.Y., had gotten their version added to a smattering of U.S. radio stations).

Something else happened in February 1969: "Time of the Season," which had been available on Columbia Records' Date label for a few months, appeared on the charts in the U.S. (but not the U.K.) after stations around the country had begun playing it the previous month. Nothing seemed to stand in its way as the hot radio track climbed to number three Billboard and number one Cash Box (their second time on top!) by the end of March. A an act that no longer existed. Offers to regroup fell on deaf ears; Rod and Chris had already moved ahead with plans to form a new band, Argent. A single, "Liar" (written by the group's lead singer, Russ Ballard, a longtime friend from Hertfordshire), was issued on Date a few months later and had delayed hit potential (Three Dog Night reaped the benefits in the summer of 1971 with their top ten remake).

"Imagine the Swan" made for a disappointing follow-up to the defunct quintet's big comeback hit; summer '69's prophetically-titled "If it Don't Work Out" was the final single. Argent the rock group had a major hit in 1972 ("Hold Your Head Up") and Blunstone, using his real name, scored three mid-charting hits in his homeland in '72 and '73. Eventually it happened; like the zombies of modern pop culture, the band came back to life. White, Blunstone and Grundy made some recordings under the Zombies name in 1991 and were joined by Argent and Atkinson in 1997 in what you might call a 30th anniversary "Zombies rising" performance. A few years later, once the realization set in that they'd seriously underestimated the size and passion of the Zombies' worldwide fan base, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone resumed recording and touring on a regular basis. At first they performed new material under their own names, but before long concertgoers were hearing all the old songs from The Zombies' complicated yet remarkable 1960s heyday.

- Michael Jack Kirby



She's Not There Tell Her No Time of the Season