The Zombies: Reaching Across Decades

Aug 12, 2012
Originally published on August 12, 2012 8:40 am

The Zombies' third studio album, Odessey and Oracle, spawned what may be the band's best-known song, "Time of the Season." But the record wasn't a big success when it first came out in 1968. In fact, The Zombies' original lineup disbanded before Odessey and Oracle even came out.

It wasn't until 12 years after the album's release that it really started generating praise. Paul Weller of the English new-wave band The Jam called it his favorite album of all time — he maintains as much to this day — which helped bring in successive generations of younger fans. Founding members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone say the record's influence continues to reach across decades.

"The record sells more every year now than it did when it first came out," Argent says. "We almost always have young bands come see us. We almost always have a young component in the audience. It's such a privilege to be at this stage in our careers and to get that energy back."

After hiatuses, solo jaunts and lineup changes, Argent and Blunstone keep coming back to make music together. The two have played together since they were teenagers; Blunstone says that from the start of The Zombies, the music was made to complement the members' abilities.

"If you analyze the individual players in The Zombies — with the exception of Rod, who is an absolutely exceptional keyboard player — we were all quite modest musicians individually," he says. "But when we played together, something happened."

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Here at NPR, there's a small space up on the fifth floor between a desk and shelves, crammed with CDs and books about music. It's basically a stage for musicians who come to perform what we call Tiny Desk Concerts.

This week, a legendary 1960s rock band visited our tiny stage.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Our Tiny Desk Concerts with The Zombies is about to begin, so please head on over to the skinny end of the fifth floor. Thank you.


WERTHEIMER: We've got a new album out actually. And we're going to do a song from the album called "Any Other Way."


WERTHEIMER: The Zombies, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, came together in 1961 to form The Zombies and maybe best known for hits like "Time of the Season." Or maybe it would be this one, "She's Not There."


WERTHEIMER: Their 1968 album "Odessey and Oracle" was very well reviewed. And now, more than 40 years later, they have a new album, titled "Breathe Out, Breathe In." They join us in the studio now.

Colin, Rod, welcome.

COLIN BLUNSTONE: Thank you very much.

ROD ARGENT: Thank you very much.

BLUNSTONE: Great to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Rod, you're looking out at the audience in this The Tiny Desk Concert.


WERTHEIMER: And, you know, I am way the oldest person there, no kidding.


WERTHEIMER: I mean, you're looking at a whole new generation.

ARGENT: You know, you are and the great thing is "Odessey and Oracle" came out, it wasn't really a hit. And then about 12 years later, the guy from The Jam...

BLUNSTONE: Paul Weller.

ARGENT: ...Paul Weller started to talk about the album, and said it was his favorite album of all time. And he said that again this year. And the record sells more every year now than it did when it first came out.


ARGENT: We almost always have young bands come see us. We, you know, it's such a privilege to be at this stage in our careers and to be able to get that energy back.

WERTHEIMER: Now, all of these years, since those hits in the '60s, what has kept the two of you coming back to each other to make music? There've been little intermissions in there but you've come back. Is there something that the two of you do together that is just not as good as what you do apart, do you think?

BLUNSTONE: I'm not really sure. I mean if we were to go right back to The Zombies, and from 1961, we were all quite modest musicians individually. But when we played together, something happened.


ARGENT: And I think it is something to do with the fact that the earliest music in Rock and Roll that we made was together. And you grow up learning your trade at that very important time, you know, when you're 15, 16, 17 years old. And you're learning so quickly then and fashioning things around each other. And I think it's something to do with that.

WERTHEIMER: But you sing as if you were brothers. You know, your voices are similar. You sing very close...

ARGENT: Well, they do match, don't they?

WERTHEIMER: Yes, they do. I think...

ARGENT: I don't think they are terribly similar actually. If you get them apart...

BLUNSTONE: No, they just seem to work together when we sing together.

ARGENT: When we sing together.



BLUNSTONE: And, you know, and Rod always says that when he's writing, subconsciously he's got my voice...

WERTHEIMER: He hears it, yeah.

ARGENT: Totally.

BLUNSTONE: his head when he's writing.


WERTHEIMER: Well, the other thing that you brought to this, Rod, obviously in your keyboard playing is that you bring a sort of jazz sensibility to it. You play a sort of honky-tonkish piano, if you want to. I mean, there's a lot different strands that go into this music. I must say I like that part, the sort of layering.

ARGENT: Well, I think the thing is that we never thought we doing anything. I mean, when I was writing "She's Not There," I just thought I was writing a song by the Beatles, if you like.


ARGENT: In retrospect, when I listen to our stuff, it actually doesn't sound like anybody else. It sounds very distinctive, even though we thought very much like when John Lennon wrote I think it was "I'm a Loser." He thought he was being Bob Dylan. It was nothing like Bob Dylan. But, you know, you're own influences come through, or your own personality comes through, and changes what you're imagining into something of your own.

WERTHEIMER: Your album "Odessey and Oracle," Rolling Stone magazine put that at Number 80 on their list of 500 Greatest Albums.

ARGENT: I know. As I said, that's the extraordinary thing. It took a long time to start...

WERTHEIMER: And to build.

ARGENT: ...generating and building.

WERTHEIMER: But one of the things is interesting about that was that right after it came out, you decided to stop playing together.

BLUNSTONE: Well, strangely enough we actually decided to stop playing before it came out...


BLUNSTONE: ...which I always thought is not one of the shrewdest decisions...

ARGENT: Questionable decision there.

BLUNSTONE: Yes, it's not the shrewdest of business decisions. We deserted this poor album, "Odessey and Oracle." I remember us all leaving one room after a conversation where we said the band has to end. And I had a very lonely drive home to - well, I lived with my parents. And I thought, what, I'm 22. Have I retired?


BLUNSTONE: Is this it?


BLUNSTONE: Am I now going to be a gentleman of leisure? I had no plans whatsoever. Eventually, I did get back into the recording industry but...

ARGENT: And pretty soon, actually.

BLUNSTONE: Yeah, within a year or so. It's quite difficult explaining to - when we do interviews in the States that my solo career, I've had many, many hit songs. But unfortunately they were never hits in America, so you just have to take my word for it.


ARGENT: OK, we will try one last one which is a big solo hit that Colin had, actually, in Europe. And it's called "I don't Believe in Miracles." That's what we're going to do.


WERTHEIMER: The Zombies, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, joined us after they played a Tiny Desk Concert, which you can see at


WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T BELIEVE IN MIRACLES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.