The Zombies are coming to Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on August 16. Two original Zombies, keyboardist Rod Argent and singer Colin Blunstone, will be joined by newer additions Tom Toomey and Jim and Steve Rodford. The evening promises to rock with their classic hits and their more recent material.
Formed in 1962 in St. Albans, England, the Zombies were one of the most talented bands of the so-called British Invasion. With Blunstone’s pure voice and Argent’s keyboard virtuosity, they weren’t just another Beatles copycat band. Despite their distinctions, over the passing years the Zombies might have been lost amidst the blur of British bands wearing matching suits—had it not been for one very novel song.
You’ve heard the song, “Time of the Season,” even if you don’t know you have. “What’s your name (What’s your name)/Who’s your daddy (Who’s your daddy)/Is he rich? (Is he rich like me?).” With its non-sequitur choirboy refrain, jazz-infused Hammond organ breaks, and featuring a recurring, heavily amplified breath as part of the drum track, “Time of the Season” is one of the most striking bits of psychedelic bliss to come out of the ‘60s.
While speaking with Rod Argent, who wrote “Time of the Season,” it becomes clear that he didn’t think that hard about the track at the time.
“I overdubbed the breath sound just as a spur-of-the-moment thing,” he explains. “I was very influenced by the way the Beatles recorded using unusual sounds.” He adds that the whole song was probably recorded in fewer than three hours.
Argent, who also wrote the Zombies’ 1964 breakout hit “She’s Not There,” brought a lot of diverse musical influences to the band. Those choirboy voices? Argent got his start in music as a choirboy at the St. Albans cathedral, where he picked up a lot about vocal arranging and fell in love with the music of Bach.
“I didn’t really listen to pop music until I first heard Elvis,” recalls Argent. “At the cathedral, there was a very young organ master who turned out to be one of the best organists in the world. To sit in the organ loft and hear him play Bach was just fantastic.”
Argent’s own organ playing was self-taught, and more influenced by the jazz organ of Jimmy Smith and the modal jazz of Miles Davis. “I took about two years of formal lessons,” he says, “during which I actually practiced less. I did learn how to read music, though.” Argent did most of the Zombies’ vocal and instrumental arrangements, which became quite intricate, especially on the band’s 1968 album Odessey and Oracle—a melodic gem that flopped upon release but is now considered a classic.
The Zombies original career was truncated—of all the unlucky breaks, they had already broken up when “Time of the Season” finally hit in 1969. Argent went on to found the band Argent, which had its biggest hit with 1972’s “Hold Your Head Up”—another Hammond organ touchstone and a tune that’s bound to show up at WHBPAC. Later, in the ’90s, Argent returned to his classical roots by recording a CD of solo piano works by Chopin, Ravel and some pieces of his own.
Argent and Blunstone reformed The Zombies in 2004, and there’s been a welcome flowering of new songs since then. These are not retro-sounding nostalgia, nor are they attempts to sound current—they are just solid, hook-laden pop songs that work.
And they sound like the Zombies. “We really wanted to explore vocal harmonies on our most recent album,” says Argent, noting the conscious effort to maintain continuity with the Zombies’ earlier work. Listen especially for two standout songs from recent years—Argent’s soulful “Breathe In, Breathe Out” and Blunstone’s Latin-tinged “Any Other Way.”
As for Argent, he couldn’t be happier now that the Zombies are back together. As he puts it, “It’s a privilege to be out with a great band.” And now it will be our privilege to hear them.
The Zombies play the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main St, Westhampton Beach, on Saturday, August 16, at 8 p.m. Tickets $65–$90. whbpac.org, 631-288-1500