Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Zombies 1: The Zombies

The so-called British Invasion following the Beatles brought a deluge of pop combos to American airwaves, and given the precedent of the Fab Four, wacky names abounded. The Zombies, however, were neither a Merseybeat group nor an R&B outfit trying to grab the brass ring while clad in matching suits and sporting moptop haircuts. For one, the band was driven not by guitars but largely by main songwriter Rod Argent’s electric piano. Colin Blunstone had a predominantly breathy voice that could leap into a shriek on command. Harmonies abounded.
True to the American tradition of chopping up British LPs and leaning on the hits, The Zombies cherrypicked from their native debut Begin Here, adding a few leftovers from B-sides and EPs, and gave key attention to the two smash hits written by Argent. “She’s Not There” came first, and takes the opening spot on side one. Despite its sophisticated arrangement, in each chorus there’s a wonderfully audible gasp of an inhale that most producers would have been quick to fix. “Tell Her No” wasn’t as big, its use of Bacharach-style major-seventh chords have vaulted it as a major classic, and one of the gems of the era. Beyond those, “It’s Alright With Me” begins as a generic dance number with a riff and ascending chords, but throws a curve ball at the end of the second verse by slowing down the tempo, then diving into a top-speed piano solo. Similarly, “Sometimes” begins one way, then chugs along over a Vox organ for aural variety. “Woman” lets guitarist Paul Atkinson play the riff.
Argent wasn’t the only band member holding his head up (yeah, we went there) in the songwriting department. Bassist Chris White offered up the musically intricate “I Don’t Want To Know” and the tongue-tripping “What More Can I Do”. “Work ‘n’ Play” is an instrumental credited to their producer, and throws in a few unexpected changes under the harmonica.
Everybody covered Motown in those days, but their take on “You Really Got A Hold On Me” gets a twist by getting attached to Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” in a medley. “Can’t Nobody Love You” was borrowed from Solomon Burke, and the Gershwins’ “Summertime” is taken as a waltz showing off their chops. That’s not to say they couldn’t hold their own in a club, as demonstrated by their stomp through “I Got My Mojo Working”, led by Hugh Grundy demolishing the drums.
Even two-hit wonders had trouble keeping momentum in the face of shifting PR strategies, so it was years before more of the band’s work was properly heard in context. The comprehensive Zombie Heaven box set collects all the songs here as well as on singles, EPs, plus of course the British album, showing off what the band actually could offer if only anyone had heard them. They did put their all into a grand hurrah of sorts, and we’ll discuss that in due time.

The Zombies The Zombies (1965)—3

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