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Five Things We Learned About the Zombies

From using John Lennon’s Mellotron to their drug-free Sixties, five highlights of the Zombies’ Rolling Stone Music Now podcast interview

Hugh Grundy, Chris White, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, The ZombiesRock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Press Room, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, USA - 29 Mar 2019

Hugh Grundy, Chris White, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, The Zombies

Stephen Lovekin/REX/Shutterstock

Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent  of recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Zombies went through their entire careers, in oft-hilarious detail, on a recent episode of our podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now.  Read some highlights below, and to hear the entire discussion, press play or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.  

They used some of the Beatles’ instruments in Abbey Road studios on Odessey and Oracle.  “It’s so funny because Mellotron is all over Odessey and Oracle,” says Argent. “And if John Lennon’s Mellotron hadn’t been there, it probably would have been a different album. And we were picking up these percussion instruments up from their session they just finished. It was a great time to be at Abbey Road.”

Pet Sounds was a “big indirect” influence on Odessey.  “I don’t mean we copied anything musical about the album,” says Argent. “But in my writing, even going back to ‘She’s Not There,’ I used to start with the bass and drum phrases, that would be the first thing that I compose. And I know Brian [Wilson] thought very much in that way as well, these melodic bass lines, etc. But with Pet Sounds, it struck me that he taken that to another level. And I wrote my songs on Odessey with those things in mind, those sort of compositional elements – like the beginning of “Care of Cell 44,” those bass phrases were the first thing I’d written for the song. The way Brian constructed the songs on Pet Sounds in such a masterful way really excited me. Pet Sounds sort of pointed out what you could do.”

Despite making a psychedelic classic, the Zombies somehow weren’t into drugs.  “There was a period of time when there was a drug explosion,” says Argent, who points out that the Beatles’ LSD experimentation didn’t become public until the Zombies had broken up.  ” I was never particularly personally attracted to drugs. I mean, I wasn’t aghast that people were doing that, it just didn’t feel anything that I particularly wanted to do. None of us were doing any drugs!” Adds Blunstone, “If we were feeling a bit racy [at Abbey Road], at one o’clock we’d nip around the corner to the pub, and we might have a pint of beer. That was it.”

“Hold Your Head Up,” the 1972 classic-rock radio staple by Rod Argent’s post-Zombies band Argent, was an unexpected smash. “It was a time when it was very unfashionable to have hit singles,” says Argent. “It was starting to become just really mainly an album market. And we didn’t want to record singles. And we started recording a new album, but as was always the case, we were miles behind with the recording, and we went to Holland to do a short tour. And meanwhile, CBS became very frustrated. And they put out an EP with about four tracks on it.  ‘Hold your Head Up’ was so long – it was six minutes and 30 seconds, three minutes of which was an organ solo!  But in spite of that, there was a DJ called Alan Freeman in the U.K., who absolutely loved it. He played it every Saturday morning. And unbelievably, that one play a week was getting it to just below the top 30 singles charts. And CBS phoned us up and said, ‘we’ve cut out the organ solo, we’ve made it into a three-and-a-half minute song, and we think this could be a hit.’ And we were up in arms about it… but it became a top five record.”

Blunstone had to get a day job in the 1970s, and it wasn’t too bad. “I had to,” he says, citing his lack of songwriting credits. “Writing is a completely different income stream to touring. Rod and [bassist Chris White] were in a totally different situation than the three non writers. When the band finished, Hugh Grundy, our drummer, Paul Atkinson, our guitarist, and myself, we had to get jobs – had absolutely no choice. And I was in a bizarre situation where I just rang up an employment agency and said, ‘Have you got any jobs?’ I didn’t know what else to say. And of course, I don’t think they said, ‘Well, what experience have you got?’ Because it could have been a strange conversation.  I got an office job. I worked there for about a year. I quite enjoyed it because it was very, very busy. And I was devastated when the band finished. And I didn’t have time to dwell on what had happened and what had gone wrong and all the things that could have been better. I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Because it was a very busy office, although I didn’t understand what was going on. I had no idea what was going on. But I realized the phones kept ringing and they needed to be answered. I’m quite a good bluffer. It was insurance. I know nothing about insurance!”

Download and subscribe to our weekly podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, hosted by Brian Hiatt, on iTunes or Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts), and check out two years worth of episodes in the archive, including in-depth, career-spanning interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Halsey, Ice Cube, Neil Young, the National, Questlove, Julian Casablancas, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Marr, Scott Weiland, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Costello, Donald Fagen, Phil Collins, Alicia Keys, Stephen Malkmus, Sebastian Bach, Tom Petty, Kelly Clarkson, Pete Townshend, Bob Seger, the Zombies, Gary Clark Jr. and many more — plus dozens of episodes featuring genre-spanning discussions, debates and explainers with Rolling Stone’s critics and reporters. Tune in every Friday at 1 p.m. ET to hear Rolling Stone Music Now show broadcast live from SiriusXM’s studios on Volume, channel 106.

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