On March 29, The Zombies will take the stage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to celebrate their long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The time has never been better to revisit the band’s catalogue, a hugely influential one despite its small size. Rediscovering The Zombies has been made easier with the recent release of two deluxe 5-LP vinyl box sets. For the U.S., Varese Vintage has issued The Complete Studio Recordings, while in the group’s native U.K., Demon Music Group has released In the Beginning. These sets offer two different perspectives on the same body of work, though there are variations in the track listings. Today, we’ll take a look at Varese’s box, and tomorrow, we’ll be back with coverage of Demon’s set.
Colin Blunstone, Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson, Chris White, and Hugh Grundy made their first splash in 1964 when “She’s Not There” took radio on both sides of the Atlantic by storm. The urgent, jazz-flavored rocker composed by Argent reached No. 12 in the United Kingdom in September, and three months later, made No. 2 Billboard/No. 1 Cash Box in the United States. Based on this success, U.S. label Parrot Records was anxious to deliver a Zombies LP to stores. While the band’s proper, 14-song U.K. debut Begin Here wouldn’t reach shops until April 1965, the 12-song American version on Parrot Records titled The Zombies (or, The Zombies Featuring She’s Not There/Tell Her No) was rushed into stores in January. The original mono LP opens Varese’s 61-song The Complete Studio Recordings, containing the band’s two U.S. albums and three “posthumous” compilations (one of which is unique to this set).
“Tell Her No” was the title of the band’s second single, released in December 1964 in the U.S. and eventually a No. 6 smash on the Hot 100. (In the U.K., “Tell Her No” fared less well, peaking outside the top 40.) Inspired by Bacharach and David’s sophisticated rhythms, “Tell Her No” was another feather in the cap of songwriter-keyboardist Argent. The balance of the LP was cobbled together from the Begin Here sessions. Ultimately the American album shared nine tracks with its U.K. counterpart including a medley of R&B favorites “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Bring It On Home to Me,” George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s classic “Summertime,” the blues standard “Got My Mojo Working,” and Argent’s beat original, “Woman.”
Shockingly, another Zombies album didn’t arrive until 1968 with the now-famous Odessey and Oracle, by which time the band had departed Decca (in Europe) and Parrot (in the U.S.) for CBS on both sides of the Atlantic. Varese has opted to follow The Zombies with a 1966 mono compilation album originally released only in international territories by Decca. I Love You‘s twelve songs included the beguiling Chris White-authored title song, “She’s Not There,” and “Woman” plus Argent’s “The Way I Feel Inside” (from Begin Here), and single sides like “Is This the Dream?,” “Whenever You’re Ready,” “You Make Me Feel Good,” “Indication,” and “Don’t Go Away.” Every song on the LP save a cover of Clint Ballard and Angela Riela’s “Gotta Get a Hold of Myself” was an original composition.
Odessey and Oracle comes as the third disc, in stereo. Initially rejected by CBS’ Clive Davis and then championed by Al Kooper, the LP grew in stature over the years to become not only the British band’s most beloved album, but a landmark in cohesive album rock. Rod Argent reflected on it in the liner notes to Rhino’s 1987 reissue: “The songs were inspired by a variety of influences, but they were songs which came from our hearts. They were not the result of a producer or record company imposing their views of what a hit single might be. Some of the songs were romantic, others sparked by literature (‘Butchers Tale,’ ‘Brief Candles’) – ‘A Rose for Emily’ was inspired by a Faulkner short story. Chris reflected on his experience growing up near Beechwood Park in his song of that name. ‘Time of the Season’ was actually influenced by Smokey Robinson’s ‘The Tracks of My Tears.'” All of these diverse influences added up to a haunting, intricate song cycle with baroque orchestration, psychedelia, blues, and rock hand-in-hand. Odessey also contained, as its closing track, the song which may be The Zombies’ most famous: the haunting, era-defining “Time of the Season.” Unfortunately, the band had dissolved in December 1967, months before the original release in April 1968 (U.K.) and June (U.S.), and its members had gone onto other endeavors.
The fourth album in Varese’s box, R.I.P., was intended for release in 1969 but ultimately shelved until 2014. When Columbia Records’ U.S. subsidiary Date Records found itself with a hit on its hands thanks to the late-blooming “Time of the Season,” the label turned to Argent and White to craft a follow-up. Colin Blunstone, circa 1969, noted: “CBS wanted an album for America, so we used old tracks which had never been released. I sing on one side of the LP. We brought the tapes up-to-date by adding certain things and taking away others.” For the other side of the LP, Argent and White formed a band – including Jim Rodford, Russ Ballard, and Bob Henrit – and recorded six new songs in late 1968 as The Zombies. The new songs, despite the different personnel, picked up where Odessey and Oracle had left off, rich in melodic invention and baroque frills. But when the singles “Imagine the Swan” and “If It Don’t Work Out” failed to capitalize on the success of “Time of the Season,” Date declined to release the LP. Having concluded the story of The Zombies, Argent, White, and their new band went on to form the band simply called Argent. Varese premiered R.I.P. in its originally intended form in 2014 plus four alternate mixes as bonus tracks, and now the stereo LP (sans bonuses) is an integral part of The Complete Studio Recordings.
The set wraps up with a newly-curated, 13-track mono anthology appropriately entitled Oddities and Extras. This compilation picks up the various and sundry singles, outtakes, and soundtrack recordings not otherwise addressed in the box set, from a fine cover of Little Anthony and The Imperials’ “Goin’ Out of My Head” to three cuts associated with director Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing. These recordings have trickled out in various places over the years, but Oddities and Extras adds up to a compelling collection in its own right. Note that “Sticks and Stones” and “Road Runner,” two remaining tracks from the U.K. Begin Here, have not been included on this disc or in the box set.
The Complete Studio Recordings, produced by Cary E. Mansfield and Andrew Sandoval, is attractively housed in a classy black-and-white slipcase, with foil lettering on the group’s name. Each album’s original artwork has been painstakingly recreated for vinyl by art director Bill Pitzonka, who has provided a new, Date-style cover design for Oddities and Extras. Each 180-gram LP has a uniform black label and is housed in a lined black inner sleeve. Co-producer Sandoval has provided his customarily detailed liner notes on the back covers of R.I.P. and Oddities (the latter in track-by-track format). Remastering throughout is top-notch, as primarily overseen by Bill Inglot and Andrew Sandoval from the original masters.
The Zombies regrouped decades after Odessey and Oracle and have since recorded four more albums in addition to embarking on successful reunion tours, culminating in this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Clearly, this is indeed the time of the season for The Zombies; The Complete Studio Recordings is a splendid overview of their original recordings, and an impressive testament to the legacy of the group.
Watch this space tomorrow for a look at Demon Music Group’s U.K. release In the Beginning!