The Zombies facts: Members, songs, break-ups, reunions and how the 'She's Not There' group got their name

24 January 2023, 09:34 | Updated: 24 January 2023, 12:52

By Mayer Nissim

With their hit singles and classic Odessey and Oracle album, The Zombies are one of the great psychedelic bands.

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When it comes to psychedelic rock greats, The Zombies are right up there rubbing shoulders with the likes of Pink Floyd, The Byrds and The Doors.

With hits like 'Time of the Season' and 'She's Not There', The Zombies were one of the ultimate psychedelic rock bands who took that sound firmly into the mainstream.

The group exploded onto the scene in the mid-1960s and sadly split at their creative peak only a few years later.

They had a brief comeback at the end of the 1980s and a more permanent reunion in the '00s, so you can still catch the band on tour.

To celebrate their legacy and continuing work, we're inducting The Zombies into Gold's Hall of Fame.

When did The Zombies form and who was in their first lineups?

The Zombies in 1965
The Zombies in 1965. Picture: Getty Images

The Zombies have their roots all the way back in 1961, when Rod Argent (keyboards and vocals), Paul Atkinson (guitar) and Hugh Grundy (drums) had a jam together in St Albans.

Rod's cousin Jim Rodford (more on him later) declined an invitation to join because he was already in The Bluetones (not them), and instead Colin Blunstone (vocals) and Paul Arnold (bass) signed up in April 1962 – they were all still at school at the time.

Rodford and The Bluetones lent the fledgling group some equipment. The gang met up outside the Blacksmith Arms pub before their rehearsals at the Pioneer Club, winning their reputation locally after some shows at the Old Verulamians Rugby Club.

Arnold left the group very early on to become a doctor, and was swiftly replaced by Chris White, who alongside Argent became a key songwriter for the group.

Before he left though, Arnold gave the band a parting gift...

How did The Zombies get their name?

Between The Walking Dead and its spinoffs and The Last of Us, you can't move for zombie-related media these days, but back in the early 1960s the idea wasn't nearly as common. George A. Romero's genre-defining Night of The Living Dead wasn't even released until 1968.

The Zombies didn't actually start off as The Zombies. They were first called The Mustangs, but decided to change their name because there were quite a few other bands already called that.

"Well, we chose that name in 1961 and, I mean, I knew vaguely that they were: sort of, you know, the Walking Dead from Haiti and Colin didn't even really know what they were." Argent told PopMatters in 2015.

The Zombies
The Zombies. Picture: Getty Images

"It was Paul [Arnold] that came up with the name. I don't know where he got it from. He very soon left the band after that.

"I thought this was a name that no one else is going to have. And I just liked the whole idea of it. Colin was wary, I'm sure, at the beginning, I know, but I always, always really, really liked it."

With their creepy new name, the group won a competition sponsored by London's Evening News, signed a record deal with Decca, and recorded 'She's Not There'.

The Zombies' debut single was a smash hit, going to number 12 in mid-1964 in the UK – still the group's only Top 40 hit in their home country – and doing even better in the US, peaking at number two before the year was out.

What were The Zombies biggest songs and albums?

The Zombies actually only released two albums during their initial 1960s run.

In the UK, their debut was 1965's Begin Here. Their Stateside release was called The Zombies, which took songs from the UK album but added a couple of tracks from 1964's The Zombies EP and the UK standalone single 'Tell Her No'.

The follow-up was their masterpiece Odessey and Oracle, which featured US number three single 'Time of the Season' – an initial flop in the UK that slow burned its way to silver status.

Between the albums the band released a run of fantastic singles that sadly failed to chart.

In 2000, the band released their "lost" third album RIP, which had first been recorded in 1968.

The band released The Return of the Zombies for their 1990 comeback, revamped as New World in the US the following year.

They've released three studio albums since their 2004 comeback, with a fourth called Different Game due this year.

The Zombies biggest songs include:

  • She's Not There
  • Leave Me Be
  • Tell Her No
  • She's Coming Home
  • I Want You Back Again
  • Whenever You're Ready
  • Just Out of Reach
  • Goin' Out of My Head
  • Care of Cell 44
  • Time of the Season
  • I Love You
  • Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)

Why is Odyssey spelled wrong on the cover of Odessey and Oracle?

Nope, we've not written that wrong. The Zombies' second album and undisputed masterpiece is called Odessey and Oracle, not Odyssey and Oracle.

What's all that about, then? Some sort of clever psychedelic pun we're too square to understand? A witty play on the word "ode" as the band later claimed? Not quite.

It turns out that Terry Quirk, an art teacher pal of bass player Chris White, was asked to come up with the design and he misspelt it by mistake.

The band realised much too late that it was wrong, and obviously, the group swiftly insisted that it was intentional (wouldn't you?). Apparently, Colin even believed it!

The Zombies in West London
The Zombies in West London. Picture: Getty Images

"That's a painting by a friend of ours, Terry Quirk," the Daily Express quoted Colin Blunstone as saying in 2013 of that immortal – if inaccurate – sleeve.

"He's a fine painter but he's obviously not a very good speller. By the time we'd spotted it, the presses were rolling and it was too late to stop it."

He added: "Rod told a story for years that it was misspelt because it's a play on the word 'Ode'.

"He even told me that story, and about five years ago we were doing an interview and he explained the whole thing about the misspelling.

"Rod and Chris knew that it had been misspelt and I couldn't believe that for 40 years they let me believe the story as well."

When did The Zombies split up, reunite (split up and reunite twice more), and who is in their current lineup?

As we've noted, aside from 'She's Not There', The Zombies never really enjoyed the chart success their songs so richly deserved

That run of flop singles after their first album dented their standing, and they had to move to CBS to make Odessey and Oracle.

Recorded at Abbey Road and the band borrowed John Lennon's Mellotron which he'd left knocking about after The Beatles wrapped up Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, while Argent and White even shelled out for stereo mixes out of their own pocket.

The resulting album also failed to make a splash and the band started to fall apart, formally splitting in December 1967.

Meanwhile 'Time of the Season' began to inch its way up the US charts and slowly shift copies in the UK.

Argent and White had stayed together, and when CBS asked for another Zombies record due to the success of '... Season' they got back together with Grundy, added Jim Rodford, who turned down a chance to join The Zombies in 1961, and started work

The album was eventually shelved, and the band split again after a couple of singles. The recordings only emerged in full three decades later.

Another reunion took place in 1989, when Blunstone, White and Grundy joined forces with Sebastian Santa Maria to record The Return of The Zombies.

The US version of that album New World saw Rod pop by for one track ('Time of the Season') and Atkinson for another ('New World (My America)', before The Zombies were once again put on ice.

In 2004, a more permanent reunion took place, and The Zombies continued as a going concern since then.

Original members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone got back together, along with Jim Rodford and his son Steve, who joined on drums, with Keith Airey joining the fold on guitar.

Rod and Colin have stuck together to this day, while Jim sadly passed away in 2018. The current lineup is rounded out by Tom Toomey on guitar and Søren Koch on bass.

After a few failed nominations, The Zombies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.

If you're particularly lucky when you go see the band on tour, you may even get to see original members Hugh Grundy and Chris White, as they sometimes pop up for The Zombies' live shows, especially when they play Odessey and Oracle in full.

Fellow founding member Paul Atkinson died in 2004. Keyboard player and Beach Boy Brian Wilson's Wondermints pal Darian Sahanaja also joins the group for Odessey and Oracle shows

Who were the fake Zombies, and what did they have to do with ZZ Top?

ZZ Top... NOT The Zombies
ZZ Top... NOT The Zombies. Picture: Getty Images

Music promoters don't always have the best reputations, and when you see some of the antics they got up to in the 1960s, you can see why.

As 'Time of the Season' rose all the way to the dizzy heights of number three on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1969, they tried to get The Zombies back together to capitalise on that success.

That's all well and good, but when the group declined Delta Promotions decided to... well, if you think they made up a fake band and called them "The Zombies" you'd be wrong.

They made TWO fake bands called "The Zombies" and had them both touring simultaneously during 1969.

One of those bands was from Michigan (Michigan! Hardly St Albans), and one was from Texas.

What's more, the Texas band included drummer Frank Beard and bass player Dusty Hill. If you recognise that name, it's because both men were soon to go on to better and more legitimate things as members of ZZ Top (Frank Beard famously is the one without the beard).

"It was the '60s, man," said the Texas Zombies Mark Ramsey.

"As far as the Zombies, I was told they didn't exist. That they were only a studio sound. I was just excited and flattered. I'd only been playing for a few years and the other guys were pro-level at that point.

"I didn't look at it as anything more than a chance to have some fun, hang out with some cool guys, learn some songs, go somewhere outside of this Hillbillyville, and earn a little money."

It wasn't just Delta Promotions (who also concocted fake versions of The Animals and The Archies) who were in on this sort of Only Fools and Horses nonsense.

One fake Zombies lineup went as far as trademarking the name when the real group let their trademark expire, and hired a bassist called Ronald Hugh Grundy, suggesting that Ronnie was in fact original Zombie Hugh Grundy who had suddenly had swapped from drums. Amazing.