When I was a kid in the ’60s, summertime in Atlantic City meant that lots of big time musical acts would be coming to town. That’s how I got to see not only the Beatles and the Stones, but other British Invasion bands like Herman’s Hermit’s, Freddie and the Dreamers, and Gerry and the Pacemakers.
One British Invasion band that I never got to see back in the day was the Zombies. Somehow they had continued to elude me until a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, original members Colin Blunstone (lead singer), and Rod Argent (keyboard player), are still around, leading some newer though no less competent Zombies through shows that feature music from throughout the band’s 50-year-plus history.
In addition to Blunstone and Argent, the current day Zombies feature bass player Jim Rodford, who was a co-founder of the band Argent along with his cousin Rod, and a member of the Kinks for many years. Making it even more of a family affair, Rodford’s son Steve is on drums. Tom Toomey rounds out the lineup on guitar. Everyone sings except for the drummer, and the harmonies are both effective and affecting.
It’s a given that when you go to a Zombies show you’re going to hear the big three — “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season.” Sure enough, all three were included in the set and while they delivered in terms of nostalgia, there is something about these hits that make them sound like they could have been recorded recently.
The real question for me was how much we were going to hear from Odessey and Oracle (I know, I know, they weren’t very good spellers). It was the second Zombies album, and featured the smash hit “Time of the Season.” But it was much more than that one hit, something that was missed by most people the first time around. Argent and Blunstone know what they had though because their shows these days feature a mini-set of tunes from the album that has finally received its due in recent years.
The Odessey & Oracle mini-set began with the lovely piano ballad “A Rose For Emily,” before moving on to the album’s first track, “Care of Cell 44.” Although original Zombies bass player Chris White is no longer part of the group, he was remembered with a fine version of his song “This Will Be Our Year,” which was followed by Argent’s composition “I Want Her, She Wants Me.” Odessey & Oracle’s closing song, “Time of the Season,” fittingly closed the mini-set, and featured an extended Argent organ solo.
The Zombies opened the show with “I Love You,” which was a B-side for them that later became a hit in a cover version by a group called People. Other standouts from the set included a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” which the Zombies recorded in 1965, and “I Want You Back Again,” a Zombies song that was covered by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Colin Blunstone reminded us that he was the voice of the Alan Parsons Project with a fine version of “Eye in the Sky.”
There were also a couple of songs from the recent Zombies album Breathe Out, Breathe In which took a lot of people by surprise simply because it was such a good new album at this late date in the Zombies career. The Breathe Out, Breathe In songs were “Any Other Way,” and “I Do Believe.”
I suppose it I had a quibble, it would be that I could have done without the Argent song “Hold Your Head Up,” but it did provide an interesting story from Argent after Blunstone informed us that we had all been singing along wrong for years. People sing “hold your head up, whoa,” he said, when then lyrics are actually “hold your head up, woman.” So now you know.
Argent told us Chris White wrote the song after being in the audience for an Argent show and hearing the band jamming on “Time of the Season.” Somehow I had never connected the two songs, but now that I know, the comparison is readily apparent. It’s not that the Zombies didn’t play it well, it’s just that it should be played by a heavy rock band like, well, Argent, and despite the fact that there were two original members of that band on stage it was just lacking the power of the full Argent version.
The less said about the evening’s closer, “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You,” another Argent original that was turned into a big hit by KISS, the better. I’ll stick with my memories of a great set of Zombies songs, and the great mini-set of Odessey & Oracle songs within it.