The Zombies Invade The Loft: The Timeless Seasons of Rod Argent & Colin Blunstone
It was an idea for something he called mouth percussion. It was a simple overdub for a breathy vocal sound of an “aaah” repeated multiple times over several minutes of what would become the Zombies biggest called “Time of The Season.”
One of the people who bought the single as a kid is Mike Marrone, now the program director and on-air personality at SiriusXM’s The Loft. Marrone remembers playing the original single with the green label on Date Records. And forty-five years later when Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone came in to The Loft to talk about their new album Still Got That Hunger, Marrone couldn’t resist the urge to ask to hear it directly from the source.
Argent leaned into the microphone and mouthed the familiar sound that was beamed out by satellite in another century.
“Aaah,” Argent obliged not once but twice.
All these years later, Argent playfully starts ribbing singer Blunstone who didn’t believe the song would be a hit. “I don’t think I have a career in A&R,” Blunstone strikes back good naturedly about a record that went on to sell over two million copies. Argent then reminds him that Elton John offered Blunstone “Your Song” when he wrote it and Blunstone turned it down.
“Time of the Season” was the single released from the Zombies’ last album Odessey & Oracle. Ironically the band’s biggest success occurred after they broke up.
“We never did it at the time because the band folded,” Blunstone recounted. “We recorded it in the studio and more or less forgot about it.” When the band prepared for a one-night performance at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, they had to hear it from scratch. It took two to three weeks of solid rehearsals. That grew into three nights and then five performances two years later.
This year behind the new album, the Zombies played Odessey & Oracle for the first time in the U.S. “Some of it’s quite wordy,” Argent says remembering the line from the song “Hung Up On a Dream” about men with flowers running through their hair. ”If men want to have flowers running through their hair, who am I to argue?”
Blunstone’s voice seems to defy age for a singer who turned 70 this past June. Marrone says it just doesn’t seem fair that these guys still sound like they’re teenagers. Blunstone made a concession to age, getting a vocal coach about a decade ago. The singer does half-hour vocal exercises before both soundcheck and showtime. It’s a testament to Marrone’s comment that they still sing every song in its original key. “We said we’re only going to do Oracle if we can reproduce every note.”
“When we open with ‘I Love You,’ there’s a top note I have to hit. I can’t bluff it and I can’t fluff it,” Blunstone says point blank. “It’s not a good start to the show if you’re avoiding top notes.”
Blunstone says there’s something a “bit ecstatic” about the high notes that make you stretch. Argent is quick to remind that Colin used to curse him for writing “She’s Not There” and ending it on a high note. When the Zombies would do live morning radio shows, it was especially hard.
While Blunstone feels the music of that period is fresh and timeless, they only enjoy playing it as long as they can still write and record new material.
“Moving On” was the first song recorded for the new album. As Argent walked through the Loft studios, he came across a picture of a young Elvis who he said had the most transcendent voice of his first three years. When Elvis died, Argent admits to being bereft. “I felt like a ship without a rudder,” he says of that August day thirty-eight years later. He wrote a couplet which he read aloud: “I’m moving on/Like a ship sailing and blown/August moon/Can you tell me where I’m bound.”
Revisiting it all these years later, he sees the event providing the genesis of a song idea about not letting past traumatic events define you.
Argent has historically written the lionshare of Zombies songs. That continues on Still Got That Hunger.
“I always think of Colin’s voice when I’m writing,” Argent says. His favorite song is “Chasing The Past” which has a banging piano and Jimmy Smith-like organ part before hitting four-part harmonies. For “Edge of The Rainbow,” he tried constructing the arrangement in the vein of Ray Charles.
Argent co-wrote “And When We Were Young” with his wife Catherine based on some words she wrote. Given his long periods of being on the road, she is prone to leaving what he calls amusing and affectionate messages. One of her notes found its way to the bottom of his washbag that he thought was a poem. When she told him it was something she’d written, he said he’d have to make into a song.. “We’re as happy as the day we got married forty-three years ago.”
Over the years, both have had successful solo forays. In addition to his own band Argent, Rod produced Tanita Tikaram who was seventeen when she released “Twist In My Sobriety.” It went on to sell over four million copies. Argent says he had no idea it would be so successful. Blunstone has sung on many of the Alan Parsons Project records. They met when Parsons was an assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios working with the Beatles.
Parsons had the idea of making an album with the producer being the central figure and bringing in guest vocalists. Blunstone, who was living in California, couldn’t accept his invitation to appear on Parsons’ debut Tales of Mystery and Imagination–Edgar Alan Poe but sang on Pyramid and Eye of The Sky. He believes the song “Old and Wise” is his best performance.
And then there’s Odessey & Oracle which is once again back in the spotlight. Marrone wondered how many records of that era that weren’t made by the Beatles could you say still sound as fresh today?
“We are often asked that and I have a theory,” Argent offers. “We never tried to hitch to the coattails of what was popular at the time. We always looked for a musical idea that excited us. We never tried to put the hook in for radio. We just tried to make it work for ourselves. In the short term, Colin says maybe that did a disservice because people wouldnt program it as much because it wasn’t like what was out there. In the long-term, it still seems to speak to people of the current generation.”