“She’s Not There” was the second of four songs recorded by the Zombies at a 12 June 1964 recording session at Decca’s West Hampstead Studio No. 2. They had won a talent contest at their college called the Herts Beat competition and the prize was a recording session.
One of the song’s most distinctive features is Rod Argent’s electric piano sound; the instrument used was a Hohner Pianet. The Pianet had just recently been invented and was rare, possibly the first time here, to be used on a popular/rock song. The backing vocals are in a folk-influenced close-harmony style and necessitated seven takes. The Zombies harmonies were an important feature of their sound, and we’ll see why a little later.
This song was partially inspired by John Lee Hooker’s “No One Told Me“. The real inspiration, however, behind the song was Rod Argent’s first love, Patricia, who called off their wedding weeks before and broke his heart. Argent explained:
If you play that John Lee Hooker song you’ll hear ‘No one told me’. It was just a feeling I had inside’ but there’s nothing in the melody or the chords that’s the same. It was just the way that little phrase just tripped off the tongue.
A musical inspiration also came from a modal sequence he had heard in a song made popular by Brian Hyland called “Sealed With A Kiss“.
It really attracted me, that chord change with bass notes not on the roots. And I’m sure I was showing off in the solo as much as I could!
This song was born in bassist/vocalist Chris White’s bedroom and only had one verse until producer Ken Jones heard it.
I remember we were playing in Hatfield, and Ken Jones came up to hear us. And after the gig, Rod said, ‘I’ve got this song that we’ve been rehearsing’ and he played it to Ken on the piano. He did the verse, and then the solo, and there was no second verse, and Ken said ‘Can’t we go back to the beginning again?’ So Rod had to write another verse, because it only had one originally.
Rod Argent recalls:
I wrote the song for Colin’s range” — referring to Zombies’ vocalist Colin Blunstone – I could hear him singing it in my mind.
On “She’s Not There” Ken Jones also instigated a recurring trait of many Zombies’ recordings: additional overdubs added in the mixdown to mono stage from 4-track. In this case, there were a couple of extra beats superimposed to create a distinctive drum pattern, thereby rendering the original mono single mix of “She’s Not There” the only ‘correct’ version of the song.
The Zombies were formed in 1961 in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England, and led by keyboardist and vocalist Rod Argent. Together with Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy, they first came together to jam in mid 1958 when Argent wanted to form a band and initially asked his elder cousin Jim Rodford to join as a bassist. Rodford was in a successful local band, the Bluetones, at the time and so declined, but he offered to help Argent. Singer Colin Blunstone and bassist Paul Arnold joined the other three to form the band, while all five members came from two local schools. Blunstone and Grundy came from Hatfield and both sang in the choir there at St. Etheldreda’s church. Argent was a boy chorister in St Albans Cathedral Choir. This is why the vocal harmonies became such an intricate part of the groups vocals.
Argent was initially the group’s lead singer, with Blunstone on guitar. When Argent’s keyboard talents became apparent, he became the group’s full-time keyboard player, conceding the role of lead singer to Blunstone.
Their original name was the Mustangs, but they quickly realised that there were other groups with that name. It was Arnold who came up with the Zombies, according to Blunstone. When Argent was asked about the origins of the band’s name in a 2015 interview, Argent said:
Well, we chose that name in 1962 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. It was [original bass guitarist] Paul [Arnold] that came up with the name. I don’t know where he got it from. He very soon left the band after. 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.
Paul Arnold lost interest in the band and chose to leave to become a physician; he was replaced by Chris White on bass.
In the UK, the Zombies’ follow-up single to “She’s Not There” was written by Chris White. “Leave Me Be” was unsuccessful in the UK and as a result was not issued as an A-side in the US.
Their second US single to gain attention was “Tell Her No” and penned by Rod Argent, “Tell Her No” became another big seller in 1965, peaking at No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March. As the band’s third UK single, “Tell Her No” failed to make the Top 40, peaking at number 42.
Subsequent recordings such as “She’s Coming Home”, “Whenever You’re Ready”, “Is This the Dream”, “Indication” and “Gotta Get a Hold of Myself” failed to achieve the success of the previous two singles. The Zombies continued recording original songs through 1965 and 1966, trying to achieve chart success. Enough original material was tracked which could have been compiled into a follow-up album, but the band’s lack of chart success meant most of those tracks remained destined not to be issued at the time.
In 1967, frustrated by their continuing lack of success, the Zombies signed a recording contract with CBS Records for whom they recorded the album “Odessey and Oracle” at EMI’s world-famous Abbey Road studios. (Odyssey was accidentally misspelled by Terry Quirk, an art teacher who designed the cover). The band’s budget would not cover session musicians, so they used a Mellotron. According to Argent, this was in fact John Lennon’s Mellotron, which had been left in the studio because the Beatles had just finished recording their own album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The album was mixed into the standard mono, however as another concession toward their limited budget, Argent and White (who, due to their songwriting royalties, had earned more than the rest of the members) personally paid for the stereo mixes.
One of that album’s tracks, “Time of the Season”, written by Argent, was released as a single in 1968 and spent a long period as a ‘sleeper’. Eventually, in 1969, it grew to become a nationwide hit, after being re-released as a single in the US, peaking in the Hot 100 (Billboard at No.3).
In fact, by the time that this song became a hit single, the band has disbanded. It took off in early 1969 to become their biggest hit, but the members resisted temptations to re-form, leading to a couple of bizarre tours in the late ’60s by bogus “Zombies” with no relation to the original group. Various concocted bands tried to capitalise on the success and falsely toured under the band’s name. In a scheme organized by Delta Promotions, an agency that also created fake touring versions of The Animals and The Archies, two fake-Zombies were touring simultaneously in 1969, one hailing from Texas, the other from Michigan. The Texas group featured bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, soon to be members of ZZ Top. Another group toured in 1988, going so far as to trademark the group’s name (since the band had let the mark lapse) and recruit a bass guitarist named Ronald Hugh Grundy, claiming that original drummer Hugh
Grundy had switched instruments.
Blunstone started a solo career after a brief period outside the music business, including working in the burglary claims section of an insurance company. Both Argent and White provided him with new songs. He also did studio vocals for the Alan Parsons Project. Atkinson retired as a performer, and worked as an A&R executive for many years.
Rod Argent formed the band Argent in 1969, with White as a non-performing songwriter. Argent’s biggest hit was the Rod Argent and Chris White composition “Hold Your Head Up”, featuring lead vocals by Russ Ballard.
Argent also recorded the original version of “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”, written by Russ Ballard, which was covered by Kiss in 1991 under the name “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II”. Ballard had a 1984 solo hit with the song “Voices”.
Much more influential than their commercial success would indicate, echoes of the Zombies’ innovations can be heard in the Doors, the Byrds, the Left Banke, the Kinks, and many others. After a long period during which most of their work was out of print, virtually all of their recordings have been restored to availability on CD. Blunstone and Argent reunited for an album, “Out of the Shadows”, and toured together in 2003 as Blunstone & Argent, playing live shows into 2004 when they began gigging again as the Zombies. In 2017, the four surviving original members (Colin Blunstone, Rod Argent, Chris White, and Hugh Grundy) re-united to carry out a North American tour marking the 50th anniversary of the recording of “Odessey and Oracle”.
After becoming eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1989, the Zombies have been nominated four times, including currently for the 2019 award.