Despite releasing just two studio albums during their initial run in the ’60s (one of which failed to find much of an audience despite later being hailed as one of the best albums of all time), the Zombies are now regarded as one of the most respected and influential British bands of the era. Sure, their enduring, iconoclastic Billboard hits (“She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No”) are part of that, but the bulk of their legend relies upon that aforementioned album, 1968’s Odessey and Oracle, which continues to grow in stature with each passing year. While new generations may struggle to understand the appeal of certain Flower Power hitmakers, the restrained, elegant beauty of Odessey is universal.
On Thursday (Oct. 5), the Zombies were once again recognized for their immense (albeit slow-and-steady-wins-the-race) impact on music with a well-deserved Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination. Billboard got on the phone separately with the band’s Rod Argent and Chris White, its two principal songwriters, to talk about their elation at the Rock Hall nomination and why Odessey still feels so relevant 50 years later.
When you heard about the nomination, what was your first reaction?
Rod Argent: Well, we heard this morning. I phoned everybody else. Everyone in the band feels exactly the same as me — we feel honored and delighted. It’s not something we expected. I mean, third-time nomination. We’re hoping the third-time is lucky for us. We’re delighted and excited.
Chris White: I’ve only just heard. I’m absolutely pleased, to be quite honest. I’ve been out in my car all day, so I haven’t been in touch with anybody so I just found out when I came back. I’m very excited and quite honored because of all the luminaries who have gone before us.
This isn’t your first nomination, so what does that feel like coming around again? Are you hopeful?
White: Oh, I’m hopeful. I mean, we’ve been going for so long. We’ve gone for years. It would be great to go in because who’s gone in before, which have been heroes and people we’ve appreciated as well. It’s so nice to get this recognition — again. It’s wonderful, to be quite honest.
From my perspective, it might be the time for you guys. The album has grown in stature over the years, and you guys were on the anniversary tour, so I feel like the album’s greatness is front and center in a way it wasn’t before.
White: It feels like justification for writing it, to be quite honest. Because of course back then nobody was interested in it when it came out, but we enjoyed doing it. That was reward enough in the way of just making the album. I mean, the biggest thing about music is making music that moves people, and over the last 50 years we’ve moved more and more people. Some are great stars who have quoted us in being instrumental in making them like music. That’s the wonderful thing. That’s the nice thing. When people come up to you and say, ‘That song really moved me,’ or ‘We played it at our wedding.’ That sort of thing.
Argent: I really hope you’re right, Joe. It’d be great. I mean, it really would. We had a No. 1 hit with “Time of the Season” in 1969, but in fact, we recorded [Odessey] in 1967 and then broken up. And then, you know, kept in touch with each other of course. But, Colin [Blunstone] and I through a complete accident around the year 2000 started playing for fun and in the most gradual way, the momentum gathered. It’s exciting that the band is better than ever now and to have created success with the new stuff as well, and to feel that we can actually relate to people of this generation as well. For us to be in the position now where people are getting excited about us and hopefully getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s just great.
Going back to the time when you were writing that album, do you remember what kind of headspace you were in? And after you broke up and “Time of the Season” became a big hit, was that frustrating?
Argent: Basically, we were in a very happy place. We just loved — as we do now even — we loved getting excited about creating new material, being able to record it. At that particular moment in time, we’d started to get quite frustrated with the way that some of our recent singles had been recorded and produced. Chris and I shared a flat, and I remember the process of writing that album. I would go from one room to another and say, ‘Chris, I’ve got this idea.’ And he would come into the other room and play me what he had. We wrote it between us, in that flat, and we were very excited to be in the position of being able to record as we wanted for the first time, exactly as we wanted things to sound. We were having a ball. We were very excited. We thought we made a great record at the time. We got some great reviews, actually, but nobody listened to it. It just didn’t sell. It was, as you know, 18 months later in the States, there was one DJ in Idaho — in Boise, Idaho, there was one guy who loved the single “Time of the Season,” and by that time, we’d broken up. Eighteen months, I was producing the Colin Blunstone album, which I also think is a beautiful album, and I was forming Argent and starting to write material for that, and we were in a very happy position at that point of being in New York as “Time of the Season” hit [No. 3] in Billboard [Hot 100]. And it made our negotiations with Clive Davis very easy — you know, for the new Argent stuff and the new Colin Blunstone stuff. It was a very happy time in a strange way for us, even though we were frustrated that no one listened to the album initially and we had to break up. We were just so full of creative ideas, and the energy and the joy of being able to do what we wanted to do. It wasn’t an unhappy time.
White: We were very happy. I’m very lucky to work with such a great voice as Colin’s, and he gets better and better. The nice thing is we remained friends. Rod put Argent together after the Zombies finished and produced Colin’s first three solo albums, and we’re still friends.
How was it bringing those songs back on the road for the 50th anniversary tour?
Argent: It’s still a joy to play those things and be able to do it. I mean, when Paul Weller came to all three nights of the Odyssey and Oracle premiere that we did in in London in 2008, he said, “That was absolutely fabulous,” and he bought us champagne. It was lovely. It’s still his favorite album, I know, he told me just a couple weeks ago that it was his favorite album, but he said at that time — and I think he’s right — he said, ‘Don’t just keep doing it forever because it will lose its specialness.’ And I really believe that. I really think it was something to celebrate the 50th anniversary and then, with a big smile, draw a line under it and move on.
If the nomination is confirmed and you’re in the Class of 2018, how will that feel?
Argent: I know there are some people that actually portray themselves as unaffected and don’t care and, ‘Oh, well, it would be nice, but, really I don’t get it. It’s not something that I particularly want.’ We’re not those people at all. It feels like a joy that people are taking this much notice of us. If we did manage to get inducted, we’d be over the moon. We’d be flattered, gratified and absolutely delighted.
White: I would be elated! Listen, being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I’ve seen many people inducted into that, and it’s an honor — to be quite honest. Votes from all the luminaries. It’s a bit like people voting for the Oscars, I should imagine. I love the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so it is wonderful to be nominated again. You know you’re not forgotten.