Seen as British hitmakers with a handful of radio staples in the ’60s, the legend of the Zombies fittingly came to life after the band’s death and has only grown stronger with every passing generation. Their subsequent critical reappraisal is due in no small part due to their quietly groundbreaking 1968 LP Odessey and Oracle. A commercial flop upon its release (the band called it quits soon thereafter but has since reunited), the sophisticated baroque stylings and psychedelic pop of Odessey would go on to have an indelible impact on alt-leaning pop artists for the next 50-some years. It’s now regarded as one of the best albums of all time.
With 2019 seeing the Zombies inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we’re looking at their 10 best songs.
10. “The Way I Feel Inside” (Begin Here, 1965)
A gorgeous standout from their debut album Begin Here, “The Way I Feel Inside” clocks in at less than two minutes, and the first 45 seconds are fully a cappella — just singer Colin Blunstone’s sweet, earthy, naïve croon to carry keyboard player/lyricist Rod Argent’s timid confession of love (“Should I try to hide / The way I feel inside?”). The church-y organ that eventually joins him barely registers; just like the song’s narrator, it doesn’t quite know if it wants to fully commit or pull back and hide forever.
9. “If It Don’t Work Out” (single, 1969)
With clanging piano chords, vibrant stabs of strings and lush vocal blends, “If It Don’t Work Out” is an oft-neglected Zombies standout about one of their favorite subjects – the dangerous complexities of romance. It was written by Argent for Dusty Springfield’s 1965 Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty album, and Blunstone (who originally sang it in demo form) goes the extra mile to sell the soul in the vocals. In 1969, it was gussied up and released as a single, but never found a home on a proper studio LP.
8. “Tell Her No” (The Zombies, 1965)
The Zombies always stood apart from their ’60s peers, and the jazzy, slightly discordant opening keyboard chords to “Tell Her No” are a perfect illustration of their ability to put an unusual spin on pop. Blunstone’s wounded wailing on the chorus is a masterclass in emoting without overselling, and the “woah-oh-oh” he purrs on the second verse perfectly conveys the seductive appeal of the song’s target – which, like their previous Hot 100 hit “She’s Not There,” is a woman to watch out for. Surprisingly rhythmically complex for a radio hit, “Tell Her No” went to No. 6 on the Hot 100.
7. “I Want Her She Wants Me” (Odessey and Oracle, 1968)
The rare song that Argent wrote and sang, “I Want Her She Wants Me” speaks to the giddy anxiousness of a soon-to-be-confirmed romance, and his voice – not quite as smooth and strong as Blunstone’s – is a perfect fit for this sumptuous, baroque pop tune. It’s one of the finest moments on Odessey and Oracle when Argent reaches for a note just out of his range while singing the word “mind”; the word immediately dissipates into a breathless sigh, almost as if his infatuation distracted him so much he forgot to finish singing the lyric.
6. “Beechwood Park” (Odessey and Oracle, 1968)
There’s something uniquely British about making a fond childhood reminiscence sound strangely sinister for no discernible reason, and “Beechwood Park” – based on a real place bassist/songwriter Chris White visited as a child in Hertfordshire – is the Zombies’ entry in that distinguished canon. The tremolo-filled guitar (courtesy the late Paul Atkinson), laid-back drumming, moody organ and haunting harmonies all add up to a misty sound that emphasizes the fogginess of memory, even as the lyrics promise never to forget: “Oh roads in my mind / Take me back in my mind / And I can’t forget you / Won’t forget you.”
5. “Friends of Mine” (Odessey and Oracle, 1968)
This jaunty, ebullient ode to relationship bliss from the pen of White could come across as saccharine (“It feels so good to know two people so in love”), but the selfless sincerity of Blunstone’s delivery makes it impossible to resist. Plus, it’s a novel concept: There’s a million songs about being in love, but not many songs about being genuinely thrilled for other people’s romance. The chanted roll call of happy couples (all real people the band knew) is a dewy-eyed delight… even if most of them had broken up by the time the Odessey and Oracle album came out.
4. “Time of the Season” (Odessey and Oracle, 1968)
A sonic outlier on the Odessey album, “Time of the Season,” harks back to the band’s jazzy forays on their first album – but this time around, it’s mixed with a feverish psychedelic edge (one that especially runs wild on the freewheeling organ solos). Blunstone sounds hazy and half-present on the verses, asking some questions he barely sounds like he cares to hear the answer to (“What’s your name?”) and others that are not-so-subtle flexes (“Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me?”). The music oozes cool, from the tension-filled rising bass line to the unearthly recurring sigh – all of which make the crystal-clear harmonizing on the chorus stand out as a perfect contrast to the slinky, low key music on the verses. “Time of the Season” reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 in 1969, by which time the band had already broken up.
3. “A Rose for Emily” (Odessey and Oracle, 1968)
Man, if you thought “Eleanor Rigby” was depressing, check out this understated lament inspired by a William Faulkner short story. Unloved and alone, Emily has only her pride to protect her, and the cold, clinical piano chords offer no musical solace. Things don’t end happily for Emily, whose fate is described in terms befitting the Southern gothic story that birthed the song: “And as the years go by / She will grow old and die /The roses in her garden fade away / Not one left for her grave.” Harsh, icy and unforgettable.
2. “She’s Not There” (Begin Here, 1965)
White’s uneasy bass line and Hugh Grundy’s crisp drum snap set the tone within seconds on the Zombies’ effortlessly cool jazz-rock classic — something is amiss, and it’s about to come to a head. “She’s Not There” was the band’s debut single and nabbed them a record contract with Decca. It’s easy to see why. In just under two-and-a-half minutes, Argent weaves a harrowing narrative of a beautiful heartbreaker he describes with this most poetic of put-downs: “Her eyes are clear and bright / but she’s not there.” Blunstone sings it with a wounded pride while the forceful, near-hysterical backup vocals indicate that after this breakup, the narrator might not be fully there, either – though when the electric piano solo kicks in, it’s clear Argent is in full control of his instrument, if not his emotions. The song went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and anchored their 1965 debut Begin Here.
1. “Care of Cell 44” (Odessey and Oracle, 1968)
A clever twist on the ‘wish you were home, babe’ songwriting trope, the lyrics of “Care of Cell 44” are written in the form of a letter to a woman about to get out of prison. The charming baroque piano that opens the song, the buoyant bass line and the sun-kissed Mellotron that eases its way into the mix make clear that despite the incarceration theme, there’s nothing sad here – it’s all about the tentative excitement of a rekindled romance (“We’ll get to know each other for a second time / And then you can tell me about your prison stay”). Blunstone sounds positively smitten delivering Argent’s sweetly guileless lyrics, sighing the word “eyes” like he can barely think about his lover’s peepers without losing his breath. Each chorus is preceded by a segment of a cappella humming, which makes it hit all the harder — and when Argent and White bust into their full-throated, rich vocal blend on the second chorus, the radiant backup vocals almost drown out the lead. By the time it comes out for its last turn, Blunstone drops out entirely, letting the unfettered, wordless joy of their harmonizing say everything about love that words can’t.