Paul Arnold, whose interest was waning (he eventually became a physician) was replaced by Chris White on bass. The band began playing shows around St. Albans in 1962, building up a loyal following over the course of the next year. In 1963, as university beckoned, they began to think about breaking up. Rod and Chris entered the band in a local talent contest (The Herts Beat Contest) that had a recording deal with British Decca Records as first prize. Rod and Chris hoped that winning the contest would keep the band together. The Zombies advanced through the heats, playing before audiences as large as 2,000, and even before the final they were offered a deal by Decca. Their local fans organized support and The Zombies went on to win the contest. On an enthusiastic high note, the band turned professional and in 1964 they began recording.
Decca staff producer Ken Jones became infatuated with Argent's song "She's Not There" and pushed for it to be released as the first single, edging out the version of "Summertime" they'd also recorded, and Chris's "You Make Me Feel Good", which became the B-side. The song was the first of what would be many moody, understated, original gems from The Zombies that would make them, in retrospect, one of the best bands of the period. The single was a worldwide smash in 1964 and The Zombies were on a euphoric high. Everything was going right. "She's Not There" even made it onto the popular TV show Jukebox Jury, which happened to feature George Harrison on the panel that week, and he loved the song. The tune made #1 on the American chart, Cashbox, and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band, full of youthful confidence, felt that nothing could fail.
The next single, White's "Leave Me Be", went over well in performance, but failed to shake up the charts. The third single, "Tell Her No" was a minor hit in Britain, but a #6 record in the U.S. The band came to America and did a package tour with artists like Patti LaBelle And The Bluebells, The Shirelles, Ben E. King, The Shangri-Las, The Nashville Teens and Chuck Jackson. Then they played enormous halls and arenas to wildly enthusiastic fans. Riding the British Invasion craze, they got a taste of the Beatlemania experience. The group was also hugely successful in Japan, The Philippines (where they once had five records in the Top 10), and in other territories of the world. Back in England, where Zombies records failed to do as well, Decca had a full roster of beat groups and was stingy with promotional money for other than its top-selling artists. Suspecting that The Zombies were one-hit wonders, they rushed the group through album sessions and were poised to dump them. But the band stayed alive with the surprise success of "Tell Her No".
"She's Coming Home" (#85) and "I Want You Back" (#98) were unsuccessful in the U.K., but both were minor hits in the U.S. in 1965. The band also contributed songs to the soundtrack of the film Bunny Lake Is Missing and appeared briefly in it as well. Another musically outstanding single, "Whenever You're Ready" also failed in Britain as did its three successors. Disillusionment set in, with Rod and Chris acting as cheerleaders to keep the enthusiasm going. There were problems too with producer Ken Jones, who was with them them from the beginning. The band felt that they were becoming more gutsy, but Ken was set on continually trying to recreate the sound of the earliest recordings. They eventually split amicably with him. The band wasn't making any money and although the group managed to win a new contract with CBS Records, they decided to break up, but not before recording a final album, "Odessey and Oracle", which was self-produced with the intention of being more representative of the band's real sound and was completed at Abbey Road Studios late in 1967. According to interviews at the time, the misspelling of "Odyssey" was deliberate and had all sorts of deep, meaningful significance. Rod Argent has since admitted the more prosaic reason: the cover artist misspelled "odyssey" and there wasn't time to change it before the artwork was due at the printer, so they let it go and made up a cover story likening the songs to Shakespearian odes.
CBS/Columbia was unwilling to release an album by a band that had folded, but staff producer Al Kooper fought to get it issued, and it finally came out in July, 1968. The first "Odessey" single, the marvelous "Care of Cell 44" failed to sell. So did the next single and yet another. Almost as an afterthought, "Time Of The Season" was finally released as a last gasp. It did nothing at first, but one radio station in America fell in love with it and kept playing it. Ever so slowly it caught on, and then seemingly overnight it broke all over the country, becoming a #3 smash in late 1968 and early 1969. CBS clamored for more product, promoters began offering huge sums of money for the band to re-group, but it had already been a year since the break-up and The Zombies declined. Rod Argent and Chris White had already begun work on the band Argent, and Colin Blunstone had begun a solo career. Eventually, in pieces, the ex-Zombies generated more U.K. chart action during the '70s than they had as band mates in the '60s.
The Zombies' three biggest hits are now Classic Rock standards, and "She's Not There" has been covered by other artists such as Vanilla Fudge, Santana, The UK Subs, and Colin Blunstone himself during his solo career. The Zombies reunited in 1991 for an album called "New World" that was never released in the U.S. On Tuesday, November 25th, 1997, at the Jazz Club, London, all of the original Zombies got back on stage and played live for the first time in twenty-eight years! In 2000, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone started touring together. At early shows they were billed as their individual names, but promoters found they had more drawing power as The Zombies. The duo went on to record three studio albums and two live albums and continued to tour the world.
In 2002, Ace/Big Beat Records released the 48-track "The Decca Stereo Anthology", which for the first time, mixed all of the Decca/Parrot recordings into true stereo. An album of new Zombies' material released in 2004, "As Far as I Can See...", received mixed reviews.
Guitarist Paul Atkinson died in Santa Monica, California, on April 1st, 2004. Having retired as a performer, he was an A&R man for many years. In 2005 Blunstone and Argent released a DVD and 2-CD album called "Live At The Bloomsbury Theatre" and continued touring as The Zombies. To mark the 40th anniversary of "Odessey & Oracle", the four surviving original members of The Zombies participated in a three-night series of concerts at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire Theatre between March 7th and 9th, 2008. The shows were recorded and released on CD and DVD on July 1st of that year.
In 2010 Tom Toomey replaced Keith Airey on guitar, and in 2011, the group, now known as The Zombies Featuring Colin Blunstone And Rod Argent, released a new studio album called "Breathe Out, Breathe In" to generally favorable reviews. 2011's tour schedule took them to Japan, France, Germany, Greece, and Israel. They continued to play shows in America, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the UK in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In April 2015, the band announced that they would play an acoustic show in London, England ahead of a new studio album, "Still Got The Hunger", planed for release on October 9th. When the album was issued, it debuted at #35 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart, selling 3,000 copies during its first week. A worldwide tour was planned to support the album, with shows scheduled for the US and Europe in 2016 and the US and Jamaica in 2017.
Despite The Zombies powerful influence on bands such as The Kinks, The Left Banke, Procol Harum and countless others, The Zombies have gone down as among the most underrated groups in Rock history.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent