Tide of the Season

Members of the Zombies join the fad of reunion concerts, waxing nostalgic and playing timeless hits.

Although the Zombies justifiably were categorized as a British Invasion rock band of the 1960s, many elements of the group's music seemed more timeless and sophisticated than the work of some of the band's more faddish contemporaries.

Evident in the Hertfordshire-born group's music were not only the tender romance and ingenious pop structures--not to forget the English music-hall and Tin Pan Alley influences--of the early Beatles, but touches of baroque folk, psychedelia, R&B and nascent progressive rock.

Hits such as "She's Not There," "Tell Her No," and "Time of the Season," although stable-mates with other out-to-pasture thoroughbreds on oldies radio, actually still sound as fresh and vital today as they did more than three decades ago.

The Zombies' sound was especially distinctive due to the jazz-schooled keyboard playing of Rod Argent, also the group's primary songwriter, and the vocals of Colin Blunstone, who even at 18 years old tempered the wide-eyed innocence of his choir-boy tenor with flourishes of soul and blues.

So, although they hadn't played together for some 30 years, it made all the sense in the world when Argent and Blunstone--after successful solo careers--reunited about four years ago play a few gigs here and there to promote a four-CD Zombies box set Zombie Heaven.

The success of these gigs lead to a well-received, larger-scale U.K. tour, and as the millennium turned, the pair met to record and release the 2001 album Out of the Shadows. They have toured together near-constantly since.

The current Argent-Blunstone tour will stop in Tucson Sunday night, Aug. 24, for a performance at The Rock.

The set list naturally will include Top 40 hits by The Zombies, as well as material by Argent, his 1970s band ("Hold Your Head Up," "God Gave Rock & Roll to You"), from Blunstone's solo career ("Say You Don't Mind," "Caroline Goodbye"), and a smattering of tunes from Out of the Shadows, as well as a couple of new numbers from a forthcoming duo recording.

For fanatics, they also will play the tune "Beechwood Park" (which apparently inspired the name of the current folk-rock band Beachwood Sparks) as well as nearly half of the legendary album Odessey and Oracle. That record, the band's last, is ranked among the best mind-bender pop-rock recordings of the 1960s, along with such masterpieces as The Beatles' Revolver, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Love's Forever Changes.

Rounding out the Argent-Blunstone band will be a rhythm section of noted British rock veterans. Guitarist Keith Airey has played with Nik Kershaw, Tom Jones, Roger Taylor and Paul McCartney. Bassist Jim Rodford is a founding member of Argent and has played with The Kinks and The Animals. He brings along his son, drummer Steve Rodford, a noted session player and producer.

Recent reviews of Argent's and Blunstone's shows together have noted that Blunstone's voice can't really reach the high, breathy heights it did in 1968, but they emphasize that he is still one of the best mid-range white R&B singers of his generation. Reports are that Argent indulges in some not-unwelcome jazzy, melancholic noodling at the organ, too.

Rock fans have been hoodwinked into attending some less-than-stellar reunion tours in recent years, such as those by Buffalo Springfield Revisited, the Doors of the 21st Century and Lynyrd Skynyrd--acts that lacked many of the most significant talents of their respective heydays.

But, not to diss bassist Chris White, drummer Hugh Grundy and guitarist Paul Atkinson: Argent and Blunstone were The Zombies. They have a right to play these songs, as well as others from different points in their respective careers, whether they bill themselves as The Zombies or not.

And instead of sounding dated, songs such as "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" sound timeless compared to the thudding rap-rock and lifeless pop of today's Top 40 radio. These are not the nostalgic rants of some '60s music buff yearning for simpler times--I hadn't yet reached elementary school when The Zombies called it quits.

The phenomenon around the band's final hit, "Time of the Season," from the Odessey and Oracle album, and the players' reaction to it, is a good example of The Zombies' integrity.

The group had broken up when it started getting airplay from some Midwestern American radio stations, eventually becoming the band's biggest hit and selling more than a million copies. But the lads refused to cash in by reforming to exploit the single.

And, also culturally significant, the song arguably marks what may have been the first mainstream use of the phrase "who's your daddy?"

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