“It had quite a soulful groove, but it had the character of what The Zombies were, and just how the musicians played. It was something that I enjoyed very much. I remember playing it through to Chris and saying, you know what, I think this could be a hit.”
Rod Argent on writing the song “Time of the Season”
The Zombies are a British rock band that was formed in the early 1960s. They were originally called “The Mustangs” but realized other bands were using that name. Original band member and bassist Paul Arnold came up with the name “Zombies.” Arnold would leave the band to pursue studies that led to him becoming a doctor. Their current lineup consists of Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson, Colin Blunstone, Hugh Grundy, and Chris White. In 2019, The Zombies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
I spoke with both Rod Argent and Chris White about the writing of their songs in August of 2020.
Throughout the interview process of this book, I asked all of the artists whom their musical influences were. The answers generally all seem to fall into the same category of various Blues musicians, The Beatles, Elvis, Bob Dylan, and some jazz artists here or there.
Then there’s Rod Argent, who answered the question this way.
Argent: My dad was a semi-pro dance band leader from the age of 17 to the age of 83, so we always had a piano in the house, and I was always in love with music. I honestly was. Most of the popular music I heard through pre-rock n’ roll days was pretty amateur as far as popular music was concerned. It was stuff like Rubin Murray and Perry Como, which was sort of pleasant on the ear but nothing very exciting.
I loved the classical music that I’d heard up to that point; that was really virtue of my mum, and it tended to be the very popular classics at the time. And via my dad, I had heard some big band stuff from wonderful people like Duke Ellington, who knocked me out the very first time I heard anything of his.
I always seemed to have a natural ability to get a tune out of anything, I mean I remember my parents buying me a harmonica and for some reason, I could always see the scale in front of my mind, and in terms of steps, that was always something that felt quite natural to me.
So, that was the background and my mum got me involved in a cathedral choir—that was a very good choir. That gave me access to some of the most wonderful classical music, and it was the first time I heard Bach which completely knocked my socks off when I was about 10 years old.
But then I heard Elvis when I was 11 and for six months, I didn’t want to hear anything else but the rawest rock and roll I could lay my hands on and sing. I mean the first thing I heard was “Hound Dog.”
After that “Naughty Miss Crawley” and then all the early sound stuff that actually predated “Hound Dog,” which I absolutely loved. Very soon, I discovered that the original version of “Hound Dog” was “Big Mama Thornton,” and that introduced me for the very first time to a black soulfulness that completely knocked my socks off as well, and led me to listen to Ray Charles and all the great black soul music and blues influences that was around at the time.
And even while I was listening to Elvis and being knocked out with rock and roll, I heard for the first time the wonderful Miles Davis band around 1958 with John Coltrane. “Milestones” was the very first thing I heard and that completely blew me away as well.
So, I just thought it was a wonderful time for music. I was just very, very lucky to be 11 or 12 years old, just entering my teens, when all this fantastic music was around. I still believe it was a golden moment in post-war music and it was the time when there was a huge amount of positivity going on after the war. Because it was still very soon after the war in 1956.
There was the feeling of everything being freed up and that reflected on the arts as well and on all forms of music so I think it’s a great time to be young and impressionable and having all that great music around at that particular time.
“She’s Not There”
Music and Lyrics: Rod Argent
Producer: Marquis Enterprises
The debut single for The Zombies, “She’s Not There” reached #12 in the U.K. Singles Chart and #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song as #297 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Argent: That’s got a very strange structure to it you know. Chris White wrote a song for the session “You Make Me Feel Good,” which was the B-side to “She’s Not There,” which I wrote for the session.
We had about two weeks to write something and I thought with naïveté and arrogance, ‘I can write something that’s as good as what The Beatles are putting out,’ which was the gold standard for me at the time.
And so, I went home and I put on a few blues albums. I played a John Lee Hooker album and there was a song on it called, “No One Told Me.” Now, I rush to say that apart from those words, those syllables “No One Told Me,” there’s nothing that’s remotely like the John Lee Hooker song either in feel, in melody, or lyrically. It was just that no one told me, I liked that. I like the way that trips off the tongue.
I thought, ‘I want to start with a really bluesy melody,’ because I had listened to so much Mars. I didn’t even realize this until much later, actually, it was years later Pat Metheny said to me, ‘I absolutely loved that modal sequence that you played chordly at the beginning of “She’s Not There” for the opening melody of the verse.’ And it was completely unconscious. And it wasn’t until he said that, that I realized it was true. That was just something which came out of nowhere. I just thought we were being—in inverted commas—The Beatles. In the end, it turned out to be nothing like The Beatles.
It started with this very unusual beginning with a bluesy melody, went into three-part harmony, which was in a second section—which was almost a bridge thing, but with no chorus. It was a verse, and then a sort of bridge, building to a climax, that went into a major key from a minor key, and then dropping down to the moody thing again. Then it had a keyboard solo. I’m not sure of any other pop single at that point that has one. Certainly not an improvised keyboard solo. It all felt natural, but it was a very unusual template.