Zombies Live reviewed by Phantom TollboothIt’s all here: a block from a cult album, plus singles chart hits from two decades and three artists.

Label: Salvo
Time: 19 tracks / 66 minutes (+ short interview on DVD)

If ever there was a sport called extreme rock intimacy, the six performances in this series would take at least a silver medal. Originally broadcast and released on DVD as Rock Legends, these shows shoehorned some 120 people into a tiny studio to see classic acts from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s bring out their best and some fresh material. Now Salvo has re-issued them as CD + DVD combos at a great price and they are well worth checking out.

The Zombies – and their set here – covered most of the ‘sixties. They hit the charts while still at school, so went straight into music just as it was changing fast. As their eventual success was still elusive, they split after a few years, with keys player Rod Argent forming Argent and singer Colin Blunstone going solo. Both parties had singles success and Argent made some fine albums. Now that history is being reviewed, commentators NME and Q Magazine have placed the Zombies’ last album from that decade, the famously misspelled Odessey and Oracle at 32 and 51 respectively in their Best British Albums Ever lists, while Mojo and Rolling Stone placed it in the top 100 albums ever, anywhere. Whether or not they are exaggerating its place, the band has still been among the top achievers of the decade and has a substantial catalogue to draw from.

This set shows all aspects of these intertwined careers. My initial reactions were that 60-year-olds singing about young love is a little odd and that the early songs (“Can’t Nobody Love You”) now sound as if they come from a time when rock itself was still an adolescent, with only the promise of becoming that fine, brave adult that has brought so much to so many.

Yet, the more I played the disc, the more the songwriting grabbed me. I could hear shades of the Beatles in the tautly formed short songs like “I Love You” and echoes of the Hollies in those four-part harmonies. (Some readers of this site will be interested to know that In 1968, “I Love You” became a US hit when recorded by People! who were fronted by a young Larry Norman).

Those who, like me, were too young to know the Zombies, but enjoyed much of what Argent brought out, can see in this performance where Argent came from and how seamless the transition was from one band to the other. Argent and Blunstone were both Zombies founder members; the original bassist Chris White became a silent songwriting member of Argent; Rod Argent and White were both involved in Blunstone’s solo recordings and for this line-up, Argent bassist Jim Rodford and his drummer son Steve comprise the rhythm section. Musically, this plays out in the piano-based boogie of “Mystified,” for example, being a close cousin of “Rosie” from the In Deep album, while the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” has long been an Argent live staple.

This performance captures that overlap, with songs from all those eras and beyond. Of the songs included here, eight have been top twenty singles successes on some side of the Atlantic. The middle section of the set is given over to five straight songs from Odessey and Oracle. It is hard to find standouts from that album, as the songs are consistently well put together and full of character, if not all essential; but its “Time of the Season” and the first single “She’s Not There” top their material. The only Argent song, “Hold Your Head Up” is probably the best on these discs (and as good a version as I have heard). Having Blunstone sing it is a bonus. Of the three of his top 40 singles represented here, Blunstone’s own “I Don’t Believe in Miracles” is the strongest.

Especially compared with the other performances in this series, the vocals are outstanding. Blunstone’s satin, breathy voice has always been an absolute delight to hear and he does not miss a pitch anywhere here, even on the huge, high note that finishes “Say You Don’t Mind.” Having him sing on the classic “Summertime” makes it another standout. But the backing vocals are strong, too, varying from shades of doo-wap to the Motown mood on “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.”

This well-performed and consistent set of class songs is a reminder of just how much quality can come from a few musicians. It is an easy way into the band and should particularly suit those whose musical journey began in the mid-sixties.


Derek Walker

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