"We resisted the offer of a million pounds to reunite": the magical Zombies' song that was only a hit after they broke up

The Zombies in 1967, next to a composite picture of Time Of The Season 7" singles
(Image credit: GAB Archive)

It was September 1967 and in San Francisco the summer of love was in full flow. Here in London, keyboard player Rod Argent followed the movement with admiration. “The reality of the Vietnam War had made a whole generation realise they didn’t want to be a part of it, and that was a beautiful thing,” he says fondly. 

Reflecting the mood, Argent wrote Time Of The Season for his band The Zombies a week before they went into Abbey Road to record their second album, Odessey & Oracle. Its self-titled predecessor had yielded a smash hit, She’s Not There, but the five-piece needed to impress bosses at their new home of CBS by registering another as soon as possible. 

“At the time I was sharing a flat with Odessey & Oracle’s co-writer Chris White [bassist of the Zombies] and I remember telling him: ‘I’ve got the final song for the album and you know what? I think it could be a hit’. Nobody believed me, but I thought it had a chance,” Argent laughs at the memory. He was absolutely correct, though it would take a little time and lot of luck, and by the time the song did become popular The Zombies had broken up. 

The band followed The Beatles into Abbey Road. “They had just walked out of there having recorded Sgt Pepper…, and our timing was incredible for a number of reasons,” Argent explains. “Like us, they adored Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys which had been cut on an eight-track machine. Back then in the UK, four-track machines were all that was available but The Beatles had got the studio’s boffins to devise a situation where two of those machines could be used in tandem.” 

Although self-produced, Time Of The Season was cut with the Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick, who Argent credits with making the song’s bass line into such a major feature. The band were listening back to the track when Argent realised they still had three tracks of space to fill. Accordingly, he suggested to drummer Hugh Grundy that it could be made more memorable still by inserting a clap just before the off-beat. Indifferent to the idea, the drummer suggested Rod did it himself. “It was a spontaneous idea and we just bunged it on, but now the song had two signature elements,” Argent enthuses, adding: “It was magical.”

Time Of The Season is a textbook example of psychedelic pop, its understated chorus lasting for a mere eight seconds and repeated just three times, but so, so memorable. The three-hour session had proceeded peacefully until Argent and Blunstone got into a “heated argument” over the song’s high harmony parts. 

“We had only rehearsed it once before, and Colin wasn’t happy,” Agent relates. “He told me: ‘If you’re so fucking good, why don’t you sing it?’ But in the end we convinced him to do it and the song was finished with a minute to spare. Abbey Road was like that – the place was run by stopwatch. 

“Before those Abbey Road sessions we had been dismayed by the way our records had sounded,” Argent admits. “Getting things right at last was an absolute joy.” 

With the session wrapping in November 1967, The Zombies had done their part. Now it was over to CBS, but the label picked two singles (Friends Of Mine and Care Of Cell 44) that sank without trace, and with demand for live work slowing down, the band played a final gig in the middle of December ’67. 

The album, Odessey & Oracle (‘Odyssey’ was misspelled on its front cover by designer Terry Quirk) was released in the spring of 1968, but reviews were lukewarm and Clive Davis, boss of the US arm of CBS, overruled its release in the States. 

Here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn. During a trip to London, renowned go-to 60s/70s keyboard player Al Kooper, working as a CBS staff producer, picked up a copy of Odessey & Oracle and fell in head over heels in love with it. “Clive had told Al he thought Odessey… a good album but with nothing happening with it they [CBS] were passing,” Argent relates, “but Al pleaded with him [to put it out]. And when he agreed to do so, Time Of The Season went to Number One in the Cash Box charts [at the time America had two official charts. It reached Number Three on Billboard]. It was our second Cash Box chart topper, as She’s Not There had done the same thing [in 1964].”

With various new projects on the go, the original former members of The Zombies were unable to take advantage of the situation. “We resisted the offer of a million pounds to reunite,” Argent reveals. “By that time I was already on course to putting my band Argent together.” 

Two ‘fake’ line-ups of The Zombies were put together to tour America, one including future ZZ Top members Dusty Hill and Frank Beard. “Dusty and Frank have admitted the fact in print,” Argent confirms. 

Over the decades Odessey & Oracle has taken on a belated second wind, appearing in many of those lists of ‘Obscure albums you should hear before you die’. Fittingly given the group’s name, the legend of The Zombies was slowly reborn. “Paul Weller calling it his all-time favourite album was pretty much the start of it all,” Argent theorises. 

Since reviving the name of The Zombies in 2004, Blunstone and Argent have thrived. On March 29, 2019, fifty years to the day since Time Of The Season topped the Cash Box chart, the band was inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. “Isn’t that an extraordinary coincidence?” says Argent, smiling. Naturally, Time Of The Season remains in their live set. “We really stretch out on that one and it always goes down a storm with younger members of the audience as well as the older ones,” he says. “It still feels exactly the same as when we played it for the very first time.”

The Zombies' own Begin Here Festival is held in their home town of St Albans on November 10-12. Tickets are on sale now

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.