During the title sequence of the new film Hung Up On a Dream, singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent perform “The Way I Feel Inside” in a church. Blunstone begins the song singing a cappella, and Argent joins in on the pipe organ. What a lovely way to start an engrossing documentary about the legendary British rock band The Zombies.
That same gorgeous Argent-penned tune was the coda to their March 15 set at Waterloo Records. Chris Bisha and I were there, covering SXSW for 360°Sound. Unfortunately, we just missed the cut-off to get into the in-store show. But we were able to listen through the open door. We finally got in for the last two songs, the penultimate one being their signature hit, “Time of the Season.” [See Chris’s recap here].
The Zombies were so busy at SXSW that you’d think they were an up-and-coming twentysomething indie band, not septuagenarians with legions of fans. They attended the world premiere of the doc and performed multiple shows promoting their new album, Different Game (out March 31). Their final gig at SXSW was an official showcase at Lady Bird Lake, of which footage is included in the video of their new single, “Merry-Go-Round” (see below).
Blunstone says early in the Hung Up on a Dream documentary that he’s never been able to figure out if The Zombies were lucky or unlucky. They were lucky to hit the scene at the height of the British Invasion in the mid-1960s. But there were times when they weren’t so lucky, such as when they were exploited by management.
Hung Up on a Dream, directed by Robert Schwartzman, documents the remarkable ups and downs of their nearly 60-year career. This excellent film features plenty of archival footage and performances as well as new interviews with all the surviving original members. I went into the film as a big fan of The Zombies. I’ve seen them live several times, I own the fantastic 4-CD, 119-track box set Zombie Heaven, and I count Odessey & Oracle among my all-time favorite albums. Still, I learned a lot from the doc.
Here are five fun facts about The Zombies I gleaned from watching Hung Up on a Dream:
The band got support for “She’s Not There” from George Harrison.
The Zombies’ high-profile manager Tito Burns helped land the band TV and radio spots and national press coverage. When “She’s Not There” was first released in 1964, the song was featured on the BBC Television panel show Juke Box Jury, where four experts would judge records. George Harrison of The Beatles happened to be on the panel when “She’s Not There” was played. Harrison said: “The voices were marvelous, and the chord sequences were very nice. And I think it’ll be hit.”
A hit it was. The song went to #1 on the Cash Box charts and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Zombies made news in the UK as the first band after The Beatles to reach #1 with a self-written song.
They were big in the Philippines – and royally screwed by management.
In 1967, The Zombies agreed to play a 10-day residency in the Philippines. When they arrived, they were mobbed by 3,000 Filipinos. The group was second only to the Beatles in the number of hits they’d had in the Asian island country.
The Manila arena where they played held 40,000 people and it was packed. But where was all the money going? Burns, their manager, took 20 percent management commission and 10 percent agency commission, and the band had to pay a crew. The Zombies were getting paid 10 pounds a night at best.
“You don’t have to be that bright to work out that that’s wrong,” Blunstone said.
Added Argent: “We could see that this was crazy and someone was making a fortune, and it certainly wasn’t us.”
“The management relationship just dissolved,” Blunstone continued. “[Burns had] taken advantage of us so much. In the early days, he hadn’t cared about image and direction for us. He just cared about us working the whole time. It was really unfortunate what happened to us. It happened to so many other bands in the ‘60s.”
‘Odessey’ was an accidental misspelling.
Artist Terry Quirk painted the iconic cover of The Zombies’ 1968 album Odessey & Oracle. It’s a beautiful cover with colorful psychedelic font and images. The only issue was he misspelled “Odyssey.”
“We hadn’t noticed it was E instead of Y until the record was ready to be released,” said Zombies bassist Chris White.
Quirk explained that the entire cover project was done in about two and a half weeks.
“They had gone off on tour so no one could see it,” Quirk said. “No one could vet it and, of course, it went off and had the spelling mistake. One of the best spelling mistakes I ever made.”
Argent made up a story that it was a “play on words” and “a journey in song.”
“Everybody believed it until one day in the ‘90s, I was on an interview with Colin, and I told the real story,” Argent said. “Colin looks at me and says, ‘What? All these years I believed this was intentional.’”
Colin Blunstone went by another name for a year and released singles.
After the Zombies broke up in late 1967, Blunstone started working at an insurance company. This is when “Time of the Season” became a worldwide hit, topping the Cash Box charts and staying on the U.S. charts for an astonishing 13 months. Blunstone would be on the phone with insurance clients and they’d ask if he’d consider getting back into the music biz.
It wasn’t too long before he gave it another go. In 1969, Blunstone signed with Deram and released three singles under the pseudonym Neil MacArthur, including a remake of “She’s Not There,” which peaked at #34 on the UK charts.
“Suddenly, I’m Neil Bloody McCarthy and meeting people and they’re calling me Neil,” Blunstone said. “I didn’t know if it was a noun or a verb. They’d say Neil and I’d get on my knees.”
Guitarist Paul Atkinson went on to be a successful A&R man and record exec.
Founding guitarist Paul Atkinson spent most of his career in Los Angeles as an artists and repertoire (A&R) man and industry exec. He signed big-name acts like ABBA, Mr. Mister, and Bruce Hornsby. Atkinson’s daughter Lucy is interviewed in the film. She talks about how her dad would introduce her to a wide range of genres, from The Prodigy to Ludacris, and inspired her to work in the music biz.
Atkinson even helped Blunstone and Argent with an American record deal when they recorded a comeback album in the early 2000s. Shortly before Atkinson died in 2004 of liver and kidney disease, he played a reunion show with the Zombies during which he received the President’s Merit Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Original drummer Hugh Grundy also worked in A&R. Usually, he said he’d only listen to part of the first song and know the band had no potential. But one day, he heard a band that knocked his socks off. He recommended them to the label, and they passed because the advance the band was requesting was too much. A few years later they blew up. The band was Queen. “They missed out,” Grundy said.
These are just five of the many fascinating nuggets in the Zombies doc. No word yet on when and where the public can see the film, but keep it tuned to 360°Sound for updates and more on other great new music documentaries.