By Sean Piccoli
City & Shore Magazine
One of the most important songs Rod Argent ever wrote rests on a mistake.
It was 1967 and Argent, a founder of the British rock band the Zombies, was in London listening to Motown on a scratchy-sounding radio when a fragment of the chorus to The Tracks of My Tears, by the Miracles, seemed to jump out: … time of the season …
The words stayed with him, and soon Argent — deep into a frantic bout of writing with a bandmate in their shared London flat — assembled a new song around that captivating phrase. “It was done very quickly,” he recalls in an interview with City & Shore PRIME.
Only later did he realize that Miracles frontman Smokey Robinson hadn’t sung any such thing. It wasn’t even close. A cheerful Argent chalks up mishearing a Motown classic to a low-fidelity AM signal.
“With the bad reception and everything I thought he was singing, ‘It’s the time of the season to trace/the tracks of my tears,’ ” he says. “And when I realized it was, ‘If you look closer it’s easy to trace/the tracks of my tears,’ I was a bit disappointed!”
In the end it didn’t matter. Time of the Season would become the band’s most indelible song — a dreamy, evocative hit inscribed into the mythology of The Sixties, and one reason that on March 29 the Zombies will enter the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame alongside The Cure, Janet Jackson, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, Radiohead and Def Leppard.
Before then, keyboardist Argent and lead singer Colin Blunstone, another founding member, will visit Florida with a touring version of the Zombies. Stops include a concert on Feb. 22 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.
It’s a lot of activity and attention for a band that actually broke up in 1967 — more than a year before Time of the Season became a No. 1 hit in the United States. But the entire Zombies history, as viewed from the stands, looks like one of brilliant hindsight and belated recognition, culminating in the Hall of Fame after three previous years on the ballot.
“Jokingly, we refer to ourselves as an emerging rock band,” Argent, 73, says.
The Zombies are faithfully name-checked in discussions of the British Invasion, the wave sparked by the United Kingdom’s first exposure to American blues, r&b and rock ’n’ roll. But they wound up as a kind of short-lived detachment from the main force. A mannered pop sensibility that went beyond their tailored suits set them apart from the audacious, conquering princes of the Who, Beatles, Rolling Stones and Kinks.
But the dash of formality has proved to be one of the Zombies’ most winning traits. And it’s something Argent and bandmate Chris White, the Zombies’ other songwriter, possessed from day one, when Decca Records signed the band of teen-agers based on a demo of Argent’s She’s Not There. The band’s first song, from 1964, was also its first hit. With a verse that swung, widely split vocal harmonies and a chorus approaching nervous breakdown, She’s Not There packed a maelstrom of longing and despair into a sculptural two minutes and 25 seconds.
“I’ve never consciously tried to include classical music in what we do or, indeed, jazz, but it’s just whatever’s felt natural to me,” Argent says. “But I think structure within a song — and I’ve been lucky enough to write quite a few — is very important to me. The sort of elegance, the structure, of a song I think is very important to how well it turns out.”
That skill wasn’t enough to make them wealthy or sustain their record label’s interest. He, White, Blunstone, Hugh Grundy and Paul Atkinson moved to another label long enough to record one more album. It was in that London flat that Argent and White wrote with a sense of the clock ticking.
“It was in our heads that we might be breaking up,” he says, “and I was saying to Chris we have to get down our own ideas of how our own songs should sound.”
Recorded at Abbey Road studios and shrugged off by listeners upon its release, Odessey and Oracle, with its melodic poise and famous typo, has slowly gained acclaim as an undervalued masterpiece. But the band did part ways, leaving Time of the Season as a kind of swan song. White’s wistful This Will Be Our Year is having its own hereafter. Featured in Mad Men, it plays out the second season finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
There would be later Zombies revivals with different lineups. Argent had a second act with a heavy ’70s rock band called Argent. But it’s the first work he did that is being celebrated now in what is shaping up as a season of renewal. For the Zombies, it’s time.
“It’s a great feeling to be 73 years old and be part of something that feels really vital,” Argent says.
The Zombies, in concert Feb. 22 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, https://www.browardcenter.org/
Photo: Vintage Zombies Hugh Grundy, Colin Blunstone, Paul Atkinson, Chris White and Rod Argent.