The Zombies had one of the British Invasion's weirdest career progressions. They formed in 1961, when singer Colin Blunstone met guitarist and songwriter Rod Argent at school in St. Albans, a London suburb, then spewed out perfect pop singles such as "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" before peaking with a sprawling masterpiece of an album called "Odessey and Oracle." But, bereft of consistent hits, they broke up in 1967, prompting Blunstone to take a job at an insurance agency. But "Time of the Season" took off unexpectedly in the United States, and Blunstone, 68, has maintained a solo career ever since. By phone from a New York hotel, Blunstone -- who performs Wednesday at the YMCA Boulton Center in Bay Shore -- talks about this year's "On the Air Tonight," full of dreamy ballads delivered in a high, clear voice that hasn't changed since the Zombies.
There are a lot of love songs on "On the Air Tonight." Is something happening in your life to inspire this?
Well, no. Really I choose material because it means something to me. It's quite simple -- if a song touches me, and I feel emotionally excited by a song, then I hope that in turn the listener will have the same feeling.
You've been playing guitar since you were 10 or 11. How supportive were your parents of this hobby?
My parents were wonderful. We were a working-class family. We weren't wealthy. It was quite a big deal for them to buy me a guitar. We traveled to a shop right across London -- I remember we spent all day traveling to this shop. I think my father was just a bit concerned that he would buy me this guitar and in a week's time I wouldn't be interested in playing it. But it didn't work that way.
Tell me the story of how the Zombies started.
There's so much chance involved in how I came to be in the Zombies. At my school, we had to sit alphabetically. The guy who sat in front of me had a neighbor called Rod Argent, who wanted to put a band together. The guy who sat in front of me -- alphabetically -- said, "You've got a guitar, haven't you?" and I said, "Yeah, I've got a guitar." If I hadn't sat alphabetically, I might not have been in the Zombies.
After the Zombies broke up, you worked in an insurance office in London. How did that happen?
When the band finished, the two writers, Rod Argent and Chris White, had gotten totally different revenue stream from us. But the three non-writers -- I'll include myself in that and Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy -- from our live work we'd been very poorly advised. We ended up with practically no money. I had to get a job, but so did the other two. Paul went and worked at a computer office and Hugh was selling cars. I found an employment agency and said, "Do you have any jobs?" and they said, "There's a job paying in an insurance office in the center of London," and I said, "I'll take it."
Did you like the job?
In the way, therapeutically, it was very good for me. The end of the Zombies was very sad because I thought the band hadn't finished. But I didn't have time to dwell on it, the office was huge and very, very busy. I was just a general clerk in an office. After a few months, "Time of the Season" was a huge hit in America. And people started phoning and contacting me about recording again.
Did you know in advance "Mad Men" would pick "This Will Be Our Year" for the end-credits a few weeks ago?
I had no idea they were going to use that song. . . . It's wonderful exposure and it's validation of what we've been doing, that people feel that music is relevant. And I do, too -- it still sounds fresh. Some of these songs were recorded between 40 and 50 years ago!