The Zombies are alive and well as their frontman picks the songs that shaped his career

Long Tall Sally – Little Richard, 1956

I really became interested in music when the greats of rock’n’roll were first recording in the late 50s. The three musicians that really interested me would be early Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The BBC didn’t really play rock’n’roll, so I would go to fairgrounds to listen to these records. I’d hang out in coffee bars to hear the jukebox. I didn’t have a record player at home, but I’d do anything to hear them. So, I’m going to choose Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally, which is such an exciting, wonderful song and performance.

It’s Late – Ricky Nelson, 1959

When we had the first Zombies rehearsal, I was the rhythm guitarist and Rod Argent was the lead singer. On a break, Rod went over to a broken-down old piano and played Nut Rocker by B. Bumble And The Stingers and I was just amazed. I tried to convince him that he should play keyboards. I was putting my guitar away and sang a Ricky Nelson song, It’s Late, just to myself, but Rod said, ‘Tell you what, if you’ll be the lead singer, I’ll play keyboards.’ So It’s Late was the start of my career as a singer.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones, 1965

About a year before The Zombies had their first hit, we heard that there was a really good band happening in London. It was a Monday night, we went to Studio 51, a small club just around the corner from Leicester Square tube station. It was packed but so small – maybe 200 people – and The Rolling Stones started playing and they were incredible. No running around on the stage, they all sat on stools. By the standards of those days, it was very loud and still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

You Can’t Do That – The Beatles, 1964

I couldn’t make a list like this without including The Beatles because they changed everything for British musicians. They opened the doors of America and the world for all British bands. Before we made our first record, we won a big rock’n’roll competition which led to a recording contract with Decca. One of the songs that we played was a Beatles B-side called You Can’t Do That. That helped win us the Hearts Beat competition, which was very big news at the time. It’s a great song and The Beatles are the best band ever.

He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ – The Velvelettes, 1965

When The Zombies first made it to America, we went straight to New York and played Murray The K’s Christmas Show. A few months later we went on one of these package tours, Dick Clark’s Caravan Of Stars. There were 14 acts; there was a great Motown group called The Velvelettes, they never received the recognition they should have got. One of the songs they sang was He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’. I sat next to the lead vocalist for six weeks, Carolyn Gill. A great singer and lovely person.

Misty Roses – Colin Blunstone, 1971

The first song we recorded for my debut solo album was Misty Roses by Tim Hardin. We recorded it just with guitar and voice, then realised it was quite a short song and we needed to build it up. We’d been introduced to a wonderful string arranger called Chris Gunning and asked him to come up with something dramatic. There’s a two-minute break in the middle with a string quartet playing a piece of original music written, arranged and conducted by Chris.
I love the original, but I’m pleased with the way our version came out.

Journey – Duncan Browne, 1973

A huge influence on me, particularly as a writer, is a singer-songwriter called Duncan Browne. I met him in Berlin on a TV show. He’s a wonderful classical player. I heard him playing in his dressing room. I was introduced to his manager – they had a beautiful flat in Ennismore Gardens near the Royal Albert Hall. We were drinking a few pints and they said, there’s a spare room if you want to move in. That’s when my songwriting career really began. I named my second solo album Ennismore because it was such an important part of my life.

God Only Knows – The Beach Boys, 1966

Recently with this incarnation of The Zombies, we toured the States with the Brian Wilson Band. I was invited to sing God Only Knows with them on a few occasions. It’s probably the most beautiful song that’s ever been written. The first time I did it was at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, and it was sold out – 7,500 people there. Brian was centre stage at the piano, and I was standing right next to him, two feet away, singing God Only Knows. That’s an incredible experience but quite anxiety-inducing.

Fragile – Sting, 1988

This is probably my favourite song. When The Zombies first split, I toured with a solo band that finished sometime in the 70s. I’d been writing commercials and singing on other people’s albums, but hadn’t sung live in years. I got the opportunity to do a series of concerts called Night Of The Proms. Most of them were in a stadium in Antwerp, they have a symphony orchestra and a band. Sting was headlining. I found it challenging after a long period of not performing. It was interesting to see him work and he was magnificent.

Say You Don’t Mind – Denny Laine, 1967

The last track I recorded for my first solo album is a Denny Laine song called Say You Don’t Mind. We tried
it as a rock’n’roll song first and it didn’t work, then we brought in this wonderful arranger I mentioned, Chris Gunning. He did a completely breathtaking arrangement using a 21-piece orchestra. Just strings, that’s all. I didn’t think for a moment that it could ever be commercial, and it went on to be a Top 20 single in 1971. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Denny Laine for writing such a great song.