The Blacksmiths Arms public house in St Albans
, Hertfordshire, where The Zombies first met
Three members of the band, Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy, first came together to jam in mid 1958 in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England. Argent wanted to form a band and initially asked his elder cousin Jim Rodford to join as a bassist. Rodford was in a successful local band the Bluetones at the time so declined, but offered to help Argent (Rodford would later join in 2004 when the band reformed). Colin Blunstone and Paul Arnold joined the other three to form the band in April 1961, while all five members were at school.
Some sources state that Argent, Atkinson and Grundy were at St Albans School, while Blunstone and Arnold were students at St Albans Boys' Grammar School (since renamed Verulam School). However, both Blunstone and Grundy came from Hatfield and both sang in the choir there at St Etheldreda's church. Argent was a boy chorister in St Albans Cathedral Choir. They held their original rehearsals at the Pioneer Club, then situated in Hatfield Road, using equipment lent to them by local band the Bluetones. They met outside the Blacksmiths Arms pub in St Albans before their first rehearsal, and gained their initial reputation playing the Old Verulamians Rugby Club in the same city.
Their original name was the Mustangs, but they quickly realised that there were other groups with that name. It was Arnold who came up with the Zombies, according to Blunstone. When Argent was asked about the origins of the band's name in a 2015 interview with PopMatters journalist J.C. Maçek III, Argent said, "Well, we chose that name in 1962 and, I mean, I knew vaguely that they were: sort of, you know, the Walking Dead from Haiti and Colin didn't even really know what they were." Argent explains, "It was [original bass guitarist] Paul [Arnold] that came up with the name. I don't know where he got it from. He very soon left the band after that." However, Arnold also left his mark with the name. "I thought this was a name that no one else is going to have. And I just liked the whole idea of it. Colin was wary, I'm sure, at the beginning, I know, but I always, always really, really liked it."
Arnold lost interest in the band and chose to leave to become a physician; he was replaced by Chris White. After winning a beat-group competition sponsored by the London Evening News, they signed a recording contract with Decca and recorded their first hit, "She's Not There". It was released in mid-1964 and peaked at number 12 in the UK, becoming their only UK Top 40 hit. The tune began to catch on in the United States and eventually climbed to number 2 in early December. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
Like many other British Invasion groups, the Zombies were sent to the United States to tour behind their new hit single. Among their early US gigs were Murray the K's Christmas shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre, where the band played seven performances a day. On 12 January 1965, the band made its first in-person appearance on US television, on the first episode of NBC's Hullabaloo. They played "She's Not There" (and their latest single "Tell Her No") to a screaming, hysterical audience full of teenage girls.
After the follow-up single to "She's Not There", "Leave Me Be", was unsuccessful in the UK (and was not issued as a single in the US, although it was on the B side of "Tell Her No"). Argent's "Tell Her No" became another big seller in the United States in 1965, peaking at No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March. "Tell Her No", however, failed to make the Top 40 in the UK. Subsequent recordings such as "She's Coming Home", "Whenever You're Ready", "Is This the Dream", "Indication" and "Gotta Get a Hold of Myself" failed to achieve the success of the previous two singles (although the Zombies had continued success in Scandinavia and the Philippines, which led to a series of concerts in 1967). A song by the Zombies released only as a B-side (to "Whenever You're Ready") in the US and the UK in 1965, "I Love You" subsequently became a sizeable hit for the group People! in the United States in 1968.
The Zombies's first UK album, Begin Here (1965) was an equal mix of original songs and rhythm and blues cover versions. While continuing recording in 1965-66 and trying to achieve chart success, they recorded enough material for a follow-up album, but the lack of chart success kept most of those tracks from being issued.
In 1967, the Zombies signed a recording contract with CBS Records for whom they recorded the album Odessey and Oracle (odyssey was accidentally misspelled by Terry Quirk, an art teacher who designed the cover). Because the band's budget could not cover session musicians, they used a Mellotron. According to Argent, this was in fact John Lennon's, and had been left in the studio as the Beatles had just finished recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. As another concession toward the limited budget, Argent and White (who, due to their songwriting royalties, had earned more than the rest of the members) personally paid for the stereo mixes.
By the time Odessey and Oracle was released in April 1968, the band had broken up (in December 1967). The album sold poorly and was given a US release only because musician Al Kooper, then signed to Columbia Records, convinced his label of the album's merits. One of its tracks, "Time of the Season", written by Argent, was released as a single (in 1968) and eventually (1969) became a nationwide hit (Billboard Hot 100 peak position: No.3).
In 1968, Argent and White began working on material for a possible new band when they were approached by CBS to do another Zombies album. Several new tracks were cut with a line-up of Argent, Hugh Grundy, Rodford (bass) and Rick Birkett (guitar), and were combined with some old Decca out-takes and demos that were overdubbed and enhanced in sessions at Morgan Studios in London. The album, scheduled for release in 1969, was cancelled and only a couple of the songs, "Imagine the Swan" (one of the newly recorded songs) and "If It Don't Work Out" (a demo of a song that Dusty Springfield recorded and released in 1965), were put out as singles instead (some of this material was released on several compilation albums during the 1970s and 1980s, and the album, titled R.I.P., was finally released in Japan in 2008).
After the Zombies disbanded, Rod Argent formed the band called Argent in 1969, with White as a non-performing songwriter. Atkinson worked in A&R at Columbia and Grundy joined him there after a brief spell in auto sales. Blunstone started a solo career after a brief period outside the music business, including working in the burglary claims section of an insurance company. Both Argent and White provided him with new songs. He also did studio vocals for the Alan Parsons Project. Atkinson retired as a performer, and worked as an A&R executive for many years.
The original line-up declined to regroup for concerts following the belated American success of "Time of the Season". In turn, various concocted bands tried to capitalise on the success and falsely toured under the band's name. In a scheme organized by Delta Promotions, an agency that also created fake touring versions of The Animals and The Archies, two fake-Zombies were touring simultaneously in 1969, one hailing from Texas, the other from Michigan. The Texas group featured bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, soon to be members of ZZ Top. Another group toured in 1988, going so far as to trademark the group's name (since the band had let the mark lapse) and recruit a bass guitarist named Ronald Hugh Grundy, claiming that original drummer Hugh Grundy had switched instruments.
In 1991, the band briefly reunited as the Zombies with keyboardist Sebastian Santa Maria, and recorded the album New World (1991). 
A 1997 120-track compilation of the original band's work, Zombie Heaven, was released on UK Ace/Big beat. The compilation contains all the band's Decca/Parrot recordings (in mono), the entire Odessey And Oracle LP (in stereo), the material that would have made up the unissued R.I.P. LP, several unissued recordings and a disc of recordings made for the BBC. On 25 November 1997, all five Zombies reunited at the Jazz Café in London's Camden Town as part of a solo show by Blunstone to perform "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" to promote the release of Zombie Heaven.
Blunstone and Argent did not play together again until late 1999. Argent spotted Blunstone in the audience while performing at a charity concert for jazz musician John Dankworth and invited him onstage for an impromptu reunion. This positive experience set the stage for further collaborations to come.
The twosome reunited to play shows together in 2000 under the Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent moniker and moved to the US in 2001. They recorded an album, Out of the Shadows (2001), and continued playing live shows together into 2004 when they began going out under the name "The Zombies" again. The new line-up included Keith Airey (brother of Don Airey) on guitar, Jim Rodford on bass, and his son Steve Rodford on drums.
In 2002, Ace/Big Beat released the 48-track The Decca Stereo Anthology, which, for the first time, mixed all the Decca/Parrot recordings into true stereo. An album of new material released in 2004, As Far as I Can See..., received poor-to-scathing reviews from both Pitchfork and AllMusic.
In January 2004, guitarist Paul Atkinson received the President's Merit Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at a benefit concert at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, California. The Zombies reunited for the event, which turned out to be Atkinson's last performance with them. He died later that year on April 1, 2004, in Santa Monica, California, U.S., from liver and kidney disease.
In 2005, Blunstone and Argent released a DVD and 2-CD album (Live at the Bloomsbury Theatre) and continued touring with the Zombies. To mark the 40th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle, the four surviving original members of the Zombies participated in a three-night series of concerts at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire Theatre between 7 and 9 March 2008. Blunstone and Argent's respective websites had advertised that the concert of 8 March was recorded for a CD and/or DVD release later in 2008, and the CD was officially posted by Amazon.com to be pre-sold for a release of 1 July 2008. Both CD and DVD were officially released in the UK and several countries around the world.
In 2006, Argent performed and toured with Ringo Starr as part of the All-Starr Band. Argent performed the Zombies' songs "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" as well as "Hold Your Head Up" from his other musical group, Argent.
In 2010, Ace Records released a series of six 7-inch vinyl EPs. All the tracks were new to vinyl, with some rarities taken from the Zombie Heaven box set, as well as previously unreleased material. Tom Toomey replaced Airey on guitar. In 2011, "The Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent" released their new studio album Breathe Out, Breathe In. Reviews were generally strong, and included 4-star reviews from publications including Record Collector, Q, Uncut, the Daily Mirror and The Independent. The band set out to tour annually in the US, UK, Canada and Netherlands. The 2011 tour schedule included Japan, France, Germany, Greece and Israel.
In 2012, band members participated in the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at the Blacksmith's Arms, a St Albans pub where the Zombies met for their first rehearsal.
On 19 July 2013, it was announced that the band would be appearing on the second annual Moody Blues Cruise, 2–7 April 2014 on the cruise ship MSC Ship Divina. On 16 October 2013, the Zombies were announced as nominees for inclusion to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the first nomination for the band since coming into eligibility in 1988. The Zombies were nominated again for the Hall in 2016.
In 2014, the Zombies performed in festival circuits including the Austin Psych Festival and San Francisco Stern Grove Festival. The next year, the band announced that it would embark on a 2015 American tour of the Odessey and Oracle album with White and Grundy returning.
The Zombies' sixth album, Still Got That Hunger, produced by Chris Potter, was announced for a release date of 9 October 2015. The album's recording was successfully funded by crowdfunding service PledgeMusic during August 2014. The Zombies toured the US in the fall of 2015 to promote Still Got That Hunger and were again joined by surviving former members White and Grundy, along with keyboardist Darian Sahanaja, and White's wife Viv Boucherat (on backing vocals) to play the entire Odessey & Oracle album. On 30 October 2015, the Zombies made a guest appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
In 2017, the four surviving original members (Colin Blunstone, Rod Argent, Chris White, and Hugh Grundy) re-united to carry out a North American tour marking the 50th anniversary of the recording of Odessey and Oracle. The first stop on this tour was a first-time performance in Jamaica, as the featured artist on the Flower Power Cruise on the Celebrity Summit while in port in Falmouth. A popular podcast, S-Town, used "A Rose for Emily" as its closing music. This exposure helped The Zombies land a guest appearance on Conan in May 2017. The band was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in October 2017.
Jim Rodford died after a fall on 20 January 2018, aged 76. He was replaced by Soren Køch.