The Zombies recorded this in one take after they won a talent contest at their college called the Herts Beat competition. The prize was a recording session.
The group signed to Decca Records, and their keyboard player Rod Argent came up with this song for the session. It tells the story of an alluring woman who won't be tied down to one man - the singer wants to tell us all about her, but he can only use words, since she's not there.
This was The Zombies first single. The band also recorded a cover of Gershwin's "Summertime
" for their first album, which was considered for the band's first single, but "She's Not There" got the nod. Boosted by radio play on New York powerhouse WINS, the song became a hit in the US. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Some of the chord changes Rod Argent used were inspired by Brian Hyland's "Sealed With A Kiss
This was The Zombies biggest hit. Even though it did very well, their next releases didn't catch on until 1969, when they hit US #3 with "Time Of The Season
." Unfortunately, the band had already broken up by then and Rod Argent had started his own group, Argent, with Zombies bassist Chris White on board as a songwriter.
Lead singer Colin Blunstone re-recorded this in the early '70s under the name Neil MacArthur. His version went to #34 in the UK.
The lead instrument is an electric piano, which was very unusual at the time. In the UK, it was the first hit song with an electric piano as the lead instrument.
The song got a big boost when it was judged on the UK TV show Juke Box Jury, where a panel of musical authorities would pass judgment on a song. The week this song appeared, George Harrison was a panelist, and he gave the song a good review.
Santana covered this on their 1977 album Moonflower. Their version hit #27 in the US and #11 in the UK; it was the only non-live song from the otherwise live album. It was the last Santana cover song to chart. From here on out, the band would experiment with more Jazz-sounding material. Moonflower was also the last album before Supernatural to sell more than a million copies. (thanks, Jim - Oxnard, CA)
Rod Argent on the marriage of lyrics and melodies: "Words have to sit, they have to sort of combine seamlessly with the way the melody is being sung. I know I was very concerned with the lyrics on 'She's Not There' but in the sense that they had to really complement the melody. They had to stand on their own, and had to have their own rhythm and, in that last section I was using the words with different stresses at different times to propel it along towards the final chord. So lyrics have always been very important to me in that way, but not necessarily in a sense of having to explain something concrete. They're an important part of the jigsaw, because I think bad lyrics can screw up a song."
This song was inspired by John Lee Hooker's "No One Told Me" from his 1964 LP The Big Soul Of John Lee Hooker. Argent explained: "If you play that John Lee Hooker song you'll hear 'no one told me, it was just a feeling I had inside' but there's nothing in the melody or the chords that's the same. It was just the way that little phrase just tripped off the tongue. I'd always thought of the verse of 'She's Not There' to be mainly Am to D. But what I'd done, quite unconsciously, was write this little modal sequence incorporating those chord changes. There was an additional harmonic influence in that song. In the second section it goes from D to D minor and the bass is on the thirds, F# and F, a little device I'd first heard in 'Sealed With A Kiss' and it really attracted me, that chord change with bass notes not on the roots. And I'm sure I was showing off in the solo as much as I could!"
This song was born in bassist/vocalist Chris White's bedroom and only had one verse until producer Ken Jones heard it. "I remember we were playing in Hatfield, and Ken Jones came up to hear us. And after the gig, Rod said, 'I've got this song that we've been rehearsing' and he played it to Ken on the piano. He did the verse, and then the solo, and there was no second verse, and Ken said 'Can't we go back to the beginning again?' So Rod had to write another verse, because it only had one originally."
On 'She's Not There' Ken Jones also instigated a recurring trait of many Zombies' recordings: additional overdubs added in the mixdown to mono stage from 4-track. In this case, there were a couple of extra beats superimposed to create a distinctive drum pattern, thereby rendering the original mono single mix of 'She's Not There' the only 'correct' version of the song. (thanks, DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation, for above 3)
Colin Blunstone's breathy vocals on this track became a signature sound for the group, but their producer, Ken Jones, had him use the technique throughout their first album, which blunted the effect. That album was released in 1965, and was their last until 1968, when they issued Odessey and Oracle, which the band produced themselves.