Few of us who blog do so in a vacuum. The power of Google means in the nearly five-year history (!) of this blog, I’ve heard from several of my subjects—and best of all, none of them came bearing a cease-and-desist order or anything. Hearing from John Picard, better known as Mister Zero of the Kings, was a special thrill for me. The Kings’ one-and-only hit, “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide” remains one of the great party songs of the age, and the fact that it was the only hit the band ever had in the States makes them all the more fascinating to me.
You want to hear it right now, don’t you? OK.
The band has put together a DVD called Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder that tells the story of the song and the band. That wasn’t enough for me, however. I had a bunch of questions for Zero, and this week, I’ll share his answers.
jb: On the DVD, bassist and lead singer David Diamond says “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide” was born while he was tuning up on stage one night. True, or was there more to it than that?
Zero: One of the funny things about making this DVD was realizing how we all remember things in different ways. When Dave says that he just happened on the opening riff for “This Beat Goes On” while tuning his guitar during soundcheck at a strip joint, I believe him, but I don’t remember it as a specific thing. I do remember the gig, and I guess [keyboard player] Sonny [Keyes] remembers the moment as well, but I don’t. I left some of our conflicting memories in the DVD because I find it funny that while we all usually line up on things in general, the details are often different. And a lot of the time it seemed like the four sort-of-fuzzy memories added up to one clear one. So, while I may not remember it, something obviously happened and that riff was memorable enough to work on later.
jb: Was it always two songs segued together, or were they entirely separate at some point?
Zero: The songs were written totally separately, and I think they came together as part of the process where you try new ideas. The music and lyrics were both rewritten when it seemed like the two songs might be better together than apart. Then there was a lot of tweaking to maximize the hooks.
jb: “Beat/Glide” and your first two albums were produced by Bob Ezrin, who had produced Alice Cooper, KISS, and Lou Reed, and was just off producing The Wall for Pink Floyd. How is it that a guy who could have worked with anyone in the world at that moment chose to work with you?
Zero: We were recording in what was probably the best studio in Toronto, Nimbus 9. We had made demos in other smaller places but we felt that we were ready to step up. We got some dough together and went in knowing full well that this was the place where the Guess Who, Alice Cooper and others had made records. Bob Ezrin was back in Toronto after being away working on The Wall. He had produced the Alice Cooper stuff at Nimbus and came in one day to hang out. Of course, the word spread that this big dude was in the house, and one of our managers went and sweet-talked him into having a listen. Something must have caught his ears because he took our tapes home, and when his kids thought we were good, I guess he thought we maybe had a shot. At first he agreed to mix a couple of things, but when he got into the process of tearing apart the tracks to mix, he realized that we really did have some good material, but we didn’t have much of a clue about making a real record. So that started the ball rolling, and then it was Cinderella story-time.
jb: On the DVD, drummer Max Styles says that Ezrin put you through “rock and roll boot camp.” How so?
Zero: Well, when you are dealing with a major label and a real producer, making a real record, you learn in a hurry that there is hard work involved and very little is left to improvisation. All the players’ parts are worked on for maximum hook exploitation. Your goal is to make every note count, and therefore every bass note, every vocal line, every drum beat is there for a reason. So, the boot camp came from weeks of rehearsing, especially the rhythm section, because you build records from the bottom up. Dave and Max would work with Bob and come up with a solid foundation, and then we would leave them to drill the parts over and over until they were seamless. We would go eat or hang out while they were drilling—it was great! The effort paid off, though. You can hear how all the parts are organized. It’s not just some off-the-cuff jam session.
The DVD, Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder: The Kings’ “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide,” is available through the Kings’ website. Coming next: The song gets on the radio and becomes a hit, but then comes the challenge that accompanies every hit record: doing it again.