Life is what happens while we’re making other plans. For the Kings, the failure of their second album and the decision to leave Elektra Records put them back on the road in Canada. Years went by, members got day jobs, but they also continued to play and record when opportunities arose. And 29 years after “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide” blasted onto American radio and into rock history, they’re looking back with a new DVD documentary Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder: The Kings’ “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide,” which is available through the Kings’ website. In part 3 of my interview, Mister Zero of the Kings (who produced and directed the DVD) talks about good tunes you never heard, gigs you may have missed, and the legacy of their most famous record. (Scroll down for parts 1 and 2.)
jb: It was 1995 before you made Unstoppable, and 2002 until Because of You.
Zero: Unstoppable was basically financed by me from my day job working on movie sets here in Toronto. It was a real labor of love that took a year-and-a-half to make in fits and starts, but it is a great record full of great songs. Because of You was made with the support of Bullseye Records of Canada, an indie label run by a friend of ours, Jaimie Vernon. He had a U.S. backer with enough money to do it right, so we were able to do it in a proper studio and do it every day for a month, not just on weekends or what-have-you. Again I think there are a lot of quality songs on there, and we are quite proud of it.
jb: The DVD features over an hour of videos, and some of those tunes are indeed fabulous. Which are the ones you’re proudest of, or best represent what the band is all about?
Zero: You do know that songwriters think that all their songs are great and should be hits, right? In our case we have some that are not great, but we do have lots that really are great, and if we hadn’t fallen from grace the way we did, maybe they would have been hits. Some are on the DVD, and some we never did make a video for. One called “Shoulda Been Me” is one of those; it’s just an obvious hit song. I remember playing it when we opened for the Beach Boys. The audience had never heard it, and at the end they gave it a big hand. I remember thinking, “You know, that thing could go!” It did get some play here [in Canada], but because it was our own indie thing, it didn’t do what maybe it could have. One song on the DVD that got a lot of airplay here in Canada was “If We Don’t Belong Together,” which is a ballad that Sonny Keyes and I wrote. The MOR stations loved that one. . . .
Other songs that I like on the DVD are “Parting of the Ways,” “Your Old Boyfriends,” “Bad Side of Town,” and “Partyitis.” A personal fave is “Cosmic Groove.” I think the lyric I did in that one is spot-on. And it’s a nine-minute jam-fest with lots of me showing off on guitar. As a player I’m not great, but I have fun.
jb: On the DVD, you tell about your first American show, where you opened for Jeff Beck, and the disaster it turned into. Surely the gigs got better, though.
Zero: We did play a few more dates with Jeff Beck, and they turned out better, but it wasn’t a great fit. We also opened for Eric Clapton once, and it was like the Jeff Beck thing—here we are again opening for a guitar god and the place is full of guitar players, and I’m the first axe man of the night. No pressure there! I think that might have been the show where my guitar strap was on wrong, and I walked out and dropped the bloody thing! So I went to my spare and it was out of tune! Shit! After the show, Eric Clapton went up to Dave and said, “Hey, great singing, man,” which was incredible, but he didn’t say “boo” to me!
jb: I know there’s YouTube video of some recent Kings gigs, like the Andy Kim Christmas Show last December.
Zero: The show with Andy Kim was a lot of fun. It was sold out and packed, which is always good, and we got to meet and hang a bit with Lawrence Gowan, who plays with Styx now, Ron Sexsmith, a super songwriter, Andy Kim of course, a very nice guy with some iconic huge hits, and also Alex Lifeson from a little Toronto band called Rush. I think the finale might be on YouTube as well. Everyone is up doing “Rock Me Gently,” Dave is close to the front stage left singing backup, and I’m behind, faking it on a guitar that isn’t plugged in! It’s pretty cool. [Watch it here.]
There are some great videos I made after I finished the DVD. You can see them on our website, thekingsarehere.com. In fact I may swap them into the DVD if we go into reprinting it. We have better versions of “Clean Shot” and “My Habit” for example, which are both terrific tunes as well.
jb: I’m curious about what you think of the phrase “one-hit wonder.” Are you frustrated by having had just the one hit? Or is having made one of the greatest party songs of all time, one that’s fondly remembered by so many people, a fair exchange for scoring just once?
Zero: I have a saying: “It’s better to be a one-hit wonder than a no-hit nothing.” . . . When I was growing up, I never really looked down on the one-hitters. I was always rooting for them to succeed with more great songs. And as we found out more about the music business, we began to realize that there are a lot of factors that have to line up perfectly for a hit to happen. Some bands never really charted a lot in a conventional Top 40-type way—you may have heard of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I recently read a book about Neil Diamond, and I was shocked to learn that “Switchin’ to Glide” charted higher than “Solitary Man”! That kind of blew my mind, and I intend to boast about that for years to come.
Seriously, we certainly are grateful for our hit. People have asked, “Do you ever get sick of playing it?” and the answer is, honestly, no. From the stage, you can feel the energy level rise as soon as I play that great riff that Dave wrote. People love it and so do we, and it is an honor to be part of people’s lives and memories like that. People have told us how it has helped them through bad times, how they got laid to it, drove too fast to it, partied to it, and all sorts of different things. It really is an amazing accomplishment to achieve even once. We have talked about how it will be around forever and outlast us, and that is more than OK. It’s great, in fact.
The DVD and several Kings CDs are available at the band’s website. Kings music not available on the website can be found at iTunes. Coming next: a few more comments on this and that from Mister Zero.