The Kings arrived on the pop music scene just as the worlds of punk, disco and mainstream pop were prepared to collide. The band's stew of fun rock and roll, stylized new wave and crunching power chords should have taken the energetic quartet to the top of the charts at least once or twice. Instead, the 1980 release of The Kings Are Here yielded only a minor hit in "This Beat Goes On"/"Switchin' to Glide." But there's far more to this band than the playful dimension displayed there. Here's why.
The Cruel Power of Unjust Obscurity
Upon hearing this album's double feature opener, it's impossible for a listener not to have the thought, "Wow, I've never heard anything like this before." And while that statement turns out to be only partially true upon reflection, the part that is not true still somehow manages to be original. Throughout the 10 songs that make up the band's debut album, one can hear snatches of the Cars and the Knack, to be sure, based on the Kings' ragged marriage of guitar and keyboards and lead singer/bassist David Diamond's wonderfully snotty vocal delivery, respectively. So why is it that those two aforementioned bands enjoyed so much more success than the Kings? That's the question that puzzles me the most about this band and this career-summarizing compilation. And while the band's debut The Kings Are Here from start to finish will never be confused for a genuinely major album of the '80s, it certainly contains at least one song that should have been a No. 1 hit in the U.S., U.K. and Canada if not all other English-speaking nations. And even that alone should have earned the band the significant place among '80s artists that has always been so criminally denied them.
Anatomy of a Slice of Rock & Roll Perfection - "Don't Let Me Know"
Nestled in the typically sedate next-to-last spot on the Kings' debut album and smack dab in the middle of this compilation is one of the best songs of the '80s, a melodic rocker that stands up ably next to the most hook-filled music you can find from that decade. I mean, I'm talking "Jessie's Girl" or "867-5309" territory here. However, there are probably so few American pop listeners that have experienced the sheer joy of "Don't Let Me Know" that the tune easily qualifies as certifiably underground. And this is a deep and miserable shame, because this nimbly executed four-minute classic desperately deserves to be heard. Everything that's great about the Kings can be distilled succintly from this one track: David Diamond's impassioned vocals form a solid foundation that allows Mister Zero's uniquely punchy power chords and riffs to trade jabs with Sonny Keyes' memorable keyboard blasts that stand with Greg Hawkes of the Cars as the best synth work of the early '80s. What else do you need? A classic opening riff? Check. A chorus that makes you want to drive off the road because you suddenly think you can fly? Check. An instrumental break featuring dueling guitar and keyboard lines that put progressive rock to shame? That's right. Check.
Glorious Imperfection - Just Get a Copy for Your Collection
So what about the rest of the album? (You just had to get greedy, didn't you?) Well, I refrain from giving the Kings five-star treatment only because the band's debut can seem a bit slight and dated. At times, for example, the Kings might amp up the party band image and lyrics a bit too much, also showing a tendency to be too self-referential lyrically. But these gripes pale next to the positives, especially in light of the fact that the band never really had a chance to mature and season its music. Even so, wonderful moments abound on the 10-track debut as well as the five later selections included here. "This Beat Goes On"/"Switchin' to Glide" is a justifiably revered two-songs-in-one classic that sizzles with the fun and energy that exemplify the band. "Glide" also features one of rock's best lines: "Nothin' matters but the weekend/From a Tuesday point of view." And while "Go Away" and "Partyitis" come off a touch fleetingly adolescent, signs of experimentation abound in the musicianship on tracks like "Run Shoes Running" and "My Habit," especially in Mister Zero's fretwork. Further evidence of growth truly emerges on newer tunes "Right to the Top" and "Shoulda Been Me," even if the Kings had begun to soften their sound a bit.
A Chance to Reverse the Injustice
Simply giving The Kings Are Here and More a solid and thorough listen goes a long way toward making up for years of neglect from audiences that mostly never had a real chance to hear this great Canadian rock and roll band. It won't undo the years lost to record label struggles and questionable production decisions that exiled the band unwillingly to cult status, but giving the music an ample audience is a good start. Believe me, we can all use an occasional musical taste enrichment. I got mine this winter when I discovered the Kings as if the band's records had been locked in a vault somewhere and Geraldo decided to put an end to the secrecy. I can assure you there's a delightful array of treasure to be found if you take the time to explore this particular musical archive.