Wednesday, April 8, 2020


King? So what ever happened to King? Here one moment, huge for a minute and then gone. Can you even remember them? Were they purely eurocentric, UK even? No, not King King, the brilliant bekilted blues juggernaut, channeling more Free than seems even possible, if to tinier audiences still, more's the pity, I mean King, rainbow Doc Martens and cockatiel hair, yes?

Alone Without You

So King were actually around for more than a moment, two years and two albums. Centred around charismatic frontman Paul King, on vocals and never more 80s mullet, they burst out of Coventry on the tail end of the Two Tone ska phenomenon that rose out of this gritty midlands landscapes. This was 1984. Wondering if a ska band calling themselves the Reluctant Stereotypes might be too much of, um, a stereotype, filtered from the title of a song by genre breakthrough leaders, the Specials, some serious rebranding was required. Arguably again lifting an idea from the local scene, the concept of Multi Tone was imagined. Again, so far, so meh, but luckily, the songs were there. Or some were. A brief tenure as the Raw Screens faltered and so, like many a band leader before or since, the realisation that a surname could suffice as a band and brand name dropped, both convenient and aspirational. The look and image was allegedly based on the Child Catcher from children's book and film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, actually not so much a bad idea given the mission statement of the music biz in general: capture the youth and harness their spending power!

Alone Without You was the 4th single, and the first from their second album, so we are ahead of things. So, rewinding a bit, their first album, Steps in Time appeared in 1984 and proved to be a slow burner. The debut single, Love and Pride barely dented the charts in the UK,  number 84 with a squib. Follow-ups Soul on My Boots and Won't You Hold My Hand Now didn't even manage the top 100. Love and Pride came out a second time and, courtesy the active promotion of CBS records, this time found its public. Number 2 this time, translating equivalently across Europe, and even causing a slight splash across the pond, their only chart recognition in the US, with a Billboard 55. On that momentum back out came Won't You Hold My Hand Now, now to a UK 24. In truth these were the only outstanding tracks of the debut, the rest being somewhat lumpen fodder, often with lyrics obtusely impenetrable, backed with glossily produced tunelessness. (What, pray, is I Kissed the Spikey Fridge all about?)  But they looked good and had the zeitgeist.

Love and Pride

With no time to waste, 1985 saw the second album, Bitter Sweet, a somewhat rushed release. Again the singles were the standouts, although becoming a story of diminishing returns. Alone Without You gained a creditable 8 and hopes were high for the next single. The Taste of Your Tears was and still is a terrific song; a classic slow weepy for the dance floor, peaking at 11. There was a 3rd single but I confess to no memory of it whatsoever. And that was just about that. I am not sure they even ever toured. If they did, it maybe accelerated their demise, as they were no more by mid '86, the entire span of the group being less than two years. Maybe they were just a manufactured contrivance for teen stardom, and yet, no teenager myself, or by any means, they rang some sort of bell in my head and I always wanted them to be better than they were, to be more than four good songs and spray painted footwear, however much bouncy bass is in the mix. I don't think that was what even Paul King had sought, perhaps also why their reign was cut short.

The Taste of Your Tears

Paul King tried the de rigeur solo go it alone route, sinking sufficiently deep as to throw in the towel altogether. I don't think I have ever heard his solo album, or hadn't until this piece. MTV, then the big player in music, videos becoming the only way to break an act, and who had, in all probability, had the most to do with King, the bands, success, became the unlikely get out of jail card for King, the singer. This may be where you remember the name, as, de-mulleted and greying elegantly at the edges, he became one of a new breed, the 'veejay', continuity man for the new age, where he spent the next few years, ahead of then taking the same gig for VH1, the MTV for slightly older children.

I Know (from Joy/Paul King)

Crowning glory?

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