on 23 September 2006
Yeah, yeah... most people remember King for their biggest hit, "Love and Pride", along with the accompanying videos spray painted boots and Paul King's horrible green suit, which can still be seen in occasional rotation on VH1 Classic. People either recall this song/image fondly or harshly - I recall it fondly.
King burst onto the UK music scene in late 1984 with their top 3 hit "Love and Pride", though it wasn't released in the U.S. until the following year, and then only managed a chart placing in the 50's. What most people didn't know, including myself until I was doing research for an upcoming reissue of "Bitter Sweet", was that "Love and Pride" and "Won't You Hold My Hand Now" had been previously released as singles, along with "Soul On My Boots", all of which made little impact. It wasn't until a re-release that things began to take off. King's debut album, `Steps in time', was a careful combination of chart geared dance pop and some of the wonderful New Wave eccentricities, which were becoming harder to find in 1984/85. The combination gave them well deserved chart success and a fanatical following... in the UK. As history states, Paul King had a real desire to become a hitmaker in the U.S., however the follow up UK hit, "Won't you hold my hand now" made no impression in the U.S. and the album (unjustly) faded into obscurity. It's unfortunate because there is not one bad song on that album, though some are not extremely strong. `Love and Pride - The Best of King' offers six of the albums original ten songs, along with one single B side.
Paul King had a knack for writing goofball lyrics and placing them over a catchy dance beat. The band hit their high point with their absolutely wonderful follow up album, `Bitter Sweet'. The album was released in the UK in 1985, though the U.S. remained nearly a year behind with a delayed, slightly altered release in 1986. King continued their UK streak of hits with the relatively enjoyable, but fairly weak "Alone without you". King's sense of humor came out all over the lyrics of `Bitter Sweet', and even in the video for "Alone without you". How many bands did you see making videos on mini-scooters? I cracked up when I saw it, and it endeared me to King even more. Unfortunately, if Paul King was truly trying to make it in the states, this approach was NOT the way to go. America generally steers clear of talent and personality. The next single, "The taste of your tears", typically became a hit in the UK but was completely ignored in the U.S. By the time the band released the third single from the album, "Torture", `Bitter Sweet' was already heading for the cut out bins in the U.S. The selection of `Bitter Sweet' songs on this CD is minimal. You get the three singles, one album track and three single B sides. "Groovin' with the Kings" is just an instrumental remix of "Torture", and is completely unessential. The bonus is the attractive B side piano version of "These Things", (The `rock' version of the song is on the UK issue of `Bitter Sweet', which was replaced on the U.S. LP by a reappearance of "Won't you hold my hand now"). The one missing essential track is my personal favorite King song, "Platform One". `Bitter Sweet' was a much stronger album than `Steps in Time', and could have been the start of a great run of albums.
Unfortunately, after `Bitter Sweet' failed to make an impact in the U.S., Paul King split the band and decided to do the solo thing. This time Paul got serious about trying to appeal to the U.S. market and teamed up with producer Dan Hartman to produce the remarkably dull album, `Joy'. For a man who once sang the lyrics; "I would tread water, I would swallow salt, rather than float with the tide. I'd grow potatoes in a flower patch, you know appearances don't keep you alive", he now sure seemed to be trying to fit in. I bought `Joy' at the time because I was such a King fan, but even that couldn't save me from the dullness. Here was an album of mature, wet, white boy soul music. The first single, "I Know" got modest video play, though it did nothing to help the album sell. Even in the UK, the single only managed a brief, low chart placing. I have to admit that I was pleased it failed because compared to the previous material, it was a slap in the face - Paul's plan backfired on both sides.
Paul King retreated from making music, and for a time was a presenter for UK music television. King was a very colorful and enjoyable band, and if the smell of international fame didn't temp, as it does so many once-appealing artists, the future may have been quite different. Paul King has a wonderful voice and the ability to write fun, entertaining music. In this day and age where music has been dead for 15 years, at least to the ears of this reviewer, going back to my King CD's are more than nostalgia trips. This was quality stuff!