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Kings: Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder, The
Talk about your oddly cosmic cases of synchronicity. In the same week that audiences around the country are finally getting a chance to see Anvil: The Story of Anvil on home video, this critic cracks open yet another title about a long lost Canadian band that saw fleeting success sometime in the early '80s. Unlike Lips and Robb, however, no one is crowing for The Kings to make a mandatory and much needed comeback. Indeed, this is a band that worked with Bob Ezrin one job removed from Pink Floyd's The Wall, which saw their mash-up hit single "This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide" become a pop rock staple. Unlike Anvil, which never got its shot at the legitimate limelight, Dave Diamond (bass, vocals), Sonny Keyes (keyboards), Mister Zero (guitars), and Max Styles (drums) savored solid commercial success - and then succumbed to changing public tastes just like all other so called 'one-hit wonders'. In this short but sweet overview on "Beat/Glide"'s 15 minutes of fame, we hear how the song was created, how the tune became a hit...and sadly, not much else.
It's a standard rags-to-riches story. A bunch of mates form a group. They play the local Canadian bar scene for what seems like eons. They record a demo, get the ear of a major label, and score a significant coup when a maverick producer decides to step out of the superstar realm for a while to help some decent homegrown talent score a possible chart topper. Sure enough, the song goes gonzo, landing the lads on such significant media spotlights as Dick Clark's seminal American Bandstand. Soon, the tune is an FM radio staple, providing the boys with a high enough profile to tour the States. Unfortunately, their first foray into an American audience - a stint opening for Jeff Beck in Denver - is a disaster. Thus, the legend of The Kings and "This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide" is born. This informal interview feature finds the four original members discussing the writing, recording, and reaction to the memorable combo callout, stopping short of explaining how fleeting fame actually was. Everyone is full of anecdotal joy, happy to revisit a time when they were on top of the world, no matter how short-lived (or short sighted of the fanbase). But again, there's not much more information to be had.
It's hard to get a handle on the purpose behind Anatomy of a One Hit Wonder: The Kings - "This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide" (some title). On the one hand, this is clearly a labor of love by some truly dedicated obsessives who believe the group never got its full due. You can hear the offscreen voices scoff when the subjects get self-deprecating, and there is a celebratory feel to the way the material is organized. We begin by meeting the original members, Dave Diamond and Mister Zero doing most of the backfilling. We hear how they came up with the riff, retrofitted it to some highly unusual (and inside referential) lyrics and then decided to drive it directly into another poppy tune about breaking free from the bondage of life. Together, along with a few ego-fueled flourishes, the six-minute plus classic is born. From there on, it's more gossip regarding Bob Ezrin, what it was like to be booed consistently for their entire 25 minute Jeff Beck set, and the thrill of winning a radio contest. For the most part, Anatomy of a One Hit Wonder is a sunny, sweet trip back for four middle aged men who used to make quite a noise.
The nutty New Wave nods, including the stiff legged choreography and bad hair happenings will strike some as odd, as will the various versions of the song that see many line-up changes go unmentioned. The guys have aged well, though what they do currently is also a mystery. If they've continued to milk "This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide" for this long, bully for them. If not, such a conclusion should be mentioned. The last complaint goes to an element of the bonus features. The Kings clearly released more than one album (a quick peek over at AllMusic Guide.com reveals four, plus a live LP) and the vast majority of the DVD is taken up with nearly 15 music videos and live concert takes on several otherwise excellent numbers. So why no mention of this? Why leave that material stranded within the storyline? Why not link the rollercoaster skyrocket success of the theme tune to why various other equally compelling songs bombed (from a US perspective - in Canada, it could be entirely different). Again, this isn't a documentary about the band's career, just a single song. Still, the concept demands context.
Perhaps that's why The Kings just can't compare to their heavy metal brethren in Anvil. Lips and Robb are dedicated dreamers, men who never got their time in the spotlight (or worse, watched others copy their style and then steal theirs). For Dave, Sonny, Mister and Max, hard work and diligence paid off. For a brief shining moment, everyone knew their name and heard their music. They were commercial, they were mainstream, and they reaped some of the rewards that many bands never come close to collecting. It's too bad then that Anatomy of a One Hit Wonder decided to narrow its focus so severely. Had it broadened it a bit, dealt with the group as a working entity instead of the people responsible for a once popular song, we'd have a real winner here. As it stands, Kings purists should immediately purchase a copy, if only to learn how a catchy little ditty became a heavy rotation radio standard. The Kings appear to be nice, if rather nondescript men (no disrespect implied or meant). This documentary mirrors them quite well.
Captured in full screen home video and mixed with a menagerie of mediums (old news clips, found footage, TV spots, American Bandstand segments and grainy concert material), the 1.33:1 4x3 presentation is perfectly ordinary. It's not major revelation, and several of the Q&A settings are rather indistinct. While far from polished and professional, this DVD doesn't look all that bad.
The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix does a decent job of keeping everything understandable, though the internal microphone via camcorder recording method used does render some of the conversations fuzzy and indistinct. The music comes across with a lot of muscle, though a more full bodied sound could have been achieved via a fleshed out, remastered multichannel presentation. Still, for what this disc has to offer, the aural aspects of Anatomy of a One Hit Wonder are fairly decent.
Of the 112 minute running time listed on the DVD cover, nearly an hour is taken up with the 15 music videos and concert clips provided here. For those who only know The Kings for "Beat/Glide", this will be a real eye opener. These guys were/are proficient at power ballads, pop gems, straight out rockers, and the occasionally clunker. The videos include the following: "This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide", "Clean Shot", "Because of You", "Don't Let Me Know", "It's Up to You", "If We Don't Belong Together", "Lessons to Learn", "The Longest Story Ever Told", "Your Old Boyfriends", "Parting of the Ways", "To Be in Love", "My Habit", "Bad Side of Town", "Cosmic Groove", "Switching to Glide/Partyitis".
You can't fault The Kings for being so upfront and friendly. Apparently, when it comes to this part of their career path, everything was coming up rock star roses. Whatever came before or after is left to our imagination, and if so inclined, a few hours with the Google search engine. Therefore, judging this solely on what is offered, the story of "This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide" deserves a well earned Recommended rating. Even in a superficial form, a Behind the Music like look is almost always engaging. Even better, the guys don't seem overly bitter or broken up about such a singular status. As one of them opines "at least they have the one hit. Many don't." Truer words have never been spoken in a rock and roll bio. It's one thing to know your place. It's another to pretend there's something more when the facts dictate otherwise. While they will remain a sonic footnote in the lengthy history of popular music, that made their mark. And thanks to this film, many will get the chance at reminding themselves how bubbly and fresh it all seemed.
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