As I type this review, I’m looking up on my wall at a framed set list from the second time I saw King’s X live (out of 4 times total). King’s X are one of the biggest musical influences in my life, and I’ve been following their music for almost 20 years at this point.
So when I was given the chance to review King’s X: The Oral History, part of me thought, “What am I going to learn from this? If I’m a King’s X fan already, aren’t I going to have a pretty good sense of the history of one of my favorite bands of all time?”
It turns out I was dead wrong. This book is an excellent narrative that presents the grand arc of the King’s X story from beginning to present, and includes details that I never knew. Even the information I already knew was presented as part of the larger story, and the context was crucial.
The book begins with a foreword from Scott Ian from Anthrax, which presents the Big Question of King’s X that is almost a tired trope at this point: why didn’t King’s X get bigger than they did? What held them back? Ian’s answer is somewhat refreshing and surprising – they regularly pack clubs with loyal, cheering fans who absolutely love them, almost 4 decades after they started playing. In this day and age, isn’t that the definition of success?
With that bit of eye-opening perspective out of the way, the book goes on to tell the grand story of King’s X. It is set up chronologically, starting with the early days of the band when they were called The Edge and then Sneak Preview, and then follows their history mostly by album after Out of the Silent Planet. It’s set up in the form of interviews with members of the band, as well as close associates.
Once I got started into the story, I couldn’t put the book down. The way the narrative builds is truly impressive – I was shocked at how much effort, bonding, work, and experience these guys had gotten even before they were calling the band King’s X. Suddenly certain things about the band made sense for me, such as their fierce protection of their musical integrity, even when it made marketing an uphill battle. The band had sacrificed so much by the time they were recording albums that it would’ve felt like a waste to sell out at that point.
Because the book is organized by album, it’s easy to either skip to read about the creation of your favorite albums, or just read through as a narrative. Each album chapter has subsections for songs, so you learn something you didn’t know about your favorite song(s). For me, this meant “Happy” from Tape Head, and “Black the Sky” and “Pillow” from Dogman.
After the chapters about the individual albums, the book delves into additional stories and context about each individual member of the band, their relationships, and their solo albums. This is where a lot of the sad, melancholy, and sweet stuff that King’s X fans love to talk about really comes full circle. I think the difference between a good band and a great band – the difference between a band with songs you like, and a band that earns your loyalty – is the stories. Once you feel invested in each member of the band, the whole thing takes on a new gestalt (as we say in the psychology business). By the time you’ve made it to this part of the book, you’ve seen how the band is greater than the sum of its parts.
King’s X is known as a “musician’s band” or a “band’s band.” As a teenager in the late ’90s, I yearned to find other fans of the band in my hometown, and the only place I ever consistently found King’s X fans was at guitar shops and record stores. Prog fans know the drill. But to assuage my heartbreak that King’s X never hit it big, my favorite chapter, toward the end of the book, was a list of quotes from musicians on the legacy and influence of King’s X. The cast of interviewees they were able to get for quotes was pretty impressive: Mick Mars, Wally Farkas, Nuno Bettencourt, Mike Portnoy, John Myung, Billy Corgan, Kip Winger… the list goes on.
Let’s get this out of the way: every King’s X fan needs a copy of this book.
What about casual fans of the band? I think this book may just transform casual fans into loyal, hardcore fans – the kind who sing “Goldilox” at every show. The book gives you all the ingredients necessary to realize why Vernon Reid said that King’s X should be “the biggest band in the world.”
To order your copy of King’s X: The Oral History, click this link.