As human beings, we often associate music, particularly influential albums that touch us in inexplicable ways, with specific moments or time's of great upheaval in our lives. A classic example from my own experience was my comical introduction to heavy metal overachievers Kingdom Come.
It was September of 1988 and I was sound asleep, trying to avoid facing another day of public high school. In the room next door, my brother Rick was also peacefully unaware of his approaching workday down at the gas station garage.
Suddenly his alarm clock, the most deafening, annoying, electronic device ever constructed, announced via the excited voice of a 98.7 WLLZ DJ that it was time to get up.
“FOLKS!” This DJ exalted at the top of his lungs. “WE HAVE FOUND A BAND THAT SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE LED ZEPPELIN. I MEAN, EXACTLY LIKE LED ZEPPELIN !!”
Rick was in his party all night, work all day heyday, which meant he often slept right through the Guinness Book of World's Record winner for world's loudest alarm clock.
“THIS IS AN AMAZING NEW BAND CALLED KINGDOM COME WITH THEIR SINGLE 'GET IT ON!”
A riff that sounded suspiciously like Jimmy Page's cousin or roadie had videotaped him drunk in the studio, then modified Kashmir's main riff by altering two notes, now BLARED full blast out of the alarm clock's twin speakers.
My eyes opened.
“RICHARD!!” Our mother bellowed so loud we could actually hear her over the radio, despite her location in the upstairs bedroom.
The song, a orgiastic sexcapade, dragged me forcibly out of deep slumber. Who the hell was this?
The track had been purposely leaked to several radio stations across the states to fuel anticipation, and the ploy worked like a charm. Rumors spread like wildfire. Could the impossible have happened ? Had the highlight of my musical life, arrived so early? Zeppelin reformed ?
Suddenly mom's voice was much closer. In fact it was screaming down the stairs at parental speed.
“RICHARD TURN OFF THAT #*&$)*#& ALARM CLOCK AND GET OUT BED!! YOU'RE GONNA BE LATE FOR WORK!!”
“OK! MOM!!” Rick ignored mom's sincere threats to smash that radio with a hammer, and pulled a pillow over his head, promptly returning to dreamland. I, on the other hand, had to be up and out, standing at the end of the driveway to catch 'the twinkie'.
This was the age before Internet web browsers. B.G. 'Before Google'. Nowadays, if you hear even the most obscure track, sooner or later, you can locate the band, the song, and their thoughts on Stacey Keach online. Our Internet in 1988 was word of mouth, MTV, and 'Harmony House'. On the bus I conferenced with the other music nerds to determine if anyone else heard this intriguing band that so closely resembled Zep. Some had and were firmly 'Kingdom Come' was a name Robert and Jimmy had created to appear overly clever.
Before everything went to hell, and big box retailers like Best Buy and douchebag-friendly Circuit City embarked on a campaign to bankrupt every privately-owned record store in Michigan, we had Harmony House. While admittedly still a chain, Harmony House was a smaller, friendlier version of Circuit City's CD racks. It may have employed the snobbiest music industry know-it-all's in Michigan: case in point the volcanic eruption of hysterical laughter from a sales clerk after I pleasantly inquired on where to find Rush's 'Signals' album. But, you could find just about anything there, and for a time they even devoted some space to local bands. Try finding that at Best Buy.
Back then, our idea of pirating music was called a tape deck. The sound was lesser quality, and was, quite frankly, a time consuming pain in the ass. So I actually used $10 birthday money, got a ride from a older cousin to the Harmony House in Pontiac, and bought (GASP!) a cassette of Kingdom Come's debut !
The other day, one of my younger coworkers in the corporate world asked me what a cassette was ?
Let's get the obvious out of the way. Yes, they were purposely trying to sound like Zed Zeppelin. Yes, from the very first opportunity afforded to them, they behaved like a bunch of coked up, hair metal douchebags. Yes, they deserved the nickname 'Kingdom Clone', and received one of the worst career backlashes since Jerry Lee Lewis decided his thirteen year-old cousin was marriage material. But upon revisiting this blistering gem, one must also admit, it's time for Kingdom Come to receive credit due:
It was the right album for the right time, and that time was high school.
High school is where most of us discover 'Whole LottaLove' for the first time and we all wonder exactly the same thing: why is that horny motherfucker singing an orgasm? Thus begins the so called 'Zeppelin Phase' where for a good three months, all you talk about is how beautiful it was the Page and Plant went acoustic on LZ III, how all you want to listen to is 'When The Leave Breaks' on Zoso over and over again, how 'In Through The Out Door' is Zepp's sell out album but 'In The Evening' is still a pretty good song, etc. You alienate every one of your friends by constantly referencing how amazing Zepp' are. They, of course, experienced this phase two full years earlier, and can only shake their heads now and sigh, while hiding their copy of the first Door's album.
Whether the stars aligned, or whether a younger Bob Rock instinctively knew how to bring out the best in vocalist Lenny Wolf, lead guitarist Danny Stage, and drummer James Kottak, there's a significant bit of cock rock magic in Kingdom Come's first album. German born Wolf is hardly a superb vocalist and one of my all-time candidates for worst hair in heavy metal. But he hits every note perfectly, without the assistance of auto-tune. Kottak channels the spirit of John Bonham, without overdoing it. Jason my have his Dad's spirit and genetics, but Kottak was suitable for mimicking the elder Bonham's majestic flourishes behind the kit. Lead guitarist Danny Stag reveals a fiery ability only hinted at in earlier work.
From the first riffs of 'Living Out of Touch', to the last echoes of 'Shout It Out', KC's self-titled debut will carry you through your workday song by song. Critics continue to scoff so I point to the album highlight 'The Shuffle' for evidence. This tracks kicks off with a seductive riff that seems to fold in on itself like a collapsing black hole, then escape mysteriously as Kottak's drumming enters at just the right moment.
'Get It On'was not only the first single and the band's introduction, it was a tribute to backstage orgies, an announcement that we are Kingdom Come and we intend to fuck everybody in this room. Stag makes the solo rise and fall like the waves of an angry Lake Superior. And just when you think Kottak can't possibly carry the song any further, he pulls back from the edge and let's Wolf roar 'Get Itttttttt Onnnnn' one last time for good measure.
Certain songs were pure gold for stoking the flames of romance. Many a white trash bride conceived our current trailer park population with sappy ballad 'What Love Can Be' playing on the Sanyo they shoplifted from Kmart. The earnestness in Lenny's voice seemed destined to melt panties. (p.s. Ashley Jones, wherever you are in the world, I apologize!)
'Loving You' is the tour bus anthem. An examination of the nomad life out on the road playing music and seeing the country. Like kissing the back of an adoring fan's neck in the dark of the top bunk while the lead guitarist takes pictures, this bittersweet nugget of Bon Jovi-esque introspection is a shot of whiskey on a February morning in Detroit.
Only on 'Pushin' Hard' does the band break away from the Zep-worship format. The track locomotives front and back at a speed Zep rarely cared to reach, and only during the bridge does Wolf pretend he's onstage at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1975.
There really isn't a throwaway track on the album, thanks to producer Bob Rock's focus on highlighting the skills of each musician such as Stag's gifted soloing. While at the same time low, lighting their limitations, such as lyricism.
So they wanted to be Zeppelin in stead of just being Kingdom Come. I was never as concerned with that point as the rest of the world. These guys managed to create what should be considered a stellar tribute to the first truly great hard rock band ever. Fans of Vanilla Fudge and Cream, keep it to yourselves.
The Kingdom Come story eventually played out in typical hair metal fashion. Drugs, egos, and money split the band two two years later. They were kicked off the Scorpions 1989 tour for publicly confirming to the world that 'press conference food fights' and repeatedly 'borrowing' Klause Meine's stage are not good ideas when you're the opener.
Still you cant blame Wolf and company for recognizing an opportunity and seizing the moment. Look at the enormous popularity of Zeppelin's recent O2 reunion. It's 2010, Robert Plant is sixty-two (!!), and the band STILL enthralls fans and historians alike, as we continue to debate, decode, and decipher how Zeppelin were able to construct masterpieces like Physical Graffiti and Zoso. In 1987, it was no different, in fact we were likely more rabid for any kind of Zeppelin-like music. The 'No Quarter' collaborative efforts were still seven years away. The post Zeppelin sandwiches fans had to swallow in the eighties consisted of mediocre meat like Plant's 'Big Log' and Page's disappointing 'Outrider'. So you can imagine why Kingdom Come invited such attention and derision.
Who were these clever young upstarts to blatantly and boldly attempt to supplant Plant's lemon squeezing throne of rock wickedness? Simply the sum of the parts was capable of creating melodic hard rock, where the individuals floundered. They took advantage of their fifteen minutes, of their summer in the Sun, much the same as any of us would have.
Further works, such as the disappoint follow up (the childishly titled 'Kingdom Come - In Your Face') began to spiral inevitably downward as a lust for cocaine and internal friction took their toll. Their second album had perhaps two songs that achieved mediocrity and the rest were on par with Satan's toilet paper. Everyone quit, but Lenny conned enough suits over at Polygram Records to allow him the money for one more try. He used his last chance to release the staggeringly GODAWFUL 'Hands of Time' album in1991, a record so mind-numbingly terrible it makes John and Yoko's The Wedding Album look like Sgt.Pepper. The party was over. In the states, at least. Germany and Russia welcomed Wolf back with open arms. Against all sense and logic, he was able to score a German record deal and continue releasing musical crimes against humanity in the form of albums deceptively utilizing the Kingdom Come moniker.
But, it was never the same.
Hannah Bickson summarized it best when she dumped me, right outside algebra class, before strolling away hand in hand with senior football lineman Robert Bronfre.
“Blog," She said. "Whenever I hear 'What Love Can Be', I'll think of those afternoons on my parent's living room couch, while they were at work. You and all your weird notebooks. Why do you write so much ? It's really fucking weird.”
for the DRB