King's X: 35 Years of "Out of the Silent Planet"
The debut album by your favorite band's favorite band is celebrating a milestone anniversary.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. My apologies for sending it out a bit later than usual. Without getting into the weeds about it, I’m launching a business venture that has been requiring a lot of my time the last few weeks and it may even be necessary to take a week or two off from MRC, although I will try to avoid that if possible (because I value YOU, constant reader!) and will notify subscribers if that is going to happen.
Getting to this week’s story, it’s always fun to pry into how an artist feels about a debut album, especially one that is celebrating a momentous anniversary. Like anything else you did when you were younger, there are always those things you know you could have done better and several “what was I thinking?” moments when reflecting on virtually any topic. It’s no different with musicians, who evolve and hone their skills over time.
That’s where this week’s issue of MRC comes in.
I spoke with Doug (often stylized as “dUg”) Pinnick of King’s X about the band’s debut album, Out of the Silent Planet, which celebrated its 35th anniversary just a couple of days ago. He was kind enough to spend a generous amount of his time with me and he gave an earnest account of his feelings both then and now about this important record in his career.
Let’s get to that story.
I became vaguely aware of King’s X as a band during the glorious period of time when MTV played music videos. I suppose I liked what I heard from them, but their signal didn’t penetrate all the noise going on in the late 1980s and early 1990s for me. That, along with the fact that the band never became a huge commercial success, says more about the music industry than it does about King’s X.
The three-piece outfit, consisting of dUg Pinnick on bass and vocals, Ty Tabor on guitar and vocals, and Jerry Gaskill on drums and vocals, never made things easy on an already confused industry. King’s X never fit neatly into any specific musical box with the band’s eclectic mix of sounds. The trio combined some of the best elements of heavy metal, funk, soul, a little gospel, some progressive traits, and even proto-grunge, and then sprinkled some soaring, infectious, power pop vocal harmonies on top.
You’d scarcely know where to find them in a record store, so it’s understandable if radio stations were confused as to whether they fit any particular format.
As if that weren’t enough, King’s X’s lyrics were spiritual in nature, though not overtly religious, and with a debut album named after a C.S. Lewis novel, the band couldn’t avoid being labeled as a Christian rock band, which was not exactly a hallmark of commercial success.
All this is to say that the band didn’t get a lot of play and therefore flew under my radar for many years. I came to know their music much better in the early 2000s when I fell in love with progressive rock. King’s X isn’t a prog band any more than it is any other particular type of band, but the music does often take interesting and unexpected twists and turns, and heavy prog rock is as good a way to describe it as any. There is a lot going on in their songs and in a good way.
The band’s debut album, Out of the Silent Planet, came out in March of 1988, so it’s celebrating its 35th anniversary. Pinnick was already a veteran musician by the time his band, Sneak Preview, morphed into King’s X. The band was signed to Megaforce Records — a label with an emphasis on heavy metal and thrash metal. King’s X had some of those elements and Pinnick loved those genres, but that wasn’t all the band was about.
Sam Taylor, who had previously worked as a video producer with ZZ Top, sat in the producer’s chair for the album and Steve Ames engineered it. Pinnick said that Taylor was invested in making King’s X a success, and he put the band through their paces as if they were a basketball team, making them rehearse and practice songs over and over. He restored the three-part harmony sound to the band — formerly a four-piece — that had been a staple of their earlier sound by getting Gaskill to do vocals.
“Sam did make Jerry sing, which Jerry didn't sing before,” Pinnick said. “We had another guitar player with Ty (Kirk Henderson) and all three of us sang all the time. We had three-part harmonies going before we even moved to Texas and got a record deal. But when Kirk left — in 1983 I think it was — we became a three-piece band, and Ty and I still did our harmonies and stuff, but I did most of the lead singing. But then, when we got with Sam, Sam said ‘Jerry, you need to sing,’ and he just said it’s very important that we all sing. That’s just become a part of us now, and we got used to it.”
The band did itself no favors with its first musical statement. Out of the Silent Planet kicks off with “In the New Age,” which lives up to its name with a minute and a half intro of new age-y music that fits nowhere else in the Megaforce Records catalog. It was an odd statement for the band to make, and probably a much-too-long portion of the opening track is dedicated to it if we’re being honest. But, like everything else, King’s X just couldn’t do things the way a normal band would.
“That was pretty ballsy,” Pinnick said about the song’s 90-ish second new age intro. “I was concerned about it, but I was vetoed. I think that new age stuff is way too long. At that point, I would have took the record off and put another record on.”
After the long intro, “In the New Age” breaks into what sounds like the Beatles on steroids, with gorgeous power pop harmonies. Then Pinnick’s lead vocals come in, bringing a heavy soul element to the proceedings. It does wonders for telling listeners that this band is something special, but it has to be jarring on first listen to someone who picked up the album based on hearing the first single, “King.”
“That’s (the Beatles’) ‘She’s So Heavy’ meets Sly and the Family Stone,” Pinnick said of “In the New Age” as it sounds when it fully kicks in.
As if the opening track didn’t make it clear that King’s X was a tough band to pigeonhole stylistically, the second song is “Goldilox,” a metal ballad with incredibly beautiful three-part harmonies. Pinnick said the song was Tabor’s and that he never felt that his vocals captured the emotional connection with the song the way Tabor had on his original demo. That, along with Pinnick feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious about being under the microscope and being given constant (constructive) criticism during the recording process had an effect on him, particularly on what ended up becoming a fan favorite song.
“I remember doing ‘Goldilox’ and I got the track done, and Ty came in and didn’t like it,” Pinnick said. “He said I sounded like Tina Turner and I needed to lighten up a little bit on it. And so, I went back and sung that back differently, at which point I had lost my whole bearing on the song. And so I just sang what I felt they wanted me to, and that’s why I have a hard time listening to it now, because I didn’t own it from my standpoint. I look back now and go, ‘Oh, wow, it’s beautiful. What am I complaining about?’”
Pinnick said the band wanted “Goldilox” to be the first single from the album but the record label had some odd concerns about that.
“Somebody in the camp — the powers that be — decided they didn't want ‘Goldilox’ as the first single, because they thought we would get famous too quick,” Pinnick said.
For me, the heart of the album lies in the next two songs — “Power of Love” and “Wonder.” The former juxtaposes a sludgy, mid-tempo, metal riff against power pop vocals. The combination works well, as you get a little of the sweet as well as the tart.
“‘Power of Love’ I was just trying to do a Metallica thing. I was into Metallica and Sepultura at that time, and I just wanted some kind of a chunk song,” Pinnick said. “But I wanted it (like) if Metallica went to a Black gospel church, you know, and that’s what it turns into. You’ve got this three-part gospel harmony with a call and answer, and you’ve got this chunk underneath it.”
Pinnick shared that the late Pantera guitarist, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, told him that “Power of Love” was his favorite King’s X song.
“Wonder” is a slow march in the verses that goes through some twists in the recurring “chorus” sections, which has some grungy, chunky guitar. Gaskill’s drumming adds punch to the song. It was written last and came together quickly but it ended up being a powerhouse song on the record.
“We had finished all the songs and Sam said, ‘Okay, guys, write a song together. We need one more song. Just shit out a song,’” Pinnick recalled. “And Sam handed Ty an acoustic guitar, and Ty Drop D tuned it. And he started playing this riff and we just kind of fell in and built the song up. It happened so quick I don’t remember any of it other than how we started it and how it was ended. Even when I listen to it now, if I pull it out, I’m not attached to it. I just go, ‘Wow, where did we come up with that? That’s a lot of cool stuff going on in there that I don’t remember!’”
“Sometimes” has one of the album’s longer harmonized chorus vocal sections. There’s an almost a capella instance of it about two-thirds of the way through that spotlights those gang vocals well. Gaskill leans a bit on the cowbell in this one — that’s never a bad thing — and it’s one of my favorite Tabor guitar songs on the album, as it’s very heavy metal-meets-Texas-boogie. The song was co-written by someone named Marty Warren. I’d never heard of him so I asked Pinnick about the writing credit.
“Marty and Ty went to high school together and played guitar together. They learned to play together,” Pinnick explained. “They played very similar, and they’re very used to playing with each other, and they wrote a lot of songs together. Yeah, I don’t know why we never put Marty in the band. He’s a badass guitar player.”
The single “King” follows, and is incredibly catchy with its “You are the one” call-and-answer sections, and Pinnick’s soulful “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeahs” provide additional character.
The song has an interesting backstory because Pinnick originally wrote it like a Bow Wow Wow song, which might explain the infectious nature of the melody. But the finished song didn’t come close to sounding like the English new wave outfit.
“If you ever heard the demo, it sounds exactly like Bow Wow Wow,” he said. “The drums are the jungle thing that Jerry was playing. The guitar part is the same guitar part, but it had a lot of echo behind it like Bow Wow Wow. And Ty made the guitar parts distorted. With Bow Wow Wow, they’re clean. And I sang it like the girl who was in Bow Wow Wow (Annabella Lwin). I even played slap bass on it. Literally, it was a Bow Wow Wow poppy song.
“When we were in the studio, we were laying the track down and I remember in the middle of laying it down, I went, ‘Hey, we can’t do this. Let’s change it. Let’s make it heavy.’ I changed my bass part and I said, ‘Ty, just do whatever you want.’ And we kicked in and that happened, and we went, ‘Now I like that!’ You know, it has substance. It rocks. It kicks. It’s not goofy, new wave, dated rock.”
The run of songs from “Goldilox” through “King” is so strong that listeners can be forgiven if “What Is This?” and “Far, Far Away” don’t resonate quite as much, but that’s not to say they’re poor or forgettable songs. “What Is This?” has a low, deep tone that’s a bit grungy and dark, and it doesn’t climb out of that until Pinnick sings the chorus.
“Far, Far Away” has dreamy vocals built over a strong central riff. There are small, flourishes of middle eastern flavor sprinkled throughout the song, and a wild guitar solo. It gets bigger and louder as the song progresses into the last minute or so. Like “Sometimes,” it was co-written by Warren.
“Shot of Love” comes chugging at you like a train. Released as a single from the album, it has a great groove to it and a great singalong chorus.
“Visions” closes the album on a high note. The band hammers the listener with the song’s heaviness and then shifts it into a higher gear for a frantic ending.
“I remember just listening to metal and fast things and I thought, ‘Let’s put this fast part in this song and make it like a Black gospel church, you know, where they double-time everything, and people are dancing and jumping around, and the pastor’s jumping and shouting and screaming,’ That’s where it came from,” Pinnick said. “But I knew that it would work in the metal genre, because that’s how those drummers played. And so, I thought ‘Let’s stick that in the song.’”
Out of the Silent Planet wasn’t the commercial success that the band, Taylor, or Megaforce Records founder Jon Zazula may have envisioned, but it did chart. The album reached No. 144 on the Billboard 200. It was more of a critical success than a commercial one, with the British weekly hard rock magazine Kerrang! naming it album of the year. For that honor, it beat out the likes of Metallica’s And Justice for All, Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime, Bon Jovi’s New Jersey, and Van Halen’s OU812.
While the general public may never have completely warmed to King’s X — or have even been given the opportunity to do so — many musicians did. In addition to Dimebag Darrell, King’s X fans include the likes of Elliot Easton of the Cars and the late Joey Ramone was also an admirer.
Pinnick said his insecurities and a self-conscious streak kept him from enjoying the process of making records in the early days of the band — so much so that for many years he held no love for Out of the Silent Planet. But he has warmed up to it a bit more recently.
“I hated that record for years and years and years until about a year ago because I never play it,” he said. “I had a few drinks and smoked a bunch of weed. And I thought to myself, ‘You know, I'm gonna put this record on, put my headphones on, and just listen to it with an open mind. Just, come on dUg, you can do this. Stop hating this record.’ And I did. And for the first time I actually…I was blown away, because it was everything that I wanted it to be, but I didn’t realize it at the time.”
My advice to anyone who gives Out of the Silent Planet a go for the first time, is to listen to it at least twice more, even if you don’t think you like it upon your first listen. Like most King’s X records, it guards its secret treasures and reveals them slowly over time. The hooks are in there. The grooves are in there. And the funk, the metal, the rock, the gospel, and the soul are most definitely in there.
It’s a worthy addition to any rock fan’s collection.
To find out more about the band, visit KingsXRocks.com.
In the New Age
Power of Love
What Is This
Far, Far Away
Shot of Love
For my full interview with dUg, check out the video below or download/stream Episode 104 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. In addition to going track by track through most of Out of the Silent Planet, the veteran rocker discussed his musical roots, playing with Phil Keaggy, meeting Jerry Gaskill, and much more.
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