Perhaps the best-known “should have been huge” band of them all, King’s X stormed out of Texas in the late-1980s, seemingly fully-formed and poised to be the next big thing in rock. In truth, bassist dUg Pinnick, guitarist Ty Tabor, and drummer Jerry Gaskill – all of whom share vocal duties to some degree – first played together in Springfield, Missouri back in 1980 as The Edge. After relocating to Houston and hooking up with manager Sam Taylor – formerly of the ZZ Top organization – the newly christened King’s X signed to Megaforce Records, releasing their debut album in 1988.
Despite seemingly endless accolades and a bona fide hit with “It’s Love” in 1990, massive success never materialized. Still, despite the setbacks, the band soldiers on, outlasting many of their peers by cultivating a devoted fan base through constant touring and a series of fascinating records that still continues. Here is our ranking of the band’s impressive catalog.
There exist several distinct phases in the recording career of King’s X, and this offers a convenient way to group their records. After the unceremonious end to their time with Atlantic Records, Brian Slagel offered a lifeline by signing them to Metal Blade and essentially letting them do whatever the heck they wanted. After the newfound freedom of Tape Head and wild experimentation of Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous, they finally seemed to be at a bit of a loss. In a bid to spark some creativity, Tabor started messing around with Acid – software that allowed easy creation of sample loops. King’s X and loops? One could just imagine the prog-rock purists’ heads exploding in disgust.
For the most part, though, those loops only introduce the tunes, and by the time the live instruments storm in, they are essentially buried in the mix. So as a songwriting device, they served their purpose. But Manic is perhaps the most inconsistent entry in the catalog. Despite that, the album still contains several tracks that could make a “best of” compilation, including the hard funk of “The Other Side,” gorgeous ballad “False Alarm” and “Believe” – featuring Pinnick’s patented “here’s some words I need to hear” lyrics that resonate universally (for maximum impact, check out his extended sermon during the live version from 2004’s Live All Over The Place).
Recommended track: “Believe”
Before they were King’s X, they released an album as Sneak Preview, and promptly tried to bury all traces of its existence. But by the end of the Manic Moonlight tour cycle they were now well and truly out of ideas. But like any good legacy act, when you run out of ideas, why not mine your own back catalog? Which is exactly what they did here, rearranging and re-recording some old favorites from the pre-King’s X days, in their now-favored drop tuning, along with a few new-ish Pinnick tunes.
Despite the added crunch and bottom-end, there’s some serious cheese going on here, “Rock Pile” being an especially grievous example, but the title track could easily hold its own on Dogman. In the end, the sheer joy they seem to be having revisiting their past is what elevates this above Manic Moonlight, and sets the stage for their late-career creative resurgence.
Recommended track: “Black Like Sunday”
Freed of the major label machine, they decide to self-produce their first Metal Blade release, as well as take a fresh approach to songwriting. All prior King’s X records consisted of songs worked up from individual members’ nearly-complete demos, but on Tape Head they opted to write together. The result is a stripped-down, relaxed effort, with more focus on simplicity and groove than anything else in their discography.
For some fans, Tape Head lands at the top of the list, but I distinctly remember being underwhelmed at the time of its release, given how stark and “small” it felt in comparison to everything that came before. However, time has been kind, revealing the beauty of settling into a killer groove as well as revealing a band that finally felt comfortable in their own skin. Don’t miss the spine-tingling vocal shout from Pinnick on the final verse of “Ono.”
Recommended Track: “Ono”
The second of two releases from the producer Michael Wagener era, XV follows up on the renewed vigor of Ogre Tones with a better sounding (especially the drums) but more uneven effort. “Pray,” “Alright,” and “Go Tell Somebody” alone should have been enough to catapult XV to the head of the class, but a few lackluster cuts, including a few half-baked “bonus tracks” (Why did CD’s have bonus tracks? What makes them “bonus?”) cause the latter half to sag a bit. Perhaps not coincidentally, it would be 14 years until King’s X released another studio album…
Notably, XV contains the first contribution by drummer Jerry Gaskill since 1996’s Ear Candy with the brief, Beatlesque “Julie,” and Ty Tabor’s “I Don’t Know” features a gorgeous David Gilmour-ish solo and an outro that showcases heavenly vocal harmonies that harken back to the Sam Taylor years.
Recommended Track: “Alright”
Working with an outside producer for the first time since Ear Candy (legendary heavy metal helmsman Michael Wagener) resulted in a fine return to form after the wilderness of the Metal Blade years. Though a tad long, Ogre Tones teems with a sense of release and reinvigoration, even going so far as to include updated versions of an Ear Candy-era B-side, “Freedom,” and should’ve-been-a-smash “Goldilox” from their debut.
The focus here is on melody, with song after song daring you not to hum along. From stomping hard rockers like “Alone” and “Open My Eyes,” the Ty Tabor acoustic workout “Honesty,” to the dreamy, extended outro to “Sooner or Later,” every track gives the listener something to latch onto. Tellingly, this was the first tour since Ear Candy where they played almost every song from their latest album, and also the last one.
Recommended Track: “Open My Eyes”
Many King’s X faithful consider the first four, Sam Taylor-produced efforts the untouchable apex of the band’s output. While so many of the band’s trademark elements came into focus during this era – majestic vocal harmonies, killer grooves, fascinating forays into prog-rock, and overtly spirituality – sometimes there’s too much of a good thing. Slightly overstuffed, mainly due to the 10-minute title track, the production also suffers from a lack of dynamics from the over-compressed mix.
That said, FHL remains the best-selling disc in the band’s history as well as garnering their only hit single, the Tabor-sung “It’s Love.” Despite this, confusion over who is actually the lead singer and a Rolling Stone article that unfairly painted the band into the “Christian Rock” corner undid the positive momentum. The syncopated, synchronized workout that closes “We Were Born To Be Loved” still brings the house down at every gig.
Recommended Track: “We Were Born To Be Loved”
7. Three Sides Of One (2022)
From here on out we are in “no skippable tracks” territory, and it says something that after 14 years away, King’s X can release an album that falls into this category (not to mention, how many bands have released SEVEN albums without a dud?). The band is in full “White Album” mode here, with a record three Gaskill-sung tunes and several contributions from Tabor, making this their most musically and sonically diverse album.
In some respects, Three Sides Of One hits on the best parts of every King’s X era, from the groovy “Give It Up” to the psychedelic “All God’s Children.” “Nothing But The Truth” features Tabor’s best guitar solo since the self-titled album, and a clean, modern mix allows Pinnick’s stellar bass lines to shine throughout.
Recommended Track: “All God’s Children”
It’s difficult to prove exactly how much influence King’s X may have had on the grunge scene, but taking super-fans like Jerry Cantrell and Jeff Ament at their word, there’s little doubt that a certain degree of reverence and respect exists within that community. So in 1994, after a messy separation from producer/Svengalie Sam Taylor, the band leans hard into those connections, bringing “it” producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam/Stone Temple Pilots) on board to help King’s X make a real play for the big time.
Massive and far “dirtier” than their previous releases, Dogman strips King’s X down to its core. With shorter guitar solos, no lead vocals from anyone but Pinnick, and far less reliance on vocal harmonies, the band channel their pent-up rage at their former manager and close-calls with breakout success into the leanest and heaviest thing they’ve ever done. Alas, even a coveted slot during Woodstock ‘94 wasn’t enough to put things over the top.
Recommended Track: “Dogman”
It all began here, with what may be the most criminally overlooked debut hard rock album of all time. By the time of its release, Pinnick, Tabor and Gaskill had been playing together for eight years, and with producer/manager Sam Taylor’s guidance, all the elements were in place to create an album wholly unlike anything that had come before it. The heaviness of Black Sabbath, the Beatles’ melodic sense, the groove and soul of Sly Stone, and the progressive exploration of Yes; it seemed as if King’s X synthesized a new musical form out of everything great about rock music up to that point.
Their lyrical content perhaps contributed to King’s X being a “band out of time.” In 1988, amongst the casual misogyny and drug references from the likes of Guns ‘N’ Roses, and the bleak, nihilistic worldview espoused by the thrash metal scene, a band who sang openly of spirituality, soul-searching, and the “Power of Love” may not have exactly tapped into the zeitgeist.
Recommended Track: “Visions”
Something of a retreat from the indulgences of Faith Hope Love, the fascinating thing about the eponymous fourth album is how it points directly to where the band was heading with Dogman, straining against the sound they had built over the previous three albums, like a caged cheetah that knows how fast it could run if left to its own devices.
So fewer lead vocals from Tabor, reaffirming Pinnick’s place as the voice of King’s X, meatier riffs, and no songs past the five minute mark, but still wrapped in the epic lushness that defined their previous efforts. For my money, King’s X is a “best of both worlds” record, essential listening for those who equally love both the Sam Taylor and Dogman eras of the band.
Recommended Track: “Lost In Germany”
The most divisive release in the King’s X catalog, fans tend to love it or hate it – which is not a completely unreasonable stance, because this is a weird record. The title alone certainly gives one pause, but then again, nonsensical titles are kind of their thing. Coming on the heels of the relatively straightforward Tape Head, Mr. Bulbous was a shock to the system, and a welcome one for those of us who felt left a little flat by the former.
Released amongst significant personal turmoil (Tabor’s divorce, Pinnick’s recent coming out and subsequent pilloring by the Christian community that had previously embraced the band), them, Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous is both the darkest and most wildly experimental King’s X album. Recorded with the guitar and bass tuned way down to A, you get treated to spoken word poetry from Gaskill (“Fishbowl Man”), stream-of-consciousness lyrics (“Charlie Sheen”), and the Korn-meets-Goo Goo Dolls experiment of “Smudge.” Closing out this collection of oddities, though, are two of the most emotionally devastating tracks in the band’s history: Tabor’s heart-wrenching farewell to his wife, “Bittersweet” and the two-part “Move Me” – a soulful plea to the heavens for help making some sense of this life.
Recommended Track: “Move Me (Part 1)”
After the disappointing sales of Dogman, which couldn’t even be saved by opening slots on tours with Pearl Jam and Motley Crue, in addition to the aforementioned Woodstock ‘94 appearance, the band retreated back to the studio, since they still owed Atlantic another record. Musically and sonically, the psychedelic “beatle” embedded in the cover art provides the first clue as to their next musical direction.
Recorded with Our Lady Peace producer Arnold Lanni, Ear Candy found the band reigning in the aggressive grunge tendencies in favor of a warmer, more traditionally “King’s X” sound, as evidenced by the return of a Tabor lead vocal on the verses of opener “The Train,” with Pinnick taking over on the chorus – harkening back to “In The New Age” from their debut. The following two cuts, acoustic stomper “Thinking and Wondering (What I’m Gonna Do)” and the heavy groove of “Sometime,” resonated a universal level, through Pinnick’s frustration with feeling stuck in life and acknowledgement that sometimes you just don’t know – and that’s ok. To this day, King’s X communicates this better than just about any artist in rock. Sadly, lack of promotion or marketing of any kind meant this inspirational record was dead on arrival. However, released of their contractual obligations, the band was free to sign with Metal Blade and take control of their career.
Recommended Track: “Sometime”
Released in 1989 to acclaim from influential musicians like Anthrax’s Charlie Benante and Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, with Kerrang Magazine claiming, “In five years, there won’t be venues big enough to hold them,” the second album from King’s X seemed to position them for world domination. Obviously, this was not to be, but that still doesn’t detract from what remains both a career defining effort and one of the most singularly unique, diverse, and inventive records in the history of rock music.
And therein lies the problem – too heavy for most pop music fans, too melodic and uplifting for most metal fans, and too “diverse” for the mostly-white rock audiences in the ’80s (I’m being polite, but Pinnick has intimated as much in a recent interview), even I admit that on first listen, my reaction was, “this is too weird.” The guitar sound alone is unlike any other, then add in a 12-string bass, sitar, celestial vocal harmonies, and soulful, gospel-infused lead singing, and for the average rock fan, this was all a bridge too far. Which is a shame, because picking one key track from Gretchen is near impossible. Do you like a heavy groove and gospel vocal harmonies? Try “Everybody Knows A Little Bit of Something.” Spacey, heavy rock psychedelia? Go for “Pleiades.” Gorgeous ballad? “Summerland.” Prog rock workouts? “I’ll Never Be the Same” – and you won’t be after spending time with this masterpiece.
Recommended Track: “Over My Head”