Jonathan King

King of Hits

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How do you even begin to digest something like this? Across no less than eight supremely budget-priced CDs, 175 songs offer up a compendium of virtually every record Jonathan King has ever made -- virtually, because there are omissions: his early-'80s medley of "Space Oddity" and "Major Tom, Coming Home," for example, and a few of his lesser B-sides ("Blanket Coverage," "Learned Tax Counsel"). But to sit and pinpoint the missing masterpieces is to nitpick beyond the call of duty. From "Green Is the Grass," the song that landed King his first record deal with Decca in 1965, and "Everyone's Gone to the Moon," the worldwide hit that introduced him to all, to the sporadic but still usually brilliant offerings that pocked his '80s and '90s, and via the Piglets, Shag, Hedgehoppers Anonymous, and the myriad other mad sidelights that have delighted King's subjects, King of Hits doesn't simply live up to its title, it makes a mockery of everyone else who might even try to claim that title. Even halfway-seasoned King-watchers will know what to expect here. Stylistically, the contents are all over the place, as King's eye for the main chance leads him through reggae, jazz, soul, country, funk, punk, and junk ("Crying Again" is a chilling observation of that latter subject's toll). His brief song-by-song liners give a glimpse into the thought processes that created the songs, but the main attraction lies in figuring it out for yourself. Why did he transform the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" into a country stomper? Why did "Deutschland Über Alles" strike him as the ideal theme for the 1972 Olympic Games? And why did he do such terrible things to Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights"? Of course, with so much on display, the box includes a lot of dross. But that, in some ways, is King's greatest talent -- he can draw you along with so much so-so mundaneness, then rip your skull off with a moment of deranged genius. There are more such moments here than you might be expecting. And don'tcha just love it? (Chick a boom, chick a boom.)