The King of Rock 'n' Roll

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"The King of Rock 'n' Roll"
Prefab Sprout The King of Rock 'n' Roll single cover.jpg
Single by Prefab Sprout
from the album From Langley Park to Memphis
B-side"Moving the River"
ReleasedMarch 1988 (1988-03)
Format7" vinyl
12" vinyl
CD single
GenrePop rock, Synth-pop, new wave
Length4:26
LabelKitchenware
Songwriter(s)Paddy McAloon
Producer(s)Thomas Dolby
Prefab Sprout singles chronology
"Cars and Girls"
(1988)
"The King of Rock 'n' Roll"
(1988)
"Hey Manhattan!"
(1988)

"The King of Rock 'n' Roll" is a single by English pop band Prefab Sprout, released by Kitchenware Records in March 1988. It was the second single taken from their album of that year, From Langley Park to Memphis. It remains the band's biggest success in their native UK, reaching No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart, where it spent 10 weeks.[1]

Composition[edit]

Paddy McAloon wrote "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" in February 1985 as a companion piece to another new song he wrote at that time, Cars and Girls. The lyric was prompted by an NME article about an Edwyn Collins gig where Collins covered Kevin Johnson's Rock and Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life). McAloon's dislike for songs with 'rock 'n' roll' in the title compelled him to write one of his own.[2] The song's lyrics concern a washed-up 1950s star who is only remembered for his one-hit novelty song, which is sung in the chorus ("Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque”). McAloon has described "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" as a purpose-built catchy song,[3] and Rolling Stone's David Wild has described the song as a "bouncy, seemingly upbeat pop tune" that "actually tells the rather barbed tale of a middle-aged one-hit wonder condemned to sing the same juvenile ditty over and over".[4] The song's commercial and singalong qualities are unlike the work Prefab Sprout were known for in 1985, and McAloon initially felt the song was of no use to his band. He changed his mind and felt a lighter song may surprise fans used to his work being "very precise and delicate".[5] That year he joked in an interview while promoting the album Steve McQueen "you won’t catch Prefab Sprout with a title like ‘King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’!"[6][7]

Recording[edit]

The song was recorded with Steve McQueen producer Thomas Dolby for From Langley Park to Memphis, one of four songs Dolby produced for the album.[8] Dolby couldn't commit to producing the entire album due to his work on the soundtrack for the critical and commercial flop Howard the Duck.[9] Dolby added a synth bass in the verses to mimic the sound of a bullfrog, tying them to the chorus.[10]

Release[edit]

The song entered the UK singles chart on 23 March 1988 at 77, eventually reaching two weeks at No. 7 from 28 April to 10 May. Ultimately, the song spent 11 weeks in the top 100, and remains the band's only top ten single. Paddy McAloon made an appearance on Channel 4's Wired on 13th May 1988, performing a solo acoustic version of the song in front of Grey's Monument in the centre of Newcastle.[11][12] The band promoted the single with mimed performances of the song on Top Of The Pops[13] and Wogan.[14] An unusual music video was produced for the song, featuring the band lying beside a pool and attended by a frog butler, a diver who is reluctant to jump into the pool until the end, and dancing human-size hot dogs.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Writing for Sound on Sound, Tom Doyle described the song as "naggingly catchy and knowingly daft".[9] In a 2013 Red Bull Music Academy article, Angus Finlayson implored readers to "listen beyond the nonchalant synth pop bounce, you may detect a note of poignancy in this tale of an aging pop star still dining out on the success of his first hit."[15]

McAloon would later point out the irony of a song about a one-hit wonder being his only top ten single. Paul McCartney told McAloon at one of his Buddy Holly-themed parties that the song was "your My Ding-a-Ling", a ribald novelty song written by Dave Bartholomew which was a UK and US No. 1 single for Chuck Berry in 1972.[4][16][17] The song was performed Prefab Sprout's UK and European tours in 1990, but was notably left out of their 2000 UK tour setlists.[18] McAloon has described himself as “reconciled to being remembered for that song” and "aware that it’s a bit like being known for Yellow Submarine rather than Hey Jude.”[3]

Track listings[edit]

7" vinyl single[edit]

Side 1

  1. "The King of Rock 'n' Roll"

Side 2

  1. "Moving the River"

12" vinyl single[edit]

Side 1

  1. "The King of Rock 'n' Roll"
  2. "Moving the River"

Side 2

  1. "Dandy of the Danube"
  2. "Tin Can Pot"

CD single[edit]

  1. "The King of Rock 'n' Roll"
  2. "Moving the River"
  3. "Dandy of the Danube"
  4. "He'll Have to Go"

References[edit]

  1. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 433. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  2. ^ Maconie, Stuart (20 June 1992). "Fop on the tyne". NME. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  3. ^ a b Thompson, Graeme. "Paddy McAloon: My daughter wanted me to be a fireman not a pop star". Express. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  4. ^ a b Wild, David. "Paddy McAloon: The Last Pop Genius". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  5. ^ Stubbs, David (6 February 1988). "All the way to Memphis". Melody Maker. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  6. ^ Jackson, Alan (6 February 1988). "The King of Rock 'n' Roll". NME. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  7. ^ Potter, Simon. "The Beat (HMV House Magazine) – Simon Potter, May 1985". Sproutology. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  8. ^ Lynch, Bobby (15 April 1988). "Records". Kerryman: 20. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  9. ^ a b Doyle, Tom. "Paddy McAloon: From Langley Park To Memphis (And Back)". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  10. ^ "The King of Rock 'N' Roll - Prefab Sprout - Song Info - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Sunday TV Guide". Bridgwater Journal: 5. 14 May 1988. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  12. ^ "Wired". Youtube. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  13. ^ "Top Of The Pops". Youtube. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  14. ^ "Wogan". Youtube. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  15. ^ Finlayson, Angus. "Prefab Sprout: The Kings of Rock 'n' Roll, Completely". Red Bull Music Academy. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  16. ^ Smith, Stephen. ""Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque": The pop genius behind the strangest lyric of the 1980s". BBC. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  17. ^ Karcher, Isabelle (August 1989). "Fab Songs". Best Magazine. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  18. ^ "The Ultimate Prefab Sprout Gigography". Sproutology. Retrieved 5 June 2019.

External links[edit]