In those halcyon days of television variety, when ABC’s The Hollywood Palace rubbed shoulders with CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show, it wasn’t hard to spot the music-making King Family. After all, the ensemble was more than 30 members strong, consisting of big band sweethearts The King Sisters, guitarist Alvino Rey, and some 32 brothers, sisters, children, wives, aunts and uncles. Following much-talked-about appearances on Hollywood Palace, The King Family went on to headline its own variety show for the network, first from January 1965 to January 1966, and then from March to September 1969. The family also starred in 17 syndicated specials, guested on talk and game shows, and recorded a number of albums for Warner Bros. Records (reissued a few years back by the Collectors’ Choice label). It wasn’t long before The Four King Cousins – daughters of The King Sisters – spun off from the larger unit. Sisters Tina Cole (lead singer and star of television’s My Three Sons) and Cathy Cole Green, and their cousins Candy Conkling Brand and Carolyn Thomas Cameron, came into their own. Today, the winsome quartet with the exquisitely sparkling harmonies is back together. A retrospective concert is scheduled for November 6 at Hollywood’s Catalina Jazz Club, and a new CD of never-before-released archival recordings, More Today Than Yesterday: Classic Songs of the ’60s and ’70s (Polly O. Entertainment, no cat. no., 2013) is now available.
The group actually began life as The Five King Cousins when they appeared on NBC’s summer version of the famous Kraft Music Hall in 1966, but when Jamie Conkling left the group to pursue her education, Five became Four. In 1968, The Four King Cousins signed to Capitol Records, where The King Sisters had recorded memorable music a decade earlier. Introducing The Four King Cousins was produced, arranged and conducted by another King cousin – Lex de Azevedo, son of King Sister Alyce King Clarke. His diverse credits included The Human Beinz, The Outsiders, and Laurindo Almeida, and for his cousins, he styled a soft-pop gem that compares favorably to the genre’s most enjoyable records. That album found the Four King Cousins applying their smooth and bright four-part harmonies to breezily orchestrated songs from the contemporary songbook by Bacharach and David (“This Guy’s in Love with You,” “Walk On By”), Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Liebling (Lesley Gore’s hit “California Nights”), The Beatles (“Here, There and Everywhere,” “Good Day Sunshine”) and The Beach Boys (“God Only Knows”). It may be most notable for including fine renditions of two songs composed by one of sunshine pop’s rightful high priests, Roger Nichols of Small Circle of Friends fame: “Love So Fine” with lyrics by Tony Asher and “I Fell” with lyrics by Paul Williams.
The cousins maintained a busy slate of television and live appearances including performances at Walt Disney World’s oft-remembered Top of the World nightspot, and recorded another album for the Japanese market in 1976 (The Way We Were, on the Playboy/Trio Records label). But other than the now-out-of-print reissue of Introducing The Four King Cousins on Cherry Red’s él label in 2006 and a Japanese release from the same year, the group has been largely overlooked in the CD era. That disc now commands high prices secondhand, but you can hear a number of songs from the same vintage on the new collection More Today Than Yesterday.
Hit the jump for more!
The 14 tracks on More Today Than Yesterday have been newly remastered from the tapes existing in the King Family archives. These songs were originally recorded for the Family’s TV series and specials between 1968 and 1976, and boast the high production values one would expect from variety programs of the era. Like Introducing the Four King Cousins, this new rarities compilation walks the line between “easy listening” and sunshine pop, though there’s nothing at all easy about the delectable vocals or the deceptively simple sophistication of the compositions from songwriters like Tony Hatch and Burton Lane. None of the songs are reprised from that Capitol LP, so the result is a very much a “new” album by the quartet.
A number of tracks were arranged by Lex de Azevedo in 1968-1969 and are very much of a piece with his contemporary-themed work on Introducing the Four King Cousins. These include groovy takes of the Spiral Starecase’s 1969 hit “More Today Than Yesterday” and The Turtles’ chart-topping “Happy Together,” as well as the ebullient “Happy Heart.” The latter went head-to-head on the charts in 1969 with both Petula Clark and Andy Williams issuing the song as a single. Had The Four King Cousins recorded their charming version for 45 release, they, too, might have dented the charts with it. De Azevedo was also responsible for the chart to the exuberant “Move in a Little Closer, Baby,” best known in its recording by “Mama” Cass Elliot. Dick Grove’s charts were of a piece with de Azevedo’s, and he handled The Cousins’ brassy 1969 stab at another Petula Clark hit, Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent’s “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love,” as well as a snappy version of Spanky and Our Gang’s “Lazy Day.”
Tight, dreamy harmonies enhance a brisk treatment of The Beatles’ “Your Mother Should Know,” sung in tribute to The King Sisters who were singing on Capitol years before The Fab Four. The King Cousins interpolate snippets of big-band staples like “In the Mood” and refers to the likes of “The Jersey Bounce” (a No. 1 in 1942 for Benny Goodman) and Bobby Troup’s “Route 66.” A 1969 recording of “What Now My Love” begins with a nicely subdued solo piano accompaniment, a diversion from the bigger productions on the disc. It’s one of a couple of “adult” standards here; the other is the collection’s opening track, Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane’s 1965 title song to their Broadway musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever arranged by Grove.
Best of all might be “Leavin’ It All Behind,” from the 1971 special The King Family in San Francisco. The upbeat tune was written for the Four King Cousins and is very much of its time in the best sense of the expression. “Open up your eyes, take a look at the world around you, don’t you want to lend a helping hand? Try it on for size, you’ll be glad the feeling found you, come along and join in with the band,” they invitingly purr on this upbeat, infectious slice of sunshine pop deliciously arranged by James Argiro. From that same special comes More Today Than Yesterday‘s bonus track, a solo performance by Tina Cole of David Gates’ baroque Bread ballad “Look at Me.” The most recent track on the collection is 1976’s “I Write the Songs.” The Bruce Johnston song was arranged by Emmy Award-winning composer Richard Bellis for the occasion. To his credit, the arrangement doesn’t ape Barry Manilow’s hit version which hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in January of that year.
More Today Than Yesterday is housed in a digipak containing an uncredited two-page essay reflecting on the group’s history, as well as mod photographs of The Four King Cousins in black and white and full color, past and present. Kudos go to the compilers for readily admitting on the rear artwork that “variances in sound quality may be present throughout the disc” despite remastering from the best available sources. Indeed, though the sound isn’t always impeccable, it’s eminently listenable. Moreover, it doesn’t deter from the sweet and sublimely sung performances. This warm, nostalgic and melodic trip to yesteryear from The Four King Cousins should certainly bring a smile – or four(teen)!
- On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)
- More Today Than Yesterday
- Lazy Day
- Happy Heart
- Tell All the World About You
- Your Mother Should Know (Tribute to the King Sisters)
- I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love
- What Now My Love
- Happy Together
- Move In a Little Closer, Baby
- Leavin’ It All Behind
- Bridge Over Troubled Water
- I Write the Songs
- Look at Me – Tina Cole (Bonus Track)
All tracks previously unreleased.