King Missile, the alternative rock darlings of the collegiate circuit seemed to have not only actively pursued and courted fans of college music and the alternative scene but they managed to build and sustain their entire career on left of center lyricism and quirky odd ball pop tunes. The band formed in 1986 when wacky lyricist John S. Hall met and befriended Dog-bowl, who had formerly been a member of the Schizo-crats. After his father died in 1986, Hall received a $10, 000 inheritance that he was determined to squander on recording some of his and Dog bowl’s musical forays and the equipment associated with it.
Hall and Dogbowl hooked up with drummer Steve Danziger and decided to call themselves King Missile (Dog Fly Religion). The latter part of the band’s name was an invention of Dogbowl. King Missile then proceeded to work out a production and recording deal with the venerated alternative independent music producer Kramer. Kramer had just set up his new label Shimmy Disc and King Missile (Dog Fly Religion) were one of the first bands to record for his new label.
King Missile’s debut album, Fluting on the Hump, was released in 1987. Fluting on the Hump was followed the next year by King Missile’s second album, They. Dogbowl left left the band to pursue asolo career and to concentrate on other projects, after the release of They. After he left, Hall decided to drop the (Dog Fly Religion) part of the name since it was an invention of Dogbowl. By 1989, Danziger too had left, leaving Hall all by himself and forced with the unenviable task of searching for new members to fill out the line up for the second version of King Missile.
Hall’s new band was simply called King Missile. Hall recruited drummer Roger Murdock, keyboard and multi-instrumentalist Chris Xefos, and former Bongwa-ter guitarist Dave Rick. The new permutation of King Missile released its first album, and the third in the collective cannon of King Missile releases, in 1990. The album was entitled Mystical Shit. Mystical Shit was also packaged as a two in one album package deal with Fluting on the Hump released in 1990.
Mystical Shit contained the biggest college underground hit single of King Missile’s career up to that point, “Jesus Was Way Cool.” Hall’s humorously absurd lyrics were brought to a wider audience than ever before and the success of “Jesus Was Way Cool” served to hint at the madcap may them that lay ahead for King Missile. Hall ommented on his song writing to Rolling Stone’s Carl Arrington, “I wrote to protect my sanity. Orto regain my insanity. Just to make sure that I could straighten things out at night or in the morning when I woke up. I guess it started from emotional traumas. I found that if I wrote about it for long enough, it made me feel better.”
King Missile nearly broke up for the second time in its brief career after the release of Mystical Shit. Hall remarked on one of the web sites devoted to King Missile that, “Dave and Chris said they wouldn’t do another record for Shimmy. So if we hadn’t gotten signed [to Atlantic], we would n’t have survived.” Atlantic signed the group and King Missile survived afterall. King Missile’s first release for Atlantic was Way to Salvation, released in 1991. Commenting on the musical stylings of King Missile, Rick told Chuck Crisafulli of Guitar Player that, “since we’re supporting John’s different word pieces, it’s kind of hard notto do a genre-hopping thing. We just try to satisfy ourselves as players and have some fun on stage.”
The following year saw King Missile break out of the alternative college rock ghetto with the release of their second Atlantic album, Happy Hour. Happy Hour more than lived up to its name as it spawned the surprise cult-novelty hit “Detachable Penis.” As Hall related to Arrington, “Detachable Penis” was a long time in the making. Hall stated that “the idea started one night in a club in 1989, when I announced that our next single would be called ‘Detachable Penis.’ All I had was the title, but it got this big reaction from the
Members include Dogbowl (left group, c. 1989, rejoined, 1995); John S. Hall , vocals; Roger Murdock (1989–94), drums; Dave Rick (1989–94), guitar; Chris Xefos (1989–94), keyboards.
Group formed in New York, in 1986; signed to Shimmy Disc and released Fluting on the Hump, 1987;They, 1988; Mystical Shit/Fluting on the Hump, 1990; Mystical Shit, 1990; signed to Atlantic and released Way to Salvation, 1991, Happy Hour, 1992; King Missile, 1994; disbanded c. 1995.
crowd.” After musing and mulling over the concept for the song, Hall created the story behind the song and with musical collaborations from Xefos, Murdock, and Rick, “Detachable Penis” was born. Commenting further, Hall explained, “what I think is great about ‘Detachable’ is that it works on the lowest common denominator of writing. You can look at the words and see how they work. There are some stupid puns in it, but also all these undercurrents of uncertainties regarding masculinity and castration anxiety. That’s a constant theme in my work. Self castration, actually. Arms, legs, heads. It’s like this masochistic Christian martyr thing.”
The song “Detachable Penis” sold albums and lit up the radio airwaves. This was due, in no small part, to the somewhat obscenely taboo subject matter of the song. The second single from the album, “Martin Scorsese” was an oddly bizarre homage to the famous film director. It failed to ignite the charts as “Detachable Penis” had done. Despite this, Happy Hour became the most successful album of King Missile’s career.
An interlude of two years had passed before King Missile released their follow up to Happy Hour. During this interlude, the band toured for Happy Hour and worked on the songs that were to become their final album. The self titled King Missile was released in 1994 and by then, the band was starting to disintegrate. Tempers, tensions, and inter-band strife and stress were starting to flare up around the time of the making and release of King Missile. The album did not sell as well as its predecessor and subsequently Atlantic dropped King Missile. The band decided to disband after they were dropped. Elaborating on this in one of the King Missile web sites, Hall stated that, “we broke up after Atlantic dropped us because there was no reason for usto stay together. Nobody really liked being in the band, with the possible exception of Chris, who I think was the most reasonable and fairest member of the band. I know I certainly wasn’t.” Adding in another King Missile website interview, Hall said that, “the people in King Missile didn’t ever get along with me very well. The only reason King Missile stayed together as long as it did was that people kept buying the records and coming to the shows. As soon as they stopped, we did.”
After the demise of King Missile, Hall went back to his spoken word monologues and readings. He was accompanied by some musicians on these readings and he released a solo album called The Body Has a Head in 1995. Also around this same time, Hall reunited with Dogbowl and they conducted a 1995 King Missile (Dog Fly Religion) reunion tour and after that, laid the band to rest. On the legacy of King Missile, Halt told Arrington that, “my goal is to write in such a way that the songs can be followed on different levels. Like Dr. Seuss.”
Fluting on the Hump, Shimmy Disc, 1987.
They, Shimmy Disc, 1988.
Mystical Shit/Fluting on the Hump, Shimmy Disc, 1990.
Mystical Shit (includes “Jesus is Way Cool”), Shimmy Disc, 1990.
Way to Salvation, Atlantic, 1991.
Happy Hour (includes “Detachable Penis” and “Martin Scorsese”), Atlantic, 1992.
King Missile, Atlantic, 1994.
Guitar Player, October, 1994.
Rolling Stone, April 15, 1993.
“John S. Hall,” http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Towers/2441/interview.html (February 11, 1998).
“King Missile,” http://www.indiana.edu/wius/kingmisvu.html (February 11, 1998).
“John S. Hall,” http://www.jmu.edu/wxjm/oc1/johnshal.html (February 11, 1998).
—Mary Alice Adams