It was with the best of intentions that The Kings embarked on the journey of making their second album. The band, management (Randy Phillips in L.A., Gary Pring in Toronto), Ezrin and Elektra were all pleased with the success of The Kings Are Here and everyone was excited about the future. Little did they know that this project was going to be The Kings’ Waterloo.
At this point in time The Kings had been doing a lot of road gigs in the U.S. and Canada and new songs were being written in hotel rooms and rehearsed at sound checks before the shows. Tapes were being sent to some of the Elektra people and the feedback was positive. At one point Ezrin had mentioned that he had heard that the science fantasy magazine Heavy Metal was going to be making an animated feature film and so Diamond and Zero wrote the song Amazon Beach which might have looked great animated but this failed to happen and it is doubtful that the producers of the film ever heard the song. However it had a good riff (Listen to The Fly by U2 and see if the riff sounds familiar.) and kind of a cool concept so it became the title of the album.
It is hard to determine when this project started going off the rails but one of the clues was in the choice of studios. Nimbus 9 had closed by this point and for some reason Ezrin decided to go to Phase One Studio where he wanted to set up shop and have a home base. He was also producing Murray McLaughlin at this time (this is mentioned in Murray’s book ) and also getting ready to produce KISS again. He moved in and put all his gold and platinum records on the wall which was quite a few and looked very impressive. He also put in some office space for his secretary and himself and as well had a trailer put in the back parking lot for a getaway spot.
This choice of studio was unfortunate for The Kings because whereas Nimbus was in a great part of downtown Toronto, Phase One is in an industrial area accessable only by car. The facility itself was fine but the atmosphere was practically non-existant. This meant no stepping outside for a snack and admiring all the women like the band liked to do in Yorkville. Food had to be brought in and next door was a place that cut stone for decorative purposes. It got noisy and dusty in the parking lot as a result, not the most fun environment. By the way this part of Toronto is called Scarborough or more often Scarberia.
Also there was something going terribly wrong at the rehearsals. The Kings will always be the first to say how much Ezrin had helped in the making of Are Here. His input was crucial to the band and the lessons he taught were of absolute importance to the success of that album. Everything they knew about making real records came from him. This was not lost on the band, they knew how much Ezrin had helped change their lives. This inspired all the guys to try harder and Sonny, Max, Dave and Zero really hunkered down and worked on the new songs using Ezrin-like methods of getting rid of bad ideas and fine tuning the hooks so that the songs flowed from one part to the next. What this meant (in the band’s minds) was that when they got into rehearsal Ezrin started changing things that did not need changing. The songs Got Two Girlfriends, All the Way, Why Don’t Love Do, The Fools Are In Love and Surprizes all ended up different than they started and since Ezrin was the boss The Kings had to go along even though they knew it was a bad idea. They tried and tried to convince him how valid their ideas were to no avail. These changes in arrangements and song structures were making the band crazy and there was nothing they could do. As an example if you have a copy of Amazon Beach (not that many people do) listen to the chorus of All the Way. You will notice that it goes All the Way, All the Way did the two of you go All the Way. The original idea was just one All the Way did the two of you go All the Way. Putting in two of them puts a skip in chorus making it repeat but the beat is lost and the song loses momentum. Granted it is a hook but it is not as good as the simpler one which was already there. The song also had the lyric All the Way at the end of the chorus so it wasn’t like there was a shortage of title hooks. It is the little things like this that can make a song good or not as good and the band was worried. As another example the chorus in the song Surprizes was originally at the same fast tempo as the verse which made it a flat out rocker. Ezrin’s idea was to cut the chorus to half-time and then bring it back up to speed again. This really knocked the tune on its behind and killed the rocking momentum the song needed to be true to its trashy punk roots.
On top of all that going on was the idea to put a “Playlet” at the beginning of All the Way. This involved the sound recording of a guy getting up from his morning coffee and going for a ride on his motorcycle. The engineer and good guy Rick Hart had fun doing this but clearly this kind of thing was more at home on a Pink Floyd record than it was with The Kings.
When you add in the fact that Ezrin was also working on those two other projects you get the picture how thin his time and energy were getting spread. As a result the album ended up with two fewer songs because time was running short. One of these was When I Was Young, a cover version of the Animals classic. This can be heard in a live context on Party Live in ’85 and it could have been a great addition to Amazon Beach.
On top of all this going on was the addition of another producer being brought in while Ezrin was busy doing other things. Charles Harrison Kipps was an okay guy but did not have the chops or the authority to add anything to the proceedings. Anything he did try and do usually got re-done by Ezrin anyway so the band started saying “Well, that was a Kipper, not a keeper.” Add to all this the fact that Ezrin was late for the sessions on a regular basis and everyone had to wait for an hour or two because nothing went on tape without his approval and you get a mere glimpse of how nutty it was getting. One time the band was late and he blew out the whole day. What happened next was as another band might say another brick in the wall. Instead of finishing the record by going to California and doing the mixes there, it was decided that a mobile unit would be brought up from the U.S. and parked at Ezrin’s farm located just north of Toronto. This was also a mistake because this unit was not the stuff of which good dreams are made and it had nowhere near the technical standards or equipment that any good place in L.A. would have.
What was a frustrating time for The Kings was about to get even worse when the mixes of the album were sent to Elektra. The phone calls back were along the line of “What has happened to the songs that we heard on the demos? Where did the hooks go? Why is this record falling apart?” Randy Phillips, the American manager for the band was getting really concerned and one of the Elektra execs flew north for a meeting with all the guys.
It was coming to a showdown and The Kings were at an impasse. It was time to decide who to stick with: the producer who got them into the big time record business or the record company who held the keys to the future of the band. The Kings had to go with loyalty to Ezrin because they figured they owed him that. He was the reason they were in this place and this was a loyal band. If anyone out there reading this ever gets caught in a situation like this, you should always go with the record company. These are the people that have to market your music, they control all the money and if they don’t believe in a project they can make it disappear without a trace. How can anyone get behind something they don’t believe in?
Then there is the story behind the album’s artwork. The band thought it might be fun to have a cartoon like cover with the Amazon idea featured showing some women on a body of water with a cityscape in the background. The proofs of this were following the band as they were on the road and some of the early versions were really bad and missed the point entirely. The back cover shot of the band had been taken on a freezing cold day in June on the Toronto waterfront with great care being used to frame the shot so that the eyesore C.N. Tower was nowhere to be seen. It is not a bad looking city if you remove the tower but it is hard to do. The interior sleeve shot was taken at Dave and Zero’s apartment.
One of the proofs had cartoon women that were all really bad looking! It was like a bunch of over the hill biker chicks on some bad dope had taken over the city. The Kings wanted sexy fantasy type women that matched in composition the band shot which was to be the back cover. Finally the right one caught up with the band while on a west coast swing and they okayed it. Then the record came out with one of the girls heads blocking a large piece of the word KINGS. The bad vibes just kept on coming.
All the friends The Kings had at Elektra Records could not save this album. Not Marty Schwartz (the exec who flew up and tried to scrap the work that had been done and start over), not Barry Lyons or Janice Azrack or Marvin Gleicher. The decision had been made to put it out and that is what happened. The reviews were not good and All the Way, the first single with that dumb motorcycle sound effect sank like a stone taking with it what was left of The Kings U.S. major label career. It was a huge disappointment for The Kings and they were amazed when Elektra decided to go ahead with the third album.
One night in a hotel room in Chicago, Ken Buttice, the A&R (Artists and Repetoire) man who had signed the band to the label asked The Kings if they wanted to go to L.A. to live for awhile, find a new producer and make another record for Elektra. The band had always loved California and the answer was yes. The next chapter in “The Longest Story Ever Told” (David Diamond’s pet name for The Kings’ saga) was about to unfold leading to more fun and disaster.
Amazon Beach is long out of print. On a Canadian tour in the mid 1990s the band found a copy of it in a used record store in Winnipeg. The store manager was nice enough to make a cassette copy for the band van and after one listening heading west it sailed out the window and became a part of the great Canadian landscape. Any of the songs from that album that are still in the set list for The Kings is played in its original arrangement.