25 Years Ago: King’s X Release ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’
On June 27, 1989, an album bearing the head-scratching title, ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska,’ was quietly unveiled by a little-known Houston power trio sporting the nearly as cryptic name of King’s X. Then people heard the music.
To say King’s X had conjured a sound as inventive, original, and downright alien as has ever emerged during the rock era might sound like some serious, almost irresponsible hyperbole — if not for the fact that no one else has crafted anything remotely like it — except for self-professed imitators.
And that sound (already teased on their 1988 debut album, ‘Out of the Silent Planet’) felt somewhat like a tear in classic rock’s space-time continuum, boasting what one might describe as a blend of Rush’s heavy progressive rock and the Beatles’ natural melodic instincts and heavenly vocal harmonies.
Yet even this was just the tip of the musical iceberg, which ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’ set about introducing via the ringing, psychedelic sitars, stately march, and awe-inspiring solemnity of opening number ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ (held over from that first album). Then came its hard-driving follow-up first single ‘Over My Head,’ which miraculously brought hard rock into a sanctified gospel congregation behind Ty Tabor’s multi-faceted guitar work and Dug Pinnick’s astoundingly soulful shouts.
Next, the wistful ‘Summerland’ and, a little bit later, ‘The Difference (In the Garden of St.-Anne’s-on-the-Hill),’ flipped the script by stripping down the King’s X sound to its acoustic core, only for the band to launch into syncopated funk-rock on ‘Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something,’ then more catchy prog, filled with dramatic staccato riffs and rousing choruses, on first half capper ‘I’ll Never be the Same.’
On Side Two, remarkable songs like the thought-provoking ‘Mission’ (an indictment of zealous preachers, suitably prefaced by somber church organ chords) and the positively sublime ‘Pleiades’ (an ode to Galileo, who almost burned at the stake for his scientific breakthroughs) tackled King’s X’s clearly illuminated Christian beliefs head on.
Furthermore, infectious rockers like ‘Fall on Me’ (with its ultra-tight vocal harmonies), ’Don’t Believe It (It’s Easier Said than Done)’ (showcasing Jerry Gaskill’s intricate percussion), and the galloping ‘Send a Message’ gave further evidence of King’s X’s innate melodic gifts and all-purpose songwriting prowess — all the way through to the LP closer, ‘The Burning Down,’ which returned listeners to the mystical, otherworldly atmospherics that had begun their sonic odyssey, nearly one hour prior.
Despite widespread critical acclaim, ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’ only managed to get as high as No. 123 on the Billboard 200. Still, those gravitated towards their sound saw the light to entirely new possibilities within the framework of rock and roll. Possibilities that King’s X continue to explore unto the present day, leaving fans and peers alike flabbergasted with admiration for one of rock’s most distinctive outfits ever.
Listen to King’s X’s ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’