The Essentials: Introducing… The Four King Cousins

Some might call it square, others kitschy. The former is at once fair and not, as the cousins were indeed “wholesome” entertainers, while the latter misses the mark—there’s nothing garish about the performances on the 1968 Introducing… The Four King Cousins LP. (The vintage TV clips found on YouTube, including a frolicsome rendition of Judy Garland’s “Get Happy,” are another story, mind you.) In truth, on album, the lilting harmonies breeze from the laidback grooves as if leaves on a gentle wind.

In fact, if one wasn’t paying close attention, one might mishear the album as yet another covers collection from She & Him. The main difference: the lead vocals mirror the Cousins’ blonde hair instead of Zooey Deschanel’s dark auburn locks. Someone, somewhere, dubbed it “sunshine pop,” but I think that’s a bit much. It’s not akin to the Ray Conniff Singers or The Lennon Sisters from The Lawrence Welk Show, though it does possess a supper-club flair. One can easily imagine them joining Bobby Darin on stage, for example.

Before we go any further: sisters Tina Cole and Cathy Cole Green first joined forces with cousins Carolyn Thomas, Candy Conkling and Jamie Conkling in 1965 on The King Family Show, a music-variety ABC series that starred their mothers, the famed King Sisters, who were veterans of the big-band era and then the supper-club circuit. After the TV show left the air in January 1966, the young women—then known as The Five King Cousins—continued their act, performing in clubs and on TV, including syndicated King Family specials, and became semi-regulars on The Jonathan Winters Show. At some point, the Five became the Four after Jamie left to attend college, but the basic blueprint remained the same: They applied their gorgeous vocals and harmonies to the hits of the day.

(For folks of a certain vintage and/or rerun warriors, the name Tina Cole should ring a bell—she appeared in various roles on TV in the early and mid-1960s, including on Hawaiian Eye during its final season, but is perhaps best known as Robbie’s girlfriend and eventual wife Katie on My Three Sons, which she starred in from 1967 to ’72.) 

The album opens with a wondrous rendition of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David classic “This Girl’s in Love With You.” It’s the sonic equivalent of walking atop the clouds, just about, with nary a note out of place.

“It’s All in the Game,” a pop song adapted from a 1911 tune written by future U.S. vice president Charles G. Dawes, is quite nice, too; it’s best known version is likely the 1958 No. 1 hit by Tommy Edwards, but it’s also been covered by—among many others—Merle Haggard and Van Morrison. Another Bacharach-David cover, “Walk on By,” is accented by the clipped harmonies, while the Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Liebling song “California Nights,” which in 1967 was Lesley Gore’s final Top 20 hit, channels the Mamas & the Papas. 

The American Songbook tune, “Let’s Get Away From It All,” incorporates a Monkees-like goofiness into the proceedings, while an actual Monkees song, “I Wanna Be Free” (written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart), follows. In today’s world, the message of independence doesn’t resonate as revolutionary, I suppose, but in 1960s-era America the lyrics (“I wanna hold your hand/Walk along the sand/Laughing in the sun/Always having fun/Doing all those things/Without any strings to tie me down/I wanna be free”) likely raised eyebrows when sung by women.

What better way to follow Prefab Four song than with a Fab Four tune? “Good Day Sunshine” from Revolver follows and, while nice, it’s the track that follows that may well be the album’s piece de resistance: “God Only Knows” from the album that inspired Revolver, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

“God Only Knows” was written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, of course, and another Asher co-write—this time with Roger Nichols—is next: “Love So Fine.” A lovely version of the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” (also from Revolver) follows, while another Roger Nichols-penned song, “I Fell” ends the album in harmony heaven.

Another King cousin, Lex de Azevedo, produced the album. He went onto become the music director for The Sonny & Cher Show and other TV variety programs during the 1970s before using his talents to celebrate his LDS faith—and therein, I think, lies one reason why the Cousins never attained wider acclaim. They were seen as too straitlaced and, do the times, even weird. As Tina Cole told Tom Hopkins of the Dayton Daily News in 1970, “For a long time, Mormons were freaks. People just waited for you to make a mistake. But it’s a good influence—it keeps our morals and our self-respect foremost in our minds.”

Anyway, as I mentioned above, I hear Introducing… as very much from the supper-club mode—a genre that I enjoy quite a bit, though others may not. While it may not be an “essential” album per se, it is definitely enjoyable from start to finish—so give Introducing… the Four King Cousins a spin. (It’s on all the streaming services.) It’s a breezy delight.

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