Long before mash-ups were a thing, Canadian rockers The Kings found success by combining two different song fragments into one memorable track. At first, their label Elektra tried to release just “Switchin’ to Glide” on its own. But the band had always conceived it as a segue from “This Beat Goes On,” and it wasn’t until radio was serviced with both parts of the song as one track that it took off – spending more than 20 weeks on the Billboard charts. Co-founding guitarist John Picard (a.k.a. Mister Zero) recalls those early days and reveals why being a one-hit wonder is something to be proud of.

The Kings must be the only band that can claim to be from Oakville and Vancouver. How did you guys come together?I’m a lyricist, and I first met Sonny [Keyes, keyboards] in Vancouver. He was a great piano player who wrote songs like Elton John and Bernie Taupin – the kind where the lyrics came first. We started writing together, and decided we needed a band. I thought of David [Diamond, bass/lead vocals] who went to the same high school as me in Oakville. I knew he was in some full-time cover bands, doing the bar circuit. Sonny and I presented him with a tape, and we found out Dave was like Sonny – he could really write. He became our singer, and with Max [Styles, drums] we became WhistleKing, which we later changed to The Kings.

How were songwriting duties divided up?
We all contributed. You either have ideas, or you don’t. You can’t fake it. Fortunately, all the guys in our band have ideas. Sonny and I did most of the writing, but if someone had an idea, we’d always give it a shot. We had enough faith in each other for that.

“We never made a million dollars, but we had a song that people love and has stood the test of time.” – John Picard of The Kings

What was the live scene like for you then? As a songwriter, how did you feel about playing covers?
We used it as a way to get more gigs, you know? We played Cheap Trick, The Cars, Elvis Costello songs. And we learned if we put on a bit of a show, it went over well with the bar owners. So even though we were a hippie prog band at heart, we could deliver a high-energy set, with original music. But we were never like those bands that would just toss in some shitty song of their own in the middle of the set. We would change up the cover songs. I never learned how to play someone else’s guitar solo. I made it my own. We put our own stamp on it, so the covers and originals were seamless.

You say you considered yourselves “prog” but The Kings are often referred to as new wave. What do you think of that?
New wave was a marketing device, a bandwagon. Just like in the ‘90s, when every A&R guy went to Seattle looking for any band in a plaid shirt. It was like that, but with skinny ties. We started out like a normal rock ’n’ roll band, then gradually did more prog-rock stuff, longer songs. Until at one point, we said, “We should try writing some hits.”

Well, your hit isn’t a typical three-minute pop song. So how did that happen?
True. “This Beat” and “Switchin’,” they weren’t complete on their own, so we thought maybe it would be neat if we stuck ‘em together.

What did Bob Ezrin bring to the experience?
Bob taught us everything we know about recording. We met him at Nimbus 9 Studio in Toronto and he took our tapes down to Elektra Records in L.A. The story goes that when the executives played it, some kids outside heard it through the window and started dancing. Since Bob had just done the No. 1 record in the world with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, they figured “let’s give him some dough to record these unknowns.” So we had a budget.

You recently released a DVD called Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder. So are you embracing that term?
Pre-emptive strike. [laughs] We consider that an honour, to have had that hit. We never made a million dollars, but we had a song that people love and has stood the test of time. When we read the comments on our YouTube videos we know people haven’t forgotten us, and that makes all the hard work worthwhile. It’s a pretty amazing feat for some guys from Toronto.