ebyIt's over just like that.

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John Eby: Farewell to ‘King of the Hill’ after 13 glorious seasons

Published 9:51am Monday, September 14, 2009

“King of the Hill” signed off Sept. 13 with a two-episode, hour-long finale.

The animated Arlen, Texas, series swan song took me by surprise after 13 glorious and ironic seasons filled with 255 adventures that will be the gift that keeps on giving in perpetual reruns. Ironic because I so loved Hank Hill and his kookie clan co-created by Mike Judge with Greg Daniels, whose previous hit, “Beavis and Butt-Head,” is one of my most reviled shows ever.

Hard to believe one person reached such polar extremes in one laughtime (also the 1999 cult hit “Office Space”).

When I judge Backyard Chef at the Cass County Fair, I always think of Hank and smile when they lug in meats grilled with propane.

Just the thought of Tom Landry Middle School was funny. Ditto looking at Bobby Hill and his uncanny resemblance to Curly of The Three Stooges.

And what a capable cartoon supporting ensemble: Peggy Hill, Dale Gribble (the only other exterminator on TV will be Tom DeLay, dancing as fast as he can), barber Bill Dauterive, incomprehensible Boomhauer, Luanne and Lucky (voiced by rocker Tom Petty), the angry Asians, Kahn and Minh (and Connie) Souphanousinphone and Lady Bird the dog.
They populate their own universe, like the even more durable yellow Simpsons of Springfield.

The first episode examined “projects” – the fellas’ homeless supercart for Spongy and budding Hef Bobby’s three girlfriends, who target him with fake flattery, steal his self-respect and reduce him to “man meat” in a makeover. The sight of Bobby riding behind a girl on a bike reduces Hank to making a mountain of bacon.

The finale offers – what else? – meat judging, spelled with the same letters as team. Bobby the prodigy stumbles leading Heimlich County Junior College to an upset of Texas A&M, but qualifies for state – then is hijacked enroute after blinding their opponents with red pepper.

After one last Chuck Mangione sight gag, everyone gathers around the grill and the meat mantel passes from a Hank so proud he chartered a bus to Bobby. A couple of nice touches: Dale isn’t as dense as he sometimes seemed and Boomhauer is … what? A Texas Ranger?

Maybe Hank could learn to live in Dowagiac. He was always ready for some football.
The second coming: Seems weird to see the Beatles invade again 40 years after the Sept. 26, 1969, release of their last recordings, “Abbey Road,” but there are John and Paul on the front of Entertainment Weekly. Its cover “story” spans 12 pages, but is mostly a pastiche of photos, capsule reviews of “The Beatles: Rock Band” video game and all 13 original British albums remastered with mini-documentaries narrated by John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin to play on your computer.

The heart of EW’s coverage is – what else? – a list of “The 50 Best Songs.”
EW does a pretty good job because rankings such as these can always be quibbled about, but “A Hard Day’s Night” at No. 1?! (It was recorded in three hours on the morning of April 16, 1964).

Perennial chart-topper “Hey Jude” checks in at 14, just ahead of our wedding song, “In My Life.” I didn’t expect “Tomorrow Never Knows” at No. 8, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” at No. 9, “Across the Universe” at No. 10, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” at No. 17, “Revolution” at No. 21, “I’m Only Sleeping” at No. 24, “I’m a Loser” at No. 25, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” at No. 27, “Rain” at No. 28, “Nowhere Man” at No. 35, “She Said She Said” at No. 37, “Day Tripper” at No. 41 or “I’m So Tired” at No. 49.

What, no “And Your Bird Can Sing” or “Dr. Robert?”

Some serious Lennon fans run EW. They should check out the early releases, which are more of a revelation. In the remastered series debuted 9/9/09 I’ve listened to “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Abbey Road.”

Some of these songs I haven’t heard since I had to put a penny on the close-and-play tone arm so the record wouldn’t skip while we reviewed the WLS Silver Dollar Survey from Curtis TV.

Completed in 65 hours spread across 17 days until June 22, 1964, the album is laid out with the seven tracks from the Fab Four’s first movie (including the stellar “I Should Have Known Better” and “Tell Me Why”) followed by “Any Time at All,” “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Things We Said Today,” “When I Get Home,” “You Can’t Do That” and “I’ll Be Back.”

“I’ll Cry Instead” strikes me in a new way in light of this British reinvasion when John, murdered by a fan on Dec. 8, 1980, sings, “I’m going to lock myself away/But I’ll come back again someday/And when I do you better hide all the girls/I’m going to break their hearts all ’round the world.”

Lennon’s voice sounds so fresh and urgent it reminds me why I fell so hard for the Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s show Feb. 9, 1964. It was like in “The Wizard of Oz” when black-and-white turns to color.

After I swiped her scratchy Second Album from her kitchen, Dizzy Miss Lizzie even found me a book to explain my craving – by Dave Marsh of Pontiac, whom I grew up reading in Creem and Rolling Stone, no less.

Marsh made me realize that one reason I liked that record is that “the track selection relegates Paul to an incidental lead vocalist, as subordinate to John Lennon as George Harrison is.”

Another thing I knew instinctively, but lacked Marsh’s critical insight to articulate, is that I was suspicious of the ballad on “Meet the Beatles,” the show tune “Till There Was You,” but the ballad on the Second Album is “You Really Got a Hold on Me” from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Marsh astutely points out something I never realized (perhaps because I was 7 when I listened to it a lot) – the Second Album is an R&B/soul cover album. I didn’t know the Beatles closed concerts with “Long Tall Sally,” including the last show ever at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in 1966.

Three tracks were early hits for Motown – “You Really Got a Hold on Me by the Miracles,” “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes and “Money” by Barrett Strong. I knew Paul loved Little Richard, but I didn’t know he met The Beatles in London in 1962. Richard gave McCartney a screaming lesson and Billy Preston. “Devil in His Heart” was an obscure recording by a Detroit girl group, the Donays.

Marsh even knows the story of the Donays, four black high school students who didn’t even have a hit in Detroit with 500 pressings – though he managed to hear it one of the 25 times it played on the radio. It wasn’t even the A side, which was “Bad Boy.” They were Yvonne Allen, Michelle Ray and sisters Amy and Janice Gwenn and never toured. “Their obscurity is so great that there is, through 2007, not a single photograph of the Donays anywhere on the World Wide Web,” Marsh writes.

Yet the Fab Four inexplicably found their B side on the other side of the pond and made it famous. Marsh quotes Bob Dylan 45 years later: “The Donays only made one record. You only have to make one if it’s this good.”

I agree with Marsh that “Roll Over Beethoven,” the 8-year-old Chuck Berry song that leads off the Second Album, is perhaps the weakest old rock-n-roll song they recorded. George is too reserved compared to, say, John shredding his voice for one take of “Twist and Shout.” Keith Richards taught George the guitar solo. “Roll Over Beethoven”  opened their first U.S. concert in Washington, D.C., right after Ed.

This being Marsh, of course, some it goes over my head.

Natural use of Aeolian cadence. Flat submediant key switches. Chains of pandiationic clusters. That’s pretty rich for writing about four moptops who couldn’t read music and needed George Martin to translate French horns they heard in their heads. My beloved Beatles engendered hatred in people of a certain age, like arch-conservative pundit Paul Johnson in a tirade in the New Statesman, “The Menace of Beatlism”:

“At 16, I and my friends heard our first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; I can remember the excitement even today. We would not have wasted 30 seconds of our precious time on The Beatles and their ilk … The core of the teenage group – the boys and girls who will be the real leaders and creators of society tomorrow – never go near a pop concert.”

John Eby is Daily News managing editor. E-mail him at john.eby @leaderpub.com.

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  • Brandi

    Sad to see it go. It was a hilarious show!

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