Greg Kihn on his indie start, subliminal messages in the ‘Jeopardy’ video: ‘It was magic’

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In many ways, it’s like getting your life back for Greg Kihn — best known for early-1980s hits like “The Break Up Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That)” and “Jeopardy.”

After years of legal wrangling, and a career turn into radio, Kihn finally secured the rights to his own music again and, with the recent release of Greg Kihn Band: Best of Beserkley, 1974-1985, has finally begun reissuing original music that was out of print for some 25 years. Beserkley, the California independent label that originally signed Kihn, had lost control of the publishing rights, after years of working out side deals to get the music onto record shelves.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Greg Kihn takes us inside sessions for tracks like “Jeopardy” and “The Breakup Song,” then tells us how he ended up with a leftover tune from Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run.’]

“It seemed like every year,” Kihn told us in the latest SER Sitdown, “we were distributed by another label, so in the end a lot of people laid claim to those master tapes. It took me a decade, and a couple of lawsuits to get them all back. But I did, one my one, I got them back — and now I have the rights in perpetuity.”

Best of Beserkley, then is part rock, part redemption for Kihn — who joined us to talk about rediscovering his own music, his knack for punny album titles (from Next of Kihn and Rockihnroll to Kihnspiracy and Kihntagious) and, yeah, that video for “Jeopardy” …

NICK DERISO: I always got a kick out of the album-title puns built around your last name.
GREG KIHN: I wanted to bury that, a couple of times in my life. I just wanted it to go away. But my mother always loved that, God rest her soul. She’d call me up, laughing: “Oh, Gregory, that is so precious.” Who would have thought that the name Kihn would have so many uses? But once you do two or three of those, Nick, you’re hog tied. You’ve got to do that forever. There was period when it made me cringe. Nowadays, though, I kinda love it. We were lucky to have that, and people do remember those titles. I really feel like my career, and being on Beserkley, and coming up with all of those tunes, it was magic. It was karma, like my destiny.

NICK DERISO: So you won’t mind if we call this a “Kihn”-terview, right?
GREG KIHN: (Laughs uproariously.) There’s a new one! (Laughs.) Yes, let’s “Kihn”-tinue! (More laughter.)

NICK DERISO: I found myself, while listening to Best of Beserkley, coming across all of these unexpected memories. It’s been so long since I’ve heard these songs, I had all but forgotten some of them.
GREG KIHN: Some of them had been out of print for as long as 25 years. That’s what makes it such a pleasure to be re-releasing all of this stuff. Plus, I spent a lot of time remastering it digitally, because with the first few albums, they were recorded with the levels lower than it was later in the 1980s. So that remastering became a labor of love. I had to almost remaster each song, to make sure they were compatible later when you played it all back. You know what really blew me out? How good and how fresh everything sounded. I had forgotten, too. We had done most of this stuff in one or two takes. We were young, and full of piss and vinegar. We couldn’t wait to get into the studio and start recording — and it really sounded like that.

NICK DERISO: Working as you were in one of the vanguards of indie-label recording with Beserkley, you and the band were allowed to mature and grow in a manner that doesn’t seem possible today. It was, what, seven albums before your first hit?
GREG KIHN: Our first Top 10 was, yeah, on the seventh album. That was “Breakup Song.” I think that the fact that I was on Beserkley, really the first of the modern-day independents, it changed things for me. If I had been on a regular label, I would have had an assigned producer, and an A&R guy looking over my shoulder. None of that happened. They pretty much left you alone. The whole label was set up for the artists. Matthew Kaufman was the owner, and he also produced the records. If I had a song idea, I would take the band in, rehearse it for a day or two, and then just go in the studio and cut it. They allowed us to pursue our musical dreams, and experiment in the studio. That’s an opportunity that most bands never get.

NICK DERISO: So many songs in the early 1980s became inextricably linked with their videos, and certainly “Jeopardy” was one of them. Who can forget the wedding in that one going so seriously, seriously wrong?
GREG KIHN: (Laughs.) That was kind of autobiographical! I was getting a divorce at about the same time. I guess there’s a message there, though I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. You look back, years later, and you can see why you were thinking those things. But making that video was so much fun. We did it in one marathon, three-day, 36-hour continuous shoot. It was so much fun. Mission Delores was the name of that Catholic church, right across the street from Delores Park in San Francisco. They gave us the church from a Tuesday through a Thursday and, Nick, I’m going to hell for the things we did backstage! (Laughs.) God will never forgive me for the things we did.

NICK DERISO: Maybe the statute of limitation will save you?
GREG KIHN: I don’t think that works with God. (Laughs.) When he’s saying: “Aren’t you the guy who was snorting blow?” You can’t tell him: “That wasn’t me, your honor.” (Laughs.) We were young, and those were our heavy partying days. But you don’t do a three-day video shoot without getting whacked out of our gourd.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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