Immediately, the listener is plunged into an upbeat, jazzy vamp. It is a great way to kick off the record, and easily gets the listener’s attention. However, we quickly see that this is just a way of setting up the mental state of the speaker in the song. My guess is that the speaker is some kind of laborer or blue-collar worker who is upset with his employer. From the lines “feeling like a captive on a long chain” and “he says he cares about me but he’s lying”, it is revealed that this particular worker’s employer is not a very likeable character.
I got the feeling that the speaker is watching this person and wondering how he ended up in his high position while the speaker himself is stuck down with the lowly laborers. The speaker probably thinks that social position is not based on one’s own accomplishments, but rather which class of people one is born into — thus the line “some people say they got the game rigged” and “his daddy gave him everything…”. Even so, it seems that the speaker is also longing to have a shot at being the “king of the hill” himself, as he watches him “driving the big cat”.
It is at this point that Hornsby breaks into one of his brilliantly executed long piano solos indicative of his new style — it is during this solo that I get an image of the narrator going about his daily work, while these ideas go through his mind. Once he comes down off this extended solo, we start the final verse while the speaker is still hard at work. This section of the song is slightly different from the other two. It starts off with the same scheme used in the first two, but as the narrator starts talking in detail about the actions of his employer, we get a feeling of rushing from one idea to another without pause — almost like we are inside the mind of the narrator himself and watching random thoughts stream by.
It is during this passage that we also find out the speaker’s health is suffering from the demands of the boss. Finally, we are left again with the main question repeated by the narrator, followed by another instrumental section and a gradual dwindling down to a rather indefinite ending.
This indefinite ending adds a nice touch to the end of the song, because it leaves the situation of the narrator unresolved. There are quite a few songs on the record which leave their endings unresolved – probably because of the album’s theme stated by Chip DeMatteo in the insert. Relating DeMatteo’s words to this song, I have interpreted the laborer as being a “trapped spirit” seeking a way out or an escape from his “evil” boss. The situation is left unresolved in order for the narrator to remain “trapped” in his own situation.
King of the Hill
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