Friday, February 28, 2014

Music Of My Youth-KISS (The Makeup Years)

I am not a high profile card carrying member of the KISS army but somehow in the late 70s my classmates at Marion High School would dress up as the cartoonish characters and mine out to Shout It Out Loud during the variety show.  It was a different time back then, 8 track players would blare out KISS Alive as I walked the 20 minutes to the high school.  No rap music back then, it was a glorious time.

By now the Jann Wanner Hall Of Fame succumbed to the KISS army demands and finally added them into the RnRHOF(BS) warmth and leaving Deep Purple and the Moody Blues still out in the cold. But with the original members fighting away, Ace doesn't want Tommy Thayer wearing his space ace facepaint, Gene and Paul not wanting Peter and Ace play and finally saying they will not perform, I think it's time to revisit to a much warmer and fuzzy time to when KISS, as a bunch of unknowns that couldn't get arrested in New York City became the first Casablanca signing, taken on as a chance by Neil Bogart and making power rock and roll with Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise, one of them being a member of Dust with hopes of world domination.  The first two albums are basically rough and tame rock and roll, the songs were actually pretty good, Deuce, Firehouse and Cold Gin (Written by Ace Frehley, sang by Gene Simmons) plus the on your feet pompous of Black Diamond (seen better live) made the S/T album a keeper, Hotter Than Hell added more bombast and a better sound and I think that was the better of the two.  Parasite, Let Me Go Rock And Roll and Hotter Than Hell dumb rock and roll fun  Neil Bogart took over production and Dressed To Kill lacked power, the songs sounded too nice but with Rock And Roll All Night, KISS finally scored a top ten hit.  But they needed a producer that would capture their live sound and they found it with Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, Elliot Randall) and recorded mostly during a wild Detroit crowd, Alive elevated them to superstar status. The songs from the first three albums amped up, this is where KISS made their money (before Gene Simmons became Mr. $immon$) and of course it's a time piece upon itself right on down to the 16 year old girls with the Farrah Doo.  Make no mistake about it, with Ace playing wild guitar, this band was the feared opening act that would upstate the headliners. Fireworks! Fake blood!, guitars on fire! KISS took the shock value of Alice Cooper and upped it a notch and they sold out arenas as well.

Nevertheless the lyrics were still dumb, even if Bob Ezrin helped shaped their next album Destroyer which may have been some kind of concept album, they meant business with Detroit Rock City leading into King Of The Night Time World.  When I think about this album I also think of Pink Floyd's The Wall in the trails and tribulations of being a rock star, though not as long as said album. Despite the goofy Great Expectations, the love theme Beth and silly God Of Thunder, this does have Flaming Youth and another party anthem Shout It Out Loud, Destroyer remains a lot of people's favorite KISS album. I think I like Rock And Roll Over better myself, Eddie Kramer returns to produce it but as I get older I really don't listen to this nor Love Gun all that much.  Peter Criss takes a stab at Baby Driver, Gene invites you to put your hand into my pocket and grab on to my rocket on the silly Take Me and Calling Dr Love, he's got the cure you're thinking of. ala Medicine Man by the forgotten Buchanan Brothers.  Ace Frehley starts singing on Shock Me on Love Gun and time has actually treated that album better than Rock n Roll Over.  Then it's back to the live circuit on Alive 2 but I don't play the live sides all that much, the studio side actually has some of the heaviest stuff KISS ever did, All American Man, the blistering Rocket Ride (sung by Ace) and a cover of Dave Clark Five's Any Way You Want It.

And with that 1978 begin the downfall. Casablanca put out the first of many many KISS best ofs with Double Platinum, a strange collection of their best stuff, and then, the solo albums which may have backfired in Gene $immon$ plot to be taken seriously as a solo artist.  His solo album was very subpar, and only the Peter Criss snoozer kept the Mr Tongue out of the least effective album.  Paul Stanley's album wasn't too bad but it was Ace Frehley's album that was more in spirit with KISS then the other four. Of course it helped greatly when Ace kept Eddie Kramer being the production board and managing to get one of the best backing bands as well (Anton Fig plays drums), it may not help the egos of Gene and Paul when New York Groove was the highest charting of the singles released, hitting number 13 in 1978.

Somehow KISS never recovered from the solo albums and a change of producers from Kramer to the lackluster and colorless Vini Poncia (Ringo Starr) and while Dynasty got ridiculed for the disco I Was Made For Loving You, the album was okay with a cover of 2,000 Man the highlight, but the rest of the record sounded more pop than actual rock and got worse with the Unmasked which turned out to be one of their biggest bombs of their career.  By then the booze and drugs were not helping either and Peter Criss would leave (Anton Fig actually played on Unmasked) and Ace would too after Music From The Elder to which Criss was replaced by the late great Eric Carr.  The problematic Vinnie Vincent replaced Ace on the boring Creatures Of The Night to which the Makeup years ends with a dull thud.  They would take off their makeup for 1983's Lick It Up which returns them more back into the silly rock and roll we have come to love from KISS but anything after that I really didn't care much as KISS was trying to find their way through hair spray pop metal and later grunge, somehow during a unplugged show Peter and Ace returned and there was joy and hope of a new KISS album for us to relive the old days.  What we got instead was Psycho Circus. And You Wanted The Best You Got The Best, was wishful thinking, basically another greatest hits with some outtakes masquerading as new songs.

Although we would love to see the original guys KISS and make up for at least one more time on stage, KISS last two albums have actually been more in spirit of the 70s than anything they have done in the three decades since then. Arguments for Tommy Thayer not that good, I disagree with, he's a more compatible guitarist than Ace and is a lot more easier to work with too.  It also helps he used to play in Black N Blue, a fairly good rock band from the 80s that made a few album on Geffen (Find the ones produced by Dieter Dieks Scorpion's Producer rather than the lame Gene Simmons produced albums) and Eric Singer, the drummer who replaced Eric Carr has drummed with Black Sabbath and The Cult and seems to keep a better beat than Criss. It also helps that Paul Stanley produced the last two as well, he seems to have a more rock production than Bruce Fairbairn did on Psycho Circus, plus it keeps $immon$ doing what he likes best, make more money.

Like it or not, KISS has served a purpose in my life and the fact remains that when I was a teenager, I played a lot of the 70s albums all the way up to Love Gun and discarded the rest anything after 1979.  Nothing wrong with rock and rolling all night and partying every day, but at some time we have to grow up.


KISS (Casablanca 1974) B+
Hotter Than Hell (Casablanca 1974) A-
Dressed To Kill (Casablanca 1975) B
Alive (Casablanca 1975) B+
Destroyer (Casablanca 1976) B
Rock And Roll Over (Casablanca 1976) B-
Love Gun (Casablanca 1977) B-
Alive 2 (Casablanca 1977) B
Ace Frehley (Casablanca 1978) A-
Paul Stanley (Casablanca 1978) B
Gene Simmons (Casablanca 1978) C
Peter Criss (Casablanca 1978) C-
Dynasty (Casablanca 1979) C
Unmasked (Casablanca 1980) C-
Music From The Elder (Casablanca 1981) C+
Creatures Of The Night (Casablanca 1982) C
Lick It Up (Mercury 1983) B+
Psycho Circus (Mercury 1996) C
You Wanted The Best You Got The Best (Mercury 1997) Ha ha ha  C-
Very Best Of Kiss (Mercury 1998) B+


TAD said...

Hey Crabby, always wanted to hear The Elder, it came out just as I was leaving the record store, and I've never heard a note. Have heard it's kinda Art Rock with some lyrics by Lou Reed? Your view?

R S Crabb said...

It's worth a listen. Maybe two.

TAD said...

Crabby, the Jason Aldean review is pretty funny, the reviewer has talent. But you realize it's a review of the audience more than the performers, a review of the whole atmosphere of the show -- that's probably why it got pulled. Do like that line about making Madonna look like Miles Davis....

R S Crabb said...

I guess if your not a fan of Jason Aldean it would be like having a heart surgery without morphine. Quite painful. I wouldn't be caught dead at A Jason Aldean/FGL/Tyler Farr/Luke Bryan concert. Not my type of music. Far from it ;)

TAD said...

What I meant was, the reviewer's contempt for the audience and the marketing in play there probably got the review pulled, even more than his views on the performers. Do like that line about Aldean wiggling his ass like an android rock star, too....

2000 Man said...

I really loved that review. It's everything that's wrong with the music scene where bands are playing to more than a few hundred people.