If you're old enough to remember the Poni-Tails' 1958 hit, "Born Too Late," then you were born too early to have been in the tank for the KISS Army. There's no place for KISStory among snobs with firsthand recollections of the Beatles — another band with four distinct personalities, a band that never made a movie as laughable as KISS Meets the Phantom in the Park, and a band that went full circle and split up at its peak, never suffering career lows like KISS' Music From the Elder, or the relative anonymity of the years without makeup.
Plus, the Beatles, never the most astute businessmen, refused to succumb to greedy reunion offers, such as the one offered by Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who suggested John and Paul could pay Ringo less of the $3,000 he offered in '76 and keep more for themselves. Yeah, try imagining Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons not missing an opportunity to stick it to the other original members — like announcing multiple farewell concert tours ... that really only meant farewells to Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. It was kind of like when kids pretended their mama was calling them and came out to play again 10 minutes later so they could ditch some runny-nosed kid that wouldn't go away.
And yet, to many young males born too late for Beatlemania, KISS-steria came pretty darn close. Screaming girls. Screaming young male hormones. It's all a wash.
It's hard to believe the 35th anniversary of KISS Alive is now upon us — that's right, the historic release that changed the way live albums would henceforth be made. (All right, which one of you jokers shouted, "Yeah, just record it in a studio!" You Town Hallers are irredeemable!)
And so to celebrate, the members of KISS — well, Gene and Paul with two ringers — are back to re-create that album they recorded at Detroit's hallowed Cobo Arena ... as well as (stop feeling so proud, Detroit Rock City!) — in New Jersey, Iowa, Cleveland, at New York's Electric Ladyland Studios. ... At least we're pretty sure the crowd noises on the album might have been recorded there. Producer Eddie Kramer keeps changing his story about KISS Alive, saying that the only "live" instrument was either Ace's guitar or Peter Criss' drums. And conspiracy theorists who still insist the moon landing was staged hold fast that KISS performed that entire show at the Capitol Theatre in New Jersey when the hall was empty, with audience participation flown in later. Like a lot of things KISS, it wasn't an original concept. No, it was an idea that had its origins in the withdrawn Live Yardbirds! album, which Jimmy Page got an injunction to stop when he heard the Spanish bullfighting cheers someone had plastered onto it.
Still, this "Is it live or Memorex?" controversy might have embarrassed or even killed lesser bands — but we all love KISS for the sheer crassness of their enterprise; that is, every money grab is a tug at the heartstrings of their devotees.
Now there's even talk of a KISS Cirque du Soleil-style Vegas show — just like you-know-who ... but instead of a feather festooned fantasia built around "Hey Jude," "Eleanor Rigby" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," it'll be "Lick It Up" and "Plaster Caster" that get the treatment. Kind of a better fit for Vegas, no?
Barry Levine, the show's organizer, says "KISS will be reaching its current demographic from 10- to 60-year-olds." Well, not too sure about them septuagenarians, unless Gene Simmons is counting himself and a few pals in Aerosmith. To the boomers who were in their 20s or very late teens when KISS first struck platinum, KISS was deemed ... well, kid's stuff.
Nevertheless, I say to you snobs who stayed away from "the greatest live album ever re-recorded" because you were too busy, I dunno, reading books or getting indoctrinated into disco or est, here's a track-by-track re-creation of what you missed (which poses no danger for you of hearing even a single note of it). To quote the Bat Lizard hisself, "Ya got got got nothing to lose!"
'Deuce' The album opens with the world's whitest announcer this side of Billy Mays shouting, "You wanted the best and you got it, the hottest band in the land — KISS!" Scanning the photo of a mostly male teen audience at the Cobo who graced the rear sleeve of Alive!, you wonder if this cluster of pubescence with Farrah-flipped hairdos ever considered the scorching, other gender hotness of the Andrea True Connection? Or the Runaways' jailbait in quintuplication? Or Labelle, three femme fatales who apparently shared the same tailor as Ace Frehley? Nope. "No women for us — not now," these KISS banner-carrying boys seem to say, ignoring the three or four discernible females (on the cover's rear photo) who are probably just 90 or so minutes away from being photographed yet again ... but this time for Gene Simmons's dirty Polaroid collection at a nearby Ramada Inn.
KISS takes the stage with fire blasts — you can hear the height on the record. In these scant few seconds, KISS has already stolen your love, if only for buying their flash pots from the same place as The Wizard of Oz.
"Deuce" is ultimately Gene Simmons' hard-pounding paean to the hard workingman who's worth a deuce. What you cannot hear on the album is the theme-appropriate choreography — Paul Stanley in eight-inch platform shoes executing an otherwise perfect Willy Loman shuffle straight out of Death of a Salesman.
'Strutter' One of KISS's best rockers, it never lets up, save for the slight retard in the last verse. Insert your own inappropriate mentally challenged KISS fan joke here.
'Got to Choose' Every live show needs a "settle down in your seats" song and coming after the preceding two bone-crunching classics, this comparatively subdued midtempo number provides the requisite repose. This is right around the point where you would've turned to a chum and said something stupid like, "I'm so glad I took you instead of a girl." Next week, though, you'll probably just turn to a buddy say, "I'm so glad I shelled for the $1,000 KISS VIP Pass instead of a hooker."
'Hotter than Hell' "All right, I have a feeling this is going to be one of those hot nights," says rock's finest orator Paul Stanley, personally invested in the thought as Ernest Hemingway was in the belief that not every night is supposed to be hot. But the mere suggestion of a rise in Fahrenheit already makes it seem clammier than Havana.
'Firehouse' Musically, it's the first of the group's many rewrites of Free's "All Right Now" — but lyrically, Paul Stanley has admitted he ripped off the Move's "Fire Brigade." Instead of Roy Wood's genteel schoolhouse psychedelia, though, the Star Child's phrasing for "Get the firehouse" recalls the exasperated tone you assume when saying "Get the fuck out of my house!" KISS has been derided for ripping off their logo from the German SS and their stage makeup from Alice Cooper. But just try imagining Kim Carnes singing "She'll expose you when she snows you" on "Bette Davis Eyes" without Paul Stanley having sung "She'll move you and improve you" first. "Firehouse" provides an ample excuse for Paul to woo-woo like a siren and Gene Simmons to do his fire-breathing — ironically, the only time in his career when he's not blowing smoke up people's asses.
'Nothing to Lose' Proof positive that KISS was a boogie band at heart. If only Foghat could've learned to spit up hemoglobin, Lonesome Dave Peverett might not have been so lonesome. And this number contained a significant musical first — the first time a pop song ends with a singular "Yeah!" and doesn't involve "jazz hands."
'C'mon and Love Me' The greatest KISS song ever, made even greater by the willfully stupidest lyrics ever, including "She's good looking and she's lookin' like she could be good." Incidentally, Paul Stanley has admitted that Gene corrected a wrong note on the bass on this live track — which, in light of the rumors of massive overdubbing, is kinda like mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer admitting: "I got a little carried away."
'Parasite' Hmmm. Could the title infer that this song is feeding off the main riff from Led Zep's "Immigrant Song"? But please don't bother the Irony Police; they've already been apprised of the situation.
'She' "The powers are within her as she takes off her clothes." And with that one line, Paul and Gene predicted Madonna's entire career! Sages, indeed!
'Watching You' This is where a smoke bomb usually went off during Ace's solo ... which always seemed less like a cool special effect and more like someone burning a Bundt cake in the kitchen.
'100,000 Years' Any song that starts off with a display of blood-spitting can almost be forgiven for having a Peter Criss drum solo. Not since Chicago's Live at Carnegie Hall, where the horndogs devoted an entire side to a song called "It Better End Soon," has a band revealed its own interminable tendencies in a title! But we're all spared from taking an extended catnap by Paul Stanley's rallying cry: "If you believe in rock 'n' roll [insert a sarcastic inference] like you say you do, [back to crazy exuberance] clap your hands!" Hey, Tinkerbell — even with urging from Peter Pan —couldn't have summed it up any better.
'Black Diamond' Just when you think Paul Stanley is going to play "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac, they pull a switcheroo and Peter Criss takes over lead vocal chores on this minor-key rocker (later covered by the Replacements with tongue almost in cheek). During Ace's solo, Gene and Paul use their axes to do synchronized "I'm a Little Tea Pot" dips in Ace's direction — yet another in a series of Alive! references to "hotness."
'Rock Bottom' KISS pulls another fast one here, starting off with wispy, Fairport Convention 12-string guitars, before launching incongruously into a standard KISS rocker about some chick with a hard ass.
'Cold Gin' Like a bad preacher or maybe David Letterman, Paul Stanley is not ashamed to use the phony "I was just talking to someone the other day" motif to get the conversation about alcohol started: "When you're down in the dumps and you need something to bring you up, there's only one thing that's going to bring you up the way you want it." To which everyone shouts back: "Cold Gin!" Excellent advice too — from a band led by two guys who are lifelong teetotalers. Surely Ace Frehley, the writer of the song, knew firsthand that booze is a depressant. But he pretended that he was insecure about his vocals just so he could get sober-as-a-judge Gene Simmons to sing about gin as a miracle cure-all. This KISS staple was later beaten into P.C. submission when Stanley tacked it onto a "Get a designated driver" PSA during the '96 reunion tour. (This from the guy who said, "First I drink, then I smoke, start up the car" in "Detroit Rock City"?)
'Rock and Roll All Nite' What can you say about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that year after year it passes on a band who wrote what many of a certain age consider the ultimate rock 'n' roll anthem but inducts country singers, rappers and disco divas before KISS? Maybe they ought to send Paul Stanley to Jann Wenner's house to give him that "If you believe in rock 'n' roll, clap your hands" speech.
'Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll' KISS has already dispensed with its signature song ... so, like a real concert, there's no real reason you have to stay in your seats and finish this article. If you stop reading now, you can get into your car and beat the mad rush to the personal ads in the back of this paper. Well awwwlriight!!
Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
KISS plays KISS Alive! in celebration of the album's 35th anniversary on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 and 26, at Cobo Hall, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-877-8777. Also, original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley will be in town to sign one item apiece for fans at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Hard Rock Café, 45 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-694-ROCK. Copies of his new album, Anomaly, will also be available for purchase.