Giving it up for the Hottest Band in the World…KISS!

KISS

A proper tribute to the hottest band in the world has been on my to-do list going back to…1977?

So yes, that will happen. For now, in honor of Kiss getting their Hall of Fame on this evening, I’ll happily revisit two pieces dedicated to two of their albums. The first, from a real labor of love, 10 Albums That Supposedly Suck (But Don’t), here’s my assessment of the oft-maligned Dynasty:

10. Kiss: Dynasty (1979)

Okay, let’s get this one out of the way right up front. It’s not necessarily that this album is better than average (it’s not), it’s that so many members of the Kiss Army—not to mention normal people who understand, and accept, that Gene Simmons wears a toupee today and likely wore a wig then—think it sucks (it doesn’t). More than a few folks point to this as the nadir of the original band’s output. It might be, actually, but that still does not mean it sucks. Yes, it has the made-for-radio, inspired by disco (!) debacle “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, a title so insipid, uninspired and calculated it could not possibly be tolerable on principle. There are a lot of other stinkers on this set, particularly the one contribution from Peter Criss, a cat who went from being a drummer who sometimes did drugs to a druggie who sometimes played drums. In fact, the same guy who played on Ace Frehley’s 1978 solo album (and who would later gain fame as the drummer in David Letterman’s late night all-star band), Anton Fig, provided most of the drumming on this one. How embarrassing (for Criss; for the band).

Speaking of that Ace Frehley solo album: what a revelation. The space cadet who played the (often excellent) solos and was usually too self-conscious to sing suddenly came into his own. His effort is, arguably, the most cohesive Kiss-related album since Destroyer. True, Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun had the hits and put them over the top commercially, but they were also overly produced and oddly sterile (compare virtually any of those songs with how much better they sound on Kiss Alive II). For whatever reason, whether it was fatigue, chemicals or lack of inspiration, Frehley briefly emerged as the unquestionable creative force in the band. His solo album was so much better than the others’ it seems unfair, even inappropriate, to compare them, and on Dynasty he is practically holding the act together himself. That he could not hold his own act together much longer is as unfortunate as it was inevitable (if you find that to be a harsh or inaccurate assessment, listen to the lyrics on the solo set—or just consider some of the song titles: “Snowblind”, “Ozone”, “Wiped Out”).

Frehley’s two original contributions, “Hard Times” and “Save Your Love” rock as hard as anything Kiss ever did, and his guitar playing throughout is assured and intense. Even though this album has questionable material from Stanley and Simmons, like “X-Ray Eyes” and “Sure Know Something”, those gents also acquit themselves tolerably well with “Charisma” and “Magic Touch”. Yes, “Magic Touch” is probably a song that makes even hardcore Kiss fans feel a bit faint (in a bad way), yet it’s almost disgustingly irresistible. And Ace’s solo is ridiculous (in a good way). Last, but not least, there is the Stones’ cover, “2000 Man.” First off, having the balls to cover an obscure Stones song warrants Frehley serious props, and the fact that he pulls off a much-better-than-respectable (and, importantly, not paint-by-numbers) interpretation was impressive, then, and remains righteous, now. The other members may have already been phoning it in by this point, but Ace had a few more tricks up his sleeve and Dynasty should, if nothing else, be celebrated as the last time he looked down at the rest of the world.

Bonus: Love for the band’s best album (by far).

First off, much more on this, another time. For now, to revisit my piece from 2010, Hey Gibson, Let’s Talk Guitar Albums!, here is a short, sweet love letter to Kiss: Alive!

Before the sex, drugs, alcohol and the gravity of expectations vs. ability set in, Kiss was lean, hungry, unappreciated and angry. They also wore make-up. But circa 1975, the hardest touring band in show biz was firing on every conceivable cylinder. Their overproduced, somewhat half-baked studio work did not adequately represent what outstanding musicians they all were (no, seriously), but their genius decision to put out a live album (before they were big) and make it a double album was what put them over. And it still sounds incredible; easily one of the best live albums of the era. (Even if chunks, perhaps large chunks of it were retouched and refined and redone in the studio. Chalk that up to WHO GIVES A SHIT?) The star of these proceedings is Ace Frehley, who was always better than he sounded. He is a rock god on this outing, and he never really sounded better than this. Every single song features a solo that is logical, concise and utterly original (check out his restrained but authoritative work at the 1:50 minute mark here). All those candy-ass hair bands in the ’80s weren’t even trying to emulate this because they knew it was impossible.

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Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine: Part Two

Picking up where we left off yesterday (which, in case you missed it, is HERE) and continuing the celebration (of the lizard), let’s pick five more vintage vinyls.

If your parents didn’t have a copy of this one, we now know why you turned out the way you did (just kidding…sort of). Too many slices of perfection to pick from, but I have to go with my go-to anthem: when all else fails, I have my books and my poetry to protect me. Preach it, Paul!

Ah, Yes. (Much more on them in THIS series.) This is another one from my grade school boy’s old man, bless his soul. I snatched this one up for the FM staple “Roundabout” but was quickly converted to the greater glories of prog-rock masterpieces “South Side of the Sky” (Wakeman!) and “Long Distance Run Around” (Wakeman!), but the one that does it best, to this day, is “Heart of the Sunrise”. Not for nothing was Fragile one of the first CDs I acquired. I still have it; I still listen to it. A lot.

The Runt! This is one salvaged from my friend’s attic. Here is one I wish I had been “of age” in the 70s to properly enjoy. Having this one, on vinyl, back in the day? The only thing slightly less satisfying is having it on vinyl, today. And no way I can only choose one from this double-LP, so one from each record (sides one and four for anyone keeping score at home). Two slices of pop perfection: BAM!

“I Saw The Light”:

“Hello, It’s Me”:

I originally acquired their fourth album for “Stairway To Heaven” and eventually understood that it was the eighth best song on the album (just kidding…sort of). I saved up my money for Physical Graffiti (I still remember the day I got that: during the first quarter break in 8th grade, at the Waxie Maxies in Sterling, next to the double-decker McDonalds…I KNOW!) so I could have “Kashmir” to listen to and enjoy anytime I wanted. I eventually understood that it was the best song they ever did (not kidding…maybe). Pound for pound, and there is tonnage on this baby, this gives me as much joy as practically any album I’ve ever owned. It’s so wonderful to know I still have the original in my milk crate. One from each record:

“Houses of the Holy”:

“In The Light” (which kicks off one of most sublime sides of any album from any era by anyone):

Okay. Now we are getting into the belly of the beast. This was what I wanted for Christmas in 1978 (3rd grade) and this is what I got. Kiss was my first love, and I will always praise my parents for indulging me. By 4th grade I had moved on to The Beatles and in 5th grade the trifecta of Zeppelin, Hendrix and The Doors put me off (or on?) the grid forever. But the gateway to more meaningful music (yeah, you read that right) began with a bunch of New Yorkers who wore make-up. Kiss was arguably the biggest (or at least hottest, as in, YOU WANTED THE BEST AND YOU GOT THE BEST: THE HOTTEST BAND IN THE WORLD, KISS!) band going, so it was an embarrassment of riches when they dropped solo albums. The audacity! The ambition! The…horror. Other than Gene’s, which was tolerable, Peter’s (unsurprisingly) sort of sucked, and Paul’s (surprisingly) really sucked. But Ace’s was a revelation. It sounded incredibly, unbelievably good, then. It still does, today. I’d go toe-to-toe with anyone who wanted to debate the merits of this semi-masterpiece. Even if he was already greasing his own skids into drug-induced oblivion, Ace never sang or played more clearly or convincingly. Indeed, the entire album is a clinic of dexterity, pop-craft smarts and irresistible sing-along anthems. It’s a gem that still sparkles, shamelessly, in my collection. Sidenote: I still hear the epic solo in the first track with a jarring pause, because my original copy had an unfortunate skip (something we must acknowledge even as we extoll the glories of wax: sometimes brand new copies came defective). I listened to it so many times back in the day that even when I eventually upgraded to CD, I did –and do– still hear it the wrong way, and if that’s wrong I don’t wanna be right! Sidenote two: I’m inclined, on principle, to embed every single song from this fucka, but I intend to eventually do a proper assessment of this album, so be warned!

Bonus album: long live the inside cover gatefold, ’60s style!

“Summer’s Almost Gone” (7th grade and Susie Willess…yes, I’ll name names. Oh my God. OH MY GOD.)

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Ten Albums That Supposedly Suck (But Do Not): #10

10. Kiss: Dynasty (1979)

Okay, let’s get this one out of the way right up front. It’s not necessarily that this album is better than average (it’s not), it’s that so many members of the Kiss Army—not to mention normal people who understand, and accept, that Gene Simmons wears a toupee today and likely wore a wig then—think it sucks (it doesn’t). More than a few folks point to this as the nadir of the original band’s output. It might be, actually, but that still does not mean it sucks. Yes, it has the made-for-radio, inspired by disco (!) debacle “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, a title so insipid, uninspired and calculated it could not possibly be tolerable on principle. There are a lot of other stinkers on this set, particularly the one contribution from Peter Criss, a cat who went from being a drummer who sometimes did drugs to a druggie who sometimes played drums. In fact, the same guy who played on Ace Frehley’s 1978 solo album (and who would later gain fame as the drummer in David Letterman’s late night all-star band), Anton Fig, provided most of the drumming on this one. How embarrassing (for Criss; for the band).

Speaking of that Ace Frehley solo album: what a revelation. The space cadet who played the (often excellent) solos and was usually too self-conscious to sing suddenly came into his own. His effort is, arguably, the most cohesive Kiss-related album since Destroyer. True, Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun had the hits and put them over the top commercially, but they were also overly produced and oddly sterile (compare virtually any of those songs with how much better they sound on Kiss Alive II). For whatever reason, whether it was fatigue, chemicals or lack of inspiration, Frehley briefly emerged as the unquestionable creative force in the band. His solo album was so much better than the others’ it seems unfair, even inappropriate, to compare them, and on Dynasty he is practically holding the act together himself. That he could not hold his own act together much longer is as unfortunate as it was inevitable (if you find that to be a harsh or inaccurate assessment, listen to the lyrics on the solo set—or just consider some of the song titles: “Snowblind”, “Ozone”, “Wiped Out”).

Frehley’s two original contributions, “Hard Times” and “Save Your Love” rock as hard as anything Kiss ever did, and his guitar playing throughout is assured and intense. Even though this album has questionable material from Stanley and Simmons, like “X-Ray Eyes” and “Sure Know Something”, those gents also acquit themselves tolerably well with “Charisma” and “Magic Touch”. Yes, “Magic Touch” is probably a song that makes even hardcore Kiss fans feel a bit faint (in a bad way), yet it’s almost disgustingly irresistible. And Ace’s solo is ridiculous (in a good way). Last, but not least, there is the Stones’ cover, “2000 Man.” First off, having the balls to cover an obscure Stones song warrants Frehley serious props, and the fact that he pulls off a much-better-than-respectable (and, importantly, not paint-by-numbers) interpretation was impressive, then, and remains righteous, now. The other members may have already been phoning it in by this point, but Ace had a few more tricks up his sleeve and Dynasty should, if nothing else, be celebrated as the last time he looked down at the rest of the world.

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Les Paul, R.I.P.

lespaul_03

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our world is a much poorer place today.

How could one man enrich us this much? Let me count some of the ways…

 

 

 

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