Written by Bill Pulice
I’ll admit it. I was a pretty big KISS fan growing up and it was Alive! (1975) that started it all. Their live performances were like no other and they had some very good songs, such as “Detroit Rock City,” “Making Love,” Shout It Out Loud,” to name a few.
Fast forward to July 1992 when I had the pleasure, or shall I say experience, of interviewing Paul Stanley. I had “the nerve” to continually question why they chose to have Bruce Kulick dub over Ace Frehley’s original guitar track on the song “Carr Jam 1981″ (I didn’t know about the studio wizardry behind the Alive! album, but we’ll get to that.) He politely threatened to end the interview if I did not stop questioning the decision. So I placated and delved into some of the tracks on the album Revenge that he was promoting. I took the interview because he was Paul Stanley, the guy I loved and admired in my youth. It certainly wasn’t my desire to promote Revenge. It wasn’t a good album and Kiss had begun to turn me off long before 1992.
After the embarrassing TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978) and their pretentious solo albums in the same year, KISS were a marketing machine and making a fortune, but musically they were in decline. Yet, they struck while the iron was still hot and who could blame them. This comic strip rock star band was now an international phenomena; selling comic books, dolls, lunch boxes, watches, toy cars… Between 1977 and 1979, worldwide merchandise sales (in-store and on tour) reached an estimated $100 million.
The reality is that KISS, the “hottest band in the world,” has always been more focused on, or better at, making money than quality music, no matter what they say. Going unmasked, reunion tours, farewell tours (2001), more Alive! records, numerous compilation albums (14!), seven box sets, 15 VHS/DVD releases featuring “rare” footage, KISS Kruise’s, buying an Arena football team – LA Kiss… The list goes on and on. Anything to maintain KISS as KI$$. Hey, why not give disco a shot? Let’s get Desmond Child in here and help co-write “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” (1979).
Really? Over the last few years, as we all know by now, KISS had become increasingly frustrated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s refusal to induct the band. After being shut out of the Rock Hall last year, bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons told Rolling Stone infamously: “It’s become a joke. We’ve been thinking about it and the answer is simply, ‘We’ll just buy it and fire everybody.’ In all seriousness for the fans, for something to be called Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is such an insult to Madonna, Blondie. . . Who the fuck knows what other disco act is in there? … They don’t belong in rock and roll.”
Neither did “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” but point made, on both ends, and Blondie had a few disco-ish hits but they belong. Sorry.
Last year, Simmons told The Pulse Of Radio: “Our awards are under the ‘K’ section in record stores. Every time somebody goes out and plunks down their hard-earned money – either for a KISS ticket or for an album – that’s the award, and reward.” In other words, it is all about the money.
“The root of all evil isn’t money; rather, it’s not having enough money.” – Gene Simmons
Simmons and especially Stanley have never had a problem trashing their contemporaries at any possible opportunity. Stanley adds: “The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has reached a point where they’re really scrounging and scratching to find someone left that they consider viable. With all due respect, when you get to Patti Smith, you’re about two steps away from Pete Seeger.”
This comes from the man who is proud to proclaim the greatness of KISS at nauseum: “Obviously, when Kiss gets involved with something it takes it over the top to a place like that other band can.” / “KISS has always been outside of the borders of what other bands can do. Not that some of these other bands wouldn’t want to do it – the fact that they may snicker or look down their noses at what we do is more out of jealously than anything else.” / “We wrote another page in Kisstory. Only in America, and only KISS.” / “Tooting my own horn is of no interest to me… I don’t find a need to sing my own praises.”
Okay, you get the point. They whined, complained, called on their KISS Army for support… and the Rock Hall caved and were wrong in doing so. KISS simply does not belong in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and both parties have become an embarrassment. Let’s look at some supporting facts.
According to their website: “To be eligible for induction… into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record … at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence. We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.”
The red denotes where KISS does not meet the stated criteria.
Among their 20 studio albums, the question not only is how many great studio albums did KISS create, but also how many awful records they produced? The answer is clear: they do not have one outstanding album and they have plenty of trash in their discography. This does not equate to unquestionable musical excellence.
Looking at the band as a whole, KISS were an extraordinary live theatrical band. Their performances were like no other. However, this does not fit into the criteria of the Rock Halls eligibility. Even Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler questioned Kiss during a radio interview in Florida as a “comic book rock band [with] spackled faces [and] a couple of hits.” He’s completely right.
Despite the publicity and constant touring, KISS’ first three albums sold extremely poor – 50 to 90K each. The band and their record company Casablanca were in a virtual state of bankruptcy. Their next release was essentially do or die, so they decided to record what they do best – a live album.
Producer Eddie Kramer had his hands full when the band recorded five shows at Detroit’s Cobo Arena. The recordings were filled with performance mistakes largely due to the bands energetic movements on stage. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
“People go in and go ‘I’ll record an album like Kiss Alive. Guess what? A lot of them suck! Because making something that is beautiful in its rawness and in its ugliness is not as easy as one might think.” – Paul Stanley. For once he’s right.
Unknown to many at the time, Alive! featured massive studio overdubs which raises the question of integrity. In fact, Peter Criss admitted in his autobiography that the only original live recordings on the album were his drum tracks which Kramer has confirmed. Also, Kramer boosted the sound of the audience from various KISS performances. Despite the stance of Simmons and Stanley, Alive! was a highly manipulated release that essentially saved the bands career. We can give them a pass as extreme desperation led to innovation, but it is a queasy anecdote.
Truth told, Eddie Kramer essentially saved the career of KISS because it was Alive! that brought the band to worldwide recognition and success. It wasn’t their studio albums that made them a phenomena, it was their live performances.
Regardless, on April 10th, the original lineup of KISS will be inducted into the Rock Hall. However, KISS is still not satisfied as they want other members of KISS to be included as well and not just the original members.
Rock Hall organizers declined to let that lineup play. “From our standpoint, Kiss is the four original members,” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation CEO Joel Peresman to Rolling Stone.
“The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t like us,” Stanley told New York’s Daily News. “It’s not a coincidence that it took us 14 years to get in while some rap artists have been there quite a while.”
However, Ace Frehley feels Simmons and Stanley didn’t want to hurt Kiss’ summer tour with Def Leppard. “The reason they don’t want to perform with me and Peter is because the last time they did, they had to do a reunion tour,” Frehley told Rolling Stone. “We play three songs, the fans go crazy. They don’t want to open up a can of worms.”
In retort, Simmons said Frehley and Criss “no longer deserve to wear the paint,” adding, “The makeup is earned.” Gag!
Kiss made a statement via their official website. Here is an except that tells it all:
“Kiss has always been a band unlike any other. Being unlike other bands also means making choices and decisions unlike other bands … To bring this [dispute] to a quick end, we have decided not to play [the concert] in any line-up and we will focus our attention on celebrating our induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We are excited and are looking forward to seeing you all on the KISS 40th Anniversary worldwide tour.”
No matter how you feel about the institution that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s ironic that Kiss finally gets inducted and they put on a theatrical performance that doesn’t include actually performing. Stanley and Simmons put their egos above all, including their fans. Once a gimmick, always a gimmick, and anything but Hall of Fame worthy.
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