In Defense Of KISS

I KNOW I’m the only one who liked/likes KISS around here. KISS takes a beating anytime they come up and I’m certain that will continue. Despite the futility of this effort, I will stick my neck out anyway and offer a few random points on their behalf:

1) It is next to impossible at this point for haters to remember what KISS was about when they first showed up on the scene. They were exciting, mysterious and dangerous. My little brother was downright frightened of the debut album cover. There was nothing like them in 1973.

2) They were a unique blend of hard rock with poppy tunefulness. The best comparison – as others have mentioned – is Slade, but heavier on the hard rock and lighter on the pop. Gene Simmons has said flat-out that there would be no KISS without Slade. I loved Slade.

3) There was no dicking around with ballads or hippy-dippy experimentation with their stuff. They went four entire albums before a ballad appeared on the fifth album (yes, “Beth” was the first sniff of the downfall). All the other rocking bands I knew at the time required the patience of dealing with at least some crap. Do we really need “Going To California?” Sorry, I didn’t know The Stooges yet. I was just a 12-year-old for heaven’s sake. Perhaps Iggy could have saved me from KISS.

4) The “no dicking around” policy was nirvana for me. Finally a band that was bam-bam-bam, in your face. Three minute blasts of hard rock with a pop edge. Later, Brit punk provided bam-bam-bam-bam. Then hardcore bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. The less nonsense the better always worked for me.

5) KISS is a band’s band in a lot of ways. So many good bands cite KISS as an early influence. The fact that my beloved Hellacopters are huge KISS fans justifies my fondness all by itself as far as I’m concerned. I bought the first real KISS tribute album “KISS My Ass” a long time ago and look at the list of participants – Lenny Kravitz, Garth Brooks, Anthrax, Gin Blossoms, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Shandi’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr., Extreme, The Lemonheads, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Yoshiki. Certainly some losers in there, but some pretty big winners as well.

6) Now everyone knows Simmons and Stanley were cold and calculating (and Simmons is an asshole of Nugent proportions), but no one knew that from 1973-1976. Yes, KISS hasn’t produced much of anything good since back then, but, so what? Their early stuff still rocks. The debut album still stands up very well. How about Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship? Do we say throw out Airplane because Starship sucked? Forget about KISS since the late 70s.

Here’s a video from the good old “Midnight Special.” What’s not to like? (By the way, the bass Gene is playing is the very same model I bought – had to have it – as my very first brand new bass guitar back in 1976. I still have that Gibson Grabber today.)

11 thoughts on “In Defense Of KISS

  1. Not guilty. I don’t hate KISS and never did. I had their first album and I saw them at the Beacon in 1975. Slade had better songs but KISS was better live. And KISS had some songs too, in the stupid-rock vein, and we always need some of them. The Slade comp is valid, and they had plenty of Grand Funk and Humble Pie in them too. Strutter, Nothin to Lose, Cold Gin, all fine for the time and party tunes to this day. As a people’s band they kicked the shit out of Aerosmith. Musically they got boring fast, but I don’t think anyone ever expected “authenticity” from them, whatever that is, except that it seems to be the basis for many of our disputes.

    I think that anyone who makes records is inauthentic. Live albums? Sorry, “recorded live” is oxymoronic, and most live albums have overdubs anyway including KISS’s. Where you were at the concert or how that concert was recorded very often make for completely different experiences. The larger point is that any recording is a construct, and while everyone tries to play their parts, well, authentically, recordings are not a 3:37 snapshot of reality. The greatest we-don’t-give-a-fuck band to ever make it big, The Sex Pistols, spent months making Bollocks, and I am glad they did.

    Authenticity of stance is another matter. It’s wonderful if the stance is wonderful, but it is utterly unnecessary. Some of the best rocknroll songs ever made were played by studio musicians who would rather have been playing jazz or God help us movie soundtracks. All that matters to me is that what I’m hearing sounds good. I don’t care if Josef Stalin or even Donald Trump wrote Back Door Man. I don’t care that The Ramones wore leather jackets. I’d rather see imaginative looks, but when The Allman Brothers or Nirvana were at their best, I don’t care that they were wearing drab uniforms or even someone else’s drab uniform.

    The problem here is that there isn’t that much to say about great rocknroll beyond hey listen to this, so we divert into things we CAN talk about.

  2. hmmm. I might write something else, but first things first.

    Unquestionably, that is the best KISS song I have ever heard. Period. I also agree that that tune is rock and roll.

    As you know Steve, I am not much of a Slade fan. It took the Pistols to get any hooks into me, shifting me off 801 and the Tubes–I was already tiring of Queen and ELO, who had been my faves, but seemed stale–around the time Slade hit.

    Glam just did not do it for me (it took safety pins and tatoos and totally ripped clothes).

    But, again, I think a lot of it was age. For me the Airplane was in your face (and please, remember, the Starship–sans Jefferson–was not the Airplane. Jefferson Starship, who produced some good and interesting shit, were. As Peter noted, Blows Against the Empire had some great moments, as did Red Octopus and Earth).

    For me the Stones and the SF band represented all that you noted you loved about KISS and the bands you loved when you were an adolescent.

    Maybe they are tame by today’s standards, but at the time, the Airplane and John Lennon had the government frightened.

    However, I am sure to those beatniks who hated Dylan plugging in would have a ho-hum attitude towards The Moody Blues being my favorite band in the late 60’s.

    And, I don’t say this to invalidate: I get it. I get it every time I see Dazed and Confused (love that movie, now as much as American Graffiti).

    I just don’t see it as creative like you do because someone tripped those wires before, I guess.

    But, there were plenty of bands who just cranked out songs without doing ballads. Midnight Oil. AC/DC. Lynnard Skynnard.

    OTOH, the Ramones did “Questioningly.”

    Which is why, I think, it gets hard pigeon-holing any of this shit, cos it all goes back to Duke Ellington (“If it is good to you….”).

    I guess what I look for in a band, though, is a sound, and a spark of wit or intelligence or something that promises the music will grow/change.

    For better or worse, the Pistols and the Ramones–simplistic or not–hit that nail right on the head for me.

    KISS didn’t and nothing I have ever heard them do points to it (even this clip, which does rock, and is tight as hell does not tell me as much as “You’re Gonna Miss Me” did the first time I heard it).

    http://youtu.be/0OytJYBfwUk

    But, I think pointing out your kids like nothing that you like kind of supports that there is something about our age and how we process shit and starting to understand the world around us (cos this all seems to happen to us around ages 12-14 it seems) that really hits the hot/cold button of our souls.

    Which I guess is a pretty cheapshit piece of rationalization.

    However, that does not mean I might not be on to something.

  3. I agree 100 percent on the Duke Ellington quote, Lawr. However, I think yesterday you mentioned that I might like a bunch of other music if I’d just give it a chance, etc. Actually, it’s the other way around. I was a lot more open-minded 20 years ago. There’s not much of what you guys discuss that I haven’t tried. I feel like, at this point in my musical life, I’ve figured out what’s best and to hell with the rest.

    The bands you point out as “no ballad” bands are interesting. I don’t know Midnight Oil besides the hits, but weren’t they 80’s? You’re dead-on with AC/DC and I love the Bon Scott version as much as anything, but they didn’t come along until the mid-70’s. Due to the Hellacopters’ fantastic cover of “Workin’ For MCA” I figured I needed to rediscover Lynyrd Skynyrd. I bought all their early stuff on CD and there’re a lot of ballads and assorted other crap in between the really good stuff. Who else was doing bam-bam-bam hard rock with just enough pop in 1973?

  4. I have a KISS story that some of you have heard.

    Back in 1979 or so, my girlfriend introduced me to Willy and Toots DeVille, with whom she grew up in Connecticut. Willy wore those pointy Cuban shoes that greasers wore back then and lots of black and magenta, while Toots was a darlin’ woman who gladly took you in as part of the family (until you crossed a line and were excommunicated).

    We would sometimes hang out at their apartment on Jane Street and listen to music and banter and when the spirit hit there was a horn of plenty of drugs. It wasn’t crazy decadent, but it was pretty louche. There’s lots more to be said about all that but that isn’t my KISS story.

    At some point Willy and Toots let us know that they were headed to Paris to record Le Chat Bleu and asked if we would move into their apartment and babysit for their son Billy, who was probably in second or third grade. As you can imagine, there were a lot of instructions, but the fact was we enjoyed the kid, we fancied we were good with kids, and we were happy to help out our friends.

    The funny thing was that Billy’s favorite band was KISS, and Willy and Toots hated KISS so passionately they’d hid the records in the top of some closet. I don’t know that there was a specific order not to let Billy listen to KISS, but the message over the preceding months was strong and clear. They hated KISS, who stood for everything hateful and not romantic and creative, the way they did.

    Things on the babysitting front started well enough. We walked hit to school at PS3 each morning and picked him up in the afternoon. I don’t really remember much about our daily life, except once going to school for a parent teacher conference, acting as the guardian (I was about 23 years old), writing notes about the doings and mailing them off to France.

    Now, Catherine and I had this notion then, that video of rock bands was going to become somewhat important, and we had started filming some bands in clubs with the goal of creating promotional versions of their best songs. One group we had an in with was the Tom Pacheco Band. Tom had songs covered by Richie Havens and Jefferson Starship, but his band (later called the Hellhounds) was a little rootsy and a lot rocking, with a big drum and bass sound and lots of careening guitar leads. We had plans to shoot their upcoming show at Gerdes Folk City. One afternoon, after school, we took Billy and his blocks and coloring books to Folk City for a production meeting. He played at a table beside us, while we worked out the shoot.

    And on the night of the shoot we had friends from Vermont babysit. Good responsible loving folks. All seemed to be going very well, when a couple days later we got a call from DeVille’s lawyer. We were fired, just like that, and had to move out immediately. The offenses: Taking young Billy to a bar, leaving him with babysitters Willy and Toots didn’t know, and letting him listen to KISS. What happened was he’d moaned so much about not being able to listen to the records, and he knew right where the records were, that we relented. After all, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, right?

  5. No argument with we love what we love, Steve. And, I get comfort zones and that music is indeed comforting and a refuge.

    But, I also think just because we are not down with something does not mean it is crap (well, sometimes it is). I mean, I have a hell of a time getting Diane to watch foreign movies, although once I get her to, she likes what I want her to see (sigh, she cannot even pick out my bass playing when I play live, so music is not there for her).

    This is my fave Midnight Oil cut. Stars of Wharburton, which is from Scream in Blue, a live disc. I saw them in the late 80’s and they were excellent. Clearly had spent a LOT of time in bars. And, they have more straight ahead rockers than this, but somehow this tune gets me (I want the Biletones to cover, but that is another story).

    Peter Garrett, their singer and lyricist is also a barrister and I think is the head of the Australian equivalent to the EPA here.

    But as a political guy, he said he could just not imagine writing love songs. They felt all wrong when he tried.

    http://youtu.be/8_tqPW2tPUU

    Good KISS/Willy de Ville story Peter.

  6. Great KISS/Willy de Ville story, Peter. Says a lot about a lot. Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” is just begging to be in there somewhere.

    Lawr, when I say “crap” I really mean “crap to me.” I just get loose around my friends (as do my bowels – crowd breaks up with laughter). In a more Duke Ellington spirit, for the most part, at this point in my life, I know what I like and what I don’t. And, my guess is all of you would agree, there’s rarely anything that comes out anymore in rock that truly new. It’s whose variations and conglomerations of “it’s all been done before” are best.

  7. I don’t know a lot about Willy or Mink DeVille, but, thinking about all this further, where I’d see him/them most is in “Rock Scene” magazine, one of my favorites. And the reason I started buying “Rock Scene” is that they always provided a lot of early KISS coverage. It’s all connected.

  8. the late Willy and his band were great. sort of tied punk with spanish harlem with doo wop.

    but, peter’s story reminded me of “Surrender” by Cheap Trick…”rock and rolling, rolling numbers, got my KISS records out…”

  9. Excellent, Lawr. I would go so far as to say that Surrender is the best KISS song ever. I was a big Rock Scene fan too. I want more pix of The Harlots of 42nd Street! The Dogs! Teenage Lust! (KISS opened for them at their debut at the Academy of Music, the bill was Blue Oyster Cult, The Stooges, Teenage Lust and KISS). Drool, Steve.

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