08/23/2011

THREE IKONIK KISS ALBUMS

Yell! Magazine’s Holy Trinity Series – Three Ikonik KISS Albums

By By Evil Argento

http://www.yellmagazine.com

Christian doctrine teaches that God exists in three beings (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), creating a trinity otherwise known as “Godhead.” Basically, all are one and none exist without the other. This is somewhat the basis for Yell! Magazine’s Holy Trinity series. What we present here are three elements from a particular medium and/or genre within a particular medium (be it three albums from a band, a musical genre, a film director, a genre or sub-genre of film, video game franchise or developer/publisher, etc.) that must be owned, heard, viewed, or played in order for a “fan” to achieve completion. For example, if someone is a heavy metal fan, their album collection is incomplete without the eponymous Paranoid, from Black Sabbath. However, owning the latest Justin Bieber album trumps everything, making you a true fan of everything and the messiah.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, KISS’ influence and bombastic impact on heavy metal and hard rock is irrefutable. Who in the civilized world isn’t familiar with at least one of their songs (most likely “Rock And Roll All Nite”) or can’t name that band based solely on an image? And while, yes, the argument presented thus far is weak, we’ll appease any naysayers, though they already know it’s true, and state that:

KISS has sold more than 100 million albums world wide; while promoting their first album much bigger bands refused to let KISS open for them for fear of being upstaged by their live show; KISS was the first band to find success with a live album (Alive!), setting the bar and ushering in a new era of music consumption; KISS are marketing giants having achieved a level of branding many strive for but few reach; KISS beat the The Beatles at Budakan, selling and performing five sold out shows while The Beatles only managed four; between 1977 and 1979 alone, KISS merchandise sales reached an estimated $100 million (do you know how much money that was in the ‘70s? It’s about $300 million today.); KISS was the first band (and I can’t name any subsequent bands) to have all members release “solo” albums simultaneously on the same day; they’ve released 19 studio albums (12 of which were released in their first decade of existence); in total KISS has received 42 Gold and 16 Platinum Awards in the U.S. alone.Yell! Magazine’s Holy Trinity Series – Three Ikonik KISS Albums

By By Evil Argento

http://www.yellmagazine.com

Christian doctrine teaches that God exists in three beings (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), creating a trinity otherwise known as “Godhead.” Basically, all are one and none exist without the other. This is somewhat the basis for Yell! Magazine’s Holy Trinity series. What we present here are three elements from a particular medium and/or genre within a particular medium (be it three albums from a band, a musical genre, a film director, a genre or sub-genre of film, video game franchise or developer/publisher, etc.) that must be owned, heard, viewed, or played in order for a “fan” to achieve completion. For example, if someone is a heavy metal fan, their album collection is incomplete without the eponymous Paranoid, from Black Sabbath. However, owning the latest Justin Bieber album trumps everything, making you a true fan of everything and the messiah.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, KISS’ influence and bombastic impact on heavy metal and hard rock is irrefutable. Who in the civilized world isn’t familiar with at least one of their songs (most likely “Rock And Roll All Nite”) or can’t name that band based solely on an image? And while, yes, the argument presented thus far is weak, we’ll appease any naysayers, though they already know it’s true, and state that:

KISS has sold more than 100 million albums world wide; while promoting their first album much bigger bands refused to let KISS open for them for fear of being upstaged by their live show; KISS was the first band to find success with a live album (Alive!), setting the bar and ushering in a new era of music consumption; KISS are marketing giants having achieved a level of branding many strive for but few reach; KISS beat the The Beatles at Budakan, selling and performing five sold out shows while The Beatles only managed four; between 1977 and 1979 alone, KISS merchandise sales reached an estimated $100 million (do you know how much money that was in the ‘70s? It’s about $300 million today.); KISS was the first band (and I can’t name any subsequent bands) to have all members release “solo” albums simultaneously on the same day; they’ve released 19 studio albums (12 of which were released in their first decade of existence); in total KISS has received 42 Gold and 16 Platinum Awards in the U.S. alone.

Plus, Dimebag Darrell is buried in a KISS Kasket. RIP.

When it comes to a band with as extensive a history and such a deep discography as KISS’, it’s challenging to settle on one holy trinity. In fact, there are two holy trinities within the KISS discography, but here we’ll focus on the superior of the two. Superior because these three albums are the most driven, hungry, straight-forward, and ambitious (in the sense that they feature some of the band’s hardest-hitting, intense rock and roll, which at the time was classified as heavy metal and/or hard rock; the terms were interchangeable in the ‘70s as the genres hadn’t been divided yet) KISS albums produced.

KISS: KISS

The first album we’ll address is the one that started it all, the self-titled KISS. Released on February 18, 1974, this 35-minute opus not only has one of the greatest album covers in music history (featuring all four of their sinister faces against a black background), but it also contains so many great songs, such as “Strutter” and “Deuce,” that they’ve remained staples of KISS’ live performances for more than 35 years.

Yes, there are a couple of tracks that could be considered throw-aways, like “Love Theme From KISS” and the cover “Kissin’ Time,” the latter of which didn’t actually appear on the original release; it was added at the insistence of then Casablanca co-founder, Neil Bogart, in an attempt to boost lackluster album sales. It worked, but KISS didn’t want it on the album. The album was also panned by the critics, who wrote the band off as a joke, but when they performed their first single, “Nothin’ to Loose” (a song about anal sex), on Dick Clark’s In Concert, many were exposed to the phenomenal live KISS experience and then people slowly began to understand.

Unfortunately, as great as this album is, it failed to capture the earth-shattering live essence of KISS. That would have to wait for Alive! Nonetheless, KISS remains a fan favorite, an essential to anyone’s KISS kollection or classic rock collection for that matter. Many of the tracks were written by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley during their pre-KISS days in Wicked Lester, some of which have the rare distinction of having co-writing credit between the two and “Love Theme From KISS” is the only song in the entire KISS catalog to give credit to all four original members.

What makes KISS so great is its ability to straddle ‘50s-era rock and roll with a Beatles style and bring it into the then-modern era of heavy metal, which meant more prominent bass guitar, grittier vocals (though still perfectly harmonized), blistering guitar solos, and a lot more jazz-inspired drum fills. It’s simple. It’s fun. It’s dark. It changed the genre. And it inspired countless musicians and bands to follow.

Stand out tracks outside of “Strutter” and “Deuce” include: “Nothin’ To Lose,” “Firehouse,” “Cold Gin,” “100,000 Years,” and “Black Diamond.” Yes, that’s almost the entire album – that’s how good it is.

KISS: Hotter Than Hell

After just a few months of intense touring following the release of KISS, the tireless band returned to the studio in July to hammer out and release Hotter Than Hell on October 22, 1974. The first thing that many listeners will notice about this sophomore effort is the recording; it sounds gritty, scratchy, less than perfect. This wasn’t a mistake as KISS was intend on capturing their live sound.

Despite some of KISS’ best material and displays of their best musicianship, Hotter Than Hell didn’t capture the public’s attention as they had hoped – in fact, the album was a bigger flop than their debut. Many owe this to the fact that their label, Casablanca, lost its distribution deal with Warner Bros. and, thus, lost out on backing.

Some say that KISS hadn’t grown musically, and that may be true, or that Hotter Than Hell doesn’t offer anything that hadn’t already been heard on KISS, but this is decidedly a darker, gloomier, heavier, grittier, raunchier album than its predecessor. However, the “outro” provided at the end of KISS’ final track, “Black Diamond,” does seem to foretell the vibe that would appear on Hotter.

Why the slight shift in sound? It might be because KISS had to relocate to California to record it and though you might think that would give them a sunny disposition, they were New Yorkers and pissed to be out of their element. Sure, there are some lighter rock-and-roll-feel-good tracks (“Got To Choose,” “Hotter Than Hell,” Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “All The Way,” and “Comin’ Home”), but many of these tracks feel slower than they should be, deal with less-than-honorable subject matter, and sound tuned down.

Also, a good listen to the rest of the album will show an attentive ear that a number of the tracks served as precursors for speed metal (“Parasite”), the glam-metal ballad (“Goin’ Blind”), goth metal (“Strange Ways”), and grunge (“Watching’ You” – though that might be a stretch).

Much of the material on Hotter Than Hell was written while in the studio or shortly before sessions began. Only a few of the tracks – namely, “Goin’ Blind” and “Watchin’ You” were carry overs from the Wicked Lester days. Unlike the preceding album, there are no throw-aways on Hotter Than Hell, but here’s a rundown of some of the more memorable gems:

“Got To Chose” is a nice opener to the album; it’s the one that sounds a bit too slow, but the harmony and bass line are fantastic, and Gene truly carries this number that sets the stage for the ferocity that is “Parasite.”

“Parasite” is by far the heaviest track on the album and is quite possibly the heaviest track KISS ever recorded (excluding the majority of what appears on Carnival of Souls). The main riff is so simple that any hack on the guitar can play it, but it’s powerful. Peter Criss also peaks as a drummer on this one and Gene’s vocals are nothing short of fierce.

The title track, “Hotter Than Hell,” is one of those that gets into your bones. Great riffs, great solos, great back beat, great vocals, great story. Pure KISS. Pure genius.

“Watchin’ You” is a groovy number with precursor Iron Maiden-esque dueling guitars, question and answer solos between Ace and Paul, some required ‘70s era cowbell, and great bass fills from Gene.

“Strange Ways,” written by Frehley and sung by Criss, is another heavy track. Slow and methodic, it’s the type of song that’ll make you change the way you walk. It also features one of Ace’s best guitar solos.

The final album in our KISS Holy Trinity is up next…

KISS: Dressed To Kill

Dressed To Kill is the best album in the holy trinity – if not the best KISS album. Yes, it has the song that everybody in the world knows, “Rock And Roll All Nite,” but that is hardly why this is a great album.

Released on March 19, 1975, just five months after Hotter Than Hell, Dressed To Kill was yet another album that flopped in the eyes of the public, that is, until the live version of “Rock And Roll All Nite” (charting at Number 12) from Alive! was released later that year. While Neil Bogart was the first to recognize that KISS needed an anthem, and Gene and Paul obliged by putting together two songs that they’d been working on independently, “Rock And Roll All Nite” is KISS’ “Stairway to Heaven” – the song everyone knows and is tired of hearing. Since its release, this song has closed most every KISS concert and appears on all best of compilations and live albums.

Behind the scenes there was some considerable duplicitous infighting between the label, management, and producers, which resulted in Neil Bogart (struggling Casablanca label owner) becoming the new producer. This might answer some fans concerns regarding KISS’ departure from a more “metal” sound to one with a lot more pop in it, however, they still maintained their ‘50s-era rock and roll sound and Beatle-like harmony. With major labels showing interest in the band, not for moving products (the previous two albums weren’t moving off the shelves) but for a must-see live performance, Bogart needed to try something different with KISS’ sound if he wanted to keep them on his sinking label.

OK, Dressed To Kill has the greatest back cover in history and, once again, it’s just simplicity; it’s the negative of the photo on the front cover. Musically, there are a few surprises. First, Gene and his bass carry this album; without it, it would sound like shit. Ace is tight throughout, even on KISS’ first acoustic solo introducing “Rock Bottom.” And Peter Criss never sounded as good vocally as he does on “Getaway.” And while the album is fairly pop-oriented, “She” comes out of no where with heavy riffs, blistering solos, great vocals, and awesome lyrics like “The power’s all within her as she takes off her clothes.”

Again, there are no throw-away tracks on this album (except “Rock And Roll All Nite,” but KISS understandably needed this song at the time – and it’s good, so it belongs), but the songs to pay attention to are: “Room Service,” “Getaway,” “Rock Bottom,” “C’mon And Love Me,” and “She.”

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Just think that all this was accomplished with an uncompromising attitude, a belief in your greatness, and 13 months.
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