KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout


KISS My Ass: Rock's Elite Pucker Up To The Masters

(Commentary, June 1994)

Sound Check Magazine
June 1994

By Alan K. Stout
Sound Check Correspondent

click to enlargeThe house lights dim as darkness fills the air. An ear-splitting roar fills the arena.

Soon, a deep voice is heard.

"All right, Philadelphia! You wanted the best! You got the best! The hottest band in the world ...

Two hours later, thousands of weary fans file out of the building. Some walk slowly, exhausted, glassy-eyed and dazed. Some are drenched with perspiration. Some are jumping up and down, rushed with adrenaline.

All are smiling.

They have just witnessed the greatest show on earth.

They have just seen KISS.

For 20 years, this has been happening. And after 20 years, some people still don't get it.

KISS is not about make-up.

KISS is not about stage shows, fire-breathing and pyrotechnics.

KISS is about music. Great music.

And on June 7, some of the biggest names in music will say just that with the release of "KISS MY ASS," an all-star tribute album featuring some of today's hottest artists covering KISS classics.

Behind the title is no doubt a message — a thumb of the nose if you will — to all of the detractors and critics who have never given the band its do.

But critics and preachers don't make albums. Musicians do. And musicians have made "KISS MY ASS" as a way of paying homage to the band that for many has always been there, and hopefully, always will be. In fact, there are a few things you can count in in life: the sun will rise in the East, set in the West, and every year or so, KISS will put out a great album.

When KISS first burst upon the scene 20 years ago, their energy, music, outrageous costumes and make-up captured the hearts and imaginations of a generation. There had never been anything quite like them, and in reality, there hasn't been since. KISS' superstardom of the '70s had them featured on pinball machines, lunch boxes, trading cards, comic books and anything else you apply the four famous faces of Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter. There was even a prime-time NBC television movie.

They were, truly, the hottest band in the world.

But any such "mania" is bound to fade. So why has KISS survived while dozens of others have fallen by the wayside?

Simple answer: They're better.

Perhaps KISS will aways be remembered for their grand '70s heyday. "Rock and Roll All Nite" was the anthem of a generation, and who could forget the simple beauty of "Beth" from their magnificent 1976 "Destroyer" album? Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter were probably just as famous in 1977 as John, Paul, George and Ringo were in 1967, even if we didn't know what they looked like.

The Gin Blossums certainly remember. So does Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, Anthrax and Extreme. They're all on the tribute album. "KISS MY ASS" is a statement. A statement of respect, admiration and love.

Interestingly, corporate politics kept the album from being even bigger, as some acts scheduled to appear on the album were kept off my record company red tape. (It is difficult for bands to appear on albums released labels other than their own.) Rumors had Guns N' Roses doing "King Of The Night Time World," Skid Row ripping through "Flaming Youth," Metallica cranking out "God Of Thunder," Soundgarden offering "War Machine," Madonna crooning "I Was Made For Loving You," plus appearances by Megadeath, Soul Asylum and Alice In Chains. Their absence from the record, however, does not negate the fact that they've all given a big hearty thumbs-up to KISS. Stone Temple Pilots were so steamed at their record label for their inability to appear on the album that they protested by doing a full concert in full KISS make-up.

But perhaps none of this would be happening if not for the fact that KISS did not fizzle out in the '70s or break up. Not my a long shot. Despite several personnel changes — the most significant of which were the late Eric Carr replacing Peter Criss and the subsequent departure of Ace Frehley — the group thrived in the '80s and remain to this day one of rock's top acts.

Eric Carr's death in 1991 of cancer devastated the group and fans, as his powerful and innovative drumming were one of the highlights of KISS' live shows throughout the '80s. Carr has been replaced by the dynamic Eric Singer. The legendary Ace Frehley's departure had KISS playing musical chairs with guitarists before the talented Bruce Kulick settled in nearly 10 years ago.

Yet despite an early '80s slump, popular members leaving, dropping their trademark make-up and even death, KISS came out of the '80s and early '90s with eight gold or platinum albums, and since unmasking in 1983 for the MTV cameras and their "Lick It Up" album and tour, they have remained in the limelight. In 1984, the band released the platinum "Animalize," featuring "Heaven's On Fire," and 1985 produced the platinum "Asylum," containing "Tears Are Falling." In 1987, the group released "Crazy Nights," also platinum, yielding the MTV No. 1 hit "Reason To Live," and in 1989 KISS returned to the radio Top-10 with the smash single "Forever" from "Hot in The Shade." With make-up or without, and right on through 1992's "Revenge" and 1993's "Alive III," KISS has been coasting right along, leaving critics confounded and fans delighted.

Despite their enormous success, KISS remains one of the most misunderstood groups in rock. Like most hard-rock, the underlying theme of much of KISS' music is good times and sex, but if KISS ever had a message, especially in its '80s material, it's the concept on individuality. Believe in yourself, shoot for the top, and try to do it on your own terms. For adolescents who scooped up KISS albums by the millions throughout the decade, the message was strong and positive.

Still despite number-one positions on MTV countdowns, number-one positions in readers' polls and major arena tours coast-to-coast, critical acclaim and the top-40 often still eluded the group, And while the '80s might be remembered as a great decade for hard-rock, it also brought is the Pet Shop Boys, Flock of Seagulls and the contrived pop-hit-manufactured blandness of Genesis, all of whom radio gleefully played he daylight out of. Throughout ball, KISS stayed the course and always packed a punch.

And that's the punch that's saluted on the tribute album, as KISS remain very much a band of the people. But as mentioned earlier, some mainstream music magazines still don't get it. Rolling Stone actually even failed to mention Eric Carr's death. And many uninspired, MTV-fed, top-40 radio program directors still don't get it either.

But Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, Extreme, Anthrax, Motley Crue, Gin Blossums, Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Cher, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Cheap Trick, Skid Row and dozens of others who have sung the praises of KISS get it. Many say they're the reason they're doing what they do today.

I know that I get it. KISS made me realize the power of rock music at a very early age, and are a big reason why I do what I do today. Many working in the entertainment industry say the same.

They say he who laughs last, laughs best. And to all of the critics who dismissed them as a novelty 20 years ago, KISS has not only laughed, but they've always done it in some packed arena with a new album sitting comfortably on the charts. So to the detractors who continually hope that this eternally cool band will simply just go away, get over it. They're here for the duration. And from all of the bands on the tribute album, the tribute act packing clubs across the county, and the millions of fans around the globe, the message is clear — just "KISS MY ASS."

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wasn't sure about including this story here with my KISS archives. If I recall, my original draft was even longer, and after it was edited, it sometimes felt choppy in certain spots, as if it had lost its flow. Also, I was still pretty new to writing at the time, and in this piece, it seemed I was trying to convince — or perhaps persuade — the readers of a few things:

1) KISS' music is what makes the band special.
2) KISS, throughout much '80s, were nearly just as successful as KISS in the '70s.
3) Though critics and radio never really got KISS, plenty of other great bands do, which should give them more credibility.

Remember, this was a few years before the reunion tour and thus before KISS was suddenly extremely fashionable again. In '94, with the release of "KISS MY ASS," a lot of the articles and interviews with the band seemed to take on the tone of "validation" or "vindication." (This occured even within my own 1994 interviews with Gene and Paul, which can also be read on this website.) In retrospect, given the great reviews and accolades the band gets these days, it feels unnecessary. But at the time, it felt right. The title of the album really was perfect. Stevie Wonder, a legend, was on the record. Garth Brooks and Lenny Kravitz were huge at the time. Fans of the band — even famous musicians — were basically telling the old stodgy critics to shove it. And though the final and published draft of this piece isn't my best work, I was basically doing the same. I've included it here for that reason, and for the sake of keeping my KISS archives complete. I also loved the design we came up with for the magazine cover.

Here's a side-bar that also ran with the article:

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"WE'RE UNWORTHY !!!"

Jon Bon Jovi says KISS "Strutter" was the first song he ever performed in front of an audience. Nearly all of the hard-rock bands of the 1980s — from Ratt to Poison to W.A.S.P. — acknowledge KISS as an early favorite and influence. Van Halen's original demo was produced by Gene Simmons, who discovered the group playing in a club. Opening acts for KISS tours have included AC/DC, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden, Cheap Trick, Bob Seger, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, Queensryche and Judas Priest. Here's just a small sample of what some of rock's elite have to say about KISS:

"KISS were the reason I started playing guitar. If it wasn't for them, I'm sure I wouldn't be playing and doing what I'm doing today." — Kim Thayil, Soundgarden

"They just seemed different and more exciting than anything else. It was really that simple. When I saw them, I knew what I wanted to do with my life." — Nikki Sixx, Motley Crue

"It didn't even think about being a musician until I was about 13. That's when I discovered KISS and it was all over. It changed my life, and I thank them everyday." — Dave Sabo, Skid Row

"KISS and its members represent rock 'n roll irreverence at its best, with make-up or without." — Ted Nugent.

"We have become good friends and I admire them immensely." — Ozzy Osbourne

"One day in junior high somebody brought in the first KISS album. That pretty much changed things for me." — Jason Newsted, Metallica

"I started playing guitar because of KISS. They were the biggest band in the world." — Mike McCready, Pearl Jam.

"I remember bouncing around my bedroom playing along to 'KISS ALIVE' on an old tennis racquet. I lived for their music." — Dean Deleo, Stone Temple Pilots

"KISS is and always will be one of the most entertaining and exciting bands that ever happened to rock n' roll." — Bret Michaels, Poison.

"After touring with them, we realized why they are the kings that they are." — Mark Slaughter, Slaughter.

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