Part 3: My First KISS

It went a little like this.  The year was 1985.  I was familiar with “new” Kiss (aka, non-makeup Kiss) thanks to Much Music who played “Heaven’s On Fire” in regular rotation.  Old (aka, makeup) Kiss was a bit more of a mystery but I knew songs like “Rock And Roll All Nite”.

My first awareness of Kiss came from comic books.  Buried in the ads within my Incredible Hulk comic were ads for posters of all the hot stars at the time.  David Cassidy, Brooke Shields, and Kiss.  Seeing their faces and hair, I actually assumed that Kiss were women.  I thought so for months.

When I got into music and Kiss took off the makeup, I really liked their songs.  The music was catchy, it rocked, and it had power.  George the next door neighbor had a near-complete Kiss collection on vinyl.  He was a bit of an outcast, but he was a good way to learn about rock music because he was four years older and loved an audience.  So we’d go over there to listen to Kiss records and learn about the band.  Later on I’d go over there to tape his Kiss albums too.  The only drawback was that George would attempt to play bass to every Kiss song as you taped, and the bass would bleed-through onto the tape.  For a long time, I had a permanent record of George playing bass on Unmasked, until it was finally reissued on cassette in 1988.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Like I said, his collection was near-complete.  I knew the two albums he was missing:  The Elder, and Hotter Than Hell.  I got the call one day from Ian Johnson.  He wanted to arrange a trade for my Atari cartridge, Superman.  It was a pretty weak game, and my sister didn’t want me to trade it away, but it turns out that was the best trade I ever made.  From Ian I acquired my first two Kiss records:  Kiss Alive, which I still have that copy of, and Hotter Than Hell.

I played Hotter Than Hell, liked it, but decided that I needed to up the ante and call George.  He picked up the phone.

“George, do you still need the Kiss album Hotter Than Hell?”

A pause.  “Yes, why?”

“I have a copy here,” I said, knowing he was going to lose his mind.

“I’ll be right over.”

The negotiations were intense.  I knew I had Balasz by the ol’ ball sack.  I also legitimately liked the album and wasn’t too keen on parting with it without getting something worthwhile in return.  The album was scratched to the point that it was worthless to a serious collector but we were just kids and he’d never seen Hotter Than Hell before.

In the end, I walked away with a Sony Walkman, my first Black Sabbath cassette (Paranoid), and an Iron Maiden 12” single for “Running Free” (and I think “Flight of Icarus” too but I don’t have it anymore).  The singles were in excellent condition.  I also wound up with a mint condition Abbott and Costello LP for Who’s On First which I gave to my dad for Christmas that year.  All in all, a pretty good haul.

As an added bonus, George taped Hotter Than Hell for me.  No bass on that one thankfully.  It quickly became my favourite Kiss album.  It still is my favourite today.  I guess that’s what happens with your first Kiss.

Unfortunately the tape I used was a 120 minute Scotch.  Little did I know then about the issues with 120 minute tape.  It stretched.  The sound quality decreased.  And we didn’t have the greatest equipment at the time as it was.  It sucked to have my favourite Kiss album in such low quality for such a long time.  At some point in the 80’s, probably around 1987, it was reissued on cassette and I got a proper copy.    Then, at another point in the 90’s, I began replacing a lot of my cassettes with CDs.  I don’t remember when I first got Hotter Than Hell on CD but it was probably in my University days.  Unfortunately that CD had a manufacturer’s defect, the whole damn bunch of them.  Somebody at quality control was asleep at the wheel and there was this horrid scratchy sound on every copy of that CD.  Same issue with Alive II.  On Alive II, I can remember the sound issue happened during “Love Gun”.

During my third year at the record store, I happened upon a German copy of Hotter Than Hell.  You can tell the German ones, because Kiss were forced to change their logo in Germany.  The SS’s looked too much like another pair of SS’s that you may recall from your history books.  Kiss replaced them with backwards ZZ’s, and it still looks pretty cool.  A lot of people try to collect German copies of every album just for the altered logos.  Anyway, the German CD had no sound defect, and that was my default copy for a couple more years.  Finally in 1998, Kiss officially issued their remastered discs, and it took a while, but I finally found Hotter Than Hell and bought it.  Again.

When you love an album that much, you’ll go to any extent to have the best possible version available to you.  And when they inevitably remix and remaster that sucker again, you can bet I’ll be the first sucker in line to get it.

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