The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 2:
The recording contract was signed with Casablanca Records. Management was retained with Bill Aucoin. The live gigs were quickly becoming legendary. All Kiss needed was an album.
They band convened at Bell Sound studios in New York with Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise (ex-Dust) producing. They selected nine of their best originals and got down to the job of recording. Within a few weeks, they had a fully mixed album in their hands.
Kiss’ 1974 self-titled debut was simple and to the point. No ballads, no frills, no fluff, very little filler and all rock. It was a lean debut that lacked the thunder of their live performances. Guitar-based, yes, but restrained and underpowered. There was more Keith Richards rock and roll jangle than heavy metal distortion. Yet these songs have formed the backbone of Kiss’ live set for decades.
Peter Criss has the honour of having the first sounds on the first Kiss album – a drum roll to introduce Paul Stanley’s “Strutter”. The jangling Stones-y rhythm guitars of Paul and Ace Frehley are intertwined to create the “Strutter” riff, while Paul sings of a girl that he knows “a thing or two” about. She gets her way just like a child, but there is no bitterness in the song. It’s simply a rock and roll celebration, timeless and perfect as it is. When Ace Frehley arrives with his first guitar solo, it’s clear that he was always a talent to watch. His licks are fluid and precise.
One of Kiss’ biggest musical strengths was the fact that they had three (later on, four) capable lead singers. Gene, Peter and Paul take turns on “Nothin’ to Lose”, a simple rock and roller made perfect by Peter Criss’ raspy scat. The lyrics have nothing to say except that some lucky young lady has nothing to lose. Following this, Paul Stanley calls the “Firehouse”, a live favourite that loses a lot of its bite on album. The fire truck sirens are intact, but the recording is under powered — it needed more crunch and a little caffeine. Much tougher is Frehley’s “Cold Gin”, sung by Gene Simmons. The tempo is a little sluggish but it really came to life in the live arena. This classic was kept in the set long after Ace left the band, proving its mettle. Hard party rock doesn’t get much better than this. “My heater’s broke and I’m so tired, I need some fuel to build the fire.” It’s rare to hear Kiss singing about booze, which usually wasn’t their forte.
“Let Me Know” was one of the first songs Paul Stanley wrote, under the name “Sunday Driver”. It’s right there in the lyrics, “Let me be your Sunday driver, let me be your Monday man…” There are some songs that should get more recognition, and “Let Me Know” is absolutely one of them. Gene and Peter join Peter for an irresistible group effort. It gleefully continues the jangly rock of the first Kiss album, although there is also a heavy closing outro riff. This powerful riff has been recycled live over the years to end other songs. “Let Me Know” closed the first side with this memorable piece of Kiss guitar thunder.
Gene Simmons’ “Deuce” has become one of the most identifiable trademark Kiss songs. “You know your man’s been working hard, he’s worth a deuce.” Gene says the words are meaningless, but lines like “Get up and get your grandma out of here,” had the attitude he wanted. Still one of Kiss’ hardest rockers, and with a riff that kills (ripped off from the Stones, according to Gene), “Deuce” will likely be played live until the end of time itself. You can see Gene up there on stage, tonguing himself for all eternity.
A bit of filler called “Love Theme From Kiss” (formerly: “Acrobat”) is one of their few instrumental tracks. It doesn’t have much meat, and was dropped from the set before too long. Live, “Acrobat” used to feature a fast and heavy part called “You’re Much Too Young” that is far better than “Love Theme From Kiss”. The lollygagging guitars of “Love Theme” just don’t cut it.
“100,000 Years” is driven by a wicked Simmons bass lick, and Paul Stanley’s wailing vocals. Its groove has kept it in the live set on and off for decades, a fan favourite often extended for concerts with a long Paul rap and drum solo. Then finally there is “Black Diamond”, the biggest sounding and most dramatic of these early tracks. It utilizes a sweet Paul Stanley acoustic intro, before it goes full electric and Peter Criss takes the lead vocals. His sandpaper rasp kills it: “Black Diamond” is another Kiss classic that has stood the test of time (and even different singers) over the years. The original album version is hard to beat.
Casablanca weren’t happy with how the album was selling. Label head Neil Bogart rushed Kiss into the studio to record a “hit single”. They decided on covering “Kissin’ Time” and promoting it with a “kissing contest”. Attention achieved, although the single performed only moderately. The track was added to the reissued album, as the first song on side two. The band were never particularly happy with it, and even though it showcases lead vocals from Paul, Gene and Peter, it does not sound much like Kiss. It sounds more like compromise.
Promoting Kiss meant keeping a constant stream of product on the shelves. A few months later, they were off to Los Angeles with Kerner and Wise to record a followup. Kiss would have two studio albums in 1974, mere months apart. Fortunately they had plenty of old Wicked Lester material to dust off. The Kiss debut remains a quaint sounding beginning. While their songwriting was intact and has proven to stand the test of the ages, their knowledge of the recording studio was just beginning. Kiss could have used a heavier edge, but it is what it is: a start.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s Slice: One of the best debut albums in rock history; there is not a bad track on the album. You could potentially hear more than half this album at any Kiss concert. Easily a Top 3 Kiss album for Meat. Certainly the production could be better, but the songs are great and even the minimalistic sound makes it feel even more like a great Rock and Roll record. Which is what most of 70s Kiss really is. Classic Rock and Roll. Even “Love Theme From Kiss” has aged well.
Favorite Tracks: “Nothin’ to Lose”, “Black Diamond”, “Cold Gin”
Forgettable Tracks: “Kissin’ Time” (Nitpicking here. Wasn’t even really on the original album in the first place.)
To be continued…
Original mikeladano.com Kiss review: 2012/06/12