GETTING MORE TALE #847: Taping the Kiss
My obsession with Kiss was started in September of 1985. You all know the story. I knew that the neighbour, George Balasz, only needed two Kiss albums to complete his LP collection. He needed The Elder, and Hotter Than Hell. One day Ian Johnson called, wanting to trade some records for an Atari game: Superman, one of the poorest games in the Atari catalogue. He could have that stinker! He was trading me copies of Alive! and the much coveted Hotter Than Hell. I already knew that I was going to spin Hotter Than Hell over for more trades.
I played Hotter Than Hell once. Then I called George to negotiate a trade.
Now, technically the Atari game belonged to my sister and I, and she was pissed that I traded it without at least consulting her, but today she understands the monumental significance of her sacrifice. My Kiss collection had begun.
I owned a record player, but it was a terrible one, so my Kiss focus was going to be cassette. I asked George to record that scratchy copy of Hotter Than Hell for me. Between that day in September of 1985 and summer of 1987, I taped just about every Kiss album from George. The ones I didn’t tape, I bought at the local Zellers store. Their selection was limited. For that matter, every store’s selection was limited. There wasn’t much Kiss available on cassette in 1985 Kitchener. I had to have them. I had to get them all.
I can’t remember the specific order anymore. I probably recorded Animalize off George next. I say this because it was on the flipside of the 120 minute cassette that also contained Hotter Than Hell. Those, plus my LP of Kiss Alive, kept me occupied for a few months.
There were only a few vintage Kiss albums you could find on tape in town. Dynasty and Destroyer were common. They had been reissued in something called The Priceless Collection, a low budget series of repressings. The vinyl edition of Destroyer in this series lacked the gatefold. I got Dynasty in one of the local stores, and a few weeks later, accidentally dropped it into a bucket of wallpaper water. My dad bought me a new copy right away. I have an amazing dad. He always took care of me.
It was a neat experience, getting those Kiss albums on tape as a kid. It was a whole new world to me. Imagine getting a Kiss album, and hearing for the first time who sang which songs. You’d try to guess from the titles. You couldn’t guess from the writing credits, necessarily. I’d listen to the words and try to figure out what Kiss were singing about. Wonder if, when I was a grown-up, I would have some of these experiences with the ladies that Kiss were talking about.
I taped a few more off George in the interim. Sometimes I’d just drop a tape off at his house while he was at work. I asked him to record Kiss, Dressed to Kill, Unmasked, Creatures of the Night, Love Gun, and Double Platinum. He wrote down the song titles as neatly as he could, and then I made my own covers. I had a system. I always had a big Kiss logo on the top half of the cover. I tried to draw them identically every time. If it was a single album, I would add a crude drawing of something to do with the album. On Dressed to Kill, I had Gene in a trenchcoat. On Love Gun, a pistol. On the back cover I’d write out the tracks. But for a double album, I used the bottom half of the front cover to list all the songs. There wasn’t enough room on the back for a double album tracklist once I cut (or punched) out the two holes for the tape shell. The back cover also had the year of release, and I drew a symbol on the tape label to indicate whether I recorded it from LP or cassette. The spine featured a “Dolby stereo” logo. I was meticulous about keeping all my Kiss tapes looking the same.
The only one of these Kiss tapes that I still have the hand made cover for is Crazy Nights, and I half-assed it because I knew I’d be buying a copy as soon as I could. I can remember recording Crazy Nights the day it came out from George, and this temporary cover was on the tape that tided me over until I could get a real copy.*
Of course, some were store bought. Lick It Up was a Christmas gift and I bough Asylum myself. Destroyer was another early purchase. I had it before I heard Double Platinum. I had never heard “Detroit Rock City” before. I was familiar with some tunes from Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, my first exposure to many Kiss hits. I found Destroyer to be weird and I was surprised how much George liked it.
A memory that I have of Creatures of the Night is how good that album made me feel. Listening to that tape in the garage after a day of bullying at school was a powerful experience. The music was defiant. The lyrics sounded good. “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please, you can go to hell.” Yeah you can!
Once George got The Elder, I taped it pronto. I remember we couldn’t read all the song titles. “Escape from the Ish? What is that?” He couldn’t legibly squeeze “Island” into the line. Then I started seeing Kiss cassette reissues in stores. Creatures came out with Kulick on the cover. Most importantly, all the Kiss solo albums, which were otherwise impossible to locate on tape, were reissued in early ’87. I asked — nay, demanded — all four for my birthday. And because I was so spoiled, I received all four. I listened to them in alphabetical order three times each. A lot of the tunes weirded me out. Too much funky bass.
Last to land in my collection was Rock And Roll Over. And I recognized, that until Kiss out with a new album, this was the last time I was going to have this experience: hearing a Kiss song for the first time, guessing who sang what and trying to understand the lyrics. It was bittersweet.
It turns out, even when Kiss do put out a new album, it’s just not the same. I don’t feel like I am learning something of Kisstory, like I did with the older albums. I don’t get the sensation of “Wow, this is a classic song that I didn’t know before.” It is just not the same. But I’m glad I had the experience.
* When I got Crazy Nights, I recorded over this tape and re-used the paper for the cover. Mixed Songs replaced Crazy Nights, a compilation of singles by Dokken, Ratt, Anvil, Helix and many more.