GETTING MORE TALE #837: Freestylin’ 7 – Into Best Buy
I hadn’t set foot inside a store since March 15. Three months later on Jun 13, I broke this long streak and went into Best Buy.
We’ve been trying to stick to essential trips, and Mrs. LeBrain was doing the groceries and other essential shopping while I worked. Ontario entered “Phase 2” of re-opening on June 12 so it felt like a good time to see how shopping had changed.
There was no lineup, but there were clear and nicely marked spaces for you to wait outside. At the front was a gentleman in a mask. Even with the mask I recognized him from a previous Best Buy excursion, back before the shit hit the fan. He asked what I was looking for that day, and I said “laptop speakers”. He instructed me to follow the arrows on the floor until I got to the computer monitors. You can still walk around and browse, but they are trying to keep things efficient.
Most customers wore masks but they were not mandatory. I have chosen to wear a mask in public. To coin a phrase from our Prime Minister, I don’t want to speak “moistly” on people. I tend to do that. Of course as soon as I walked in, a maskless guy was meandering against the arrows talking on his cell phone. Of course.
Best Buy have this re-opening well in hand. They were organized, friendly and asked us to use hand sanitizer on our way in. After a squirt and a quick walk around, I found the exact laptop speakers I was looking for. $27. Cheap and simple. Looked around a bit more, and headed for the cash registers. No line there either. Mission accomplished with no fuss and no muss.
New speakers in action. Uncle Meat made fun of my porch music choice.
The Covid world definitely looks different from the pre-Covid world but I think we can deal with this. It’s going to take patience and a willingness to play ball. There was a story on the weekend of a man entering a mall in Guelph where masks are mandatory. When he refused to wear one, he coughed on the mall employee and fled. This kind of behavior is disgusting. Retail workers have it bad enough. I’ve had people throw things at me but never had bodily fluids fired in my direction during a pandemic. If you think wearing a mask is infringing upon your freedom, then take a stand and don’t shop at those places. Vote with your wallet. Don’t cough or spit, and don’t give a retail workers a hard time. You’re the asshole if you do. In the meantime, I will wear my mask. I wear it to protect you from my flying spittle when I talk. I’m not afraid. I care. You’re welcome. I don’t care if you think I look stupid or not.
I look stupid on my best days anyway.
After Best Buy, we took a drive. Streets were busy like a normal Saturday in the summer. You couldn’t tell anything was amiss from the roads. Restaurants, not so much. Meals are permitted on patios. Places with open patios looked comfortably full to the new Covid standards. Establishments without had empty parking lots. Elsewhere, we saw a lineup at the Nike store that went around the building. Must have had a sale. I don’t need shoes that badly!
I did need shoes, actually, but then I ordered some online. It was actually better than shopping in store. No picking through boxes looking for my size in a style I liked. I simply clicked the shoes I wanted, clicked the colour, and picked my size. They fit perfectly when they arrived a few days later. Most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned, actually. I could get used to this. In fact, why should I buy shoes in a store again when there is a better selection online? I hate shopping for shoes!
Yes, the world has changed. It will continue to change, and our old world is gone. Look at music. Doro Pesch played a concert to a drive-in audience, and it looked cool. Artists are constantly live streaming chats and performances now. We adapt. Some restaurants, businesses and rock bands will not survive. The economy is still being ravaged. Most bands will not return to the concert stage until 2021.
In the meantime, people are hungry for entertainment. Bands and record labels would be wise to release stuff from the vaults during this time. Unreleased live recordings? Put ‘em out. B-sides and outtakes? Release them. There has never been a better time for a band to put out of a box set of rarities. Record stores are opening and need the business.
Unless our collective mistakes cause another surge and another lockdown, I am optimistic. We have made it through three months of this. While in some respects we are looking at a lost summer ahead of us, I think we still have a lot to look forward to.
– Music From the Elder (1981 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster, 2014 Universal vinyl)
Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked. The band’s stature was in jeopardy. The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection. As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr. His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss. The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots. Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.
Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album. Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction. That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley. Eric Carr had no say, being an employee. Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album. If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie. And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?
The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley. It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.
So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album. Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch. Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent. Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin. Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done. There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell. Hence the title, Music From the Elder. Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.
A word about the running order. When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense. It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”. Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier: “The Oath”. But the concept never made any sense. In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order. They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks. The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”). The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release. (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.) The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.
The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”. “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas? If hope is lost then so are we. While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.” The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”. He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder. “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes. He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.
Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm. It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band. Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album. The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all. “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition. It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals. It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics. Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not: a lyric sheet. With that in hand, you can follow the story.
In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album. Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine. It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.
Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album. “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss. It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it. Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album. “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment. This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two. Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun. It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.
The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album. It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works. It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme. Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny: “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you? And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?” The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.” In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.
According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction. In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar. “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons. “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus. But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt. Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines. Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig. Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”. In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil. Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo. Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.
Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”. Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.” These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song. Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss. Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs. Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.
At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero. This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”. This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot. You can still understand why they did this. Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed. Paul sings in falsetto again: “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.” The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays. Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos. If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.
So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.
At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.
The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.
A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”
There are two ways to listen to The Elder. If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl. If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release. But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.
Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness. It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves. What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place. Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home. Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour. The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted. The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!
A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley. Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998. It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.
If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently. We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.
Uncle Meat’s rating:
Meat’s slice: Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records. Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many. When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be: Some bands should not make concept albums. Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess. I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album. Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record. It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:
“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song. I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song. Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss. More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record. Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.
“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again. Solid song. Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel.
“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track. I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.
“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice. Right producer, wrong band. (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)
“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me. Gregorian Monks? Bah….
“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now. Could have used more Lou Reed.
“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track. Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me. One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it. Unmasked this album is not.
“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker. Great drumming. This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live. LeBrain? [Nope]
“Odyssey” – WTF? Was this Paul’s tryout demo for Phantom of the Opera? This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.
Favorite Tracks” “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”
“I’m letting them pick what songs they wanna do in the way they wanna do it.” Wendy Dio
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Ronnie James Dio – THIS IS YOUR LIFE (2014 tribute CD)
No preable from me: we all know how great Dio was. Let’s get to the tracks.
Anthrax kick off the festivities with a slamming “Neon Nights”. The storming opener couldn’t have been in a better slot. Not only is Charlie Benate heavy as shit, but the guitar solos are mental. Joe Belladonna handles the powerful vocal ably. Rob Caggiano is still in the lineup indicating this isn’t brand new. I suspect it was recorded at the same time as last year’s Anthems EP.
The guys that never get respect, Tenacious D, tackle the difficult second slot. No worries there; they chose “The Last In Line” which Jack Black sings with no difficulty. Uncle Meat has said it before: Jack Black is one of the best singers he’s seen live. “The Last In Line” proves his pipes, although some may not like his exaggerated, humorous vocal enunciation. Kyle Gass plays a cute recorder solo in lieu of guitar, but there’s not enough K.G. on this track. Brooks Wackerman kicks the drums in the ass.
And speaking of drums, Mike Portnoy is next with Adrenaline Mob. They demolish “Mob Rules”, although singer Russell Allen is certainly no Dio. He is completely overshadowed by Portnoy and the shredding of Mike Orlando.
Corey Taylor, Satchel (Russ Parish) and friends chose “Rainbow In the Dark” as their tribute to Ronnie. This has always been such a fan favourite, and a personal one as well. It is difficult to imagine anyone but Ronnie singing it. While Corey Taylor is not at all like Ronnie James Dio, you can tell he loves this song. It bleeds out of his performance. He does it in his own rasp, and it works.
The incredible Lzzy Hale and Halestorm are up next with another Dio classic, “Straight Through the Heart”. There is no denying the talents of Lzzy Hale, but her powerful pipes are almost too much. Perhaps she overpowers the song, rather than simply fueling it. Halestorm fans will love it, but I think Lzzy maybe should have reeled it in a bit. Or, maybe I just need to get used to it. “Straight From the Heart” does sound better after a few listens.
Biff Byford (Saxon) joins Motorhead on lead vocals for Rainbow’s “Starstruck”. There’s a bit of that Motor-slam in it, but if I didn’t know who it was, I never would have guessed Motorhead. You can hear Lemmy on backing vocals, but weirdly, he’s not credited on bass. Nobody is, but you can hear the bass clearly and it sounds like Lem.
I’m a little sick of the Scorpions doing ballads, but I admit that “Temple of the King” (another Rainbow classic) is stunningly good. One might almost mistake it for a Scorpions original. It has that regal Scorpions bombast to is, but Matthias Jabs’ lead work is just sublime. He’s an underrated player, absolutely. You can tell he’s a Blackmore fan.
An oldie from 1999, Doro’s cover of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” is excellent. It’s cool to hear female singers like Doro and Lzzy Hale sing Dio. Doro’s impressive pipes have always been astounding. Her version of “Egypt” is a little over the top compared to Dio’s, but that’s cool by me.
Killswitch Engage…hmm. “Holy Diver” starts great, super heavy, with some perfectly acceptable, melodic vocals. Then it all goes down the toilet at the bridge. That’s when it turns into hardcore shouting and blast beats…sorry, not on this song, thanks. I can listen to that stuff in moderation, but don’t sully “Holy Diver” with it. Fortunately the guitar solos are great, sounding like an Iron Maiden outtake from Powerslave. Shame about the growling and shouting. Skip.
“Catch the Rainbow” is a great song, and Craig Goldy plays guitar on this cover. He’s ex-Dio himself, and he’s backed by his former Dio-mates Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Simon Wright. (Hey, that’s also 1/3 of Tateryche!) Glenn Hughes sings, but this song sounds out of his scope. His bluesy slant doesn’t work for me. Sorry Glenn, you’re still awesome!
I find it strange that two more ex-Dio members (Jimmy Bain and Rowan Robertson) chose to cover Black Sabbath. But who cares! They covered “I”, perhaps the greatest song from Dehumanizer (1992)! On drums is Brian Tichy, with Oni Logan (Lynch Mob, Dio Disciples) singing. It’s a perfectly authentic version and I love it. It’s absolutely thunderous, and I love Jimmy Bain’s bass sound. Always have. Of all the vocalists on This Is Your Life, it is Oni Logan that comes closest to nailing Dio’s vibe. Considering he’s in Dio Diciples, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I didn’t expect it though, based on what I knew of Logan from Lynch Mob. He fits “I” like a glove!
I was disappointed in Rob Halford’s version of “Man On the Silver Mountain”. It’s true that Halford did replace Dio in Black Sabbath for two shows in 1992. However, having owned a bootleg video of that show since that time, I knew that Halford’s and Dio’s styles didn’t really mesh. This is no different; I don’t think his voice works with the song and it unfortunately shows off the places where Rob’s voice has weakened. What is cool though is that the band (all ex-Dio: Doug Aldrich, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Pilson and Scott Warren) take it to a swampy bluesy Whitesnake-y place for the intro. You can definitely hear Pilson covering the high notes in the chorus.
Finally we arrive at the mighty Metallica. Snicker if you like. If Metallica do one thing really well, it’s covers. If they do two right, it’s covers and medleys. The “Ronnie Rising Medley” is entirely made up of parts of Rainbow songs. “A Light In the Black” bleeds into “Tarot Woman,” where the vocals begin. It’s safe to say if you don’t like Metallica, you won’t like this. If the opposite is true, I think you’re in for a treat. Metallica do these classics in their own style, just as they have in the past when covering Maiden, or Mercyful Fate, or Thin Lizzy. Simply add Lars’ thuds, James’ growl, and some standard Metalli-licks, and you’ve got a medley that is enjoyable through its near-10 minute run time. Having said that, the weak point is definitely “Stargazer”, which is gutted of all its majesty. They do much better with “Kill the King” which is fucking perfect. They include the entire song in their medley!
Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad: Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996. I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”. Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon. The lyrics speak of mortality:
This is your life This is your time What if the flame Won’t last forever?
This is your here This is your now Let it be magical
What a way to end a great album. As much as you can “miss” a person you have never met, I do miss Ronnie James Dio. In many ways he’s been my friend for 30 years.
As a nice added touch, the liner notes include photos of just about every performer on this CD with Ronnie!
Of note: the Japanese edition has a bonus track by Dio Diciples: “Stand Up and Shout.” It also has Stryper’s version of “Heaven and Hell” from their 2011 album The Covering, which I reviewed here.
Part 7.5 in my series on Ace Frehley, sorta! Plenty of Ace related coolness here. For the last part of the Ace series,12 Picks, click here.
A World With Heroes – A KISS Tribute for Cancer Care – A 40th Anniversary Celebration
Cancer sucks. Kiss rules. Agreed? Buy this CD.
Mitch Lafon executive produced this sucker, and I suspect that means a hell of a lot of work. I have never in my travels discovered a cooler Kiss tribute album. Do you really need to buy another Kiss tribute album? Do you? Yes, you do. Why? For the following reasons:
Profits benefit the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Palliative Care Residence in Hudson, Quebec.
Obscure track selections.
Rare Kiss related gems, such as two Peter Criss Band demos with Phil Naro.
Superstar performers including Mark Tornillo of Accept, Russ Dwarf, Don Dokken, Bonfire, Sean Kelly, Vinny Appice, L.A. Guns, Doro, and many more.
Members of the Kiss family including Eric Carr, Peter Criss, Frehley’s Comet (minus Frehley), Bob Kulick and Phil Naro.
I can’t say enough good things about this compilation. Upon first sight, it had enough rarities from artists I liked, as well as Kiss obscurities, to make it a must-have. Hearing it, I’m blown away repeatedly. It is a heady brew of hits and deep, deep cuts. Since there are 51 tracks in total, I can’t go into too much detail. I’ll point out some personal favourite moments.
I’m a huge fan of the Revenge album, and I’m a huge fan of Accept. Hearing Mark Tornillo do his thing through “Spit” was awesome. I think the man’s vocal cords must be made of steel or something for him to sing like that. I also loved “Sure Know Something”, although I don’t know Chris Buck & Anthony Cardenas Montana. It’s a slinky version, very true to the original but with a Rod Stewart vibe. Jeff Paris does a pretty authentic “Shout Mercy” and I give him full points for doing a Monster tune, the newest Kiss song on A World With Heroes.
I’ve loved Brighton Rock since I was a kid, but I never expected them to unplug “Creatures of the Night”. This twist takes a moment to get used to, but their haunting arrangement is very original and cool! “Larger Than Life” from Alive II is revisited by Brian Tichy and friends, and they do it pretty straight to the original, almost lick for lick. It’s great. I love that Ron Young from Little Caesar sings “Little Caesar”, a nice wink and a smile there. A band called Shredmill contribute their original song “Outerspace”…which was later covered by Ace Frehley on his Anomaly album (giving himself a writing credit). Shredmill’s version is more Danzig, where Ace’s was more Ace.
On the second CD, surprises and highlights continue. Ron Keel and friends from Tesla and Cinderella knock it out of the park on “Rock N’ Roll Hell”, with a nod at the start to Keel’s own “The Right To Rock”. Rick Hughes of Quebec metal masters Sword helps blow the doors off “The Oath”, a favourite from The Elder. The L.A. Guns guys (Phil Lewis included) tackle the difficult “Master & Slave” from Carnival of Souls, and it smokes. They do it authentic to the grungy original but with Phil’s snarky vocals.
As a Killer Dwarfs fan, I’m always pleased to hear Russ Dwarf’s nasally twang, and he turns in a decent “Hard Luck Woman”. (Meanwhile, another bunch of L.A. Guns guys did their own version on disc one.) Bonfire contribute a live version of Paul Stanley’s unreleased song “Sword & Stone”, from their Live at Wacken CD. I don’t really know who American Dog are, but I love that they covered the Paul Stanley version of “God of Thunder”, not the Gene Simmons take from Destroyer. They do it the speedy rocked-up way that Paul originally demoed. Jim Crean does justice to “Magic Touch”. He’s almost Joe Lynn Turner style on this one.
The second CD ends with two takes of “Beth” (Chris VanDahl sounding like the hoarse Peter Criss on Alive II, and Phil Naro). This is in addition to Michael Lardie’s (Great White) version on disc one. Naro’s is easily the best of the three.
But wait, that’s not all, folks. iTunes are selling a 51 track version of A World With Heroes, including 11 exclusives. Thankfully, you can buy these exclusives separately if you already bought the CD (like I did). Once again, highlights are many. Doro contributes a 2013 re-recording of “Only You”, which she had a previous hit with back in 1990. Russ Dwarf returns with an outstanding “God Gave Rock and Roll To You II”. There are two previously unreleased demos by the Peter Criss Band with Phil Naro. These feature Peter on drums, but believe me, you can hear that it is the Cat Man and no one else. In addition, there’s a third song from this period, but recorded by Phil in 2013. There is also a second version of “Larger Than Life”, this time by somebody called Robot Lords Of Tokyo. I don’t know who Robot Lords Of Tokyo are, but I love “Larger Than Life” and I have no problem with another version of it. This one’s done quite differently, and heavier too.
But wait! There’s still more! Pledgers who pre-ordered the CD got four bonus tracks. I missed the boat on these, and you can’t get them anymore. I’m bummed about that, but for the sake of completion, the four bonus tracks are:
‘Calling Dr. Love’ – Performed by: Crash Kelly
‘Comin’ Home’ – Performed by: Sudden Flames
‘Heaven’s On Fire’ – Performed by: The Feckers (ft. Irene Slade)
‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ Performed by: Alain Pernot
I’d love to have these, especially Crash Kelly, but alas. The project is still awesome and worth your coins. Especially if you’re a self respecting Kiss fan. Get it.
EDIT: I now have the tracks. Crash Kelly’s is awesome! Fun and awesome.
‘Psycho Circus’ – Performed by: DDRIVE (Phil Naro, Don Mancuso, Dave Sessions, Jt Taylor & Bobby Bond)
‘Spit’ – Performed by: Ken Dubman, Jimmy Callahan, Scott Metaxas, & Mark Tornillo
‘Deuce’ – Performed by: Bill Leverty, Kevin Valentine, John Regan, & Russ Dwarf
‘Sure Know Something’ – Performed by: Chris Buck & Anthony Cardenas Montana
‘Detroit Rock City’ – Performed by: Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Rex Brown & Brian Tichy
‘Eyes Of Love’ – Performed by: Eric Carr, Benny Doro & John Humphrey
‘Shout Mercy’ – Performed by: Jeff Paris, Troy Lucketta, Eric Brittingham Jeff Labar
‘Creatures Of The Night’ – Performed by: BRIGHTON ROCK
‘Larger Than Life’ – Performed by: Rex Brown, Brian Tichy & Mark Zavon
‘Cold Gin’ – Performed by: Don Dokken & Tommy Denander
‘Love Gun’ – Performed by: Tony Harnell, Mark Kendall, Scott Snyder, Sean Michael Clegg, Kevin Valentine & Tommy Denander
‘Little Caesar’ – Performed by: Ron Young, John Regan & Tommy Denander
‘Hard Luck Woman’ – Performed by: Chris VanDahl, Stacey Blades & Adam Hamilton
‘Outerspace’ – Original demo later covered by Ace Frehley on his Anomaly album – Performed by: SHREDMILL (David Askew, Jesus Mendez Jr, Jaime Moreno)
‘Goodbye’ – Performed by: IMPERIA & BOB KULICK (J.K.Impera, Matti Alfonzetti, Tommy Denander & Mats Vassfjord) – Additional Guitars by Lars Chriss
‘See You Tonight’ – Performed by: TODD FARHOOD & MYSTERY (Todd Farhood, Michel St-Pere, Sylvain Moineau, Jean-Sébastien Goyette, Francois Fournier & Benoit Dupuis)
‘Beth’ – The Grand Piano Version – Performed by: Michael Lardie
‘Tomorrow’ – Performed by: DRESSED TO CHILL (Matt Bradshaw, Rav Thomas & Rhys Lett)
‘Anything For My Baby’ – Performed by: SLAVES ON DOPE (Kevin Jardine, Jason Rockman, Seb Ducap & Peter Tzaferis)
‘Unholy’ – Performed by: Fred Duvall, Glenn Belcher, Mark Slaughter (Guitar Solo), Rob Zakojc & Russ Dwarf
‘Breakout’ – Performed by: Tod Howarth, John Regan & Kevin Valentine
‘Rock N Roll Hell’ – Performed by: Ron Keel, Troy Lucketta, Eric Brittingham & Jeff Labar
‘Nowhere To Run’ – Performed by: DRUCKFARBEN (Phil Naro, Ed Bernard, William Hare, Troy Feener & Peter Murray)
‘The Oath’ – Performed by: Rick Hughes, Chris Buck & Bob Richards
‘Master & Slave’ – Performed by: Adam Hamilton, Scott Griffin, Stacey Blades & Phil Lewis
‘Calling Dr.Love’ – Performed by: BURNING RAIN (Keith St John, Doug Aldrich, Sean McNabb & Matt Starr)
‘I Stole Your Love’ – Performed by: S.U.N. (Brian Thomas Tichy, Sass Jordan & Tommy Stewart) With Derek Sharp (Of The Guess Who)
‘Reason To Live’ – Performed by: Johnnie Dee & Derry Grehan of HONEYMOON SUITE with Michael Foster & Bill Leverty of FIREHOUSE
‘Hard Luck Woman’ – Performed by: Fred Duvall, Glenn Belcher, Rob Zakojc & Russ Dwarf
‘Forever’ – Performed by: Terry Ilous, Sean Kelly With Jeff Paris.
‘Sword And Stone’ – Taken From Bonfire Live In Wacken – Performed by: BONFIRE (Claus Lessmann, Hans Ziller, Chris Limburg, Uwe KöHler, Harry Reischmann)
‘God Of Thunder’ – Performed by: AMERICAN DOG (Michael Hannon, Steve Theado & Keith Pickens)
‘She’ – Performed by: RAZER (Chris Powers, Chris Catero, Jordan Ziff, Paul Sullivan, Eric Bongiorno & Chuck Alkazian)
‘New York Groove’ – Performed by: SLAVES ON DOPE (Kevin Jardine, Jason Rockman, , Elizabeth Lopez & Peter Tzaferis With Marty O’Brien)
‘Magic Touch’ – Performed by: Jim Crean, Phil Naro, Vinny Appice, Steve Major & Stan Miczek
‘Tears Are Falling’ – Performed by: Willie Basse, Bruce Bouillet, Scott Warren & Mike Hansen.
‘Rock N Roll All Nite’ – Performed by: Harley Fine, John Regan & Atom Fellows
‘Shandi’ – Performed by: Dani Luv, Scott Griffin & Matt Starr
‘Beth – Bonus Track’ – Performed by: Chris Vandahl & Scott Griffin.
‘Beth – Bonus Track’ – Performed by: Phil Naro, William Hare & Ed Bernard
‘No, I’m Not Afraid’ (Previously Unreleased Peter Criss Band Demo from 1991) – Performed by Peter Criss and Phil Naro
‘Wait For A Minute To Rock N’ Roll’ (Previously Unreleased Peter Criss Band Demo from 1991) – Performed by Peter Criss and Phil Naro
‘Back On The Streets’ (2013 Mix originally from Return of the Comet) – Performed by Richie Scarlet, John Regan, Tod Howarth, Arthur Stead & Steve Werner (The Comet Band)
‘Only You’ (2013 Recording) – Performed by DORO
‘God Gave Rock N Roll To You II’ – Performed by Russ Dwarf
‘I’m An Animal’ (2013 Mix originally from Return of the Comet) – Performed by the Comet Band
‘Let Me Go Rock N’ Roll’ – Performed by The Oddfathers
‘Surrender In The Name Of Love’ (Written by Peter Criss & Phil Naro) – Performed by 24K featuring Phil Naro and Mladen Alexander
‘Love Gun’ (Tommy Denander Guitar Solo Mix) – Performed by Tony Harnell, Kevin Valentine and Tommy Denander
‘Larger Than Life’ (2013 Remaster – Robot Lords Of Tokyo version) – Performed by Robot Lords Of Tokyo
‘Cold Gin’ (2013 Remaster from L.A. GUNS’ 1998 Wasted EP) – Performed by L.A. Guns
Part 17 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!
KISS – Music From The Elder (1981, 1997 remaster)
Exit Peter Criss. Enter Eric Carr.
Music From The Elder has grown on me a lot since I first heard it back in 1986. It will grow on you if you let it. Its reputation is that this is the worst album Kiss have ever made, but I disagree. It’s very flawed, but it does grow on you and it does have many redeeming values.
Here’s a brief version of the story behind The Elder: Kiss intended to make a rock album, after the way-too-pop Unmasked. The material they were coming up with (including “Nowhere To Run”, released on the next album Kiss Killers) was deemed to be too much like what Kiss had done before. Producer Bob Ezrin (Destroyer) was brought back into the picture, and he encouraged them to do a concept album (he had recently finished The Wall). Gene dug up a short story he wrote about a group of god-like beings called The Elder, who seek a hero in every time to fight evil. This hero, The Boy, is the protagonist of the story. Got that?
If you have the original LP, cassette, or CD editions of Music From The Elder, the songs are in the wrong order. Y’see, the record label (Casablanca) wasn’t too confident in Kiss’ new music, so they decided to change the track order so that the album started with a rocker (“The Oath”). This makes the story completely jumbled and unintelligible. The 1997 remaster with the restored track order also has some Gregorian chanting at the end of “fanfare”, that was previously cut.
I won’t get into the story except that there’s a boy (“Just A Boy”) who is recruited by The Elder (“Under The Rose”) to fight the evil (“Mr. Blackwell”). There’s an escape (“Escape From The Island”) and some self-affirmation (“I”) and that’s about it. All the epic battles were to happen in Music From The Elder 2: War of the Gods. Ahh, but that’s another story.
Here’s a song breakdown.
“fanfare”: An orchestral bit by Ezrin based on Paul’s “Just A Boy” melody.
“Just A Boy”: Fantastic Paul ballad featuring his falsetto. Acoustic and powerful with epic verses and choruses. Great guitar solo too.
“Odyssey”: Paul sings this orchestral song as well. When I was a kid, I loved any rock songs with orchestras.
“Only You”: Gene’s first song, and the first tune that resembles a rocker. Starts off slow, then goes into a groove. Not a bad song, although not a standout. At the end it goes straight into Paul’s “Just A Boy” melody again, which recurs on the album. This has been covered by Doro, on a Gene Simmons produced solo album.
“Under The Rose”: Eric Carr’s very first songwriting contribution to Kiss. Gene sings this slow song, which has a very gothic chorus sung by what sounds like a men’s choir. Very odd, but I quite like it.
“Dark Light”: Formerly “Don’t Run”, this is Ace’s first song and only vocal on the album. It’s not as great as any of Ace’s songs on previous albums. Still, it sounds like basic stripped-down Kiss, and it’s Ace, and it is one of the few songs on the album that has noticeable Ace guitar.
“A World Without Heroes”: Formerly, “With Every Little Bit Of My Heart”. Paul’s excellent demo apparently impressed Gene, who rewrote the lyrics with Lou Reed. One of Kiss’ softest songs, it has since been covered by Cher.
“The Oath”: Finally, a real rocker of a song that showed off Eric Carr’s drumming for real. Possibly the best song on the album, “The Oath” was just epic. Kiss could play it live today if they chose. The riff is the main focus of this song. Paul sings in falsetto again on the chorus.
“Mr. Blackwell”: A Gene song, probably my least favourite.
“Escape From The Island”: A Frehley instrumental, and a firecracker of a song. Ace makes some interesting sounds on his Les Paul and the song just rocks along at a furious pace. Eric Carr had a hand in composing this one as well. This song didn’t make the Japanese release for some reason.
“I”: “I don’t need to get wasted, it only holds me down”. Obviously this is Gene’s baby, it is his philosophy on life. It is also a great song and a great single. A fast rocker, Carr doesn’t actually play drums on it. Allan Schwartzberg (of Gene’s solo album) does. I didn’t know that at the time. Ends with a spoken word coda.
Music From The Elder was thus named because it was supposed to be the first part of a series, perhaps a series of soundtracks to a movie. Thus, Music From something. It was so poorly received that all plans were cancelled, and the band never toured for it. The shame of it is, when they played on “Fridays” with Ace Frehley, these songs sounded great. Frehley complained that Ezrin cut out half of his guitar work, and live there were ample extra solos. It makes you wish for what could have been.
Frehley left the band, sick of being sidelined by Gene and Paul and The Elder was his last straw. The fans hated it because, frankly, it doesn’t sound like Kiss. I don’t know what it sounds like. It doesn’t sound like progressive rock because it’s a little too clumsy, a little too blocky. It is Kiss after all, not Genesis. They get an “A” for effort, and the truth is the songs are pretty good. Production could have been better and there could have been more guitar. It is what it is.
Incidentally there are some great demos and outtakes from this album that are worth checking out, and one track was later used by Ace Frehley on his first solo album as “Breakout”. The very same track was used by Kiss on Revenge as “Carr Jam 1981”. I have a CD (seen in the gallery below) called Demos 1981-1983. It features intrumental Elder outtakes such as: “Heaven”, “The Council of the Elder”, and “The Unknown Force”.