hotter than hell

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Hotter Than Hell (1974)


scan_20170223kiss-logoHotter Than Hell (1974 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remastered edition)

Sunny California awaited Kiss, and producers Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise.  Hotter Than Hell was an apt title for the album they were set to record, but nobody was happy.  Maybe it was homesickness, but Hotter Than Hell is sonically perhaps the very worst Kiss album ever released.  Brittle, thin and tinny are three appropriate words to describe its sonic flatness.  What are supposed to be drums sound more like wooden planks.  It sounds less like an human drummer and more like a clanking machine flailing away in a deep cave.

Production issues keep Hotter Than Hell off the tops of many lists, but the songs were all there.  It remains a favourite for many, a reminder of times both good and bad, as nostalgia helps wipe clean the lingering audio disappointment.  Kiss had little problem coming up with 10 great songs, mere months after their debut album Kiss (also 1974).  Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had the usual goods, and Ace Frehley provided co-writes on three songs.  And what songs they were.

The slow riff for “Got to Choose” is a perfect opener, chunky yet melodic.  Paul sings lead, Gene harmonizes, and a Kiss classic is born.  “Ooh ooh ooh, got to choose who’s your baby!” they sing, and who doesn’t love “ooo ooo ooo’s” in their choruses?  They contrast well with the heavy Kiss guitars, much edgier than the jangle of Kiss. Yet that’s nothing compared to the machine gun tactics of “Parasite”, a Frehley signature track as sung by Gene Simmons.  When Ace does contribute his own material, it sounds like idiosyncratic Frehley.  “Parasite” powers its way through the sonic haze, forcing its way above the sludgy sound.  Ace’s solo remains a trademark, a stuttering classic you can hum in your sleep.  Guitarists the world over got their start trying to play “Parasite”.

This makes way for the first Kiss “ballad” if you want to call it that:  “Goin’ Blind”.  It’s really too heavy to be a ballad, but it’s also too slow and mournful to be a rocker.  This track goes back years, as Gene wrote it with his Wicked Lester bandmate Stephen Coronel as “Little Lady”.  Though the lyrics may not appeal to all (“I’m 93, you’re 16”), “Goin’ Blind” is one of Gene’s finest songs.  Ace’s solo just cries (loudly).

Paul Stanley’s title track is a favourite.  The groove is what Kiss call their “monster plod”, and you know it when you hear it.  It stomps, it rolls, and it takes its time.  “Hotter Than Hell” has not one but two amazing riffs, and some of Ace Frehley’s coolest wailing.  Frehley’s outro solo is multitracked, surely one of the earliest examples of this in Kiss.  Then Frehley burns it all to the ground on “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll”.  Lightning licks and turbo charged rock n’ roll get the sweat pouring.  Anyone who wants to know what the fuss about Kiss is all about just need to play “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll”.  Get past the sonics and focus on the adrenaline.

Dig that cowbell on “All the Way”, a Simmons rock and roll celebration.  Though it wasn’t on Kiss Alive!, and hasn’t become a Kiss mainstay, that is not a reflection on its quality.  Hotter Than Hell is often heavy and oppressive.  “All the Way” is just fun, blowing off steam, and having a good time.  “Watching You”, on the other hand, is one of those heavy Kiss grooves that Gene does so well.  Listen to his bass playing, too.  Cream were one of his big influences, and though Gene is no Jack Bruce, he composes melodic rolling bass lines.  Because of his persona, and because it is more about the act than the musicianship, Gene’s skills on the four string are often overlooked.  “Watchin’ You” places them front and center.  And just listen to Paul Stanley coming in screamin’ at about 1:35!  What a voice.  There were no slouches in Kiss.  Even hampered by the tinny drum sound, Peter Criss is ferocious, almost tribal.  (And with tasteful use of cowbell.)

Paul Stanley has come up with some very cool, simple and classic rock and roll riffs over the years.  Tracks like “Mr. Speed”, “C’mon and Love Me”, and more recently “All For the Love of Rock & Roll”.  Add “Mainline” to that list of great Paul Stanley guitar parts.  This song is given to Peter Criss to apply his rasp to.  Compared to the more aggressive material elsewhere, “Mainline” almost slips between the cracks.  It has become a favourite in fan circles.  So has “Coming Home”, a rare Stanley/Frehley co-write.  It is unfortunate that you cannot clearly hear the nuances of the rhythm guitars, because Paul and Ace blend their parts very well.  “Coming Home” is so upbeat and energetic that you just keep trying to hear it a little better.

A Sabbathy closer called “Strange Ways” was written by Ace and given to Peter Criss to sing.  This is an early example of Frehley’s loyalty to Criss.  Ace knew that Peter could use another vocal on the album more than Paul and Gene did.  Peter nailed it, and with Gene Simmons joining on the chorus, Kiss just flattened everything.  Kiss rarely got as heavy as “Strange Ways”, and “Parasite” too…both Frehley songs.

Hotter Than Hell could easily score a 5/5 stars, but the sonics are impossible to simply ignore.  Every time you listen to it, there are things that sound irritating.  Instruments that don’t sound like themselves.  Notes and beats you struggle to hear.  It’s unfortunate that such a potentially lethal album was neutered by the lack of magic in the studio.  But it was OK.  Casablanca Records weren’t about to give up.  A third album would be needed, pronto.

Today’s rating:

4/5 stars

Uncle Meat’s rating:

3  ¾/5  steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Some of the party/sex/sex/sex etc. songs Kiss  filled the first album with were replaced by songs with darker lyrical themes.  The sound on this album is, well…shit.  This seems fitting considering all the bad experiences the band had while making this record (Ace’s face was mangled in a car accident). There are some great songs here, especially on side one. But side two is murked up a bit with a some clunkers. 

Not only the first Kiss album I ever owned, but the very first rock record as well.  I think my second record was The Bay City Rollers Greatest Hits.

Favorite Tracks:  “Parasite”, “Got to Choose”, “Strange Ways”

Forgettable Tracks:  “Mainline”, “Comin’ Home”

To be continued…


Original review:  2012/06/29


#353: Hotter Than Hell


#353: Hotter Than Hell

Grade 8 was a shitty year. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of that shitty school.  I had it up to here [holds hand right below chin] with the bullies and teachers.  I had a fight with a bully at the beginning of the year, which at least kept that one off my case for the rest of it.  That was also the year I got mono!  The only thing that really helped get me through was rock and roll, and especially Kiss.  Way back in Part 3 of Record Store Tales, I acquired Hotter Than Hell on LP, in very bad condition.  I almost immediately traded it away for a bunch of other records and swag, but not before dubbing a copy on a terrible Scotch blank tape.  As explained in great detail  in Part 3, I grew to love Hotter Than Hell despite its flaws.  Sonically, it was arguably Kiss’ worst album.  I was listening to a scratched LP via a 120 minute Scotch tape that was prone to stretch and warble.  I had Kiss’ worst sounding album on the worst sounding format!  Yet something about it kept drawing me back.

Sound issues aside, there’s no denying Hotter Than Hell is a powerful record.  Perennial Kiss klassics such as “Got to Choose”, “Hotter Than Hell”, “Parasite”, and “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll” can be found right here.  It also has one of Peter Criss’ best tunes (albeit written by Paul Stanley) called “Mainline”.  I found myself immediately hooked on Peter’s raspy voice.  I surmised that “Mainline” wasn’t a hit, since it neither appeared on Alive! nor Double Platinum.  I couldn’t figure out why.  “If Kiss have songs this good that never became hits,” I reasoned, “the rest of their albums must also be pretty good.”

Right after “Mainline” was another amazing song that I fell for: “Coming Home”.  This Stanley ode to the road was chosen many years later as the opening track for Kiss’ MTV Unplugged.  Back then, to me it was another classic that should have been a hit.  The nucleus of the album became four key songs that I could not get enough of:  “Coming Home”, “Mainline”, “Hotter Than Hell” and “Got to Choose”.  Later on, “All the Way” expanded that list to five.

Those tunes kept me going.  If I was having a rotten day at school, I could hum “Coming Home” to myself and feel better.  For a French assignment, we had to record an introductory paragraph about ourselves, approximately 30-60 seconds long.  We were allowed to do this with music in the background.  I chose the opening riff to “Got to Choose” for mine. First chord — then, “Je m’appelle Michèle…” I talked for the instrumental part, and was finished before the opening line of the song. But I kept the tape running for a moment longer before I did a fade-out: “Baby, you know I heard the neighbors say…” Just so I could work a little bit of Kiss into my French class. I was probably the only one who noticed.


The bullies picked on me pretty hard in grade 8.  I was assigned “flag duty”, which meant I was the guy who had to put the flag up every morning.  Drawing attention to myself was never a fun thing in grade 8, and I had to do it every morning.  Walking down the hall to the coughs of “Fag Boy” — a clever name derived from “Flag Boy” — was a daily torment.  They also liked to make fun of my boots, which today would have been cooler than hell, since they were vintage, but then just added to misery.  Thursdays were wood shop class, which meant a bus ride to another school downtown.  That bus ride was without a doubt the worst part of each week.  I was prone to getting sick on Thursdays, for some reason….

When I got mono (for real) I missed most of the end of grade 8, but not before being shamed in front of the entire class by my teacher.  “Shame on you!” she said, because I picked the wrong school.  We all had to choose which highschool we wanted to go to.  We were usually expected to choose the Catholic school, but there was no way in hell I was doing that.  You couldn’t have dragged me along with those kids, believe me.  There was just no way.   I chose Grand River Collegiate, which was closer.  Plus my best friend Bob, who was two years older than me, went to that school.  It would be cool to see him every day at lunch time.  We never had any classes together for obvious reasons, but we conspired to get lockers side by side once.  We had a great time in highschool.  Those were the golden years!

Certainly better than grade 8.  I’ve never told all of these stories publicly before.  It is what it is, and all is certainly forgiven now.  The interesting thing is how these experiences collided to really galvanize my love of that Hotter Than Hell album.  Listening to it today still brings back memories of gym class, waiting for it to finally end, humming “Coming Home” to myself.  And that, friends, is why such a terrible sounding record is so important to me!

IMG_20141229_204724 (1)

Part 199: Hooray! Hooray! It’s Stock Transfer Day!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 199:  Hooray! Hooray! It’s Stock Transfer Day!

A couple weeks ago, I was out driving, rocking to Kiss’ Hotter Than Hell.  Suddenly I realized the car in front of me was being driven by my former boss at the record store.  We happened to be going in the same direction.  I followed him as he pulled into the old record store, where he turned off.  He didn’t see me wave but from the stop lights, I could see him go to the back of the vehicle and pull out a big box of discs for the record store.

This brought back a vivid memory — Stock Transfer Day!  STD!

Twice a week, the local store managers were required to travel to a central location to pick up stock from the other stores.  This stock could include special orders being transferred from store to store.  The majority of the boxes were full of stuff for our shelves, and fresh jewel cases since we went through hundreds a week.  These would fill the trunk, pile up on the back seats, and once in a while the passenger seat too.

The managers decided to do stock transfer on Monday nights, and Thursday afternoons.  I hated Monday nights and Thursday afternoons.  The only good thing about stock transfer was the chance to see some of my store manager friends, such as the eternally interesting Joe.  It was during one of these stock transfers that I witnessed the immortal Open Door Piss.

What bugged me most about the stock transfer arrangements were that the time, gas and mileage on our cars was considered to be “part of our salaries”.  This part of it really sucked, as you could spend a good chunk of your night hanging around doing nothing, waiting for someone.  Sometimes a traffic accident or tie-up on the highway could screw somebody’s route home.  That’s just the way this city was(n’t) planned out.

So while you’re waiting for someone with some orders that you absolutely need, you’re sitting doing nothing, burning your own time.  This happened frequently in winter, but in the summer too.  While this is ensuing,  at home your porch is unoccupied and lacking in beverages.  And that is a shame.

Next time on Record Store Tales…

200th episode!!

REVIEW: KISS – Kissin’ Time in San Fransisco (1974/1975 bootleg)


KISS – Kissin’ Time in San Fransisco (1974 or 1975 bootleg , Black Diamond Records 1994)

Early Kiss, live Kiss at least, was the best!  They were young hungry punks, a garage band in makeup and heels, playing with an intensity that they never equaled even on later triumphs like Kiss Alive! or Love Gun.  It was a ferocity on stage, made doubly impressive when you remember that they were weighed down by those costumes.

This widely available bootleg recording showcases exactly what early Kiss was about.  Recorded shortly after the release of their second album, Hotter Than Hell, it actually sounds pretty good for 1974 or 75.  You may be familiar with some of these recordings.  “Deuce” for example was on the Kiss eXposed video.  “Parasite” was later made available on the Kiss My Ass VHS and DVD.

What’s astounding here is just how good Peter Criss used to be.  I don’t mean technically.  I mean in that way that a good rock drummer just slams you in the guts and doesn’t let up.  Peter Criss plays like a savage.  The two best moments are “Watchin’ You” and “Parasite”.  He absolutely demolishes his kit, he’s relentless, and it’s so damn fun to listen to him, young and powerful, laying waste.

Gene’s bass is very loud in the mix, and while Gene was also no virtuoso, it’s nice to hear his compositional abilities on bass. Especially in early Kiss, Gene wrote and played some very cool basslines, melodic and solid.  It’s a side of Kiss that is often ignored by the critics.  Gene was heavily influenced by bands like Cream and I think you can hear that.

The setlist is pretty standard, with every song later getting showcased on the aforementioned Kiss Alive!  These versions are without the spit n’ polish that Eddie Kramer put on that disc, live as it was on that night.   In a lot of ways, I prefer these versions.  What they lack in audio fidelity, they make up for in sheer adrenaline and barbarism.  Paul’s as confident as ever on stage.  His stage raps are fully-formed and cocky.  His “Do you believe in rock and roll?” rap is present on “100,000 Years”, with Peter Criss hammering out a consistently tribal backdrop.

The CD is padded out by a bunch of unrelated (and often misspelled) bonus tracks.  “A World Without Heros” is an instrument demo from The Elder, widely circulated.  So is “The Difference Between Men & Boys”, which can be found under different names.  “Young and Wasted” is a Lick It Up demo (not from 1971 as stated on the back, who are we kidding?).  Lastly, “(We Want To) Shout It Out Loud” is from the Wicked Lester album.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Hotter Than Hell (1974)

Part 2 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

KISS – Hotter Than Hell (1974)

Hotter Than Hell was my first Kiss album. I had it on a scratched up piece of vinyl that I don’t have anymore. Because of the condition of the record and my turntable at the time, I had no idea just how bad Hotter Than Hell sounds. And it does sound bad. Kids these days, used to ProTools and gloss, are gonna find it unlistenable.

Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise produced once again, two guys who didn’t know how to achieve the heavy rock that Kiss wanted, but tried anyway. The result is a murky impenetrable sound with drums that sound like Peter’s banging away on wooden blocks. The cymbals are nearly impossible to hear. Yet this white noise serves only to make the album heavier and darker to these nostalgic ears.

“Got To Choose” kicks off the album, a Kiss classic. I remember playing it to my 8th grade class much to the teacher’s dismay. Gene and Paul sing harmonies together, but this is a Paul song. The acoustic version from MTV Unplugged is also quite excellent. “Parasite” follows, an Ace song that Gene sings and one of the fastest tunes Kiss were to do in the early days. The Alive! version is more fully realized. A ballad of sorts, “Goin’ Blind” follows. This is a Gene song from his pre-Kiss days, previously known as “Little Lady” and co-written by his Wicked Lester bandmate Steve Coronel. This version doesn’t do it justice, but lines like “I’m 93, you’re 16” hint at territory that Gene would revisit later in other songs. The title track, “Hotter Than Hell” is a Paul song and one of the best on the album if not in Kisstory. The riff and coda are both so memorable. (I miss the days when Kiss used to tack on these extra riffs as codas, they were always so heavy and cool.) Side 1 ends with “Let Me Go, Rock And Roll”, a fast rock n’ roll Chuck Berry guitar number which I always found comical due to Gene high voice at the beginning. The Alive! version has become a classic today.

Side 2 begins with a “lost” album cut called “All The Way”. It’s not played live often but it has one of my favourite choruses. You just can’t get the melody out of your head. Plus it has cowbell! “Watchin’ You”, a Sabbathy Gene song, follows. This song was even revisited for Kiss Alive III in a funkier guise. “Mainline” is a Paul song, sung by Peter Criss. It’s a little more rock n’ roll again, but with that great chrous melody. “Comin’ Home” is another Paul song that ended up on MTV Unplugged. Strange how many of these songs sounded great acoustically! It was always an album favourite of mine with great lyrics. The album ends with the dirgey “Strange Ways”, an Ace Frehley written song, but sung by Peter Criss. This is probably the only song on the album I don’t like very much, even though it is so heavy and Sabbathy.

Rumour has it that Peter recorded a lengthy drum solo, and demanded that it be included in the song, or he was going to quit the band.  (This is according to Gene Simmons.)  The solo was not included, and Peter stayed.

Given the upcoming deluxe remixed edition of Destroyer coming this year (remixed by Ezrin!), I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hold hope for a remix of Hotter Than Hell.   Maybe, though, it should never be remixed.  Maybe the shite sound is part of the charm?

If that sound issue doesn’t bother you, then delve in and discover a true Kiss classic. Just look at how many songs keep popping up on setlists to this day. That’s the sign of a classic album.

5/5 stars

Check out my review for the live bootleg Kissin’ Time in San Fransisco by clicking here!