Special thanks to Jennifer Ladano for telling me to write this story down!
RECORD STORE TALES #951: Set Your VCR!
It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!
When thinking back about my earliest rock and roll discoveries, it’s important to recall the order in which I got the albums, or first heard the tunes. It seems like I had always known “Rock N’ Roll all Nite”, but since my first Kiss albums were Alive! and Hotter Than Hell, those were the songs I knew best. And I barely knew them! I got my first Kiss in September of ’85. But I was learning slowly. Eventually I’d get Asylum, and gradually tape Kiss albums from my neighbour George.
Something else happened that exposed me to Kiss in a new way, that I sometimes forget about. It was the first time I saw Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.
Everybody knew about Kiss Meets the Phantom, but few of us were old enough to have seen it. When it showed up in the TV guide one week, on some Buffalo station, it seemed like every kid with access to a VCR set it to record. It was being shown at something like 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday.
Upon waking, I got my sister up early and we raced downstairs to watch. We did not have time to watch the whole thing that morning. It was winter, possibly the tail end of Christmas holidays, and we were off to the lake for one day. We watched some, went to the lake, had lunch at the Embassy, and came home to finish the movie.
I noticed there were far more ads to fast forward through on late night TV than during the day!
Actual ads from the actual tape of the actual night.
My sister recalls liking Kiss Meets the Phantom; my memories are quite different. I was bored to tears any time Kiss wasn’t on screen, and you had to wait through, like, an hour (with ads) for Kiss to arrive at the bloody park! I didn’t know who this Anthony Zerbe fellow was, but at age 13 I considered him possibly the worst actor I had ever seen.
It was my first time seeing Peter Criss on video and not just still photos, and I was surprised at his voice. I told everyone, “Peter Criss sounds like Aquaman.” I had the show right, but the character wrong. Michael Bell did the voice of Peter Criss in Kiss Meets the Phantom, and Wonder Twin Zan in the cartoon Superfriends. Legend has it that this was because Peter didn’t show up to loop his lines in post-production. Whatever the case, it led to a different urban legends: that Peter Criss had given up rock and roll, and taken up a lucrative career as a cartoon voice actor!
I thought Gene’s distorted voice was tiresome after a while, and Paul seemed the coolest. My sister liked that Kiss were like superheroes with powers. On the other hand, I didn’t like that. If Paul Stanley couldn’t shoot a laser beam out of his eye in real life, I didn’t understand why he would in this movie. They were still Kiss, still playing the same Kiss songs, but also super-powered. My rigid brain couldn’t reconcile the two.
As for the music, the movie contains several songs that I heard for the very first time that day. “Beth” (acoustic, no less), “Shout It Out Loud”, “God of Thunder” and “I Stole Your Love”. (“Rip and Destroy” doesn’t count.) Now, because I didn’t know these songs, and there were no captions, I had to guess at the titles. “Shout It Out Loud” was the easy one. But these were the live versions taken from Alive II, fast and reckless. Not to mention we were hearing it on a TV with mono speaker; state of the art for the time, but not for proper music listening. So that’s why, for that day at least, I thought “God of Thunder” was “Not a Doctor”, and “I Stole Your Love” was something that sounded like “I Ho-Jo-Ho”.
The process of discovering Kiss was so memorable because it’s so fun. The superhero character aspect appealed to my sister and there’s no denying that it had something to do with why I loved Kiss too. But hearing the songs and albums for the first time can only happen once. And I can clearly remember a tinge of sadness when I finally acquired Rock and Roll Over, the last original Kiss album I needed to finish my collection. I was starkly aware that I was having this experience for the last time: hearing a classic Kiss album, guessing who was singing the songs by the title alone, and discovering hidden favourites. As I learned when Crazy Nights came out, hearing a new Kiss album was simply not the same as discovering the classics!
Kiss Meets the Phantom was a struggle to sit through then, but fortunately I saw it at an age when Kiss still seemed larger than life. Objectively, it is a pretty terrible film, best enjoyed as a trainwreck. The best parts are the concert scenes, which was the closest I got to seeing Kiss live at age 13. It was my first exposure to some really important songs even if I wondered why Gene was singing about being “Not a Doctor”!