Confession time: I was in the Kiss Army. I was thirteen, the song “I Want to Rock and Roll All Nite and Party Every Day” was on the radio, and this sounded like a philosophy I was willing to lay down my life to defend. Granted, I’m not sure why Kiss felt they needed an army. Perhaps Earth, Wind, and Fire signed a non-aggression pact with KC and the Sunshine Band. Still, I was ready, and if Gene and the boys had made the call, I was prepared to kiss my mother good-bye, and march off to the trenches, where my exploits would one day be narrated to the haunting strains of Ashokan Farewell.
Sadly, this state of readiness did not prepare my generation for the atrocities of the Cola Wars, but, was anyone really ready for those?.
For a guy in early high school in the 70s, Kiss was the band to beat. They rocked; they wore garish make-up; they had pyrotechnics; all the elements someone in his teens would love, and since their fans were predominantly male, I use the masculine pronoun here. It’s not that we didn’t have other choices. Despite being tagged as the “disco decade” the 1970s were perhaps one of the most musically diverse decades in history. “Rock” was an amorphous term that covered a lot of territory. What other genre of music could boast such diverse acts as the Allman Brothers, and Yes; Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Heart; Steely Dan, and Led Zeppelin. We still had all four Beatles, even if they never performed together, plus the Stones, the Who, Elton John, Al Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, and the list goes on, not to mention all the classics from the sixties still making the rounds on FM radio. Musically, the 70s gave us, among others, Punk, Rap, Hip Hop, New Wave, Prog, and of course, the reviled Disco, which, when done right, was fairly decent musically as well.
But for guys my age at that time, Kiss held a special place. I mainly got to know their music by what was played on the radio, but once I heard selections from Alive, they immediately entered my realm of favorites. It wasn’t until CDs came along, that I actually had a substantive collection of their music Back then, we couldn’t just hop on the Internet and download the latest recording. Buying “records” meant literally buying a vinyl disc that came in a cardboard sleeve with album art and, if we were lucky, a lyrics sheet. For me, living in Atlanta and East Point, buying a record meant visiting Peaches, or Turtles, where we could also buy crates to house all our records, and collect stamps which offered discounts when we collected enough of them. The first record I ever bought, incidentally, was Meet the Brady Bunch, which I got at Radio Doctor on Main Street in College Park sometime around ’71 or ’72, but that’s a subject for another day.
Also, being an unemployed high school student, I generally had to rely on whatever money I got from my parents to make purchases, and, as I say, the 70s yielded a lot of choices. From the start, I preferred albums to singles. I hated having to deal with the little spindle one had to put on a record player to make playing a 45 possible. Plus maneuvering the arm was tricky, since the automatic function on most record players was set for LPs. One could load eight or nine LPs on the changer, hit play and until all records had finished, only had to worry if more than one dropped at a time. Then, just flip them and start over. Kiss may or may not have released 45 singles, in all probability they did, since this was common among most artists of the time, but I was only concerned with the albums. We did have 8-track tapes, but I shall refrain from recounting the horrors one had in dealing with one of those. Suffice it to say that the cliche of one’s favorite song fading out somewhere in the middle, followed by a loud click, then fading back in, pretty accurately captures the experience.
For me, Kiss will always be the early- to mid-70s line up of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. When they reunited for a tour in the late 90s, I suddenly felt propelled back to my younger days. After Alive II, my enthusiasm for the group started to wane, particularly since I’d discovered college radio by then (Save WRAS!) and members of the group started doing rock star things like removing their makeup, and dating Cher. I count myself among an apparently low number of fans who actually enjoyed their change of direction with Songs from the Elder, which still ranks as one of my favorite albums by them. Still, when I was a young teenager, I couldn’t get enough of the group. When Phantom of the Paradise aired on television, I begged my parents to rent a video recorder, and some how figure out how to use it, since I wouldn’t be at home when it aired. I later had the opportunity to see it at Cineprov in Atlanta as an adult, and the wisdom of my parents in denying me that request suddenly became apparent.