Book Review: Book Covers All Things KISS

 

Front cover image c. 2016 iStock

“The Encyclopedia of Kiss” by Brett Weiss (McFarland, 2016) is a well-researched guide of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Kiss. The book covers all things Kiss, including facts that even die hard fans may not have known, or have forgotten about.

The book was written, as Weiss details in the opening, because he could not find a detailed book on facts and all things Kiss (besides a book from Japan), being a fan of the band. The research Weiss puts into the book, is remarkable, and it lives up to the subtitle “Music Personnel, Events, and Related Subjects.” It covers names such as merchandise managers to guitar techs, along with the all the members of the band and people who helped out along the way.

The Preface of the book tells how Weiss grew up being a Kiss fan, but unable to afford all of the merchandise that the band bombarded the public with throughout the years, even having to make his own toy Kiss van by putting Kiss stickers on a van. Weiss focused spending his money on the albums and the magazines that the band was featured in, along with telling the story when he and a friend were anxiously waiting for the TV movie “Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park” debut on the television in 1978. Weiss also details the time, after the 1970s when being a Kiss fan “wasn’t cool” among other people , but still kept his love of the band (something I can relate to). The Preface proves that the author is not just writing a book to be published, but shows his love for the band in a touching background of his youth.

The book itself is easy to read , just like a normal encyclopedia. The topics are in alphabetical order, and easy to find throughout. Weiss covers all the eras of the band, not just the original lineup, so there is information on members Eric Singer, Eric Carr, Tommy Thayer, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, and Vinnie Vincent, as well the other bands they were in before (and with some of the members) after their time in Kiss. The collection covers the solo albums of the members, tribute albums (official and unofficial), and the concert tours listed under the name of the tours. Opening acts are mentioned briefly as well as the equipment the band members used during their time.

A Kiss book would not be complete without the merchandise that the band has put out during the years, and Weiss covers them just as well as the other information. The Kiss pinball machines, toys, trading cards, books, are all in here. A surprising topic is the Kiss comic books, and named in the book is Youngstown, Ohio’s Chris Yambar, whose work is in the Simpson’s “Tree House of Horrors” comic that featured Kiss (who also contributed to my ode to the Batman TV Show in this page’s archives). The book covers the Kiss WCW wrestler, and even lists the band’s connections to people like George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The Gene Simmons appearances are listed as well, from his movies to game shows and reality shows to interviews. The appearances of the other people in the Kiss universe, including the “fake” Peter Criss.

Being a Kiss fan, I thought I knew tons of information about the band, but this book had several things that I learned; including some of the tribute CDs that were released in other countries (one including the music geared to the baby friendly audience) to high schools creating musical productions of the band’s album “Music From The Elder,” and the tour that Gene did not spit fire on (“Hot in the Shade” Tour). I also forgot about the TV Show “PM Magazine,” which I used to watch all the time, where the band made some appearances.

There are a few errors in the book, where the author mentions the song “Dirty Livin” from 1979’s “Dynasty” album and then a few pages later, mentions the song again as “Dirt Livin,” and states that Eric Carr’s “only lead vocal with Kiss” was 1989 “Little Caesar,” but then mentions Carr singing “Beth” in 1989 on “Smashes Trashes and Hits.” Also, there is a note that Eric Carr sang on the song “All For The Glory ” on the “Sonic Boom” CD, when it was Eric Singer. Given all of the information that is listed in the book, a few errors can be overlooked, because it is very far and between. With all the research in the book, a few minor mistakes is expected, and doesn’t take away from this 236 page gem of a writing.

The text also has the author’s views on several of the track listings of the songs, along with some reviews from magazines and websites. The opinions are not offensive for those fans that love certain songs , and some may hate (and vice versa), which makes Kiss fans so unique in their love of certain albums and songs (and members) as opposed to others (This page constantly praises the “Crazy Nights” release which many Kiss fans goof on). There are some nice black and white photographs throughout the book as well covering some of the toys, comics and rarities that is worth the price of the book.

I heard about this book when the author was on the Mitch Lafon “Rock Talk” podcast, and had to seek it out. Even though it is not an official Kiss book, this book is a must have to add to the Kiss collection. The research and easy to find topics, makes the book a great go-to text reference for Kisstory fans. McFarland Publishing has had many wonderful writers and books released that have been featured on this page, and “Encyclopedia of Kiss” is another wonderful piece of work. A Kiss fan’s collection is not complete without having this book on their shelf.

 

 

Thank you to McFarland for the Review Copy of the book.

 

“Encyclopedia of Kiss” by Brett Weiss (2016 McFarland pISBN: 978-0-7864-9802-4 eISBN: 978-1-4766-2540-9) can be found at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or at their order line at 800-253-2187.

 

For information about Brett Weiss, go to http://www.brettweisswords.com

 

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I Love It Loud:Ranking The Best Kiss Albums

 

Kiss has always been one of my favorite bands. Along with The Beach Boys, The Bay City Rollers, and The Oak Ridge Boys, the band was an early influence on me as a fan, and even as a drummer.

            My early encounters with Kiss involved my older cousin, who had many of their albums lying around when I would visit his house to play LEGOs. I remember him scaring me with the picture of Gene Simmons from the “Alive II” album, along with him playing me the song “God of Thunder.” I would stare at his Kiss Bubble Gum Card collection in awe wondering what it was I was seeing.  I remember years later in junior high, when I walked across town with my friend to look at the bargain bin cassette tapes at the local Fishers Big Wheel (which was like a K-Mart). It was there I bought my first Kiss cassette, “Destroyer.” Throughout the 1980s, I became a bigger fan of theirs, including drummer Eric Carr, and how cool he looked after reading stories about him in Metal Edge Magazine, along with other music magazines.

            I was also a huge fan of Gene Simmons, who was all over my TV at the time with his movies “Runaway” and “Trick or Treat,” which I watched all the time with another drummer friend of mine (Many years ago I got the DVD of the movie at a Walmart bargin bin and still love the film, and the music of Fastway who performed the soundtrack).  I remember almost wearing out my VHS copy of “Kiss Meets the Phantom of The Park” when I taped it from a late night Pittsburgh TV Channel.  I still have many Kiss T-Shirts and items (one of my favorite still is my Eric Carr Figure, and the “Crazy Nights” Program Book a college friend sold to me, who is even a bigger Kiss fan than I am). I saw them on the Reunion Tour in 1996 in Pittsburgh PA, “The Psycho Circus” Tour in 1998 at the same arena, and the “Farewell Tour” in Cleveland, Ohio in 2000. Even though I saw drummer Eric Singer with Alice Cooper, I have not seen him with Kiss (who happens to be my second favorite drummer behind Eric Carr, and got to talk to Singer at the Cooper show).

            Since Kiss was such an important part of my music listening and drumming career, I thought I’d rank my Top Kiss Albums. As passionate as Kiss fans are, I am sure this will cause some debate, but this is my ranking of my favorite albums by the band. I am not counting any Greatest Hits Collections or Live Albums on this list-this is strictly their studio work.

6. “Rock And Roll Over” (1976).  This album also has one of my favorite covers of the band, although many may choose “Destroyer” as the best, I love the cover so much that my girlfriend got me a coffee mug of the cover of the album.  This album charted at #11 on the U.S. Album Charts, and has great songs like “Mr. Speed” (probably my favorite lesser known Kiss song ever), “Love Em, Leave Em,” and “Makin Love,” which closes the album.   The song also has “Hard Luck Woman,” which became a hit for the band, which has a Rod Stewart feel to the song. There are a few songs that wear on me, but overall this is one of my tops.

5.  “Love Gun” (1977).  This album is great all throughout with no fillers on the album. What is amazing about Kiss during the early years is that they were releasing two albums a year while touring. Today’s acts can hardly put out an album once a year.  Once again, the cover is great, with the band surrounding by women in Kiss makeup. I always loved the cover just because of how Gene looks so menacing, like Count Dracula or another horror character in the painting.  This was a time when the album covers meant something to the product.

            Another aspect of the album I love (no pun intended) is the fact that it is a short album, with a run time of a little over 32 minutes, which leads no time for filler solos or songs just to plug up the album. I remember getting this album on cassette at a bargain bin, and practicing the parts on my drum set for hours. Although many love the album due to Ace Frehley’s “Shock Me,” I love the songs “Plaster Caster,” Christine Sixteen,” and the bands remake of “Then She Kissed Me,” a re-working of  then “Then He Kissed Me” hit by The Crystals.  I also like “Hooligan,” with drummer Peter Criss singing lead, which is a song I liked better than “Beth.”  The album also reminds me of “The Phantom of the Park,” when some of the songs from the album was used in the film.

4. “Destroyer” (1976).  Most people love this album because of the famous album cover, and because it has the staples like “Beth,” Detroit Rock City,” and “Shout It Out Loud,” which are all good reasons. However, when I listen to this album, I think of songs like “King Of The Night Time World,” and “Flaming Youth.”  My memories of the album is more being able to purchase my first Kiss cassette, as mentioned earlier, and the fact that so many songs are still played live today by the band shows its importance. However, some of the songs are overplayed that I need a break from hearing them, but that does not take away from how good the album is from start to finish.

3. “Hotter Than Hell” (1974).  This album is my favorite of the original lineup.  This was their second album and has a dark theme to some of the songs, which made me afraid of the band (along with many other parents at the time when they heard and saw the band). Songs like “Parasite,” Got To Choose,” and “All The Way” are my favorites.  “Watching You” and “Goin Blind” are also great in keeping with a dark tone.  Even though the album only charted around #100 on the Albums Charts (they didn’t get their break until “Alive I” a few years later), this is my favorite of the originals.  The cover isn’t as awesome as “Love Gun” or “Destroyer,” but the songs are what counts.

2. “Crazy Nights” (1987). Now this is where Kiss fans will start attacking me, but I think this album is underrated, and it was a major part of me growing up in junior high. The song “Crazy Crazy Nights” was played at every high school dance I went to, along with the junior high dances (certain dances junior higher students were allowed to attend the high school ones).  This was the album that I discovered Eric Carr’s drumming as well, who became my all time favorite drummer.  I loved the shattered glass image for the cover, and thought Eric looked cool with his drummer gloves, which I didn’t see many drummers use before. Many fans think this album is too polished and Pop sounding, but when the album came out, it was no different from the stuff that was being released at the time.  I still think “Reason To Live,” and “Turn on The Night” are great songs, along with the drumming on “I’d Fight Hell To Hold You.”  This album gets too much criticism in my opinion (almost as much bashing as “The Elder” or “Dynasty”), but it gets high ranking for me due to the memories I have of the album growing up.

1.     “Revenge” (1992).  It’s hard to believe this album is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. I remember when the video for the single “Unholy” was shown on MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball” and I was floored by it. Gene Simmons was back in my eyes, looking mean and street-like, as opposed to the glam look he was sporting in the 1980s.   This album brought back many Kiss fans that left the band in the 1980s, and made the album hit #6 on the U.S. Album Charts.  I got the cassette when I was a member of the BMG Music Club, where you would get 12 cassettes for the price of one, as long as you bought it within the year. When I finally got a CD player, one of the first CDs I got from the club was “Revenge” as well.  Paul Stanley recently mentioned on Chris Jericho’s podcast that the band finally was at a common cause, as opposed to the years where he was doing most of the work, while Gene was doing movies.  Stanley also calls the album a rebuilding of the Kiss brand, to get back the fans that left them in the 1980s. This album was the first for Eric Singer, who fit in great with the band.  This album could have been a disaster, in the fact that the fans (and the band) were just coming off of the death of Eric Carr, but this album is my favorite non-makeup era album.

     The album is heavy oriented, which was needed in the band, just like “Creatures of the Night” brought a new direction for the band in the 1980s.  Songs like “Domino,” “Thou Shall Not,” and “Heart of Chrome” (which Stanley recently stated is his favorite song on the album), shows more edge to the band, and that they were still able to compete with the grunge music that was started to break at the time.  This album also had the ballad “Every Time I Look At You” and the catchy “I Just Wanna” for the fans that were still loving the 1980s stuff that followed out of the “Hot In The Shade” Album that was before this one.  The band also brought former member guitar player Vinnie Vincent for the songwriting process, which shows that Vincent was still a great writer.  The album also shows how underrated guitarist Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer really are as musicians, who do not get enough credit in the music world.  I challenge anyone who doubts Singer’s work to check this album out, because he is definitely a great drummer.

This album also has a special memory for me, not just because of the music club, but I also bought my first T-shirt from online rock site Rockabilia. Back then, the company sent a catalogue through the mail, and I remember my excitement seeing the package at my college mailbox, and inside was a shirt of the band photo from the back of the CD. I wore that shirt proudly, and still have the shirt in good shape. The album was played constantly through my walks to and from classes on the college campus of Kent State University (this was before IPods and we had Walkmans).

There are many great Kiss albums like “Creatures of the Night,” “Carnival of Souls,” and “Dynasty,” and even the debut album, but there are songs I skip over on all those. (Plus I was tired of the “Carnival of Souls” after listening to bootleg copies of it for a year until the actual release).  The fact that Kiss started in 1974 and is still playing today is a testament to their musicianship.  The band will always have their critics, even those that refuse to accept the original lineup is not together, but I have enjoyed albums from each of the lineups. It is rare that a band with several lineups have been able to stay relevant and produce good music. Kiss is truly a musical phenomenon that has proven its longevity throughout several decades.