Saturday, September 14, 2013

KISS: The Infamous Solo Albums Turn 35

The Infamous Solo 
Albums Turn 35

YIKES! 35 years ago this
week Casablanca Records
released the infamous KISS
solo albums. Just another
milestone anniversary to
help make us KISS freaks
all feel little bit older.

1978 — it seems like just yesterday. I was a starry-eyed 15-year old kid working at the neighborhood record store — living my life according to the ministry of the four Apostles: PeterPaulGene and  Ace. They were unstoppable. They were THE "Hottest Band in the Land." And they were my band.

KISS certainly were on a roll. They were coming off six consecutive platinum-sellers — ALIVEDestroyerRock and Roll OverLove GunALIVE II and Double Platinum. They'd become real-life superheroes and even had a much-talked about TV movie set to air on Halloween night. And on September 18th, Casablanca Records went for broke — releasing an individual solo album from each band member simultaneously. The quadruple-record release exemplified 1970s-style marketing chutzpah on steroids. Unprecedented in the music biz, the endeavor either was a runaway success or an epic failure, depending one's perspective.

Many fans who purchased all four 
solo albums at once took home 
their treasures in a souvenir 
plastic KISS shopping bag.
Given the band's enormous international fanbase and their record label's deep promotional pockets, the notion that each solo record would achieve gold status (500,000 units) was a no-brainer. However, Casablanca president Neil Bogart had greater expectations. Rather than shipping two million units upon release (four instant gold albums) and allowing them to sell off gradually before pressing a second run, Bogart ordered the initial production of five million total units (1.25 million copies each). As a result, even after the holiday shopping season, stores and warehouses still had unsold KISS solo albums piled sky-high. And before long, retail outlets were selling off the surplus records desperately at cut-out prices — from as low as $1.99 each. Bogart's bold vision proved to be a colossal misstep that quickly changed the public perception of KISS' popularity — damage that took the band years to erase. Casablanca seemingly never rebounded from the financial debacle.

For me, September 18, 1978 was like Christmas, New Year's Eve, Halloween and the 4th of July all rolled into one glorious religious rock and roll holiday. I remember Larry, my boss at the record store, positioning the long-awaited solo albums prominently at the top of the "New Release" display bin as I salivated with delight. But I only had enough money to buy two of the four LPs on the first day of release — Paul and Ace. Gene and Peter would have to wait until payday.

Fortunately, Larry had compassion. To make me wait three additional days before hearing the entire set was just plain cruel. So he allowed me to get all four at once, with the understanding that I wouldn't take home Gene and Peter's until payday. A kind and fair deal, to be sure.

The unified solo album covers were amazing and have since become iconic. Set against simple black backgrounds, Eraldo Carugati's portraits of each band member that graced the front of his particular record were so detailed and real-looking that the guys seemingly could have jumped right off their respective cover and engaged in a full-scale ego clash right in my bedroom. Now that would have been truly awesome! But considerably less cool than the covers was the cartoonish color poster included inside each member's album jacket. The complete set interlocked to create a rather silly-looking group mural.

Even as a 15-year old blind follower, I recognized that
the posters included inside the solo album covers were
goofy — cheesier than even the paper "Love Gun." BANG!

So that's the back story. But what about the music? Well, for starters, I believe that the solo albums were a prime example of individual pieces actually being greater than the sum of the parts. And the four records represent some of KISS' all-time best work — a set packed full of musical surprises.
What's KISS without the "Star Child?" ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! In fact, without Paul Stanley, rock and roll itself would have dried up, blown away and ceased to exist years ago. Hence, his solo album not only was the best of the bunch, it's the best KISS album they never released — or at the very least, it was the last great KISS record. (Have ya heard Crazy Nights?)

I attribute most of the action I experienced during high school in the back seat of my dad's Chevette to the hypnotic power of Paul's solo record — on 8-track. From the romantic opening of "Tonight You Belong to Me" to the high-octane energy of "It's Alright" to the power ballad, "Hold Me, Touch Me," this record consistently affected my female teenage companions like an aural roofie. Thanks, dude!

Apparently set on throwing fans a curve ball from the very beginning, KISS' founding co-frontman and bassist opted to switch to guitar for his record. He also utilized the solo op as a means in which to showcase his Beatles-caliber songwriting skill rather than merely a vehicle to further perpetuate his "Demon" persona.

"Tunnel of Love" and "Living in Sin" represent two of the record's close calls — nearly great songs marred by libido-drenched lyrics. However, "See You Tonight," "Man of 1,000 Faces" and "Mr. Make Believe" are chilling examples of Gene's impeccable songwriting talent.

Peter's record has been maligned from the beginning for being the most Un-KISS-like solo record. However, as a bona fide KISS freak, I wasn't surprised by the R&B-flavored set. And be sure that it's not the all-fluff, wimpy record that it's been made out to be. And it actually has stood up quite nicely over the years.

"I'm Gonna Love You," "Hooked on Rock 'n' Roll" and the Sean Delaney-penned, "Rock Me, Baby," are straight-up rockers. And despite the mellow factor, "Easy Thing" and "I Can't Stop the Rain" (Delaney) are tremendously well-written, heartfelt songs.

Ace always was the most mysterious KISS member. I recall reading in Hit Parader back in the day, that Ace's solo record was to be comprised of all instrumentals. Hmm. As a result, I don't think anyone was expecting his to be the one to completely blow up in terms of content AND sales.

Ace's also was the only solo record to have scored a Top 40 hit (the Russ Ballard-penned "New York Groove"). This was particularly perplexing, given that Casablanca reportedly had Billboard in its back pocket at the time. Decades later, Ace's record has maintained its street cred — "Rip it Out," and "Speeding Back to My Baby" remain fan favorites.

Sounding as fresh as the day I carried home that souvenir shopping bag in 1978, the KISS solo records still kill!

I know that a lot of KISS Army members visit this site on a regular basis and I encourage you all to share your own related personal thoughts and experiences as we celebrate this KISStoric occasion.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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C'MON! -

(Coming April 7, 2019)

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