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WHY KISS AIN’T ON OUR LIST... Dave Marsh writes: In the fall of 1973, recently arrived in New York City and besotted by the extraordinary shows I’d seen by the New York Dolls in Queens and downtown Manhattan, I decided I wanted to investigate who the city’s best bands other than the Dolls might be. This wound up being a story that ran first in Newsday, the Long Island daily where I had the pop music beat; then Creem, which I was no longer editing but still writing for; and finally the British weekly, Melody Maker.
The article, which may have been headlined Great White Rock in its first appearance, boasted that there were currently a dozen “excellent” rock acts in the New York City area, and talked about eight of those I had seen. In order of appearance they were: The Dynomiters, Harlots of 42nd Street, Kiss, Luger, Elliott Murphy’s Aqua Show, New York Central, Queen Elizabeth featuring Wayne County and Teenage Lust. (I can’t remember why I didn’t mention the Miamis. I loved the Miamis—on stage anyway, like so many of these bands, that group was never captured right on tape.)
Coming up with a punk icon (Wayne County), one of the key New York singer-songwriters of the period whose career has lasted forty years (Elliott Murphy), and a huge pop success in the space of 2,500 words isn’t bad. But history—helped along by Wikipedia which at least three people have tried to amend for accuracy, all rejected by the mysterian Wikiprocess—remembers none of this. If it did, the Kiss Army might salute me rather than flooding my website with what amounts to “nyah, nyah, nyah,” now that Kiss is finally going to get into the Hall of Fame.
Because that article was the first mention of Kiss in the press, and it was not hostile. In its entirety it reads:
“This group looks as if it just stepped out of the underground movie Pink Flamingos, leading me to believe that I was right all along in thinking that the glitter craze was an ugliness contest.
“But Kiss's music sounds as if it is the most thought-out, controlled sound around, and the stage show is just as professional. And, they say, Eddie Kramer (of Led Zeppelin and Electric Ladyland) wants to produce them. Heavy metal meets El Topo.”
OK, I called them ugly. Why the fuck did you think they added the face paint? Other than that, it’s at least a kind of backhanded praise. It’s honest, too. I didn’t like Kiss, but I recognized what they had going for them (though I wish I had mentioned manager Bill Aucoin, a great market manipulator who’s been cheated out of almost all credit thanks to the megalomania infesting that band’s camp.)
Musically, I was done with them before I ever turned the first album over to the second side. Kiss had an extraordinary aptitude for adopting every cliché in hard rock history, and a complete absence of any ability to create so much as a hint of a new one. (I suppose maybe they were the model for Motley Crue?) The most interesting of their studio albums is Destroyer, and it’s not all that interesting, except as an example of the highly professional output of producer Bob Ezrin and guitarist Dick Wagner during the mid-‘70s. On their own, they were not clever at coming up with riffs, the beats are as repetitious as punk but without the energy, and their most interesting lyric is “Beth” which is nothing more than third-rate Bob Seger blended with second-rate Billy Joel, or maybe “Detroit Rock City” which is a clumsy J. Geils swipe...and so forth except for the disco album, I guess.
But they have the best make-up in the Hall. Until Insane Clown Posse is inducted, at least.
I realize this paints Kiss as more mediocre than incompetent, but....well, if the only qualification is having made a record at least 25 years before the ballots got mailed out, they are qualified, and perhaps I shall be fortunate enough not to live to see the advent of Justin Bieber and One Day in the Hall's once formidable list of inductees.
And yeah, Kiss inspired a lot of kids to want to be in bands. So did half a dozen girls (and boys!) in every high school graduating class.
All that mediocrity was harmless enough until the boastful bassist decided to turn it into a propaganda machine for the only two things he’s ever loved: Gene Simmons and money. Sex Money Kiss, his book on how to become a rich success, offers a stupendous (or maybe I mean stupefying) blend of preposterous career advice, dangerously over-simplified and inaccurate economic information and advice, and an account of human intercourse—by which I don’t mean just sex--that verifies emotional stagnation at the age of maybe fourteen. You could figure the same stuff out in maybe fifteen minutes of watching his dumb-ass TV show. (Yes, this means I passed on reading the other two. Pointless repetition is one of the worst things about Kiss.)
Alas, Simmons also has politics, of a sort, though I’d sure he would deny anything of the kind because that might alienate part of the audience—although since he views the rest of the species as essentially a chain of ATMs, maybe not. He is basically a cheerleader for capitalism and spreading the U.S. system abroad in ways that make Bono look like John Maynard Keynes.
Then there are his sexual politics, which amount to “Bend over, meat” and I mean that literally. It is true that Simmons imagines all other human beings (except his sainted mama and perhaps his kids) as inherently inferior to himself, but he has a particular contempt for women. I stopped being amused by this along about the time that he began to boast about his Polaroid collection. The misogynist misanthropy reaches a pinnacle in his 2008 book, Ladies of the Night: A Historical and Personal Perspective on the Oldest Profession in the World.
It seems odd that he didn’t write the book he’s best qualified for on this topic, which would be a history of pimping. Because if Simmons isn’t an evangelist he is certainly a peddler, and he practices the hard sell and the emotional con. Kiss didn’t have fans, it had an Army because they were the biggest band of their era. The truth is, Kiss never sold more than 2 million copies of a studio album although that was precisely the time when the Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and a bunch of others began to sell 10 million (and more). One reason Kiss’s audience is early teenagers-- though these days that is true more often emotionally than chronologically, of course—is that only someone stuck there would be so militantly gullible.
Why shouldn’t Kiss be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Because they have added not the slightest musical value to rock, which is why they were not especially huge record sellers. And because, so far, in one way or another, the Hall has avoided honoring the music at its most mercantile and shallow.
But above all because there are so many worthy candidates who are not in the Hall of Fame. At the snail ‘s pace at which the Hall parcels out induction, many of the artists in the list below will be dead before they are even on the ballot. In Kiss’s own genre and time, by which I mean 1970s hard rock, almost every fan of it as a whole (as opposed to the Kiss Army) would agree that at least Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and Motorhead are not just more deserving, but far, far better choices. Not every one of these fifty artists, who operated at more or less the same time as Kiss, are going to end up in the Hall of Fame nor should they. But they’re all better than Kiss.
Alice in Chains
Black Oak Arkansas
Blue Oyster Cult
Bootsy’s Rubber Band
J. Geils Band
The James Gang
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Mott the Hoople
New York Dolls
Ted Nugent / Amboy Dukes
Ten Years After
(This list was compiled by RRC, not Dave Marsh alone.)