What Band's 1978 Debut Album Killed KISS' Kareer?

Back when I was a kid, KISS were the cat's pajamas of rock & roll. Everything they did had my full attention and that of every single one of my friends. When they put out a new album, we didn't need to hear it first, we bought it sight-unseen.

We would gather at each other's house and crank our KISS albums, we would dress as our favorite and member for Halloween, and if the band held a concert within a three-state radius of our location, we closed in on the most agreeable parent and begged our asses off to be taken to the show until they finally relented just to shut us up.

These were good times, both for we kids and for the band, whose cash registers could barely contain all the cash that was coming their way.

And then a funny thing happened that changed everything.

In February of 1978, a band that had initially named themselves after an extinct species of elephant released their debut album, "Van Halen". The album arrived quietly on a Tuesday, finding its rightful place in the "V MISC" sections of most record stores. Its first single was a completely gratuitous re-working of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" that immediately rendered the original - once thought to be a powerful blast of rebellion in its own right - completely obsolete.

Before long, every kid with one or more KISS albums in their collection was aware of the song, but it wasn't because it was on the radio. No, instead, we heard it blasting out of the 8-track tape players of every suped-up Camero, Firebird and "Shaggin' Wagon". Back then, those were the real gate keepers, even more so than radio stations or the not-yet-invented MTV.

Eventually, though, word-of-mouth spread to the point that mainstream radio stations had to play the song. A second single, "Running With The Devil" followed and, by summer, just about every vehicle with four wheels and a tape player was blasting the Van Halen record.

By releasing their album in the dead of February, the members of Van Halen had unwittingly laid the groundwork, thereby ensuring that their album would become the #1 car jam album of the summer.

In doing so, Van Halen killed KISS dead in their tracks.

Oh, it wasn't an immediate death, however. The members of KISS still had one mega-payday in their futures when they released not one, but FOUR solo albums (one by each member) just in time for the Christmas holiday shopping season, but after that, it was tumbleweeds for Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace.

Instead of being enamored by Gene's ability to spit blood and fire, just about every kid was watching Eddie Van Halen's fingers to see how he was making all the new noises we kids had never heard come out of a guitar before. Legend has it that back when the band was still just one of hundreds of aspiring hopefuls on the L.A. scene, Eddie would play with his back to the audience to keep competing guitarists from stealing his techniques.

And, trust me, if MTV had been around back then, Eddie's secrets would have been out of the bag immediately and a wave of imitators would have sprung up almost immediately. Of course, that happened anyway as kids by the thousands ran to their local music stores or pawn shops eager to get their hands on a guitar and become the next Eddie Van Halen.

Many years later, we learned that Gene Simmons had, in fact, produced an early demo for the band under the guise of attempting to lure Eddie into KISS. Can you imagine how different rock history would have been if Simmons had been successful?

One can't help think that, upon seeing this new kid doing things to the electric guitar that nobody else had done, Gene Simmons' heart (presuming he has one) must have sank, for he knew that this young kid with the red-and-white-striped guitar was gonna be bad for business. KISS business.

And history now proves that Gene Simmons was 100% correct.

KISS would go on to release Dynasty in 1979, an album many refer to as "their disco album" because it features the formulaic disco single "I Was Made For Loving You". Of course, the album still managed to go Top 10 because, let's face it, we kids didn't exactly quit KISS cold turkey. Only after rushing home and actually playing the album were we finally able to kick the habit, so to speak.

Thing is, there was no album KISS could have made at the time to keep us because we were now old enough to care about girls and, well, the girls loved Van Halen as much as the guys did. The same could not be said for KISS, whose number of female fans paled greatly in comparison to the number of the band's male fans and, near as I can tell, Gene slept with every last one of them and he has the "Pornoroids" to prove it.

Of course, KISS would not go down without a fight, releasing the flirtatiously-titled Unmasked album in hopes of luring us back into their camp with the faint promise of removing their make-up, as if any of us really cared what they looked like beneath the white-face.

By the time of 1981's Music from "The Elder", the wheels had fallen off the KISS trolley and Van Halen could not print t-shirts fast enough as their stadium shows sold out in record time and kids all across the country bought their albums by the millions, each one another dagger in the rotting KISS korpse.

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