Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Duff McKagan is a former member of the Fastbacks, The Fartz, 10 Minute Warning and Guns ‘n’ Roses. He plays bass in Velvet Revolver and founded Meridian Rock, a wealth management firm for musicians.
They are certified legends. And they also write for the Talkhouse. From a Talking Head to a hard rock icon, this week we’re highlighting archival pieces written by members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
If you’re around my age, you were probably introduced to rock & roll in the ’70s. And so there is no doubt that Kiss played a part in your youth.
Kiss was my introduction to riff-rock, and Kiss made me want to learn guitar. I played lead on a tennis racket along to Ace Frehley, and for Halloween in the seventh grade I wore Gene Simmons make-up (smudged up later that night, since that make-up got me a long make-out session with my school’s foxiest chick).
And if you’re around my age, Kiss was also your introduction to the burgeoning and sparkling-new thing called punk rock. Kiss’ classic live album Alive! came out in 1975, but it was still exploding in 1977, and by the following year, we young 13- and 14-year-olds were clawing for anything that had that same three-chord simplicity. Bands like Iron Maiden and Rush were a bit too complex with the lyrics and math-rockesque guitar and drum athleticism. All of a sudden, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Stooges made sense, and we deemed ourselves “too cool” for Kiss. We kicked them to the curb for the likes of the Circle Jerks and Killing Joke. We chuckled together in the ’80s — and thought ourselves elite. Meanwhile, Kiss kept trudging on.
As we’ve gone from LPs to cassettes to CDs to iPods though, Kiss Alive has remained a staple of our collection — always youthful and always fun… and always reminding us of those days with the tennis racket and the smudged make-up and foxy chicks… forever re-energizing those 14-year-old boy memories.
Kiss is cool like that.
Flash forward to a couple of months ago: I’m on a plane to somewhere in South America, and sitting next to me is the great Gene Simmons — the very same guy I dressed up as for my seventh grade Halloween. He has mixes of the new Kiss record Monster on his iPad, and offers for me to have a listen. I’m kind of horrified. These quarters are too close for me to fake it if I don’t like it. Shit! As the headphones come my way, about a million thoughts are going through my head. I was actually a bit panicked.
But you know what? It rocked. It’s old-school Kiss, with loud guitars and simple, bludgeoning riffs. Loud bass. O.G. guitar solos. It brought me back to a blissful time when the smell of Bubble Yum and the mysticism of mood rings were my greatest sensory inputs.
I’m not sure how Kiss does it really; they’ve found a way to keep writing songs to that teen-age demographic. While a lot of bands write songs about life’s ups and downs (you know — drug addiction, war, “the man,” or what have you), Kiss’ lyrics still go with the tried-and-true: “dresses dropping” and “wine and sweet perfume” and “will ya take me down below?” Boner!
“Right Here, Right Now” has a classic Kiss intro of yore as, actually, do many of the tunes on Monster. Those riffy intros effortlessly suck in the listener and trust me, that’s harder than it seems.
It’s probably not too big of a statement to say that just about every rock band in the early and mid ’80s tried to chase new technological advances in recorded sound. The result was often thin-sounding drums, awful guitar layers, way too many back-up vocals, etc. Kiss may have wandered in there for a while. But Paul Stanley did a fine job on the production here — the guitar and bass tones and the rest on Monster are rather loud and brash, basic and straightforward, somewhere between vintage Kiss albums like Destroyer (1976) and Alive!
“Back to the Stone Age” is as bludgeoning and modern as anything that could possibly be considered rock & roll right now, and yet the main riff and drum beat give a big nod to the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” from 1969. If I was 14 years old right now, I’d be righteously chanting right along to “In the beginning, there was darkness and there was light” — fine teenage imagery.
Listen, it doesn’t really matter what I think of the lyrics on this record — it wasn’t written for a guy like me, who has kids and a wife and grown-up responsibilities. I hang out with hipsters all the time, and snark is often the rule of the day. But I am a Kiss fan, and I always will be, because they colored my youth, and they bring up things from my past that make me feel like picking up that tennis racket and shredding a lead.
For the record; writing music reviews is not something I believe I have a right to do. I’m a music fan, and believe that musicians simply have their fans and their non-fans. The rock journalist/reviewer can simply “suck it.” The point is, if I was 14 years old right now, I’m pretty damn sure that this new Kiss record would kick my ass.