Sunday, July 19, 2009

Marky's song #1: Gene Simmons - "See You Tonite"

I’m not really much of a Kiss fan. I don’t even own any of their ‘proper’ albums. Some people will read those two lines and declare that I’ve committed some sort of heavy metal apostasy, but I can’t deny my youth. My older brother was the Kiss fan of the family and grew up on the ‘classic’ metal stylings of Kiss, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden et al. When I reached my rebellious teenage years, not wanting to slavishly imitate my bro, I discovered hardcore punk as well as thrash and speed metal. By that time, Kiss was merely a mainstream pop-metal act that had already done away with the face paint – a highly influential relic, but not interesting enough to be on my radar. As a result, even though I heard those early albums (from Hotter Than Hell to Double Platinum) many times, I never had the urge to obtain my own copies. I have a greatest hits album and that’s all I feel I need.

The exception to that rule, and the only thing that prevents me from being dishonorably discharged from the Kiss Army, is the four solo albums released under the band’s logo in 1978. For some reason, these albums fascinate me. The concept, the results, even the artwork – velvet paintings of each band member bathed in colored background light and identical fonts on the reverse – captivated me in a way that their regular albums didn’t. I used to sneak into my brother’s room in the time between when I got home from school and when he did to simply look at those albums (touching the stereo was forbidden, you see). To this day, I still occasionally put them on for reasons unknown. Maybe it’s admiration for the ultimate expression of hard rock chutzpah.

The general consensus about these four albums is that Frehley’s is the strongest while Criss’s is the weakest. I concur with that sentiment. Just to give you an idea of how the Kiss star was falling at this time: each solo album had one song on it released as a single, except for Peter’s, which had two. That they would dip into the worst of the batch twice hints at how much the band was losing its direction. Within two years, the band would shed those two band members.

I think the reason Ace’s album is so highly regarded is the sheer unexpectedness of it. Messrs. Simmons and Stanley ran highly rigorous quality control and very few Frehley-penned tracks had seen the light of day. Perhaps Ace’s lack of confidence in his singing voice has something to do with that – he apparently couldn’t do his studio vocals unless he has lying on the floor so he couldn’t see anyone else watching him. But when allowed free reign in the studio without interference, he turned out to be a pretty good songwriter with an excellent grasp of hard rock dynamics.

The flipside of that coin, of course, is Peter Criss, whose solo album is as much of a trainwreck as it has been made out to be. It’s hardly even a rock album; it’s more of an R&B affair, and not a particularly good one at that. A lot of fun has been poked at this album, and I can’t say that it’s undeserved. It can be painful to listen to Peter desperately try to be the crooning balladeer that all the ladies love and failing miserably. Criss hoped his album would prove to his bandmates that he was just as good a songwriter as everyone else – it’s safe to say that the opposite of that hypothesis is the conclusion most people reached.

But those are the extremes, and it leaves two other albums to discuss. Being the primary songwriter, Paul’s album wound up sounding the most like a normal Kiss record, but that’s not necessarily the best thing you can say about something released in 1978. The true curveball of the bunch was Gene’s. At the time, this was one of the most expensive albums ever made, with its star-studded cast of participants. Joe Perry, Rick Nielsen, Donna Summer and Cher are among the guest appearances here. Given his persona and on-stage theatrics, you figured Mr. Simmons was a shoe-in for the sleaziest, most ass-kicking album the four would create. And you would be wrong.

Sure, songs like “Tunnel of Love” and “Living In Sin” are executed in the expected modus operandi, but the album veers off into decidedly un-Kiss-like directions. “True Confessions” includes a choir in the chorus to produce what can only be classified as gospel-hard rock. “Man of 1000 Faces” and “Mr. Make Believe” are straightforward pop songs with singing that doesn’t sound like a total come on. And there really are no words to describe the closing track, an earnest cover of “When You Wish Upon a Star” other than ‘accurate.’ Thank heavens Disney didn’t call Simmons’s agent when they needed to voice Jiminy Cricket.

And then there’s this song. Understated in every way, “See You Tonite” isn’t about boffing your mom (and your sister and your grandmother and your girlfriend and your daughter), but seems instead to be about a botched murder-for-hire attempt. Married to a Beatles-esque melody, it’s one of those songs you don’t realize how catchy it is until it’s long over, when you catch yourself humming the chorus during a break at work. At two-and-a-half minutes, it’s the shortest song on the album, which only helps contribute to the fleeting elusiveness of the track. Then you remember that Gene freakin’ Simmons wrote this song, and it only increases the wonderment. Obviously stuff like this could never make it onto a proper Kiss album, but the fact that he had this up his sleeve grudgingly gained him a little bit of my respect.

You may not like Kiss. Or you might like Kiss, but not care much for the solo albums. But believe me, when you hear this song, you will like it. And you will like it more than you think you do after hearing it.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant. Gene can write some great pop songs! Thanks for posting this.