Monday, April 13, 2009

Legendary Band Gets Hall of Fame KISS-Off

“I feel uptight on a Saturday night
Nine o' clock, the radio's the only light”

With all due respect to Jeff Beck, Bobby Womack, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Wanda Jackson, DJ Fontana, Bill Black, Spooner Oldham, Run-D.M.C. & Metallica, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last weekend once again made a mockery of its mission to safeguard and celebrate music history.

Why? Because the Hall gave its annual brush-off to a band whose impact on music is unquestioned.


That’s right, those makeup wearing, platform boots wearing, 3-chord song writing pop metal gods who were the bane of parents’ existence in the 1970s, now best known for being shameless merchandise whores. They should have been welcomed into music Valhalla with open arms a decade ago, as soon as they became eligible for induction.

Too bad the 600 dimwits on the induction board keep giving them the brush off.

As a longstanding member of the KISS Army, I’ve had just about enough of this disrespect toward one of rock’s most influential bands. Wait, is that a chorus of Doubting Thomases I hear? Here are a few things you should know:

85. That’s the approximate number of albums the band has sold worldwide since its debut with its eponymously-titled debut album in 1973. Wait. Did I say 85? I meant 85 MILLION!

64. How many millions the 2003 KISS tour earned worldwide, 30 years after the band’s debut. How many bands who aren’t the Rolling Stones, the Who or reside on E Street can claim to have that kind of earning power?

24. the number of gold records the band has scored, the most of any American rock band (more than Aerosmith, Van Halen and ZZ Top, who are all in the HOF). The only groups with more are the Beatles and the Stones. FYI, KISS’s number is 28 if you include the four 1978 solo albums.

Even more than the album sales and tour grosses is the influence the band has had since it first Rock-n-Rolled All Night and Partied Every Day. KISS was a game-changing band, in a variety of ways.

Before Frampton Came Alive, “KISS Alive!” redefined the live album when it dropped in 1975. The band was already a hot live ticket back then. But it was only when they captured the power of their live act on vinyl that Kiss really became ‘the hottest band in the land.’

In fact, onstage is where KISS had few peers. The band’s outrageous stage shows, full of pyrotechnics, rising platforms, smoking guitars and Gene Simmons’ fire-breathing, blood spilling antics, set new standards for rock concerts. Even today, a KISS concert has to be seen, and heard, to be believed.

The group’s kabuki-style makeup (and the individual personas: The Demon, Starchild, Space Ace, The Cat) turned the band into a true-blue pop culture sensation that extended way past the Hit Parader & Circus crowd, and into mainstream America. You know all the cross-platform sports and entertainment stars you see on Access Hollywood and every magazine? That was KISS in the 1970s.

There were lunchboxes, toys, pinball games…anything you could slap a logo on.

They also crossed over into movies, with the 1978 TV-pic “Kiss Meets the Phantom in the Park.” Sure, the film stunk. But it was still a big ratings draw.

After the original foursome split, the band stayed together, regrouped, unmasked and continued to put out solid records throughout the 80s, and even into the 1990s (‘Revenge’ is an absolute scorcher of a record).

Along the way, an entire genre of rock – Welcome to the Big Hair Metal days of the 1980s! – blossomed thanks to KISS. Groups such as Bon Jovi, Poison, and Motley Crue all owe a debt to the guys who were NOT Knights in Satan’s Service (it was just KISS). Hell, the Crue should be paying royalties for the way they aped the makeup and stage antics.

Countless groups – from across the spectrum of music - have paid tribute to KISS as an inspiration, from Tupac to Garth Brooks. The 1994 tribute album “KISS MY A$$”..even featured Brooks, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, Extreme and Anthrax doing KISS covers.

Let’s see…massively popular, long, enduring career, incredibly influential…does that sound like a Hall of Fame band? It does to me.

What, the voters don’t like that most KISS songs were about getting laid? AC-DC sang about ‘Big Balls’ and ZZ Top talked about legs and, um…pearl necklaces. I LOVE Van Halen, but those guys weren’t debating human rights issues on ‘Diver Down’ or ‘Fair Warning,’ either.

Those bands’ catalogs make Love Gun seem practically poetic.

Sex just so happens to be the dominant writing influence in rock music. Take a look at Madonna’s song list, folks. Only the beat’s different.

I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the band pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in rock history in 1996 when the original quartet reunited, makeup, smoking guitars and all, for the year’s highest-grossing tour.

It’s that bottom line success, actually, that is perhaps the main reason KISS hasn’t been voted into the hall yet. No band in music history has probably embraced mass commercialism as wholeheartedly as these guys.

Since the ’96 reunion, Gene Simmons – who never met a product he wouldn’t slap the KISS logo on – has approved condoms, cocktail tables, wine (KISS Cabernet!), even a KISS coffin. That was probably the death knell for the band’s Hall chances.

I’m the first guy to admit to being embarrassed to be a fan the night Simmons went on Conan O’Brien’s show to plug the coffin, bragging how it could be used as a beer cooler until it was time to be used as a, er…human cooler.

But rock music has been about selling out to the highest bidder for decades. Don’t believe me?

The Stones’ “Start Me Up” as a Microsoft Windows sales pitch; Seger’s “Like a Rock” used to sell Chevy Trucks; Mellencamp’s “This is my Country” to sell more trucks; The Who’s entire catalog for anyone who meets Townsend’s asking price. Madonna – really, do I even need to list an example?

By the mid-90s, the music biz had degenerated to the point that hack bands like Smash Mouth would write cheesy jingles like “All Star” and pitch it to Madison Avenue BEFORE it had even hit radio!

Another thing. Name one big time performer worth their $45 souvenir t-shirt – outside of Springsteen – who hasn’t had their tour sponsored in the last 15 years. Exactly.

My point is, integrity and the music industry have been mutually exclusive terms for … well, forever. So to punish a band that embraces commercialism – and really, broke new ground in showing other bands how to capitalize on their success – isn’t right. You can’t judge them by different standards than other groups.

You know what though? At the end of the day, it’s about the music, and KISS has delivered the goods for nearly 40 years.

Maybe one day, the RRHOF will figure it out.

I'll be a gambler, baby.. Lay down the bet
We get together, mama.. You'll sweat

No place for hidin' baby.. No place to run
You pull the trigger of my.. Love Gun!

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