Usually, I’d do a post about The Less Desirables Beer of the Week (brought to you by our “Official Beer Sponsor,” Bull’s Tavern), but today I’m going to talk about a KISS album. You know how I feel about me some KISS albums.
So, 39 years ago today, KISS released what is probably one of the two most polarizing albums in their Katalog, Dynasty.
First, let me tell the story of how I obtained my first copy of the album. I was 8 years old when the album came out in May of 1979. I was very much burdened with the worst case of allergies that many people had seen when I was a child. I had to go through allergy testing (around 80 shots) three different times and that included the scrape tests on the back (at least two of those times). I had been there so many times and been marked by that red oil pencil so much that my doctor called me “chief” (referencing war paint on Native Americans). It was as painful as you’d think and yes, it sucked.
I had saved some money from my allowance, which at the time was about a quarter a week. Yeah, I thought it was perfect. But, we had gone to Welch a bit before and I had spent many of my quarters on something, I’m sure. I don’t remember what, but I know I needed a “loan” on my allowance to purchase the newest KISS record. We picked it up in Beckley when we went that morning as my appointment wasn’t until later in the day. As I was lying on the table, weeping but not full out crying (essentially, being a “good boy”) Ma Mère told me that if I got through the tests, I wouldn’t have to repay for the record, it would be her treat. I was crying on the inside but biting my bottom lip, I pushed through it.
Okay, well, Ma Mère had plans that evening at a friend’s house and I took the record there and I, along with my friend Anjel and a cousin of hers, proceeded to listen to it. The first tune was familiar to me, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” Yeah. Then, “2000 Man” came on and I was like, what is this Beach Boys crap? I had no idea that it was Rolling Stones until later. I wasn’t familiar with the Stones at all. I had heard of them but other than “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It),” which my parents inexplicably had on 45, didn’t know any tunes. I didn’t like that.
But, the wispy sound around “Sure Know Something,” “Magic Touch” and two of Ace’s other tunes, “Hard Times” and “Save Your Love,” those really intrigued me. I loved that. I didn’t immediately put together that Gene, one of the two main guys in the band (yeah, that’s just me at the time, get off my back) only had two songs. I loved “Charisma” (still do!) and thought “X-Ray Eyes” was cool.
Now, a little on the album itself.
The times were a-changin’. Peter’s and Ace’s need for importance, along with their substance abuse, led to the solo albums in 1978. The whole music scene was in a turn at the time. Disco was hitting its peak and punk was just starting to make an aboveground impact. The four members all did their solo albums, each taking a different route in their own journey. Gene went singer-songwriter and experimental. Peter went old-school rock and roll and pop. Paul was pretty much his KISS-writing self, with what I think was more along the lines of the KISS sound than any of them. Ace just did his thing which was kind of KISS-like, too, but because he didn’t get as much writing credits on the current Katalog of KISS albums, it may or may not have been prevalent.
To many folks chagrin, Ace’s is my least favorite and Gene’s is my most favorite. That goes for my favoritism in the actual members, too. Again, to most people’s chagrin. But, yeah, Ace and Peter weren’t thrilled with their positions and Peter was the most unhappy. While he had little writing credit, he at least got vocals on all the previous albums. But, don’t discount Ace’s gripe, either.
Well, it was time to reconvene and record. Who did they get to produce it? Ringo Starr’s co-writing partner, Vini Poncia. By chance do you know who produced Peter’s solo album? Yep, you guessed it, Vini Poncia. I believe it was an appeasement to Peter. Plus, he knew the disco sound and that was the (perceived) state of the music biz at the time. But, surprise, Vini thought that Peter’s drumming was subpar. And, being the power duo they were, Gene and Paul, not only agreed but also agreed to have a session player come in and do the drums. Say, Ace… what was that cat’s (pun) name that you had playing drums on your solo album? Oh yeah, that guy that will go on to play for David Letterman and Paul Shaffer later, Anton Fig. Let’s get him in to play on this album. So, they tried to appease Peter and now here’s one of Ace’s “boys.” To Peter’s credit, other than being a pompous arse, he was dealing with injuries from a car accident at the time. But, still…
Peter does sing “Dirty Livin'” and it is the only song he played drums on, too. I didn’t notice the difference when I was a kid and was blinded, again, by the KISS mystique. I thought it was all Peter. I can tell the difference now, even though I think Anton did a good job “imitating” Peter.
Lots of other things were going on at this time, too. Gene had apparently gotten the acting bug after being in the beautifully terrible film KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park the year before (I still love that crappy movie). He was pursuing things but since KISS was still incognito with the makeup, it wasn’t until they unmasked in 1983 that he got to really pursue it. Also, he was bouncing from Cher to Diana Ross around this time. He wasn’t “all in.” In fact, he was barely in. Of the nine songs on the album, he didn’t play on four of them. As he would do with the follow-up albums, Unmasked (released 362 days later) and Music from “The Elder,” Ace played the bass on his three songs. Yes, he got three. Gene only two. And, Ace’s songs were better written. I think Ace had a point to make.
Paul, being the trouper that he is, was the one that held most of the band together. But, it was hard. His tunes were the most solid and, I think, the best three on the entire album.
This album was the last one to chart for a while. Its biggest hit, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” made it to #11 on the charts. The tour was huge and Peter played even though he didn’t do much in the band, but he didn’t play nice. He and Paul got into some argument on stage and Peter slowed the tempo to a near halt in the middle of a song. The tour also saw one song from each of the four solo albums played, but that only lasted a little bit as they dropped most of them. “New York Groove” was the only one that ultimately survived. This was the end of it all for Peter, though. He was gone after the tour. Whether he was fired or he quit, that depends on which interview you read by which member.
The costumes for this album were out of sight! Where they garish? Oh heck yeah. I loved it though. They had reached their costume pinnacle and there was nowhere else for that train to rail.
One thing I remember about the album, too, that added to its poppier sound was that unlike the earlier KISS albums, this wasn’t tuned down a half step. That half step makes the sound a little heavier. It just does. This album and Unmasked (also produced by Vini Poncia) were both at standard tuning. So, that’s my reasoning for the sound at least.
All-in-all, it wasn’t KISS’ finest hour, and they admitted that they listened to the wrong people at the wrong time. It was a trend they stuck with for the next two albums. However, I still love this album. Is it different? Yes, I realized that much later, though. I think Ace’s version of “2000 Man” is better than the Stones version and I grew to like it. Paul’s voice is fantastic in all three of his songs. I had the poster on my wall from 1979 until 1986 when I moved to WSNC. I did once trade this album for one of those Ronco records that had a KISS song on it. But, I eventually traded it back.
Most folks wouldn’t even consider this in their “top” anything KISS albums. I don’t know that it’s “top” but I do listen to this more than Dressed to Kill and Destroyer. I don’t think it’s better than Destroyer but I like it better than DTK. It could be what this album meant to me as a kid. It was the first “new release” KISS album I owned. By the time I was into or knew who KISS was, Alive II was out. I didn’t get solo albums until right before this and they weren’t new releases. Newest but not new. I was just really digging into my KISS journey and this was one of my first stops. I love this album and it holds a place in my heart. I have listened to the vinyl version of it twice whilst writing this post. Happy 39th, Dynasty.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“I’ve been up and down, I’ve been all around. I was mystified, almost terrified. But, late at night I still hear you call my name. I’ve been on my own, I’ve been all alone. I was hypnotized. I felt paralyzed. But, late at night I still want you just the same. I’ve been a gambler, but I’m nobody’s fool. And, I sure know something, sure know something. You showed me things they never taught me in school. And, I sure know something, sure know something. No one can make me feel the way that you do. And, I sure know something.” – “Sure Know Something” (Stanley/Poncia)