I am finding it hard to write this post because I’m singing along with the album as I’m writing it. And, let me tell you, Dear Reader, at 8:30am, that’s a feat. Anywhat! Monday was the 44th Anniversary of the KISS Klassic Hotter Than Hell. It is one of my faves, for sure. It was one of the first albums I ever got in the 70s and it was one of two KISS CDs that I purchased when I bought my first CD player in Orlando, FL on December 27, 1989. I got the player at Wal-Mart (the first time I ever went to one) and purchased the Bad English CD from the band of the same name and when we were eating dinner, I went to Peaches Records and Tapes and bought this and Music from ‘The Elder.’ I just felt like I needed to. That was when CDs were still $24ish at Peaches. But, enough about me…
In February of 1974 young group of New Yorkers had donned greasepaint and put out their first album called KISS. Casablanca Records had put “Kissin’ Time” which had been a hit for Bobby Rydell on the album because Neil Bogart thought it was catchy and they needed a boost for the album. It wasn’t on the original version but subsequent copies had it. They did some novelty things like KISSing contests and the like. KISS was gaining speed as a live act, but that was on a somewhat smaller scale as it was only the people who went to see the band that knew about them. The album itself had a little momentum but then went nowhere.
Well, if at first you don’t succeed… do it again. So, here they were in August and disappointed with sales of the first record. Bogart shipped them to Los Angeles to record with Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise who both had just moved to LA. None of the band liked it out there (at first). Equipment theft, eccentric people, the list goes on for reasons, just didn’t sit well with the tougher New Yorkers.
Recording went okay, but any KISS fan can tell you it sounds like they recorded it in a bathroom. It’s more reverb-heavy or echoey and the sonic presence is somewhat thinner. That, despite the lyrical content being a little darker and the music heavier than on the first album. The producers can just blame it on their frazzled state after moving to Cali. Now, I’m sure, this being the 70s and such, that there were probably drugs involved, too. Despite that, as a kid, I never knew there was a difference. I just heard the songs. The songs spoke to me.
Ace and Peter were still in it at this time. I mean, they were in it. They were still hungry. Ace wrote two of the songs and co-wrote another with Paul. He still wasn’t in a position to sing as his confidence level in that area was quite low. But, the songs that he wrote were powerful. One becoming a concert staple and making it onto Alive! just a year later. More about that in a minute.
The album, at first, went nowhere. The distribution deal that Casablanca had with Warner Bros. Records had expired. So, they had practically no heat behind it. It undersold the first album and that’s saying something. It did eventually reach gold a few years later but that was because the surprise popularity of Alive! boosted the public interest of the previous studio albums. The low sales/high potential led to the very quick recording of Dressed to Kill only three months later.
Musically, however, this album is chock-full of goodness. The album starts off with “Got to Choose” a tune written and sung by Paul. It’s about a guy who hears his girl is going to leave him or at least going to be double-dippin’ and he’s telling her it’s “him or me,” make up your mind. This song was the first KISS song that Heavens Sake ever performed live. The first of very many. There’s even a recording of it on our 1998ish WV EP that was never released as the sound quality was worse than this album, but we enjoyed it. We realized after we had already come back home that we had totally left off one of the harmonies in the verses. Oh well. It was still fun. And, so, I’d say if you asked Dave and Bobby about this song, we’d all three have the same fond memories of doing it in the HS. This tune was track #3 on Alive!
“Parasite” was another that made it to Alive! and was written by Ace. It’s heavy and is pretty much a song about a leecher or a woman holding on and it seems the guy can’t shake her loose. Ace played bass on this album but left the vocal duties to Gene. I have performed this one a good bit live. It’s fun.
The odd-ball song on this album, which is not to say it’s not one of my faves, is “Goin’ Blind.” It was co-written by Stephen Coronel and Gene when they were both in Wicked Lester. It’s subject matter, which you’d never get away with in today’s musical and political climate, is about a relationship (or wanted relationship) between a 93-year old man and an underaged girl. Gene did a couple of these over the years. I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid but I love the song now, subject matter notwithstanding.
The title track is one of my faves, for sure. It also was the subject of a lot of misheard or misunderstood lyrics when I was a kid. I didn’t get the whole premise other than this girl was hotter than hell. I don’t really know what I thought he was saying. But, hey! There’s a gong in it! Great, marvelous, okay move on.
The album’s only single is my least favorite song on the album. It has always been just “okay” with me. It’s called “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll.” I think because it’s the boogie-woogie style tempo and feel of the song. I don’t usually care for those type of songs. With that, I don’t have a lot to say about it, other than why was that the single?
“All the Way” is actually kind of a fun, punchy, and happy sounding song, even if it’s just about a guy being driven to the edge of crazy because of his girlfriend.
My absolute favorite song on the album is “Watchin’ You.” It’s a pretty tough riff to pull off and it’s one of the few KISS songs that has a weird time signature (at least in the interludes between chorus and verses). It’s heavy as heck and was an inspiration to my lyrical content for the Heavens Sake song “Cannibal.” In fact, the first line is “I’m watchin’ you…”
Peter gets to sing the next one. It’s called “Mainline.” It was written by Paul and is about a heavy want of this girl. I never really cared for it as a kid but I like it now. It’s 60s or 50s style rock with a harder 70s edge.
“Comin’ Home” was co-written by Paul and Ace, one of the few with that co-billing. I listened to it but never paid attention to it until KISS did it for their Unplugged album. Then, of course, Heavens Sake did it for a bit. Come to think of it, every song on this album got some HS love.
Another one of my faves on the album closes it out. Written by Ace but sung by Peter, “Strange Ways” is just mean and heavy. It is also one of my favorite KISS songs that Heavens Sake covered live. Bobby sang it because he sounded like Peter and was the drummer. Makes sense, yeah? A great solo by Ace on this one, too.
I remember looking at the album cover and think that Gene had some ironed, flipped hairdo and that Paul looked like he had his hand down Peter’s pants. I also couldn’t figure out all the Japanese things. And, what in the wide world of sports was with the green fingernails? The back cover, however, turned me on and confused me. Peter was sitting in a throne (which would probably be more Gene-like) with a naked woman (with stars over her nipples). Ace was sitting, virtually, on nothing in a big aluminum bag. Gene looked like something from “Planet of the Apes” breathing fire but the fire didn’t look real. And, Paul was either making out with a mannequin or doing his best impression of Captain Kirk because his picture partner looked like she was blue.
None of that (other than Peter) was actually what was going on, it just what it looked like to my 8-year old self. I loved, however, the amalgamation mask of the members, adding elements of them all to one face.
It turns out that there had been a party thrown and, other than Gene, all of the band were either drunk or high. So, probably, other than Gene, none of them really have any recollection of what happened during that shoot.
I would put this in my top 10 of KISS albums, possibly even top 5. It’s a great album, even with the shoddy production. Five of the ten songs made it to Alive! and some are still concert staples. It’s a great album and should be heard. If you are confused about what I’ve written, just listen to it and you’ll get it. Imagine an 8-year old kid just learning about rock and roll music in a house full of country and gospel. I was in heaven. Thanks, Paul, Gene, Ace, and Peter.
Until tomorrow, keep KISSin’!
“She’ll always be there trying to grab a hold. She thought she knew me, but she didn’t know that I was sad and wanted her to go. Parasite lady, parasite eyes. Parasite lady, no need to cry.” – “Parasite” (Frehley)