This is day 8 of Kiss Kountdown to Rock Hall. Click here for day 9.
Kiss Ruined Rock n Roll Forever by Wal Ozello
Several decades ago I was with my band, Armada, trying to break into the Cleveland/Akron market. A friend of a friend got us our first gig at the Akron Agora. We were third on the bill – playing from 9:30-10:30 and had to basically open for the opening band. That’s a hard kick in the chest for any lead singer, especially when we had been headlining weekends at the Alrosa Villa for two years or so.
After we rocked the house, we were followed by the #2 band on the bill. They were all dressed completely in black. Each guy had dyed their hair pure black, put on white powder make up, and black eyeliner. Except for the lead singer who had dyed his hair platinum blond. Just before going on stage they all glued on black Lee press-on fingernails.
I don’t remember what they played or how they sounded. But I do remember sitting there thinking how much time and effort my band had put into perfecting covers like Spirit Of The Radio, Freewill, Magic Power, and Modern Day Cowboy and then had to follow a circus act. That’s what the sound guy called them, “A Circus Act.”
It was that moment in time that I despised the fire-breathing, blood-spitting Gene Simmons from KISS. I knew my band’s unique blend of pop and prog would never see the light of a major recording studio because we didn’t have that “marketing thing.”
To me, KISS was an average rock n roll band from New York City. They were nowhere near the level of acts like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Lou Reed and others that came from the same era. So KISS did what any marketing guru would do and came up with another reason to come see them play: make-up, performance tricks, crazy costumes. Basically a circus act.
They were a hit. Everyone everywhere began to worship them as rock gods. In fact, check out all the other pencilstorm blogs this week that sing their praise.
But this circus act called KISS had a huge adverse effect on modern popular music. No longer was songwriting or musicianship important. A straight-up rock n roll show wasn’t good enough for the likes of Warner, RCA, and PolyGram anymore – they wanted a circus act instead.
So I didn’t grow up with Bruce Springsteen passion-filled rock anthems, Pink Floyd concept albums, or The Rolling Stones rhythmic rock riffs.
Instead I had Bon Jovi bungee-jumping from the rafters. Twisted Sister dressing up as women. The Prince of Darkness biting the heads off of bats.
In the pop scene, Michael Jackson needed a glove. Prince needed a purple jacket. ZZ Top needed beards, a 1930s Ford Coupe, and spinning guitars. Hell… Milli Vanilli wasn’t even a real band.
And even if the band had talent, they still needed a gimmick. During one of my favorite concerts as a kid, I couldn’t enjoy Steve Vai’s melodic off-phrase solos because David Lee Roth was flying high above the stage on a huge surfboard.
This is was the Rock N Roll I was forced to grow up with all because Gene Simmons wanted to make some money instead of music.
God may have given us Rock N Roll but the guy in charge of purgatory gave us KISS.
Wal Ozello is the author of Assignment 1989: The Time Travel Wars and is the lead singer of the Columbus hairband Armada. He's a resident of Upper Arlington, Ohio and a frequent customer at Colin's Coffee.