In the mid-’70s, I was a pop-obsessed teenager in love with my AM radio. I was old enough to remember Beatlemania, and my affection for ’60s rockin’ pop remained undimmed: The Beatles. The Dave Clark Five. The Animals. The Monkees. The Hollies. Paul Revere & the Raiders. Over time, those stalwarts had been joined (but never replaced) by irresistible ’70s radio fare by Badfinger, Alice Cooper, Slade, The Raspberries, The Sweet. Somewhere in there, I developed an insatiable taste for The Kinks. And in December of 1976, I went to my first rock concert. I went to see KISS.
I was not all that much of a KISS fan at the time. I knew a few songs from WOLF-AM in Syracuse–“Rock And Roll All Nite,””Beth,” “Shout It Out Loud,” maybe “Detroit Rock City”–and these were all certainly songs that I liked. But the KISS concert experience made me a fan immediately. I never quite joined the KISS Army, but I bought the KISS comic books from Marvel, and I received a copy of the Rock And Roll Over album as a high school graduation gift from my sister. I was particularly taken with “Calling Dr. Love,” and wanted to march in for graduation to that tune rather than “Pomp And Circumstance.” Man, I NEVER get my way…!
That period of late 1976 through the end of ’77 saw a huge transition in my musical tastes. Or did it? As I bought more records, as I burrowed through used records stores and flea markets, as I learned about exciting new stuff in Phonograph Record Magazine, as free-form FM radio drew my attention away from the increasingly disco-dominated AM airwaves…as all this was going on, I still loved The Beatles. And everything else I loved was an extension of that.
And that included KISS. KISS was a pop band, and a very good pop band at that. The best KISS records were infectious in a way Led Zeppelin wasn’t, accessible in a way Pink Floyd and ELP could never be, thrilling in a way that The Bee Gees would never even understand. KISS, though certainly not a punk band, was also my gateway to punk, a whole new world that nonetheless still drew inspiration from the prevailing and pervasive appeal of 45 rpm records played loud and distorted over a tiny transistor radio speaker. I saw KISS in December of ’76; a year later, I wrote my first-ever piece of rock criticism, an emeritus contribution to my high school newspaper, drawing a line forward from the greatness of The Beatles to the virtues of The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Rubinoos…and KISS. Punk. Pop. Rock ‘n’ roll. For me, it was all part of the same continuum, and I loved it all. I still do.
When KISS was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, I read through a lot of complaints that KISS was not deserving of this (or any) honor, and I became increasingly pissed off at such dismissals. You don’t like KISS? That is certainly your right. You think KISS is untalented, insubstantial, too gimmicky? You think the members of KISS (one member in particular!) are obnoxious jerks? I guess that’s all fair game, too. But KISS is important to me, and the band’s impact transcends the mere happenstance of being my first rock concert. Loud, garish, celebratory, and as infectious as an arena cheer, KISS’s best records make me feel GREAT. Awright!
The week of KISS’s Rock Hall induction, THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO attempted to put KISS in context, to play a few of the best KISS records alongside a bunch of other terrific pop tracks, and to prove that maybe KISS could be discussed with Badfinger, Big Star, The Raspberries, et al., as among the best rockin’ pop the ’70s had to offer. “Strutter.” “Comin’ Home.” Anything For My Baby.” “Calling Dr. Love.” “Detroit Rock City.” “Shout It Out Loud.” “Rock And Roll All Nite.” These are pop songs, and they sound…well, awesome on rockin’ pop radio. As one listener put it, “Stop giving me less reason to hate Gene Simmons!” Turn it up. Shout it out loud! And if they tell you that there’s too much noise, they’re too old to understand….