“Guys, you carry on without me - I need to get back home with THIS…”
I was with my school friends in October half term 1982 on a trip into Birmingham city centre, and I think we were heading for the big cinema on New St to see some blockbuster or other.
Suddenly my plans did a huge 180 as we walked past the HMV store near the Odeon theatre. There, in plain sight on the ‘new release’ racks, sat an unmistakable image of Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Eric Carr and Paul Stanley in a malevolent looking, blue-lit close up shot.
The new KISS album was suddenly out, and I thought it wasn’t due for another week for some reason. Now, I had absolutely no interest in Rambo: First Blood or whatever it was we’d travelled into the city to watch…”Creatures Of The Night” took precedence over all.
My school pals knew this just as well as I did, and there was remarkable acceptance and - frankly - not nearly enough piss taking as I bade them farewell, dashed inside HMV and forked over my £4.99 for the vinyl I’d been anticipating all month (and a month or two before that).
Then, a mad dash back to Birmingham Moor St station to catch the first train home…there was a Bang & Olufsen stereo just aching to be used in my Mum & Dad’s lounge.
A bit of KISS Kontext at this point: Being a teenage KISS fan in the UK at the start of the 1980’s was a somewhat frustrating and confusing time. For one thing, I’d been denied the chance to see them in Sept 1980 on their Unmasked Tour, as my parents deemed me too young to go to Stafford Bingley Cowshed at just turned 12…and there was “no way” that either of my older brothers were going to chaperone me to a gig by a band they both utterly detested. So, that was a bit of a bastard.
Then came 1981, and rumours in a Kerrang! article early that year about a ‘heavy’ new KISS album to counter the poppier tones of the Unmasked LP from the year before. “Expect the unexpected” was, however, a quote in that article from Gene Simmons that we should’ve all paid more attention to.
Come early November and on BBC Radio 1’s ‘Friday Rock Show’, Tommy Vance announced at the start of the show at 10pm that he had new KISS stuff to play that evening.
13 year old me subsequently lay in bed waiting with huge anticipation to hear a classic KISS double-stop riff to hark back to the Love Gun era and kickstart the band I loved once again. Nothing got played by them in the 1st hour , though, and as I tried valiantly to stay awake way past my usual bedtime, a Pink Floyd-sounding song played out which I only paid vague attention to in my slumber state. Cue Tommy back announcing the song with: “And that was KISS with “Under The Rose” from their new album “Music From The Elder” out very soon…”
I spent the next few minutes in that twilight zone of tiredness at 11.30pm desperately trying to remember what I’d just heard-something choral, lots of acoustics, keyboards…this certainly wasn’t ‘Rockin’ With The Boys’, a title to a song that had been rumoured to be on the way from the masked wonders! Far from it.
The confusion only intensified when The Elder got its UK release a week or so later in November 1981. My Dad drove me into Birmingham on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon to get the LP, and I can vividly remember how long it took me to find the album in the ‘new releases’ area of Virgin Records on Bull St.
I was looking for a long tongue. or a star - perhaps a first look at Eric’s new character “The Fox”…instead my eyes eventually settled on a hand reaching up to an ornate brass knocker on a heavy wooden door. The KISS logo was there top left, but this was a gag, right?
I know now that the track listing we all got on our copies of The Elder was not the intended order the band wanted, as the record company wanted a heavy song (The Oath) to kick off the album rather than the Fanfare/Just A Boy/Odyssey 1-2-3 that originally was meant to help set the tone for the (shudder) story or concept. Anyway, to a 13-year-olds’ ears, the first listen was incredibly confusing. I guess many a KISS fan gave up on that first listen-maybe even halfway through that first listen. Somehow I persisted with it and grew more interested in what was going on.
I didn’t care too much for the production (Bob Ezrin was in a post-Floyd drugs haze and not as on his game here as he’d been on Destroyer five years previously) and some of the falsetto vocals did very little for me, but I stuck with it. Even weirder, the video for “A World Without Heroes” somehow made it onto Saturday morning kids telly not long after - BBC1’s Swap Shop to be precise…although I only saw around half of it through having to go and answer the phone in the hall 3 times to good friends saying “KISS are on TV with Noel Edmonds!!!”
The first few months of 1982 brought very little in the UK in terms of KISS news. This is where our American friends always had the advantage over us down the years when it came to knowing what the masked wonders were up to, courtesy of the magazines we never saw like Creem & Circus. But I sense that even the American KISS Army were drip fed very little, as The Elder fell off the album charts in double quick time and tour plans were shrouded in mystery. Sounds newspaper here ran a story suggesting Ace Frehley had quit, but nothing was made official on that and the silence persisted.
A European greatest hits album was then quickly released in June 1982 called ‘Killers’, containing 4 brand new songs - these songs were much more the sort of thing you’d expect from KISS despite very few whistles and bells production-wise (Nowhere To Run was and is a overlooked classic), but the guitar solos didn’t sound like Ace at all. I decided to write a letter to a guy called Michael McNamee who ran the UK KISS Army fan club, desperate for information and to his credit he did reply, suggesting that Paul Stanley was actually responsible for the lead breaks on the new stuff. I was very grateful for the letter, but didn’t buy that notion for one minute.
It was around this time that a fellow named Dante Bonutto entered the picture, as a Kerrang! writer with a clear love of KISS and also a clear desire to find out what the hell was going on. And so, when issue 21 of the magazine emerged in the Summer of 1982, Gene was on the cover and an article inside had Dante in the LA recording studio with Gene, Paul & Eric talking about a new album in the works that would set the whole ‘Elder’ thing firmly to one side, heralding the sort of heavy record we’d been promised 2 years before. Ace was mentioned and, despite having apparently being injured in a car accident, he was still firmly on board and part of things, according to Gene & Paul.
It was a terrific article and allayed my various fears about the band. Before long, October was slated as the month for this new album’s release and The Friday Rock Show radio show was my port of call once again when Geoff Barton (Sounds editor and another KISS freak who was sitting in as host for the week) started his show with the title track from ‘Creatures Of The Night’.
It sounded incredible.
Notably the drums of Eric Carr, and as a young drummer myself, that amazing cavernous Bonham-esque sound hooked me in completely (I would learn about John Bonham and where drumming like this originated properly in due course!). Geoff also played ‘Keep Me Comin’ off the album on the same show and I was firmly back in love with KISS once again.
And so, when I saw the album a few days later staring at me from those HMV racks and rushed home with it under my arm, I did already have a vague idea as to what to expect, but the other 7 tracks were still a mystery…and, as with ‘Under The Rose’ from the year before, what do you really truly glean from hearing a song just once on the radio anyway?
‘Creatures Of The Night’ remains the first of very few albums I’ve bought in my life where I’ve been utterly compelled to put it on straight after first listen for an immediate second spin. I know this doesn’t make me sound anywhere near as cool as those who would cite ‘Exile On Main St’ or ‘Blood On The Tracks’ or ‘Rubber Soul’ in the same way, but you have to be true to yourself and not be a version of yourself that you think needs to be in order to ‘fit in’.
I’d listened to that album for the first time with the sort of big headphones on that were all the rage in the 1980’s, then promptly disappeared in the 90’s and were back with Craig David come the new millennium. It was a true sonic assault in my ears with those cans on, mostly because of that cavernous drum sound, but also the guttural bass, the sharpness of the guitars and Paul & Gene’s piercing vocals. Those ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ in the title track; that grinding bass line in “Saint And Sinner”; the extraordinarily bluesy guitar solo in “I Still Love You” by Ace…wait, that’s not Ace…? He’s on the front cover again, though?
As with “Killers”, it didn’t take much deduction to my teenage mind that the guitar solos throughout were simply not the work of the Spaceman…aside, It seemed, from “I Love It Loud”, (which also turned out not to be him in the end!). As with The Elder & the new tracks on Killers, there were new outside names amongst the songwriting credits. Adam Mitchell? Bryan Adams? Jim Vallance? Mikel Japp? Vincent Cusano? Who on earth are these blokes and what are they doing writing KISS songs? Are they the ones playing the solos?
Turned out my instincts were right on a couple of those names when it came to solo time (Adam Mitchell played a short flashy little bit on the title track). But the truth of all that wouldn’t emerge for a few months yet in one instance and for over a decade in other regards. For example, some years later in the early 90’s, my boss at the guitar shop I worked at brought in a blues rock album by Robben Ford entitled ‘Talk To Ya Daughter’ which we fell in love with.
Some years after that, it was revealed that Ford played that great bluesy solo on ‘I Still Love You’ off Creatures…he also played lead on ‘Rock n Roll Hell’ on Side One - if I’d have known all this when I saw Robben play live at Warwick Arts Centre in the intervening years, I’d definitely have hung around the stage door to harass him about being a KISS alumni!
But he wasn’t ever going to be the next KISS guitar player (he later described it as the weirdest session he’s ever done!), and some weeks later a kid a year or two above me at school showed me a picture on the back of the Kerrang! magazine he’d just bought of a ‘temporary replacement for Ace’ as he was billed. This was Vinnie Vincent who, it transpired, was the ‘Vincent Cusano’ who’d written several songs on Creatures and had his face made up with a gold ankh across his nose and forehead, which looked quite striking at first glance. The copy under the picture stated that Ace (who Kerrang had shown pictured at the press conference to launch the Creatures tour a few issues before) WAS still a member of the band but was also still ‘indisposed’ after his car crash.
You could only take that news at face value, but the reality was that Ace was out and KISS were trying to keep their new record label sweet knowing that a ‘key man’ clause could be activated against them by their new bosses if Ace had become the 2nd original member to quit inside 2 years. So they kept a lid on things - so much so that when the tour started just after Christmas 1982, Vinnie’s sudden presence on stage surprised and shocked a large proportion of audiences who had no idea of Ace’s predicament and the old swithceroo that had taken place.
Back in the UK, Creatures Of The Night was released as a single and reached the heady heights of No.34 (the first time a KISS single had ever reached the UK Top 40), which meant it got played out on Mike Read’s Top 40 countdown on Radio 1 on a Monday morning as I got ready for school. As Paul Stanley belted out ‘We’re creatures of the niiiiiiiiight!!!!’ in the last chorus, Read opened his mic fader and exclaimed “I know you are, ducky…!” Sod off Mike, you patronising git. The song never climbed any higher - it never had an official video made of it either, which seemed odd for a single from a band as visually striking as them
“I Love It Loud” did have a brilliant video made, and we first saw that in the UK in Spring 1983 not via MTV (we didn’t get that for some years after its inception in the States) but on a programme called Entertainment USA on BBC2, hosted by the music impresario Jonathan King. It featured an ‘on the road’ report from KISS’ show in Houston, Texas, a short interview segment backstage with all 4 members (including Vinnie!), some all too brief live footage and the I Love It Loud video, which was utterly captivating.
Around the same time, Kerrang! Issue 41 had Dante Bonutto Stateside with KISS once again filing an in-depth report on the same Texan leg of the tour with some great pictures, plus rumours of an impending UK tour later in 1983. Ace was mentioned again in the article but it wasn’t clear what his future was. As it turned out, he didn’t have one - not with with KISS at any rate. Vincent stayed, the make up was summarily ditched for the next studio album Lick It Up and the success of that album with KISS’ visual reinvention (no more clown white) meant that Creatures Of The Night almost became a forgotten part of Kisstory due to its poor sales in relation to the 80’s albums that followed it.
But I’ll never forget it and the effect it had on me as a KISS fan, a drummer and as a budding songwriter. So much of what I went on to do penning songs for the bands I formed and joined had the imprint of that Creatures vibe running through them. Riffs, melody, punch, you name it-Creatures Of The Night has it in abundance as a hard rock album par excellence. It did brilliantly in readers polls despite sales being as poor as they were, and the title track, I Love It Loud and War Machine are still played live by the band to this day, showing how it’s stood the test of time as a collection.
If anyone was to ask me for the old Desert Island Discs thing, Creatures would be an immediate pick, it’s that important to me. Who knows - had the album not dispersed all of confusion The Elder caused in my mind, I might not have stuck with KISS as I did! And they did test me again as time went by…Animalize was a huge disappointment to me. But that’s another story. Maybe I’ll talk about that one in 2 years time when THAT album turns 40!!!
In the meantime I await what KISS have planned the 40th Anniversary box set for ‘Creatures…’ that appears to be a reality from word we’re getting online. I hope that unheard rarities get included…there’s the original recording of “Its My Life”, a tune subsequently given to Wendy O’Williams a year later for her debut solo LP and re-recorded by KISS themselves during the 1998 “Psycho Circus” sessions with Bruce Fairburn.
I also remember a song being mentioned called ‘Betrayed’ getting recorded-not the same song as that which appeared on 1989’s ‘Hot In The Shade’ LP with that title…and I also wonder what else Vincent Cusano (as he was then known) co-wrote with Gene and Paul outside the tracks we know about. An early version of ‘Back On The Streets’ maybe?? And how about a professionally recorded show from that subsequent tour?? Holy grail stuff there….
Look, just take my money for the box set will you???? I imagine it’ll be a tad pricier than the original £4.99 I spent back in 1982. Inflation and all that…. LOL