KISS! You want the best, you got the best! Here we have Crazy Nights from 1987. This brings back some memories! For this post, I’ve got a special treat; my first ever GUEST REVIEWER! That’s right, I’ve reached out to one of the world’s biggest KISS fans and he agreed to help me out with this post. Hell yeah! Folks, my special guest is the one and the only: “The Elder”. (Completely unrelated side note: The Elder also happens to be my older brother.) This guy lived and breathed KISS all his life and no one, I mean NO ONE knows KISS better than The Elder. (Disclaimer: Previous sentence almost certainly not true.) Here’s my world exclusive interview with The Elder on the topic of Crazy Nights!
Me: At the time Crazy Nights was released you were a hardcore KISS fanatic (and still are to this day). Take us back to 1987 and tell us what your initial take on the album was once you got it into your grubby little hands.
The Elder: I would like to tell you that I immediately dismissed it as too pop, too cheesy, too keyboard-heavy to be a good KISS record, but that would be a lie. Truth is, I liked it a lot …in some ways BECAUSE of all those things. The thing is, when I was in first grade or so, KISS was the biggest band on the planet. But by 1987, they were all but irrelevant, especially as far as radio was concerned. Even the so-called rock stations rarely played them. So my big hope for them when they released an album was that they would have a hit single. This album seemed like it had two candidates for a hit (Reason To Live and Turn On The Night), which certainly sounded comparable to me to what bands like Poison or Bon Jovi were doing. Also, it features Paul Stanley in just about his prime as a singer. Say what you want about the guy, but he had some pipes, and was one of the few guys whose vocals sounded just as good live as they did on the recordings. Obviously, the album hasn’t really stood the test of time, but in 1987, I had pretty high hopes for it.
Me: I have to agree with you on the Paul Stanley assessment. He sounds great on this record. He shows some serious range on I’ll Fight Hell To Hold You and My Way. Did you get Crazy Nights on the day it came out? What was your format of choice (tape, LP, or CD)?
The Elder: Crazy Nights was the first KISS cassette tape I ever bought as soon as it came out. Probably not on the initial Tuesday, but certainly the first week.
Me: What cuts were you particularly into?
The Elder: I’d say I at least “liked” all of the tracks, with the possible exception of When Your Walls Come Down, which struck me as filler. I remember being pleasantly surprised by three of the Gene Simmons contributions; Good Girl Gone Bad, Hell Or High Water, and Thief In The Night. His additions to the two previous albums had pretty much been limited to throwaway songs about his wiener, so to hear him try to do something radio friendly actually had me pretty encouraged, because I thought that meant he was interested in being in the band again … even if those songs weren’t as heavy as most KISS fans would have liked. Then there is Paul’s My Way, which epitomizes everything that is right and wrong with this album. When KISS fans think about how far astray KISS wandered in the mid-80’s, this is the song they think of. But if you ignore the fact that it’s on a KISS album, then you have probably the finest tune Rick Astley (n)ever recorded.
Me: As you are painfully aware, we did not get cable TV in our household until late ’87. This was the first time we had access to MTV. KISS’s videos for Reason To Live and Turn On The Night often topped MTV’s Dial MTV, a show we watched religiously. I know you have some conspiracy theories on this. Please share.
The Elder: Well, the fact that these songs got ZERO radio airplay yet were Dial MTV staples for weeks leads me to buy into the rumor that chart position on that show was primarily determined by how doggedly record companies jammed the phone lines with their “votes.”
Me: Gotta talk about that those back cover photos. First and foremost, WTF is the deal with Paul and the thong? That had to be an embarrassment even to the most die-hard KISS fan, right?
The Elder: Ungh. I can’t even say for sure that I even knew what a thong was at the time, but I had a pretty good idea that shit just wasn’t right. I had a poster of him that was almost as embarrassing. I bought it at a KISS convention. What I picked out at the convention was a cool looking poster from the makeup era. What the guy gave me (which I didn’t realize until I got home) was a non-makeup poster of Paul pouting and striking a Samantha Fox pose. Just awful.
Me: Staying on the back cover topic, Gene has got the oh-so-subtle “bass guitar as phallus” going on. How would you rate Gene’s overall creepiness/douche factor back in 1987?
The Elder: Considering this was the year that he and Paul went on Oprah and at least one of the network morning shows to brag about all the groupies they had nailed (during the height of AIDS-steria, by the way) … I’d say it was getting up there. But, again, they were almost irrelevant at the time … and they couldn’t litter the Earth with merchandise in those days because no one bought their records, much less their condoms or caskets. Plus, there was no Internet, so the D-baggery was a lot easier to ignore … or even be genuinely unaware of.
Me: One more question about the back cover, how many wigs are we looking at? I’m thinking at least three. Discuss.
The Elder: Just Paul’s chest hair. The rest, I think, might actually be real. I know Gene wore a pretty unfortunate looking one in the Animalize era because he had cut his hair to play the villain opposite Tom Selleck in the movie Runaway (underrated classic!). But by 1987, I’m naive enough to believe it had grown back. Plus, Paul’s latter-day wigs look like bad merkins. I can’t see why he would choose sub par wigs now if he had access to good ones then.
Me: Track #3 is a Paul tune called Bang Bang You. Now we both know Paul was never particularly clever with the whole double entendre thing (Love Gun anyone?) but in this song the chorus refrain literally says “I’m going to BANG you.” Discuss Paul’s Bob Dylan-esque approach to lyrics.
The Elder: Ungh. Don’t make me go there. The sad part of it is … I think he THINKS he’s being clever. And it got worse, as evidenced by the 1988 embarrassment (You Make Me) Rock Hard.
Me: Did you catch the Crazy Nights tour? If so, where was the gig, how was the show, who opened for KISS… etc…?
The Elder: I did see them on that tour in Providence. Ted Nugent opened. The show was OK. In those days, they were putting a lot of emphasis on the post-Ace tunes, so there was stuff you don’t hear them play anymore (Fits Like a Glove, War Machine). I don’t even think they played Shout It Out Loud at the show I saw, even though online sources list it as being on the set list for that tour. In fact, our cousin saw another show from that tour … in Boston or Worcester … at which they filmed the Turn On The Night video. That process involved the band pretending to play on stage over a recorded track … which, after three or so run-throughs can try any crowd’s patience. As a “reward” for the crowd cheering through that tedious process, KISS took Shout It Out Loud out of mothballs and told the crowd they were playing it as a bonus. Maybe they were playing it for most of the tour and just figured these New England yokels wouldn’t know the difference. Anyway, back to the show I saw, it was the only time I heard them play Bang Bang You (thankfully) and No, No, No; which had Bruce Kulick’s solo leading into it. It was also Bruce’s birthday, so the crowd (at least a third empty, I might add) sang to him. I would have liked the show to have been a little longer. They seemed to go back to putting a bit more effort into their shows during the Hot In The Shade tour.
Me: As the older brother you always tried to get your two younger brothers into your passion for KISS, but with limited success. During the Crazy Nights days, however, with the help of our newly acquired access to MTV, I became a pretty big KISS fan for a short period of time. I even bought a KISS shirt and listened to Crazy Nights all the time. Were you proud of me, or were you too busy coiffing your teenage mullet to care that your younger brother had finally succumbed to the healing powers of Paul Stanley’s thong?
The Elder: Very proud. Now you are the cataloger of all things 80s metal, most of it heavier than KISS ever thought of being. Brings a tear to the eye.
Me: Thanks. It’s a passion project, but my reader really appreciates the site (right, Mom?). Anyhoo… It’s many years later, and Crazy Nights does not get a whole lot of respect from critics and fans. Has KISS disowned Crazy Nights and their “hair era”? Why?
The Elder: Certainly, when they were promoting Revenge in the 90s they sort of referred to the mid-80s era as a misguided mistake. I’m sure they’d be singing a different tune if Reason To Live had the same success as Beth. That’s really the bottom line. Now, they can live off of nostalgia and pretend like only the makeup years were valid. But that took time. In the 80s not enough time had passed for casual music fans to want the makeup days and sound back, because the memory of how much of a fiasco the late-makeup days had become was too fresh. For a while, KISS tried like hell to distance themselves from the makeup era. Now, they try to distance themselves from most of the 80s. But trust me, if wearing sequins, dressing like Phyllis Diller and performing watered-down pop metal with juvenile double entendres ever comes back into vogue, Gene and Paul will be at the front of the line hailing Asylum as a visionary masterpiece that was simply before its time.
Me: Whats your take on Crazy Nights in the year 2011?
The Elder: An enjoyable listen that brings back a lot of good memories, but not a record that is going to hold its own if you put it up against, say, Appetite for Destruction. I’d give it a B+.
Me: Any parting shots? Additional comments?
The Elder: Unless there are any lingering doubts for your readers … If you own a penis, THONG = WRONG. That is all.
Me: Sage advice. I am removing my thong as we speak. Crazy Nights brings back some good times for me as well. I remember me and my buddy listening to this tape over and over. Plus, there are three gems of the “hair” era in Crazy Crazy Nights, Reason To Live, and Turn On The Night. In fact, they sound even better today than I remember, mostly because NO ONE makes music like this anymore. I’m not even going to call them guilty pleasure because I ain’t ashamed to say they KICK ASS! They get me pumped, they make me sing along, and they bring me back to ’87. What more do I need? My score: B+