Friday, November 18, 2011

This Day In KISStory: 30th Anniversary Of ‘Music From The Elder’

“When the Earth was young, they were already old…”
30 years ago on this day in KISStory, an album would be issued that would be a turning point, and at the time a low point, for the band and their fans. Music From The Elder, produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin (responsible for the epic Destroyer), was released by KISS on November 16, 1981. The release was a concept album, and a comprehensive departure for the band, which was negatively received by both fans and critics alike.
As time has progressed, however, the album has achieved somewhat of a cult status among both KISS fans and rock/metal fans. For some reason, Music From The Elder has matured well, and while it was perhaps the most obscure and odd of all KISS releases, some now point to the album as their favorite.

This was not always the case, however. After its release, Music From The Elder developed into KISS’ poorest selling album, their first to not even be certified Gold by the RIAA. The business side of things fared so badly for KISS with this release that for the first time ever, the band did not go out on tour to boost the album.
So what went wrong for KISS back in 1981?
Essentially, what turned out to be Music From The Elder was a misguided attempt by the band and producer Bob Ezrin to showcase a more serious and sincere artistic side to the band. While this could have worked for any number of bands, for KISS, it was so distant from their musical identity that the album felt alien to many of their fans. But while it was an effort to make a serious concept album to acclaim a mature side of the band, initially this album was never meant to be that way.
With a look back to the year before, in 1980, KISS’ album Unmasked was not as well received as its 1979 predecessor Dynasty. Although Australian fans made it one of the best-selling albums in their country, causing a Beatles-like welcome for KISS during their down under tour, back home in America it was not a high point for the band. It was clear that the disco influence of producer Vini Poncia was beginning to take its toll for having been a part of KISS for too long. As a result, the band decided that change was crucial.
During their touring period of late 1980, the band announced in several interviews that they were working on a brand new album, and that it would be an authentic form to their hard rock and roll style. It was to be heavier, more aggressive, and more in tune with their earlier releases.
The promise was welcomed by the fans around the world. While the more commercial sounds of Dynasty and Unmasked may have been a welcome temporary diversion, the longtime fans were hungry for a return to form. Instead of more of “She’s So European,” they wanted more of “Deuce” or “Strutter” or “Cold Gin.”
And at the outset, that is exactly what was happening. KISS began recording demo tracks for their 1981 hard rock album, and some of the tunes can be heard and found to this day. Some of the songs that ended up on the 1982 KISS Killers anthology (“I’m A Legend Tonight,” “Down On Your Knees,” “Nowhere To Run,” and “Partners In Crime”) were written for the original album, as was “Love’s A Deadly Weapon,” which ended up on 1985′s Asylum. “Feel Like Heaven,” composed by Gene Simmons, was later recorded by Peter Criss on his 1982 Let Me Rock You solo album.
But among the demo and rarities bootleg trading circuit, other songs have arisen over the years, revealing a heavier sounding intent for their 1981 album. The Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons co-written “It’s My Life” (later taped for 1998′s Psycho Circus, but released on the 2001 KISS Box Set) first surfaced at this time, as did a very early version of “Rock And Roll Hell” from 1982′s Creatures of the Night.
KISSAce Frehley also contributed a hard rocking demo entitled “Don’t Run,” which would eventually evolve into “Dark Light” on The Elder. Perhaps more importantly would be a significant collaboration between him and new drummer Eric Carr that would become known as “Breakout” — a piece that would become a staple of Frehley’s live show when he toured (and recorded by Frehley’s Comet for their debut album), and the drum solo of which would be later included on KISS’ 1992 Revenge in tribute to and in memory of Carr, who passed away in 1991.
Indeed, as all indications seem, KISS in early 1981 was certainly heading for a new hard rock release. Bob Ezrin was brought in to produce the record, and the forthcoming release was being promoted to the fans (particularly via KISS Army fan club newsletters) as a cross between Love Gun and Destroyer, with a deep-seated dash of their first three albums: KISS, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill.
The anticipation among fans was relatively high because of these developments. However, the evolution of “The 1981 Hard Rock Album” into Music From The Elder was not unambiguously promoted to fans during the year, something that most certainly would have contributed to their alienation from the band. Playing The Elder for the first time when expecting something like Destroyer meets Dressed To Kill would undoubtedly have been a shock.


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