Saturday, June 12, 2010

Music From the Elder Round Table

"We've done a lot of fuck me suck me songs, and we thought we might like to go a slightly different route." – Paul Stanley, 1982, Hit Parader

The year is 1981. KISS, from a drop off in album sales in the twilight of the 70s and the dawn of the 80s, and generally feeling the sting in a loss of popularity and “street cred” in the U.S. (not to mention the loss of original drummer Peter Criss), embark upon the production of a new album that will return them to previous glory and at the same time set the tone for a new and improved KISS for the new decade. On the heels of success as producer of Pink Floyd’s The Wall in ’79, and producer of KISS’s previous landmark album Destroyer, Bob Ezrin returns as a collaborator, and the end result is the fantasy concept album “Music From the Elder.”

The record was a flop, and Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, especially in the past, all but disowned it (Ace Frehley, original guitarist, departed following the record, and he claims to have even smashed advance tapes of the Elder he found it so distasteful). Relegated to obscurity and taking on a certain KISS cult classic status, to many folks this album is either a punch-line to a joke, or merely a bit of obscure trivia.

Oh, but not to Transylvania Gentlemen, my dear professor Strauss. We have listened to it. Thought about it. Lived with it. Peeled back the onion of it all and even special ordered import copies of it when it was out of print in the 80s.

Gathering together with honorary Transylvania Gentleman, Brian Manley (aka Brine Manley aka Eggroll (to our Cheeseburger & Fries)), we here at TG-HQ sat down recently to talk some serious through the looking glass turkey…hang on to our coattails...these could in fact be the final words on the subject, so listen close, seeker of gnosis…

JTD: Brian, to bring you in on the conversation, JSH and I was chatting about the Elder, and Jeff mentioned remembering foggily Gene talking about the Elder originally planned to be a double album, which also rang true with I looked it up…

”...According to Ezrin ‘The Elder’ was the first part of what was to be a three-album saga. Paul himself commented that the second album, which he had wanted to call ‘Elder II: War Of The Gods,’ was to be the heavy metal masterpiece...The plan to release ‘The Elder’ in a double album format was scrapped due to cost, which PolyGram was not willing to invest on what had essentially become an insecure brand name, especially after having been sued by them the prior year... the number of varying master mixes for ‘The Elder’ far exceed those available for other albums, suggesting that there are several versions of the album, or in the very least songs, in the vaults somewhere...”

BM: I'm not really sure I was ever aware of this.
That's pretty interesting. I think KISS's career might have taken a pretty different turn if they had stuck with that plan and not gone on to record "Creatures of the Night" instead.

Odd that Paul was planning on the second installment being a "heavy metal masterpiece." So, was he holding back on the really, really good songs for "War of the Gods"?

I just can't imagine the course things might have gone with "Elder II" being released in say, 1982-1983. Let's imagine Eric Carr takes over fully from Peter as he did and their sound becomes the heavier "Creatures" sound they displayed on that album, but its directed toward these medieval songs about gods warring. Around the same time you would have had Venom releasing "Black Metal" and "At War with Satan," Priest would have been releasing "Screaming for Vengeance," Slayer and Megadeth would have been starting up, and Maiden would be releasing "The Number of the Beast," and Sabbath would be returning with Dio for "The Mob Rules." And there's that band KISS with "War of the Gods." Would have been pretty interesting. KISS might have suddenly started touring with speed metal/goth metal bands.

"Elder III: The Return of the King."

But, I'm happy with "Creatures." Still stands as my favorite consistent KISS album as far as direction, overall sound, and songs.

JTD: In interviews the band made remarks to the press that their follow up to Unmasked was going to be the heaviest thing they'd ever done, a more rocking metal record. And, oddly enough, it seems they did come back around to that for “Creatures.” And pre-Ezrin/Elder they had gone up to Ace's home recording studio to cut demos and were still in this zone, and one of the tracks was a song that was meant for Eric to have a big drum solo in the middle and then the band come back in, and, wait for it, that solo from the pre-Elder demos is in fact the "Eric Carr Jam" that appears on Revenge.

JSH: I have always suspected that the germ of the "Elder" idea was cooking with KISS long before the album actually came out. I also have always felt that Paul's "Together As One" [from the '78 solo release] feels like an Elder song, even though it predates the Elder. Note the key phrases "take me out to sea" and "champion, lose or win".

Several songs from Carnival of Souls and Psycho Circus seem like leftovers from the Elder period. Most notably, "Journey of 1000 Years".

BM: Carnival of Souls is an album I should re-visit. Its been shelved for a long time now. I don't even remember song titles from it.

JSH: If they ever did a broadway version of the Elder and needed some more songs to pad it out, the tunes from Paul’s solo album and Carnival would fit der bill.

I think that if Gene and Paul had already been kicking around the Elder concept for awhile, and perhaps they had thought it dead in the water at this point, Paul chose to use some of the songs on his solo album. Then later, when Gene got all Hollywood, perhaps he had the idea of resurrecting the idea and using the album as a tail to wag the dog for a film proposal.

I do remember Gene describing the Elder when it came out as "a soundtrack for a movie that doesn't exist - yet."

BM: Yeah, I remember the idea that a film might come from the album, too. It's not too late...especially in this age of Hollywood trying to crank out anything that has already been done before.

JTD: In the same faq website I gathered my Elder data from, it mentioned that the germ of the Elder came from Gene showing Bob Ezrin, once he had been formally attached as producer, his "screenplay" (all reports say it was more like a treatment than a fleshed out piece of writing), and that Ezrin jumped on that being what they should use as the template for a concept album.

BM: A few songs I feel that were possible leftovers from "The Elder" were three of the new songs from "KISS Killers": "I'm a Legend Tonight"; "Nowhere to Run"; and "Partners in Crime." "Down on Your Knees" I'm not so sure about. The cover photo for "Killers" is obviously them still in "Elder"-style costume/makeup/haircut too.

I had forgotten that "Down on Your Knees" was co-written by Bryan Adams. It definitely doesn't really sound like a Bryan Adams song, though. I can't imagine him singing it.

JTD: Also, apparently Lou Reed has more credits on the record than just "World Without Heroes." Get this: he wrote the dialogue, however I would like to have this substantiated, for the parts where the guys are yapping about Morpheus. I just imagine Ezrin slipping Lou a few bills in exchange for him to write out some stuff on napkins so he could cover his bar tab. “This is for KISS? It’s a concept record? Belch. ‘World Without Heroes,’ Bob. Now, pay this for me.”

I agree with Jeff. There's a bunch of songs spread across the discography that seem like Elder cuts, and I've felt the same about those tracks on Killers to some extent, as Brian intimated, especially “Legend.”

Then you take the fact that Thin Lizzy’s “You Can Do Anything You Want To” from ’79 seems to be almost the same song as “I” but in a second person version, even down to the Elvis-esque breakdown that’s shared on both tracks, and one wanders if it’s simply that everything fucks back in on itself.

Now, what I'm seeing in my mind is creating for myself an "Extended Elder" mix that includes all the songs that seem like Elder and collecting them and tracking them in what would sound to me like the appropriate order.

BM: The Extended Elder can become your version of the obsessive ordering and mixing of Pet Sounds by so many uber-fans.

JTD: The dream of it sets me free…


Anonymous said...

Any connection between The Elder and Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park with the talismans serving as kind of a backstory to Kiss and all that?

Also that one song "Sword in the Stone" or something like that sounds like it would be part of a concept album.

brine said...

More Notes from the Elder: my recordings of MTV from the 1980s, ran across some short-lived talk show called "Mouth to Mouth." Paul Stanley is being interviewed about "Smashed Thrashes and Hits." They take caller's questions. One guy asks, "why did you guys take 'The Elder' off the market?"

Paul responds (paraphrasing): "We didn't take it off the market. The record company just thought the album needed a rest, but I hear its about to come back out on CD. I'm really glad you like it."

Funny thinking the album "needed a rest." As though it was saturating the markets.

And Ed's right: "Sword in the Stone." Could be a another leftover.

Annah said...

Oh my...

JSH said...

I think what we're seeing here is a classic case of misdirection, in the stage-magician's sense of the word. The more the band downplays the Elder, the more fans become curious about it. By making it temporarily out of print, they made it a cult classic of sorts, all the more sought after.

Even as the band talks about the album in exaggeratedly insulting terms, they still thought highly enough of the material to include "A World Without Heroes" on the Box Set and on the 2CD Gold compilation (surprisingly, along with "Nowhere to Run" and "I'm A Legend Tonight"). "The Oath" also appeared on the Box Set, and "Dark Light" made it to the Ikons collection.