How Love Gun Pulled My Trigger and Shocked Me into Playing Electric Guitar
October 19, 2013 by Mike Czech
When I was eleven years old I went to the public library to check out some books for a reading contest I was in. If I read a certain amount of books, I would be able to get a gift certificate to McDonalds for a full meal consisting of a hamburger, fries, soft drink, and an apple pie. I loved McDonalds back then and could taste the greasy food as I was looking at the next Hardy Boys book I was going to read in the series to help get me this amazing meal. As I picked out the Hardy Boys book (I remember the cover having a voodoo vibe/shrunken head on it) and started walking towards the checkout desk, a colorful image caught my eye. Over in one of the three vinyl record bins was this interesting looking album cover sticking out in front of the pile. I walked over to the bins and picked it up and looked at the front cover and saw the drawing of four superhero-looking figures dressed in black with white clown paint covering their whole faces while having different black and silver shapes painted around their eyes. They were standing in a room with white smoke behind them looking very strong like they had conquered the world. The world they had conquered was that of a bunch of women who were lying at their feet looking up to them as gods and emulating the way they looked since the women were also wearing white face paint. This cover really appealed to me since I was a comic book collector (mostly Marvel with the Hulk and Iron Man being favorites) and seeing this image was like picking out another comic book to read. So, I took the album from the record bin and decided to check it out along with my Hardy Boys book.
When I got home I started to read the Hardy Boys book, but didn’t get too far into it since I kept glancing at the album cover laying on the dining room table with these four superhero figures on it. I was very curious as to what the album would sound like, so I went to the basement/den of my house where the portable plastic record player was and put the album on. My younger brother was there, too, playing with something and wanted to know what I was putting on the record player. I showed him the album cover and he became interested and read the name of the band and album title out loud: “KISS, Love Gun.” I put the needle on the record and heard the scratchiness of the dust that had accumulated in the grooves of the vinyl. The next sounds I heard were the first notes of Paul Stanley’s guitar ripping through the opening riff of “I Stole Your Love” and within seconds I felt a shiver go through my spine. That sound of his guitar made me physically stand up and after the rhythm section of Gene Simmons’ bass and Peter Criss’ drums, I started to run around the perimeter of the room. When Ace Frehley’s solo kicked in, my brother started running along with me and we started to chase each other faster and faster as the song played. By the end of that first song both he and I were hooked on Kiss and wanted to hear more. And as the album played, I knew that this was a noise that I wanted to replicate so I could get that same spine tingling sensation from those first notes to “I Stole Your Love.” Kiss opened the floodgates to my addiction to rock-n-roll and I knew at that moment, I wanted to play electric guitar and be in a rock band. In a sense, Kiss stole my love and I wanted to be Paul Stanley wearing black leather pants, knee high boots, and white face paint with a black star drawn over my right eye while playing loud raucous guitar to a whole sea of people in the audience.
I recently went back and listened to a vinyl copy of Love Gun and I thought that the sonic quality of the album was not that bad and to my ears, had aged pretty well. I think the main reason for this is because Eddie Kramer produced it and as many people know, Eddie Kramer worked with Jimi Hendrix and engineered many of his albums over at Electric Ladyland Studios, which is where he mixed Love Gun. Perhaps Kramer was trying to get the Hendrix studio flair on Love Gun. I once read an interview with him where he said he was interested in both Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley’s guitar tones and wanted to give each guitar player their own signature sound so the listener could tell them apart. And this is apparent on Love Gun because Paul’s rhythm guitar sound is much thicker than Ace’s Les Paul/Dimarzio Super Distortion pickup lead guitar tone. There are more mid-range tones in Ace’s sound because when he soloed, the mids had to be higher to cut through the mix to hear his notes. Plus, Dimarzio Super Distortion pickups are known for their boosted mid-range qualities. I am not sure what guitar Paul used, but it could have been that Ibanez Ice Man that was covered in a myriad of cracked mirror pieces. If he used the Ice Man, those now vintage Ibanez Super 58 pickups, which were stock on that guitar at the time, sound really nice. Also, Gene Simmons’ bass sounds good and has a nice deep thumping quality to it. But, and this seemed to be true on every album Peter Criss drummed on, Peter’s drum sound is thin and not too loud or driving in the overall mix. The reason for this is that Peter was never a really good drummer and had a hard time keeping the beat on time. This became more apparent when he was replaced by Eric Carr, who was a very good drummer, as Carr changed Kiss’ sound into the rocking beast that they could have been back in their 1970’s heyday had Peter been a better drummer.
As I was listening to the songs I started to think that yes, there were some silly songs on Love Gun and most of these silly songs were sung by Gene Simmons, which is sort of sad since he sang almost half of the songs. Gene was my least favorite member of Kiss. I could not identify with him because he always seemed over the top with his demon character spitting blood and breathing fire. And I never liked his voice. It seemed like he was trying too hard to sound like he was possessed by the devil or too sexy for his chrome dragon-skinned codpiece. For example, “Christine Sixteen” is not that bad of a song. It is catchy as hell, no pun intended, with a good bass line and the guitars sound pretty good a la Eddie Kramer’s production. But, Gene’s voice sort of ruins it with his long drawn out whining of the refrain where he repeats the song title many times. And, of course, his spoken word part in the middle of the song where he tries to tell a sixteen-year-old girl of his lust for her and that he has to have her sexually is sort of creepy since Gene was in his early 30’s when he sang this song. But back in 1978 when I first heard this song, I thought it was pretty cool since I wasn’t analyzing the lyrics, I was just singing the words, “Christine Sixteen” over and over and running around the basement of my house. The other three songs he sings are not that much better in the lyrical sense. “Almost Human” is about, uh, being almost human; “Plaster Caster” is about the infamous team of groupies who would make plaster molds out of rock stars’ aroused genitalia; and “Got Love for Sale” is about being a male whore and selling his love to the highest bidder (which was a good foreshadowing of how Kiss saturated the market by selling anything they could put their name on ranging from Kiss condoms to Kiss coffins). Overall, though, the hooks in these songs are really good and the refrains are very memorable since I found myself humming the words like I had been doing when I was eleven.
In my opinion, the two songs that make this album and inspired me to play guitar are Paul Stanley’s “Love Gun” and Ace Frehley’s “Shock Me.” Paul was my favorite member of the group because he was the lead singer and front man of the band. I liked his voice and I liked the way he talked to the audience and tried to get them riled up into a frenzied mass of cacophonous insanity. Listen to Alive II from 1977 and one can hear Paul doing his hyped up emcee thing and the audience getting into it as he leads the band into the next song that would prompt flash bombs, explosions, and dry ice spewing on stage. “Love Gun” is the perfect vehicle for Paul to get his energy out since I think this is one of his best vocal performances that he was able to do in the 1970’s, which is saying a lot since he sang some great songs back then like “Detroit Rock City,” “Strutter,” and “Hotter Than Hell.’ The guitar parts weave nicely in and out and around Paul’s vocals and Ace does a great solo that builds up slowly and peaks at the right time before the band kicks it back into the refrain. I loved this song as a kid and knew all the words and probably freaked out my parents whenever I would sing/scream, “You pulled the trigger of my… love gun!” What is interesting thinking about this song in the present is that it is the first song on side 2 of the album. To me, this song should have led off the album since it is their best song, but looking at the remaining tracks they had left going into side 2, this song was needed to help buffer two more Gene songs, a silly Peter Criss song called “Hooligan” (I got a '35 Chevy on a '55 frame, can't even spell my name, dropped out of school when I was 22, what can I do to satisfy you?), and a remake of the classic 1963 Crystals song, “Then He Kissed Me,” only changed to the title, “Then She Kissed Me,” (in case people would think that Kiss were 4 homosexuals) complete with Phil Spectorian walls of sound and a lazy Paul vocal. So, in hindsight, it is probably good that “Love Gun” was saved until side 2 started since the band might have blown their wad too soon had it been played at the beginning of the album. The song is a nice breath of fresh air that gives the band a second wind and keeps the spark alive as the album heads into the final stretch.
The other song that could have started off Love Gun was Ace Frehley’s “Shock Me.” The main riff is solid and memorable and Ace’s vocal performance is inspired. “Shock Me” became Ace’s signature song on Kiss’ subsequent tours and at the end of the song he would go into his long lead guitar solo while the rest of the band left the stage. As he was playing his solo, his Les Paul would light up and smoke and rockets would shoot out of the pickup cavity during the climax of his solo (and he did the same thing on the 1996 reunion tour I saw in Indianapolis). Even more interesting is the fact that Ace wrote the words to “Shock Me” after getting shocked on stage from ungrounded equipment and almost dying on the Rock and Roll Over tour the year before Love Gun was released. Furthermore, Ace never liked to sing and actually wanted Gene to sing “Shock Me” like he did for Ace’s song, “Cold Gin.” But, Eddie Kramer was able to persuade Ace to sing “Shock Me” which was a good move since I think Gene would have ruined it. I find it ironic that Ace didn’t like to sing back then since this song became one of the most popular Kiss songs in their catalog. Also, out of the four solo albums each band member did in 1978, Ace’s album sold the most while his cover of Russ Ballard’s 1975 hit “New York Groove” actually hit the No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Had “Shock Me” been released as a single back in 1977 when Love Gun was released, I think it could have made the charts due to the loyal fans of the Kiss Army buying it up. Overall, this song is very strong and helps make Love Gun a memorable experience as it was Ace’s claim to fame and something that he will be remembered for in the long history of Kiss.
What is ironic to me about Love Gun is that though this was the first album I listened to introducing me to Kiss, it would be the band’s last album where all four original band members would play together before breaking up a few years later. By 1979, Peter Criss’ drum parts would be played by Anton Fig (of David Lettermen’s backing band) and some of Ace’s lead guitar work would be done by studio musicians on Kiss’ Dynasty album. Kiss would lose many fans since this album had their disco song, “I Was Made For Loving You,” on it and was not hard core enough to those who liked the early albums the band released. I loved Dynasty because it was a nice listening experience after being weaned on the disco and power pop I had been listening to before discovering Kiss. Dynasty was more of a pop album that opened the flood gates for small kids to start liking them since they became caricatures of their cartoon image with the release of Kiss dolls, pajamas, pinball machines, board games, and various toys. It wasn’t until the mid1980’s when Kiss was forced to remove their makeup that they were taken more seriously again as a hard rock band. By then I had moved on to different bands like the Doors, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars after going through the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon) and the Punk scene (Sex Pistols, Ramones, Buzzcocks) all of them helping me find new ways of expressing myself as a burgeoning vocalist and guitarist in high school rock groups. But, it was the experience of listening to Love Gun on the day that I brought home the record from the library that started me on the path of wanting to actually play electric guitar and get up in front of people and rock out. And, yes, I did get my gift certificate to McDonalds after reading the required amount of books in the reading contest as I am sure my brother and I were singing Kiss songs in the back seat of our parent’s 1977 Ford Thunderbird on the way to eat some greasy food.
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