Tim McPhate and Julian Gill are Kiss fanatics and both are associated with the comprehensive and in-depth website KISSFAQ.com. True to their calling, they’ve taken the same approach with their first book, which is a fascinating look at one of my all-time favorite albums. Yes, I’m one of a minority that was hooked from the first time I heard Kiss’ ‘(Music from) The Elder.’
That was late 1981 and I was 13 years old. It makes sense when you think about it. In 1981 my friends and I were into fantasy role-playing games. Weekends were often spent playing Dungeons & Dragons or passing around the latest novel by Piers Anthony. As a Kiss fan in 1981 I was thrilled to see how they’d changed their approach once again and embraced fantasy. The albums prior to ‘The Elder’ were ‘Dynasty,’ mistakenly classified as their “disco” album and ‘Unmasked,’ their power-pop album. I was young enough to accept and enjoy their journey into different styles. Many “hardcore” fans didn’t make the trip and ‘The Elder’ suffered as a result.
The often misunderstood album came out and was doomed from the start. People didn’t buy it and it’s the only Kiss album that has never reached gold album status. The poor reception threw the band for a loop. They didn’t tour to support it and only made a couple of appearances, including a three-song set on the late night show “Fridays” to promote the album. It quickly became the laughing stock of their discography and the band distanced themselves from it.
What people forget and McPhate and Gill showcase throughout the 530-plus page book of data and in-depth interviews with those that were involved in the making/marketing of the album, is that all indicators were that it should have been a huge album and a watershed moment for the band.
Casablanca, their record label, had been purchased by Polydor. They had renewed backing and support to conquer the world. They had enlisted genius producer Bob Ezrin again. Ezrin had manned the helm for ‘Destroyer’ and then went on to produce seminal works by Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd. They went the concept route and enlisted the help of outside writers to flush out the story. Lou Reed co-wrote three songs on the album. Plus, there were growing pains within the band. Original drummer Peter Criss had left the group, they were approaching their 10-year mark and they were seeking something new. The original plans were for the band to take off their makeup and embark on a new chapter, as they’d created something that could be reimagined as a stage show and, eventually, a movie.
All the pieces were in place. Except … how the core fan base would react, of those that remained. As mentioned, a lot of “hardcore” fans dropped the band after ‘Unmasked.’ They were not willing to give ‘The Elder’ a shot. For those that did give it a listen ‘The Elder’ was too much of a departure from what they considered the Kiss sound.
Ezrin initially took the blame for the album’s failure. Recently, he’s changed course and holds it up as a great record and has fond memories of its creation, calling the members of Kiss brilliant musicians whose fans would not tolerate growth.
In a sad footnote, due to poor album sales the band quickly regrouped and released the return to hard rock album ‘Creatures of the Night’ and kept their makeup on until 1984.