Shafted! #3: Kiss' The Elder

I think every pop artist who ever made it big has tried desperately to attain the love of critics.  Norman Rockwell never felt like a "credible" artist because the critics regarded him as a magazine artist hack.  Never mind the fact that he had incredible artistic skills and his works were often profound..... critics reserved their praise for guys like Jackson Pollack who sprinkled big canvases with globs of paint.  Note: critics also bashed The Grapes of Wrath, Brave New World and Lord of the Flies (source); so, exactly why they are people popular artists should want to please is beyond me.

Kiss had experienced an unbelievable level of success in the mid seventies.  Arenas were packed, live and double albums selling like hotcakes, a Kiss Army of devoted fans, tons of merchandising, a TV movie, and "Hard Luck Woman" and "Beth" topping the singles charts.... it just couldn't get any better.

But the critics hated them.  So none of that mattered.... just ask The Bee Gees.

Truth be told, sales were starting dwindle by 1979, but instead of just riding out the lull, Kiss started to implode.  Ace Frehley left in 1981, and Peter Criss had left before that. The band had alienated a lot of fans via a disco song ("I Was Made for Loving You") and a glut of merchandising.  Somewhere along the way, Simmons and Stanley decided to completely change course and stop singing about sex and make a concept album.

Yes, the band would put together an album Emerson, Lake and Palmer would be proud of.  At first listen, it's sorta cheesy and, well, a tad embarrassing.  Not the sort of thing you want blaring from your muscle car whilst cruising for chicks.... a massive departure from their earlier stuff.  But this album grows on you - and I think in the final analysis, it's pretty damn good.

Well, fans didn't know what to make of this. It didn't even have a picture of the band on the cover - unheard of! It sold poorly, and to this day nothing from the album is played at concerts.  It's as if it never happened. Well, I think it deserves a better reception.  Indeed, it should be ranked among the great concept albums of rock history.

I'd love to let you have a listen to the whole album so you can form your own opinion.  However, I'm pretty sure Gene Simmons' team of lawyers would have Retrospace shut down within the hour.  Hopefully, he won't mind if I just stick a taste of The Elder in this post - one song from a sinfully underplayed Kiss Album: "Only You".



  1. I bought pulled this out of a cut-out bin the year after its release. Why? Lou Reed's participation as songwriter. Nearly three decades later and I still haven't managed to listen to the thing from beginning to end. Odd that Kiss embraced disco, yet when New Wave was riding high chose to present an arena rock concept album. Music from "The Elder"... even the title seemed so passé.

  2. You should have picked "World without Heroes". I always thought that was the only keeper on Elder.

  3. "I" and "The Oath" were as good as any previous Kiss song. I saw a band play both of those at a small town's high school talent show in Iowa. I was amazed that somebody else owned that album. I'm looking at it in iTunes right now and I have the first 5 tracks disabled because I just can't listen to them. OK, I'll enable "Only You". I guess it isn't that bad. I love the "creature" sounds in Mr. Blackwell, courtesy of Gene's bass and a tasty delay.

  4. Paul Stanley singing like he's in the Vienna Boys Choir on "Just a Boy" didn't help matters either.

    I didn't know about Lou Reed's involvement. Interesting.

  5. Imagine if this succeeded and they got to make their Lord of the Rings inspired fantasy film from the proceeds, instead of "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park."
    I have this and loved it in high school.

  6. There's like two or three good songs, but the rest is total crap. Fortunately the next year they came back with "Creatures of the night" which is possibly the most underated album of their long career.

  7. "Indeed, it should be ranked among the great concept albums of rock history."
    Simmer down, Gilligan, simmer down. I own this album, both the original LP and on CD and have had ample opportunity to listen to it over the years and can tell you that the songwriting is passable at best.
    What you didn't mention was that Kiss had big plans for The Elder, there was going to be a tie-in movie and possibly more albums in the same vein.

  8. 1981 was an awkward year for 70's holdovers trying to change their sound to show how much they'd "matured". This album is certainly proof of that. There are a few good songs though. I remember a review in Rolling Stone. The critic LOVED The Elder, saying it marked an "exciting new direction" for the band.

    For me, the real guilty pleasure is "Odyssey". "Stands the stallion and the mare"?! Yikes. If I ever get married, I'm having "Odyssey" as our wedding song. Maybe I'll jump onstage and bust out an impromptu karaoke while my poor bride dies of shame.

    "Once upon noooooot yet!"

  9. Wasn't allowed to listen to them in 78'. My holy roller church said KISS stood for "Knights in Satan's Service". LOL!

  10. The only time KISS played songs from The Elder live was on the TV show "Fridays" where they did "The Oath", "World Without Heroes" and "I" ....other than that they had lip-synched "I" on Solid Gold


    for years me and a bunch of the KISS dorks I know have threatened to make The Elder into a stage play .....just to see how over the top we could go with it.