21
Apr
2011
My Year in Lists
Week Sixteen
Jordan
My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger's quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

"With its members bizarre, Kabuki-like makeup, studded black leather costumes and arsenal of onstage firepower"”both musical and literal"”Kiss represents the most extreme form of hard rock in 1974."-Bennington Banner, Rock Music

"They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song"¦and it was just a wall of noise"¦They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new."-Legs McNeil, who founded Punk magazine in 1975, on The Ramones CBGB debut on August 16, 1974.

That music is an art form we can all agree on. This is something I have covered in this space constantly for the last sixteen weeks, so let's hope if you're still reading this you can go at least that far with me. Yet I have only briefly touched on an art form that is completely integral to the way we think of music now: performance. Music is written, sure, but it is not meant to remain on a page. To achieve the full splendor of its artistic intent, music must be performed, and with that performance comes all of the posturing and artificiality that comes along with any performance. Performing written musical compositions turns everyone into a little bit of an actor, and some far more than others.

People who are shocked when they see David Bowie in a movie should keep in mind he played Ziggy Stardust for over a year on tour and then became The Thin White Duke for years after that. When Bob Dylan comes out on stage, or gives an interview to reporters, he knows what audiences expect, and is therefore playing to those expectations, whether he chooses to meet or subvert them. In this week's My Year in Lists: Interlude I discussed the weight that I think the ability to engage the audience carries in terms of whether a band is an effective live outfit, and if you don't think what Kanye West does on stage is a performance, I don't know what to tell you.

So when four guys took to the stage in New York City in the mid-70's breathing fire and wearing full face makeup, it may have seemed completely shocking to the music scene at the time, but really, nobody should have been surprised. Singers have been wearing masks for as long as there have been songs to sing"”the guys in Kiss just made those masks slightly more literal.

In 1972, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, co-founders of the band Wicked Lester, abandoned that group due to lack of success, moving on to form what they conceived of as a new version of that group. Later that year they found an ad in Rolling Stone for drummer Peter Criss, who auditioned and joined this new lineup. Inspired by Alice Cooper and The New York Dolls, they began experimenting with their image, wearing face makeup and various costumes.

In early 1973, after failing to secure a record deal with Epic Records, the group added Ace Frehley on lead guitar. As Frehley joined, the group decided on the new name for the band: Kiss. The name was chosen after Criss mentioned his tenure in a band called Lips and Stanley responded, "what about Kiss?"

At their first show on January 30, 1973, the band wore no makeup"”their now iconic appearance debuted at a March 9 show at The Daisy in Amityville, New York. With their makeup in place, they took on altered personas: Paul Stanley became Starchild due to his tendency to be a hopeless romantic and "starry-eyed lover," Gene Simmons became The Demon because of his cynicism and dark sense of humor, Ace Frehley became Spaceman due to his fondness for science fiction, and Peter Criss became Catman as a response to the joke that he had nine lives after his rough childhood growing up in Brooklyn.

In October of 1973, former TV director Bill Aucoin offered to become the band's manager. The group accepted, provided Aucoin get them a recording contract within two weeks. On November 1, 1973 the group became the first act signed to Emerald City Records, which was soon to become Casablanca Records. The band's first tour began on February 5, 1974 and their self-titled debut, and Collin's pick this week, was released on February 18.

The opening track "Strutter" is one of the few songs written by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. "Nothing to Lose," the band's first single, was written by Gene Simmons and chronicles a man coercing his girlfriend into trying anal sex, which she discovers she enjoys. The song "Firehouse" has become famous due to the fact that Gene Simmons breathes fire on stage whenever the band sings it.







"Cold Gin" is Ace Frehley's first composition for Kiss, and is about the rumored stimulating effects of the beverage on the male sex drive. The album closes with "Black Diamond," which begins acoustically before exploding into a full on rock song, finally slowing down and fading out.






Kiss took the artificiality of performance to a completely new level, creating characters and an entire mythology around themselves, a legend that sustains to this day. They also formed a fan base devoted to the outsider mentality the band forwarded with its theatrical posturing; Kiss showed that hard rock and heavy metal were a different beast from old school rock and roll entirely. The band became eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and were finally nominated for a slot in 2009, though they were not voted in. This has been incredibly controversial among their fan base, though Kiss super fan (and one of our Top Ten Pop Culture Commentators You Should Be Reading) Chuck Klosterman believes their exclusion is for the best. As he put it at the time, "Kiss not getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is kind of like Pete Rose not getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame: it's the best possible scenario for everyone involved. Every year they get shut out, they're back in the news for not making it"”people will actually notice far less if they ever get inducted. Plus, being denied entry into the Hall of Fame advances the idea that Kiss exists outside the canon of critically sanctioned rock, and it perpetuates the idea that Kiss fans are unjustly persecuted for loving Kiss, which is essential to the Kiss-fan identity. I hope they never get in."

While Kiss was stepping outside the mainstream of rock and roll and forming a path for hard rock into the future, elsewhere in New York City an entire genre was about to be formed. Douglas Glenn Colvin, Jeffrey Ross Hyman, and John Cummings met in the middle-class neighborhood of Forest Hills in Queens, New York. Cummings and Thomas Erdelyi had been in a high school garage band in 1966-1967 known as the Tangerine Puppets. They became friends with Colvin and Hyman, and began to take shape as a band, in early 1974, just as Kiss was being released.

The initial lineup consisted of Colvin on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Cummings on lead guitar, and Hyman on drums, with Erdelyi as the group's biggest supporter. Colvin, who soon switched to bass, was the first to adopt a pseudonym, calling himself Dee Dee Ramone, which he got from Paul McCartney's pseudonym during his Silver Beatles days, Paul Ramon. Dee Dee convinced the others to adopt the name, and the band was thus named The Ramones. Hyman and Cummings became Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone, respectively. Dee Dee soon realized he could not sing and play bass and Joey became the band's singer (though Dee Dee continued to shout his signature rapid-fire "1-2-3-4!" before every song). Joey subsequently made the similar discovery that he could not sing and play drums (The Ramones didn't have any musical training, and I'm willing to guess all had a bit of trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time as well) and after auditioning many drummers who were not as good, Erdelyi became the drummer, calling himself Tommy Ramone.

The Ramones played their first gig on March 30, 1974. The songs they played were very fast and exceedingly short, most clocking in at less than two minutes. They played their first show at the legendary CBGB on August 16, 1974. By year's end the band had played the club seventy-four times, with their average set running about 17 minutes long. By the time The Ramones released their self-titled debut in 1975 they were the leaders of an entirely new genre of music: punk rock.

The band's first live album, and Tab's pick this week, It's Alive, was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on New Year's Eve 1977 and released in April of 1979. Titled after the horror movie of the same name, the album draws from material off the band's first three releases. Among the songs included in the stellar set is perhaps the band's most famous song, "Blitzkrieg Bop." Other songs include "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment," "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," "Surfin' Bird," the band's covers of "California Sun," "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Let's Dance," and the set closes out with "We're a Happy Family."







Listening to live music is a completely different experience than listening to a record. Some bands aren't as good live; others have trouble capturing lightning in a bottle and never make a record as electric as their live performances. As is often the case with punk rock, there's a vitality to The Ramones live set that is absent from many of their records. As far as live albums go, It's Alive doesn't really do all that much experimenting. There aren't any long solos added in (economy was part of the band's ethos, just as it would become part of the punk movement in general) and there's very little banter between Joey Ramone and the audience. The band just gets up there on New Year's Eve, plays the hell out of their songs for 53 minutes, and gets out.





The Ramones performed 2,263 concerts, touring virtually nonstop for 22 years. In 1996, after the failure of their fourteenth album, Adios Amigos, the band played a farewell show and disbanded. Within eight years of their break up, the three founding members were all dead (Joey died of lymphoma in 2001, Dee Dee died of a heroin overdose in 2002, and Johnny died of prostate cancer in 2004). The band almost single handedly created punk rock and influenced the development of popular music over the last 35 years as much as, if not more than, any other band. If you think I am exaggerating their influence, just think about how we have traced the development of "alternative" music so far in this column. The Ramones created punk. Punk branched out into new wave and hardcore in the "˜80's, both of which were instrumental in the foundations of modern alternative rock.

On that note (I remain king of the segue) it's time to continue tracing the development of alternative music and look at Jane's Addiction. The band formed out of the disintegration of front man Perry Farrell's previous band Psi Com. In mid-1985, Farrell was looking for a new bass player when he was introduced to Eric Avery. The two bonded over a mutual appreciation of Joy Division and The Velvet Underground and began practicing together while Psi Com was falling apart. They dubbed their new band Jane's Addiction in honor of Farrell's housemate Jane Bainter, who was unsurprisingly a drug addict. Eric Avery's little sister Rebecca suggested Stephen Perkins as drummer, and though Avery was reluctant due to their different taste in music, Perkins was hired. Finally, Perkins and Rebecca Avery got their friend Dave Navarro into the group as guitarist.

The band's second album (and first studio album, as their eponymous debut was recorded live), and Ashley's pick this week, Nothing's Shocking, was released in 1988. During the recording of the album, Farrell stated that he wanted fifty percent of the band's publishing royalties for writing lyrics and a portion of the remaining half for writing music. Avery, Navarro, and Perkins were (rightfully) stunned by Farrell's demands, but he refused to compromise, so the band decided to break up (for the first of probably a thousand times). Warner Bros., the band's label, called an emergency meeting to resolve the situation and somehow Farrell ended up with the percentages he wanted (getting 62.5% of the publishing royalties) while the rest of the band was left with 12.5% each.

This understandably caused a rift between Farrell and the rest of the band, which manifests itself in some of the anger that permeates the album. The album's longest song, the 7:23 "Ted, Just Admit It"¦" is a rage filled tirade mostly aimed at sex, repeatedly suggesting that, "sex is violence" before concluding with the album's title repeated. "Summertime Rolls" is a slightly less angry and more melodic song, more about a successful relationship than the negative side of romance. "Mountain Song" became famous due to its music video being banned by MTV due to nudity and scenes of teenage girls dancing in diapers (apparently MTV didn't agree with the album's titular ethos). "Jane Says" is without a doubt the most traditionally catchy and melodic song on the album, sounding more like other "alternative" bands of the era, though that doesn't hurt the quality of the song.









The band recorded one more album, Ritual de lo Habitual before breaking up (for the first, but not the last time) because, as Farrell puts it, ""¦I am an intolerable narcissist who can't get along with anyone." From all I have read about the man, that assessment seems entirely accurate. Farrell and Perkins went on to form the band Porno for Pyros, while Navarro joined Red Hot Chili Peppers and formed the band Deconstruction with Avery. The band reformed to release an album without Avery, 2003's Strays, and toured briefly with the original lineup from 2008 through 2010. They are releasing another album (again without Avery) called The Great Escape Artist later this year. Then, if I was a betting man, I would guess they'll break up again, reform in a few years, break up, get Avery back for a song or two, break up, and then release another album just around the time people stop giving a shit about them. But I'm no expert.

Performance is a key aspect of music, whether that ends up being a negative or a positive. For Kiss, that artifice became central to the ideas the band was pursuing. For The Ramones, a live performance was often the height of their musical accomplishment and the band was at their best when in front of an excited crowd. And for Jane's Addiction, who seems locked into a never ending drama between their narcissistic frontman and the (clearly) masochistic rest of the band, their entire existence often comes down to how well they can pull off the performance, either of being able to pretend not to hate each other, or of being able to summon enough vitriol towards one another to generate news stories. Like it or not, performance permeates musical culture, and the medium, like most artistic media, relies on it for its very existence. Shakespeare once said that all the world's a stage, and as we all know, the show must go on.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next week on My Year in Lists:

Bruce Springsteen was Born to Run, Wire has a Pink Flag but some Chairs Missing, and The Cure experiences some Disintegration.

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